Thomas Carlyle

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No sadder proof can be given by a man of his own littleness than disbelief in great men.

Thomas Carlyle (December 4 1795February 5 1881) was a Scottish essayist, satirist, and historian, whose work was hugely influential during the Victorian era. He was the husband of Jane Welsh Carlyle.

Quotes[edit]

Speech is human, silence is divine, yet also brutish and dead: therefore we must learn both arts.

1820s[edit]

  • The weakest living creature, by concentrating his powers on a single object, can accomplish something. The strongest, by dispensing his over many, may fail to accomplish anything. The drop, by continually falling, bores its passage through the hardest rock. The hasty torrent rushes over it with hideous uproar, and leaves no trace behind.

1830s[edit]

It is now almost my sole rule of life to clear myself of cants and formulas, as of poisonous Nessus shirts.
  • A man's honest, earnest opinion is the most precious of all he possesses: let him communicate this, if he is to communicate anything. There is, doubtless a time to speak, and a time to keep silence; yet Fontenelle's celebrated aphorism, I might have my hand full of truth, and would open only my little finger, may be practiced to excess, and the little finger itself kept closed. That reserve, and knowing silence, long so universal among us, is less the fruit of active benevolence, of philosophic tolerance, than of indifference and weak conviction. Honest Scepticism, honest Atheism, is better than that withered lifeless Dilettantism and amateur Eclecticism, which merely toys with all opinions; or than that wicked Machiavelism, which in thought denying every thing, except that Power is Power, in words, for its own wise purposes, loudly believes every thing: of both which miserable habitudes the day, even in England, is wellnigh over.
    • Review of Historic Survey of German Poetry, interspersed with Various Translations by W. Taylor, in The Edinburgh Review Vol. LIII (1831), p. 178.
  • It is now almost my sole rule of life to clear myself of cants and formulas, as of poisonous Nessus shirts.
    • Letter to His Wife (1835).
  • The Public is an old woman. Let her maunder and mumble.
    • Journal (1835).

1840s[edit]

  • So here hath been dawning
    Another blue Day:
    Think wilt thou let it
    Slip useless away.
  • He that works and does some Poem, not he that merely says one, is worthy of the name of Poet.
    • Introduction to Cromwell's Letters and Speeches (1845).

1850s[edit]

  • Here numerous persons, with big wigs many of them, and austere aspect, whom I take to be Professors of the Dismal Science, start up in an agitated vehement manner: but the Premier resolutely beckons them down again
  • Of America it would ill beseem any Englishman, and me perhaps as little as another, to speak unkindly, to speak unpatriotically, if any of us even felt so. Sure enough, America is a great, and in many respects a blessed and hopeful phenomenon. Sure enough, these hardy millions of Anglosaxon men prove themselves worthy of their genealogy... But as to a Model Republic, or a model anything, the wise among themselves know too well that there is nothing to be said... Their Constitution, such as it may be, was made here, not there... Cease to brag to me of America, and its model institutions and constitutions.
  • A Parliament speaking through reporters to Buncombe and the twenty-seven millions, mostly fools.
    • Latter Day Pamphlets, No. 6.
  • A healthy hatred of scoundrels.
    • Latter Day Pamphlets, No. 12.

1860s[edit]

  • "Genius" (which means transcendent capacity of taking trouble, first of all).
    • Life of Fredrick the Great, Bk. IV, ch. 3 (1858–1865). Sometimes misreported as "Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains"; see Paul F. Boller, Jr., and John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, & Misleading Attributions (1989), p. 12.
  • Happy the people whose annals are blank in history books!
    • Life of Frederick the Great, Bk. XVI, ch. 1.

1870s[edit]

  • The unspeakable Turk
    • A phrase which came into common use after a letter by Carlyle on the Balkan crisis of 1875-76:
    • The only clear advice I have to give is, as I have stated, that the unspeakable Turk should be immediately struck out of the question, and the country left to honest European guidance.

1880s[edit]

  • This great maxim of Philosophy he had gathered by the teaching of nature alone: That man was created to work, not to speculate, or feel, or dream.
    • Reminiscences (1881), referring to his father, James Carlyle.
    • Sometimes quoted as "Man was created to work, not to speculate, or feel, or dream; Every idle moment is treason". The second of those two clauses in fact comes from Thomas Arnold The Christian Life (1841), Lecture VI.

1890s and attributed from posthumous publications[edit]

There are depths in man that go to the lowest hell, and heights that reach the highest heaven, for are not both heaven and hell made out of him, everlasting miracle and mystery that he is.
  • There are depths in man that go to the lowest hell, and heights that reach the highest heaven, for are not both heaven and hell made out of him, everlasting miracle and mystery that he is.
    • As quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts : Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors, Both Ancient and Modern (1891) edited by Tryon Edwards. p. 327.
  • A word spoken in season, at the right moment, is the mother of ages.
    • Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 561.
  • For love is ever the beginning of Knowledge, as fire is of light.
    • Carlyle, Essays, Death of Goethe. Quote reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 419-23.
  • What is all Knowledge too but recorded Experience, and a product of History; of which, therefore, Reasoning and Belief, no less than Action and Passion, are essential materials?
    • Carlyle, Essays, On History. Quote reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 419-23.

Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (1827–1855)[edit]

A well-written Life is almost as rare as a well-spent one.
The great law of culture is: Let each become all that he was created capable of being.
Originality is a thing we constantly clamour for, and constantly quarrel with…
History is the essence of innumerable biographies.
We are firm believers in the maxim that for all right judgment of any man or thing it is useful, nay, essential, to see his good qualities before pronouncing on his bad.
  • A well-written Life is almost as rare as a well-spent one.
    • Richter (1827).
  • Except by name, Jean Paul Friedrich Richter is little known out of Germany. The only thing connected with him, we think, that has reached this country is his saying,—imported by Madame de Staël, and thankfully pocketed by most newspaper critics, — "Providence has given to the French the empire of the land; to the English that of the sea; to the Germans that of—the air!"
    • Richter.
  • The great law of culture is: Let each become all that he was created capable of being.
    • Richter.
  • Originality is a thing we constantly clamour for, and constantly quarrel with; as if, observes our author himself, any originality but our own could be expected to content us! In fact all strange thing are apt, without fault of theirs, to estrange us at first view, and unhappily scarcely anything is perfectly plain, but what is also perfectly common.
    • Richter.
  • Humor is properly the exponent of low things; that which first renders them poetical to the mind. The man of Humor sees common life, even mean life, under the new light of sportfulness and love ; whatever has existence has a charm for him. Humor has justly been regarded as the finest perfection of poetic genius. He who wants it, be his other gifts what they may, has only half a mind; an eye for what is above him, not for what is about him or below him. Now, among all writers of any real poetic genius, we cannot recollect one who, in this respect, exhibits such total deficiency as Schiller. In his whole writings there is scarcely any vestige of it, scarcely any attempt that way. His nature was without Humor; and he had too true a feeling to adopt any counterfeit in its stead. Thus no drollery or caricature, still less any barren mockery, which, in the hundred cases are all that we find passing current as Humor, discover themselves in Schiller. His works are full of labored earnestness; he is the gravest of all writers.
  • "Schiller", first published in Fraser's Magazine (1831).
  • He who would write heroic poems should make his whole life a heroic poem.
  • The three great elements of modern civilization, gunpowder, printing, and the Protestant religion.
    • The State of German Literature (1827).
  • Literary men are...a perpetual priesthood.
    • The State of German Literature.
  • I came hither [Craigenputtoch] solely with the design to simplify my way of life and to secure the independence through which I could be enabled to remain true to myself.
  • In every man's writings, the character of the writer must lie recorded.
    • Goethe (1828).
  • Clever men are good, but they are not the best.
    • Goethe.
  • We are firm believers in the maxim that for all right judgment of any man or thing it is useful, nay, essential, to see his good qualities before pronouncing on his bad.
    • Goethe.
  • A poet without love were a physical and metaphysical impossibility.
    • Burns (1828).
  • How does the poet speak to men with power, but by being still more a man than they?
    • Burns.
  • His religion at best is an anxious wish, — like that of Rabelais, a great Perhaps.
    • Burns; compare: "The grand perhaps", Browning, Bishop Bloughram's Apology.
  • Our grand business undoubtedly is, not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.
  • We have oftener than once endeavoured to attach some meaning to that aphorism, vulgarly imputed to Shaftesbury, which however we can find nowhere in his works, that "ridicule is the test of truth."
    • Voltaire, Foreign Review, (1829); compare: "How comes it to pass, then, that we appear such cowards in reasoning, and are so afraid to stand the test of ridicule?", Shaftesbury, Characteristics. A Letter concerning Enthusiasm, sect. 2.; "Truth, 't is supposed, may bear all lights; and one of those principal lights or natural mediums by which things are to be viewed in order to a thorough recognition is ridicule itself", Shaftesbury, Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour, sect. 1.; "'T was the saying of an ancient sage [Gorgias Leontinus, apud Aristotle's "Rhetoric," lib. iii. c. 18], that humour was the only test of gravity, and gravity of humour. For a subject which would not bear raillery was suspicious; and a jest which would not bear a serious examination was certainly false wit", ibid. sect. 5.
  • With what scientific stoicism he walks through the land of wonders, unwondering …
    • Signs of the Times.
  • There is endless merit in a man's knowing when to have done.
    • Dr. Francia (1845).
  • The eye of the intellect "sees in all objects what it brought with it the means of seeing."
    • Varnhagen von Ense's Memoirs.
  • Love is ever the beginning of Knowledge as fire is of light.
    • Essays, Death of Goethe.
  • A mystic bond of brotherhood makes all men one.
    • Essays, Goethe's Works.
  • Everywhere the human soul stands between a hemisphere of light and another of darkness on the confines of two everlasting hostile empires, — Necessity and Free Will.
    • Essays, Goethe's Works.
  • History is the essence of innumerable biographies.
    • On History.
  • What is all Knowledge too, but recorded Experience, and a product of History; of which, therefore, Reasoning and Belief, no less than Action and Passion, are essential materials.
    • On History.
  • The barrenest of all mortals is the sentimentalist.
    • Characteristics.
  • A loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge.
    • Article on Biography.
  • Even in the meanest sorts of Labor, the whole soul of a man is composed into a kind of real harmony the instant he sets himself to work.
    • Past and Present.
  • Nature admits no lie.
    • Latter Day Pamphlet, No. 5. (1850).
  • The fine arts once divorcing themselves from truth are quite certain to fall mad, if they do not die.
    • Latter Day Pamphlet, No. 8. (1850).

Boswell's Life of Johnson (1832)[edit]

  • Aesop's Fly, sitting on the axle of the chariot, has been much laughed at for exclaiming: What a dust I do raise!
  • Whoso belongs only to his own age, and reverences only its gilt Popinjays or smoot-smeared Mumbojumbos, must needs die with it.
  • The stupendous Fourth Estate, whose wide world-embracing influences what eye can take in?
  • All work is as seed sown; it grows and spreads, and sows itself anew.
  • The work we desire and prize is not the courage to die decently, but to live manfully.

Sir Walter Scott (1838)[edit]

  • There is no heroic poem in the world but is at bottom a biography, the life of a man; also, it may be said, there is no life of a man, faithfully recorded, but is a heroic poem of its sort, rhymed or unrhymed.
  • Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is shallow as Time.
  • No man lives without jostling and being jostled; in all ways he has to elbow himself through the world, giving and receiving offense.
  • Literature is the Thought of thinking Souls.
  • All greatness is unconscious, or it is little and naught.
  • The uttered part of a man's life, let us always repeat, bears to the unuttered, unconscious part a small unknown proportion. He himself never knows it, much less do others.
  • It can be said of him [Scott], when he departed he took a man's life along with him. No sounder piece of British manhood was put together in that eighteenth century of time.
  • Nothing that was worthy in the past departs; no truth or goodness realized by man ever dies, or can die.
  • To the very last, he had a kind of idea; that, namely, of la carrière ouverte aux talents,—the tools to him that can handle them.
    • On Napoleon; Carlyle in his essay on Mirabeau, 1837, quotes this from a "New England book".
  • Blessed is the healthy nature; it is the coherent, sweetly co-operative, not incoherent, self-distracting, self-destructive one!
  • Everywhere in life, the true question is not what we gain, but what we do.
    • Essays. Goethe's Helena.

Sartor Resartus (1833–1834)[edit]

  • The Book had in a high degree excited us to self-activity, which is the best effect of any book.
    • Bk. I, ch. 4.
  • No man who has once heartily and wholly laughed can be altogether irreclaimably bad.
    • Bk. I, ch. 4.
  • He who first shortened the labor of copyists by device of movable types was disbanding hired armies, and cashiering most kings and senates, and creating a whole new democratic world: he had invented the art of printing.
    • Bk. I, ch. 5.
  • Man is a tool-using animal...Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.
    • Bk. I, ch. 5.
  • Be not the slave of Words.
    • Bk. I, ch. 8.
  • Man's unhappiness, as I construe, comes of his greatness; it is because there is an Infinite in him, which with all his cunning he cannot quite bury under the Finite.
    • Bk. I, ch. 9.
  • Wonder is the basis of worship.
    • Bk. I, ch. 10.
  • What you see, yet can not see over, is as good as infinite.
    • Bk. II, ch. 1.
  • Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the Devil; for which reason I have, long since, as good as renounced it.
    • Bk. II, ch. 4.
  • With stupidity and sound digestion man may front much.
    • Bk. II, ch. 4.
  • Hadst thou not Greek enough to understand thus much: The end of man is an Action, and not a Thought, though it were the noblest.
  • Alas! the fearful Unbelief is unbelief in yourself.
    • Bk. II, ch. 7.
  • O thou who art able to write a Book, which once in the two centuries or oftener there is a man gifted to do, envy not him whom they name City-builder, and inexpressibly pity him whom they name Conqueror or City-burner! Thou too art a Conqueror and Victor; but of the true sort, namely over the Devil: thou too hast built what will outlast all marble and metal, and be a wonder-bringing City of the Mind, a Temple and Seminary and Prophetic Mount, whereto all kindreds of the Earth will pilgrim.
    • Bk. II, ch. 8.
  • Great men are the inspired (speaking and acting) texts of that divine Book of Revelations, wherof a chapter is completed from epoch to epoch, and by some named History.
    • Bk. II, ch. 8.
  • Love not Pleasure; love God.
    • Bk. II, ch. 9.
  • "Do the Duty which lies nearest thee," which thou knowest to be a Duty! Thy second Duty will already have become clearer.
    • Bk. II, ch. 9.
  • As the Swiss inscription says: Sprechen ist silbern, Schweigen ist golden— "Speech is silvern, Silence is golden"; or, as I might rather express it: speech is of time, silence is of eternity.
    • Bk. III, ch. 3.
  • For is not a Symbol ever, to him who has eyes for it, some dimmer or clearer revelation of the God-like?
    • Bk. III, ch. 3.
  • The highest ensign that men ever met and embraced under, the Cross itself, had no meaning save an accidental extrinsic one.
    • Bk. III, ch. 3.
  • That there should one Man die ignorant who had capacity for Knowledge, this I call a tragedy.
    • Bk. III, ch. 4.
  • Philosophy complains that Custom has hoodwinked us, from the first; that we do everything by Custom, even Believe by it; that our very Axioms, let us boast of Free-thinking as we may, are oftenest simply such Beliefs as we have never heard questioned. Nay, what is Philosophy throughout but a continual battle against Custom; an ever-renewed effort to transcend the sphere of blind Custom, and so become Transcendental?
    • Bk. III, ch. 8.
  • Innumerable are the illusions and legerdemain-tricks of Custom: but of all these, perhaps the cleverest is her knack of persuading us that the Miraculous, by simple repetition, ceases to be Miraculous.
    • Bk. III, ch. 8.
  • Ever, as before, does Madness remain a mysterious-terrific, altogether infernal boiling-up of the Nether Chaotic Deep, through this fair-painted Vision of Creation, which swims thereon, which we name the Real.
    • Bk. III, ch. 8.
  • But deepest of all illusory Appearances, for hiding Wonder, as for many other ends, are your two grand fundamental world-enveloping Appearances, SPACE and TIME. These, as spun and woven for us from before Birth itself, to clothe our celestial ME for dwelling here, and yet to blind it, — lie all-embracing, as the universal canvas, or warp and woof, whereby all minor Illusions, in this Phantasm Existence, weave and paint themselves. In vain, while here on Earth, shall you endeavor to strip them off; you can, at best, but rend them asunder for moments, and look through.
    • Bk. III, ch. 8.
  • Not only was Thebes built by the music of an Orpheus; but without the music of some inspired Orpheus was no city ever built, no work that man glories in ever done.

The French Revolution. A History (1837)[edit]

online text
  • France was long a despotism tempered by epigrams.
    • Pt. I, Bk. I, ch. 1.
  • For what imaginable purpose was man made, if not to be "happy"? By victorious Analysis, and Progress of the Species, happiness enough now awaits him. Kings can become philosophers; or else philosophers Kings. Let but Society be once rightly constituted,—by victorious Analysis. The stomach that is empty shall be filled; the throat that is dry shall be wetted with wine. Labour itself shall be all one as rest; not grievous, but joyous Wheat-fields, one would think, cannot come to grow untilled; no man made clayey, or made weary thereby;—unless indeed machinery will do it? Gratuitous Tailors and Restaurateurs may start up, at fit intervals, one as yet sees not how. But if each will, according to rule of Benevolence, have a care for all, then surely—no one will be uncared for. Nay, who knows but by sufficiently victorious Analysis, "human life may be indefinitely lengthened," and men get rid of Death, as they have already done of the Devil? We shall then be happy in spite of Death and the Devil.
    • Pt. I, Bk. II, ch. 1.
  • No lie you can speak or act but it will come, after longer or shorter circulation, like a Bill drawn on Nature's Reality, and be presented there for payment, — with the answer, No effects.
    • Pt. I, Bk. III, ch. 1.
  • To a shower of gold most things are penetrable.
    • Pt. I, Bk. III, ch. 7.
  • "The people may eat grass": hasty words, which fly abroad irrevocable—and will send back tidings.
    • Pt. I, Bk. III, ch. 9.
  • A whiff of grapeshot.
    • Pt. I, Bk. V, ch. 3.
  • O poor mortals, how ye make this earth bitter for each other.
    • Pt. I, Bk. V, ch. 5.
  • Where this will end? In the Abyss, one may prophecy; whither all Delusions are, at all moments, travelling; where this Delusion has now arrived. For if there be a Faith, from of old, it is this, as we often repeat, that no Lie can live for ever. The very Truth has to change its vesture, from time to time; and be born again. But all Lies have sentence of death written down against them, and Heaven's Chancery itself; and, slowly or fast, advance incessantly towards their hour.
    • Pt. I, Bk. VI, ch. 3.
  • Do nothing, only keep agitating, debating; and things will destroy themselves.
    • Pt. I, Bk. VI, ch. 3.
  • Battles, in these ages, are transacted by mechanism; with the slightest possible development of human individuality or spontaneity: men now even die, and kill one another, in an artificial manner.
    • Pt. I, Bk. VII, ch. 4.
  • History a distillation of Rumour.
    • Pt. I, Bk. VII, ch. 5.
  • Misery which, through long ages, had no spokesman, no helper, will now be its own helper and speak for itself.
    • ** Pt. I, Bk. VII, ch. 8.
  • He that has a secret should not only hide it, but hide that he has it to hide.
    • Pt. II, Bk. I, ch. 7.
  • The All of Things is an infinite conjugation of the verb To do.
    • Pt. II, Bk. III, ch. 1.
  • The difference between Orthodoxy or Mydoxy and Heterodoxy or Thy-doxy.
    • Pt. II, Bk. IV, ch. 2.

Chartism (1840)[edit]

  • A witty statesman said, you might prove anything by figures.
    • Ch. 2, Statistics.
  • Democracy is, by the nature of it, a self-canceling business; and it gives in the long run a net result of zero.
    • Ch. 6, Laissez-Faire.
  • O reader, to what shifts is poor Society reduced, struggling to give still some account of herself, in epochs when Cash Payment has become the sole nexus of man to men!
    • Ch. 6, Laissez-Faire.
  • Cash Payment the sole nexus; and there are so many things which cash will not pay! Cash is a great miracle; yet it has not all power in Heaven, nor even on Earth. 'Supply and demand' we will honour also; and yet how many 'demands' are there, entirely indispensable, which have to go elsewhere than to the shops, and produce quite other than cash, before they can get their supply? On the whole, what astonishing payments does cash make in this world!
    • Ch. 7, Not Laissez-Faire.

Heroes and Hero-Worship (1840)[edit]

Full text online

The Hero as Divinity[edit]

Lecture I The Hero As Divinity. Odin. Paganism: Scandinavian Mythology. (5 May 1840)
  • One comfort is, that Great Men, taken up in any way, are profitable company. We cannot look, however imperfectly, upon a great man, without gaining something by him. He is the living light-fountain, which it is good and pleasant to be near. The light which enlightens, which has enlightened the darkness of the world; and this not as a kindled lamp only, but rather as a natural luminary shining by the gift of Heaven; a flowing light-fountain, as I say, of native original insight, of manhood and heroic nobleness;—in whose radiance all souls feel that it is well with them.
  • But the thing a man does practically believe (and this is often enough without asserting it even to himself, much less to others); the thing a man does practically lay to heart, and know for certain, concerning his vital relations to this mysterious Universe, and his duty and destiny there, that is in all cases the primary thing for him, and creatively determines all the rest. That is his religion; or, it may be, his mere scepticism and no-religion: the manner it is in which he feels himself to be spiritually related to the Unseen World or No-World; and I say, if you tell me what that is, you tell me to a very great extent what the man is, what the kind of things he will do is.
  • I here, on the very threshold, protest against it in reference to Paganism, and to all other isms by which man has ever for a length of time striven to walk in this world. They have all had a truth in them, or men would not have taken them up. Quackery and dupery do abound; in religions, above all in the more advanced decaying stages of religions, they have fearfully abounded: but quackery was never the originating influence in such things; it was not the health and life of such things, but their disease, the sure precursor of their being about to die! Let us never forget this.
  • They have their belief, these poor Thibet people, that Providence sends down always an Incarnation of Himself into every generation. At bottom some belief in a kind of Pope! At bottom still better, belief that there is a Greatest Man; that he is discoverable; that, once discovered, we ought to treat him with an obedience which knows no bounds! This is the truth of Grand Lamaism; the "discoverability" is the only error here.
The Thibet priests have methods of their own of discovering what Man is Greatest, fit to be supreme over them. Bad methods: but are they so much worse than our methods,—of understanding him to be always the eldest-born of a certain genealogy? Alas, it is a difficult thing to find good methods for!
  • It is a most earnest thing to be alive in this world; to die is not sport for a man. Man's life never was a sport to him; it was a stern reality, altogether a serious matter to be alive!
  • Men, I say, never did believe idle songs, never risked their soul's life on allegories: men in all times, especially in early earnest times, have had an instinct for detecting quacks, for detesting quacks.
  • To the wild deep-hearted man all was yet new, not veiled under names or formulas; it stood naked, flashing in on him there, beautiful, awful, unspeakable. Nature was to this man, what to the Thinker and Prophet it forever is, preternatural. This green flowery rock-built earth, the trees, the mountains, rivers, many-sounding seas;—that great deep sea of azure that swims overhead; the winds sweeping through it; the black cloud fashioning itself together, now pouring out fire, now hail and rain.
  • We call that fire of the black thunder-cloud "electricity," and lecture learnedly about it, and grind the like of it out of glass and silk: but what is it? What made it? Whence comes it? Whither goes it? Science has done much for us; but it is a poor science that would hide from us the great deep sacred infinitude of Nescience, whither we can never penetrate, on which all science swims as a mere superficial film. This world, after all our science and sciences, is still a miracle; wonderful, inscrutable, magical and more, to whosoever will think of it.
  • Cannot we understand how these men worshipped Canopus; became what we call Sabeans, worshipping the stars? Such is to me the secret of all forms of Paganism. Worship is transcendent wonder; wonder for which there is now no limit or measure; that is worship.
But now if all things whatsoever that we look upon are emblems to us of the Highest God, I add that more so than any of them is man such an emblem.
  • The young generations of the world, who had in them the freshness of young children, and yet the depth of earnest men, who did not think that they had finished off all things in Heaven and Earth by merely giving them scientific names, but had to gaze direct at them there, with awe and wonder: they felt better what of divinity is in man and Nature; they, without being mad, could worship Nature, and man more than anything else in Nature.
  • What I called the perplexed jungle of Paganism sprang, we may say, out of many roots: every admiration, adoration of a star or natural object, was a root or fibre of a root; but Hero-worship is the deepest root of all; the tap-root, from which in a great degree all the rest were nourished and grown.
  • No nobler feeling than this of admiration for one higher than himself dwells in the breast of man. It is to this hour, and at all hours, the vivifying influence in man's life.
  • But I liken common languid Times, with their unbelief, distress, perplexity, with their languid doubting characters and embarrassed circumstances, impotently crumbling down into ever worse distress towards final ruin;—all this I liken to dry dead fuel, waiting for the lightning out of Heaven that shall kindle it. The great man, with his free force direct out of God's own hand, is the lightning. His word is the wise healing word which all can believe in. All blazes round him now, when he has once struck on it, into fire like his own.
  • In that strange island Iceland,—burst up, the geologists say, by fire from the bottom of the sea; a wild land of barrenness and lava; swallowed many months of every year in black tempests, yet with a wild gleaming beauty in summertime; towering up there, stern and grim, in the North Ocean with its snow jokuls, roaring geysers, sulphur-pools and horrid volcanic chasms, like the waste chaotic battle-field of Frost and Fire;—where of all places we least looked for Literature or written memorials, the record of these things was written down.
  • Mark at present so much; what the essence of Scandinavian and indeed of all Paganism is: a recognition of the forces of Nature as godlike, stupendous, personal Agencies,—as Gods and Demons. Not inconceivable to us. It is the infant Thought of man opening itself, with awe and wonder, on this ever-stupendous Universe. To me there is in the Norse system something very genuine, very great and manlike. A broad simplicity, rusticity, so very different from the light gracefulness of the old Greek Paganism, distinguishes this Scandinavian System. It is Thought; the genuine Thought of deep, rude, earnest minds, fairly opened to the things about them; a face-to-face and heart-to-heart inspection of the things,—the first characteristic of all good Thought in all times. Not graceful lightness, half-sport, as in the Greek Paganism; a certain homely truthfulness and rustic strength, a great rude sincerity, discloses itself here.
  • Innumerable men had passed by, across this Universe, with a dumb vague wonder, such as the very animals may feel; or with a painful, fruitlessly inquiring wonder, such as men only feel;—till the great Thinker came, the original man, the Seer; whose shaped spoken Thought awakes the slumbering capability of all into Thought. It is ever the way with the Thinker, the spiritual Hero. What he says, all men were not far from saying, were longing to say. The Thoughts of all start up, as from painful enchanted sleep, round his Thought; answering to it, Yes, even so! Joyful to men as the dawning of day from night;—is it not, indeed, the awakening for them from no-being into being, from death into life? We still honor such a man; call him Poet, Genius, and so forth: but to these wild men he was a very magician, a worker of miraculous unexpected blessing for them; a Prophet, a God!
  • For the Norse people, the Man now named Odin, and Chief Norse God, we fancy, was such a man. A Teacher, and Captain of soul and of body; a Hero, of worth immeasurable; admiration for whom, transcending the known bounds, became adoration. Has he not the power of articulate Thinking; and many other powers, as yet miraculous? So, with boundless gratitude, would the rude Norse heart feel. Has he not solved for them the sphinx-enigma of this Universe; given assurance to them of their own destiny there? By him they know now what they have to do here, what to look for hereafter. Existence has become articulate, melodious by him; he first has made Life alive!—We may call this Odin, the origin of Norse Mythology: Odin, or whatever name the First Norse Thinker bore while he was a man among men. His view of the Universe once promulgated, a like view starts into being in all minds; grows, keeps ever growing, while it continues credible there. In all minds it lay written, but invisibly, as in sympathetic ink; at his word it starts into visibility in all. Nay, in every epoch of the world, the great event, parent of all others, is it not the arrival of a Thinker in the world—!
  • A great soul, any sincere soul, knows not what he is,—alternates between the highest height and the lowest depth; can, of all things, the least measure—Himself! What others take him for, and what he guesses that he may be; these two items strangely act on one another, help to determine one another. With all men reverently admiring him; with his own wild soul full of noble ardors and affections, of whirlwind chaotic darkness and glorious new light; a divine Universe bursting all into godlike beauty round him, and no man to whom the like ever had befallen, what could he think himself to be?
  • suppose Odin to have been the inventor of Letters, as well as "magic," among that people! It is the greatest invention man has ever made! this of marking down the unseen thought that is in him by written characters. It is a kind of second speech, almost as miraculous as the first.
  • Transport yourselves into the early childhood of nations; the first beautiful morning-light of our Europe, when all yet lay in fresh young radiance as of a great sunrise, and our Europe was first beginning to think, to be! Wonder, hope; infinite radiance of hope and wonder, as of a young child's thoughts, in the hearts of these strong men! Strong sons of Nature; and here was not only a wild Captain and Fighter; discerning with his wild flashing eyes what to do, with his wild lion-heart daring and doing it; but a Poet too, all that we mean by a Poet, Prophet, great devout Thinker and Inventor,—as the truly Great Man ever is. A Hero is a Hero at all points; in the soul and thought of him first of all. This Odin, in his rude semi-articulate way, had a word to speak. A great heart laid open to take in this great Universe, and man's Life here, and utter a great word about it. A Hero, as I say, in his own rude manner; a wise, gifted, noble-hearted man. And now, if we still admire such a man beyond all others, what must these wild Norse souls, first awakened into thinking, have made of him!
  • I feel that these old Northmen wore looking into Nature with open eye and soul: most earnest, honest; childlike, and yet manlike; with a great-hearted simplicity and depth and freshness, in a true, loving, admiring, unfearing way.
  • They understood in their heart that it was indispensable to be brave; that Odin would have no favor for them, but despise and thrust them out, if they were not brave. Consider too whether there is not something in this! It is an everlasting duty, valid in our day as in that, the duty of being brave. Valor is still value. The first duty for a man is still that of subduing Fear. We must get rid of Fear; we cannot act at all till then.
  • I called it a small light shining and shaping in the huge vortex of Norse darkness. Yet the darkness itself was alive; consider that. It was the eager inarticulate uninstructed Mind of the whole Norse People, longing only to become articulate, to go on articulating ever farther!
  • It is a greatness not of mere body and gigantic bulk, but a rude greatness of soul. There is a sublime uncomplaining melancholy traceable in these old hearts. A great free glance into the very deeps of thought. They seem to have seen, these brave old Northmen, what Meditation has taught all men in all ages, That this world is after all but a show,—a phenomenon or appearance, no real thing. All deep souls see into that,—the Hindoo Mythologist, the German Philosopher,—the Shakspeare, the earnest Thinker, wherever he may be.
  • For the whole Past, as I keep repeating, is the possession of the Present; the Past had always something true, and is a precious possession. In a different time, in a different place, it is always some other side of our common Human Nature that has been developing itself. The actual True is the sum of all these; not any one of them by itself constitutes what of Human Nature is hitherto developed. Better to know them all than misknow them. "To which of these Three Religions do you specially adhere?" inquires Meister of his Teacher. "To all the Three!" answers the other: "To all the Three; for they by their union first constitute the True Religion."
  • No sadder proof can be given by a man of his own littleness than disbelief in great men.
  • The history of the world is but the biography of great men.

The Hero as Prophet[edit]

Lecture II The Hero As Prophet. Mahomet: Islam. ([8 May 1840)
  • We have chosen Mahomet not as the most eminent Prophet; but as the one we are freest to speak of. He is by no means the truest of Prophets; but I do esteem him a true one. Farther, as there is no danger of our becoming, any of us, Mahometans, I mean to say all the good of him I justly can. It is the way to get at his secret: let us try to understand what he meant with the world; what the world meant and means with him, will then be a more answerable question. Our current hypothesis about Mahomet, that he was a scheming Impostor, a Falsehood incarnate, that his religion is a mere mass of quackery and fatuity, begins really to be now untenable to any one. The lies, which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man, are disgraceful to ourselves only.
  • The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none.
  • Much has been said of Mahomet's propagating his Religion by the sword. It is no doubt far nobler what we have to boast of the Christian Religion, that it propagated itself peaceably in the way of preaching and conviction. Yet withal, if we take this for an argument of the truth or falsehood of a religion, there is a radical mistake in it. The sword indeed: but where will you get your sword! Every new opinion, at its starting, is precisely in a minority of one. In one man's head alone, there it dwells as yet. One man alone of the whole world believes it; there is one man against all men. That he take a sword, and try to propagate with that, will do little for him. You must first get your sword! On the whole, a thing will propagate itself as it can. We do not find, of the Christian Religion either, that it always disdained the sword, when once it had got one.
  • I care little about the sword: I will allow a thing to struggle for itself in this world, with any sword or tongue or implement it has, or can lay hold of. We will let it preach, and pamphleteer, and fight, and to the uttermost bestir itself, and do, beak and claws, whatsoever is in it; very sure that it will, in the long-run, conquer nothing which does not deserve to be conquered. What is better than itself, it cannot put away, but only what is worse. In this great Duel, Nature herself is umpire, and can do no wrong: the thing which is deepest-rooted in Nature, what we call truest, that thing and not the other will be found growing at last.
  • We are to remember what an umpire Nature is; what a greatness, composure of depth and tolerance there is in her. You take wheat to cast into the Earth's bosom; your wheat may be mixed with chaff, chopped straw, barn-sweepings, dust and all imaginable rubbish; no matter: you cast it into the kind just Earth; she grows the wheat, — the whole rubbish she silently absorbs, shrouds it in, says nothing of the rubbish. The yellow wheat is growing there; the good Earth is silent about all the rest, — has silently turned all the rest to some benefit too, and makes no complaint about it! So everywhere in Nature! She is true and not a lie; and yet so great, and just, and motherly in her truth. She requires of a thing only that it be genuine of heart; she will protect it if so; will not, if not so. There is a soul of truth in all the things she ever gave harbor to. Alas, is not this the history of all highest Truth that comes or ever came into the world?
  • Mahomet can work no miracles; he often answers impatiently: I can work no miracles. I? "I am a Public Preacher;" appointed to preach this doctrine to all creatures. Yet the world, as we can see, had really from of old been all one great miracle to him. Look over the world, says he; is it not wonderful, the work of Allah; wholly "a sign to you," if your eyes were open!
  • His Religion is not an easy one: with rigorous fasts, lavations, strict complex formulas, prayers five times a day, and abstinence from wine, it did not "succeed by being an easy religion." As if indeed any religion, or cause holding of religion, could succeed by that! It is a calumny on men to say that they are roused to heroic action by ease, hope of pleasure, recompense, — sugar-plums of any kind, in this world or the next! In the meanest mortal there lies something nobler.
  • Mahomet himself, after all that can be said about him, was not a sensual man. We shall err widely if we consider this man as a common voluptuary, intent mainly on base enjoyments, — nay on enjoyments of any kind. His household was of the frugalest; his common diet barley-bread and water: sometimes for months there was not a fire once lighted on his hearth. They record with just pride that he would mend his own shoes, patch his own cloak. A poor, hard-toiling, ill-provided man; careless of what vulgar men toil for.
  • No Dilettantism in this Mahomet; it is a business of Reprobation and Salvation with him, of Time and Eternity: he is in deadly earnest about it! Dilettantism, hypothesis, speculation, a kind of amateur-search for Truth, toying and coquetting with Truth: this is the sorest sin. The root of all other imaginable sins. It consists in the heart and soul of the man never having been open to Truth; — "living in a vain show." Such a man not only utters and produces falsehoods, but is himself a falsehood. The rational moral principle, spark of the Divinity, is sunk deep in him, in quiet paralysis of life-death.
  • Enjoying things which are pleasant; that is not the evil: it is the reducing of our moral self to slavery by them that is.
  • We will not praise Mahomet's moral precepts as always of the superfinest sort; yet it can be said that there is always a tendency to good in them; that they are the true dictates of a heart aiming towards what is just and true.
  • On the whole, we will repeat that this Religion of Mahomet's is a kind of Christianity; has a genuine element of what is spiritually highest looking through it, not to be hidden by all its imperfections. The Scandinavian God Wish, the god of all rude men, — this has been enlarged into a Heaven by Mahomet; but a Heaven symbolical of sacred Duty, and to be earned by faith and well-doing, by valiant action, and a divine patience which is still more valiant. It is Scandinavian Paganism, and a truly celestial element superadded to that. Call it not false; look not at the falsehood of it, look at the truth of it. For these twelve centuries, it has been the religion and life-guidance of the fifth part of the whole kindred of Mankind. Above all things, it has been a religion heartily believed. These Arabs believe their religion, and try to live by it! No Christians, since the early ages, or only perhaps the English Puritans in modern times, have ever stood by their Faith as the Moslem do by theirs, — believing it wholly, fronting Time with it, and Eternity with it.
  • It was a rude gross error, that of counting the Great Man a god. Yet let us say that it is at all times difficult to know what he is, or how to account of him and receive him!
  • To fall into mere unreasoning deliquium of love and admiration, was not good; but such unreasoning, nay irrational supercilious no-love at all is perhaps still worse!—It is a thing forever changing, this of Hero-worship: different in each age, difficult to do well in any age. Indeed, the heart of the whole business of the age, one may say, is to do it well.
  • they indicate the saddest spiritual paralysis, and mere death-life of the souls of men: more godless theory, I think, was never promulgated in this Earth. A false man found a religion? Why, a false man cannot build a brick house!
  • I should say sincerity, a deep, great, genuine sincerity, is the first characteristic of all men in any way heroic.
  • No, the Great Man does not boast himself sincere, far from that; perhaps does not ask himself if he is so: I would say rather, his sincerity does not depend on himself; he cannot help being sincere! The great Fact of Existence is great to him. Fly as he will, he cannot get out of the awful presence of this Reality. His mind is so made; he is great by that, first of all. Fearful and wonderful, real as Life, real as Death, is this Universe to him. Though all men should forget its truth, and walk in a vain show, he cannot. At all moments the Flame-image glares in upon him; undeniable, there, there!—I wish you to take this as my primary definition of a Great Man. A little man may have this, it is competent to all men that God has made: but a Great Man cannot be without it.
  • A gifted noble people; a people of wild strong feelings, and of iron restraint over these: the characteristic of noble-mindedness, of genius.
They are not a loquacious people, taciturn rather; but eloquent, gifted when they do speak. An earnest, truthful kind of men. They are, as we know, of Jewish kindred: but with that deadly terrible earnestness of the Jews they seem to combine something graceful, brilliant, which is not Jewish. They had "Poetic contests" among them before the time of Mahomet.
One Jewish quality these Arabs manifest; the outcome of many or of all high qualities: what we may call religiosity. From of old they had been zealous worshippers, according to their light. They worshipped the stars, as Sabeans; worshipped many natural objects,—recognized them as symbols, immediate manifestations, of the Maker of Nature. It was wrong; and yet not wholly wrong.
  • Mahomet was only fourteen; had no language but his own: much in Syria must have been a strange unintelligible whirlpool to him. But the eyes of the lad were open; glimpses of many things would doubtless be taken in, and lie very enigmatic as yet, which were to ripen in a strange way into views, into beliefs and insights one day. These journeys to Syria were probably the beginning of much to Mahomet. One other circumstance we must not forget: that he had no school-learning; of the thing we call school-learning none at all.
  • Curious, if we will reflect on it, this of having no books. Except by what he could see for himself, or hear of by uncertain rumor of speech in the obscure Arabian Desert, he could know nothing. The wisdom that had been before him or at a distance from him in the world, was in a manner as good as not there for him. Of the great brother souls, flame-beacons through so many lands and times, no one directly communicates with this great soul. He is alone there, deep down in the bosom of the Wilderness; has to grow up so,—alone with Nature and his own Thoughts. But, from an early age, he had been remarked as a thoughtful man.
A spontaneous, passionate, yet just, true-meaning man! Full of wild faculty, fire and light; of wild worth, all uncultured; working out his life-task in the depths of the Desert there.
  • From of old, a thousand thoughts, in his pilgrimings and wanderings, had been in this man: What am I? What is this unfathomable Thing I live in, which men name Universe? What is Life; what is Death? What am I to believe? What am I to do? The grim rocks of Mount Hara, of Mount Sinai, the stern sandy solitudes answered not. The great Heaven rolling silent overhead, with its blue-glancing stars, answered not. There was no answer. The man's own soul, and what of God's inspiration dwelt there, had to answer!
  • It has ever been held the highest wisdom for a man not merely to submit to Necessity,—Necessity will make him submit,—but to know and believe well that the stern thing which Necessity had ordered was the wisest, the best, the thing wanted there. To cease his frantic pretension of scanning this great God's-World in his small fraction of a brain; to know that it had verily, though deep beyond his soundings, a Just Law, that the soul of it was Good;—that his part in it was to conform to the Law of the Whole, and in devout silence follow that; not questioning it, obeying it as unquestionable.
  • Yet with every allowance, one feels it difficult to see how any mortal ever could consider this Koran as a Book written in Heaven, too good for the Earth; as a well-written book, or indeed as a book at all; and not a bewildered rhapsody; written, so far as writing goes, as badly as almost any book ever was!
Every candid eye, I think, will read the Koran far otherwise than so. It is the confused ferment of a great rude human soul; rude, untutored, that cannot even read; but fervent, earnest, struggling vehemently to utter itself in words. With a kind of breathless intensity he strives to utter himself; the thoughts crowd on him pell-mell: for very multitude of things to say, he can get nothing said. The meaning that is in him shapes itself into no form of composition, is stated in no sequence, method, or coherence;—they are not shaped at all, these thoughts of his; flung out unshaped, as they struggle and tumble there, in their chaotic inarticulate state.
The panting breathless haste and vehemence of a man struggling in the thick of battle for life and salvation; this is the mood he is in!
  • In the meanest mortal there lies something nobler. The poor swearing soldier, hired to be shot, has his "honor of a soldier," different from drill-regulations and the shilling a day. It is not to taste sweet things, but to do noble and true things, and vindicate himself under God's Heaven as a god-made Man, that the poorest son of Adam dimly longs. Show him the way of doing that, the dullest day-drudge kindles into a hero. They wrong man greatly who say he is to be seduced by ease.
  • by awakening the Heroic that slumbers in every heart, can any Religion gain followers.
  • To the Arab Nation it was as a birth from darkness into light; Arabia first became alive by means of it. A poor shepherd people, roaming unnoticed in its deserts since the creation of the world: a Hero-Prophet was sent down to them with a word they could believe: see, the unnoticed becomes world-notable, the small has grown world-great; within one century afterwards, Arabia is at Grenada on this hand, at Delhi on that;—glancing in valor and splendor and the light of genius, Arabia shines through long ages over a great section of the world. Belief is great, life-giving. The history of a Nation becomes fruitful, soul-elevating, great, so soon as it believes. These Arabs, the man Mahomet, and that one century,—is it not as if a spark had fallen, one spark, on a world of what seemed black unnoticeable sand; but lo, the sand proves explosive powder, blazes heaven-high from Delhi to Grenada! I said, the Great Man was always as lightning out of Heaven; the rest of men waited for him like fuel, and then they too would flame.
  • The Hero as Divinity, the Hero as Prophet, are productions of old ages; not to be repeated in the new. They presuppose a certain rudeness of conception, which the progress of mere scientific knowledge puts an end to. There needs to be, as it were, a world vacant, or almost vacant of scientific forms, if men in their loving wonder are to fancy their fellow-man either a god or one speaking with the voice of a god. Divinity and Prophet are past.
I will remark again, however, as a fact not unimportant to be understood, that the different sphere constitutes the grand origin of such distinction; that the Hero can be Poet, Prophet, King, Priest or what you will, according to the kind of world he finds himself born into. I confess, I have no notion of a truly great man that could not be all sorts of men.

The Hero as Poet[edit]

The Hero As Poet. Dante: Shakspeare
  • OF this Shakspeare of ours, perhaps the opinion one sometimes hears a little idolatrously expressed is, in fact, the right one; I think the best judgement not of this country only, but of Europe at large, is slowly pointing to the conclusion, That Shakspeare is the chief of all Poets hitherto; the greatest intellect who, in our recorded world, has left record of himself in the way of Literature. On the whole, I know not such a power of vision, such a faculty of thought, if we take all the characters of it, in any other man. Such a calmness of depth; placid joyous strength; all things imaged in that great soul of his so true and clear, as in a tranquil unfathomable sea!
  • The "imagination that shudders at the Hell of Dante," is not that the same faculty, weaker in degree, as Dante's own? No one but Shakspeare can embody, out of Saxo Grammaticus, the story of Hamlet as Shakspeare did: but every one models some kind of story out of it; every one embodies it better or worse. We need not spend time in defining. Where there is no specific difference, as between round and square, all definition must be more or less arbitrary. A man that has so much more of the poetic element developed in him as to have become noticeable, will be called Poet by his neighbors.
World-Poets too, those whom we are to take for perfect Poets, are settled by critics in the same way. One who rises so far above the general level of Poets will, to such and such critics, seem a Universal Poet; as he ought to do. And yet it is, and must be, an arbitrary distinction. All Poets, all men, have some touches of the Universal; no man is wholly made of that.
  • All old Poems, Homer's and the rest, are authentically Songs. I would say, in strictness, that all right Poems are; that whatsoever is not sung is properly no Poem, but a piece of Prose cramped into jingling lines,—to the great injury of the grammar, to the great grief of the reader, for most part! What we wants to get at is the thought the man had, if he had any: why should he twist it into jingle, if he could speak it out plainly? It is only when the heart of him is rapt into true passion of melody, and the very tones of him, according to Coleridge's remark, become musical by the greatness, depth and music of his thoughts, that we can give him right to rhyme and sing; that we call him a Poet, and listen to him as the Heroic of Speakers,—whose speech is Song.
  • Paganism we recognized as a veracious expression of the earnest awe-struck feeling of man towards the Universe; veracious, true once, and still not without worth for us. But mark here the difference of Paganism and Christianism; one great difference. Paganism emblemed chiefly the Operations of Nature; the destinies, efforts, combinations, vicissitudes of things and men in this world; Christianism emblemed the Law of Human Duty, the Moral Law of Man. One was for the sensuous nature: a rude helpless utterance of the first Thought of men,—the chief recognized virtue, Courage, Superiority to Fear. The other was not for the sensuous nature, but for the moral. What a progress is here, if in that one respect only—!
  • Europe has made much; great cities, great empires, encyclopaedias, creeds, bodies of opinion and practice: but it has made little of the class of Dante's Thought.
  • For, in fact, I say the degree of vision that dwells in a man is a correct measure of the man. If called to define Shakspeare's faculty, I should say superiority of Intellect, and think I had included all under that. What indeed are faculties? We talk of faculties as if they were distinct, things separable; as if a man had intellect, imagination, fancy, &c., as he has hands, feet and arms. That is a capital error. Then again, we hear of a man's "intellectual nature," and of his "moral nature," as if these again were divisible, and existed apart. Necessities of language do perhaps prescribe such forms of utterance; we must speak, I am aware, in that way, if we are to speak at all. But words ought not to harden into things for us. It seems to me, our apprehension of this matter is, for most part, radically falsified thereby. We ought to know withal, and to keep forever in mind, that these divisions are at bottom but names; that man's spiritual nature, the vital Force which dwells in him, is essentially one and indivisible; that what we call imagination, fancy, understanding, and so forth, are but different figures of the same Power of Insight, all indissolubly connected with each other, physiognomically related; that if we knew one of them, we might know all of them. Morality itself, what we call the moral quality of a man, what is this but another side of the one vital Force whereby he is and works? All that a man does is physiognomical of him. You may see how a man would fight, by the way in which he sings; his courage, or want of courage, is visible in the word he utters, in the opinion he has formed, no less than in the stroke he strikes. He is one; and preaches the same Self abroad in all these ways.
  • it is always a genial laughter. Not at mere weakness, at misery or poverty; never. No man who can laugh, what we call laughing, will laugh at these things. It is some poor character only desiring to laugh, and have the credit of wit, that does so. Laughter means sympathy.
Such laughter, like sunshine on the deep sea, is very beautiful to me.
  • I cannot call this Shakspeare a "Sceptic," as some do; his indifference to the creeds and theological quarrels of his time misleading them. No: neither unpatriotic, though he says little about his Patriotism; nor sceptic, though he says little about his Faith. Such "indifference" was the fruit of his greatness withal: his whole heart was in his own grand sphere of worship (we may call it such); these other controversies, vitally important to other men, were not vital to him.
  • is it not a right glorious thing, and set of things, this that Shakspeare has brought us? For myself, I feel that there is actually a kind of sacredness in the fact of such a man being sent into this Earth.
  • The Great Man here too, as always, is a Force of Nature. Whatsoever is truly great in him springs up from the inarticulate deeps.
  • Yes, truly, it is a great thing for a Nation that it get an articulate voice; that it produce a man who will speak forth melodiously what the heart of it means!
  • The built house seems all so fit,- everyway as it should be, as if it came there by its own law and the nature of things,- we forget the rude disorderly quarry it was shaped from. The very perfection of the house, as if Nature herself had made it, hides the builder's merit. Perfect, more perfect than any other man, we may call Shakspeare in this: he discerns, knows as by instinct, what condition he works under, what his materials are, what his own force and its relation to them is. It is not a transitory glance of insight that will suffice; it is deliberate illumination of the whole matter; it is a calmly seeing eye; a great intellect, in short. How a man, of some wide thing that he has witnessed, will construct a narrative, what kind of picture and delineation he will give of it,- is the best measure you could get of what intellect is in the man. Which circumstance is vital and shall stand prominent; which unessential, fit to be suppressed; where is the true beginning, the true sequence and ending? To find out this, you task the whole force of insight that is in the man. He must understand the thing; according to the depth of his understanding, will the fitness of his answer be.
  • Can the man say, Fiat lux, Let there be light; and out of chaos make a world? Precisely as there is light in himself, will he accomplish this.
  • Or indeed we may say again, it is in what I called Portrait-painting, delineating of men and things, especially of men, that Shakspeare is great. All the greatness of the man comes out decisively here. It is unexampled, I think, that calm creative perspicacity of Shakspeare. The thing he looks at reveals not this or that face of it, but its inmost heart and generic secret: it dissolves itself as in light before him, so that he discerns the perfect structure of it. Creative, we said: poetic creation, what is this too but seeing the thing sufficiently? The word that will describe the thing, follows of itself from such clear intense sight of the thing. And is not Shakspeare's morality, his valour, candour, tolerance, truthfulness; his whole victorious strength and greatness, which can triumph over such obstructions, visible there too? Great as the world!
  • It is truly a lordly spectacle how this great soul takes in all kinds of men and objects, a Falstaff, an Othello, a Juliet, a Coriolanus; sets them all forth to us in their round completeness; loving, just, the equal brother of all. Novum Organum, and all the intellect you will find in Bacon, is of a quite secondary order; earthy, material, poor in comparison with this. Among modern men, one finds, in strictness, almost nothing of the same rank. Goethe alone, since the days of Shakspeare, reminds me of it. Of him too you say that he saw the object; you may say what he himself says of Shakspeare: 'His characters are like watches with dial-plates of transparent crystal; they show you the hour like others, and the inward mechanism also is all visible.'.
  • The seeing eye! It is this that discloses the inner harmony of things; what Nature meant, what musical idea Nature has wrapped up in these often rough embodiments. Something she did mean. To the seeing eye that something were discernible. Are they base, miserable things? You can laugh over them, you can weep over them; you can in some way or other genially relate yourself to them; — you can, at lowest, hold your peace about them, turn away your own and others' face from them, till the hour come for practically exterminating and extinguishing them!
  • At bottom, it is the Poet's first gift, as it is all men's, that he have intellect enough. He will be a Poet if he have: a Poet in word; or failing that, perhaps still better, a Poet in act. Whether he write at all; and if so, whether in prose or in verse, will depend on accidents: who knows on what extremely trivial accidents, — perhaps on his having had a singing-master, on his being taught to sing in his boyhood! But the faculty which enables him to discern the inner heart of things, and the harmony that dwells there (for whatsoever exists has a harmony in the heart of it, or it would not hold together and exist), is not the result of habits or accidents, but the gift of Nature herself; the primary outfit for a Heroic Man in what sort soever. To the Poet, as to every other, we say first of all, See. If you cannot do that, it is of no use to keep stringing rhymes together, jingling sensibilities against each other, and name yourself a Poet; there is no hope for you. If you can, there is, in prose or verse, in action or speculation, all manner of hope. The crabbed old Schoolmaster used to ask, when they brought him a new pupil, 'But are ye sure he's not a dunce?' Why, really one might ask the same thing, in regard to every man proposed for whatsoever function; and consider it as the one inquiry needful: Are ye sure he's.

The Hero as Priest[edit]

The Hero As Priest. Luther; Reformation: Knox; Puritanism
  • There have been other Priests perhaps equally notable, in calmer times, for doing faithfully the office of a Leader of Worship; bringing down, by faithful heroism in that kind, a light from Heaven into the daily life of their people; leading them forward, as under God's guidance, in the way wherein they were to go. But when this same way was a rough one, of battle, confusion and danger, the spiritual Captain, who led through that, becomes, especially to us who live under the fruit of his leading, more notable than any other.
  • Is not every true Reformer, by the nature of him, a Priest first of all? He appeals to Heaven's invisible justice against Earth's visible force; knows that it, the invisible, is strong and alone strong. He is a believer in the divine truth of things; a seer, seeing through the shows of things; a worshipper, in one way or the other, of the divine truth of things; a Priest, that is. If he be not first a Priest, he will never be good for much as a Reformer.
  • the battling Reformer too is, from time to time, a needful and inevitable phenomenon. Obstructions are never wanting: the very things that were once indispensable furtherances become obstructions; and need to be shaken off, and left behind us,—a business often of enormous difficulty.
  • The rudest heathen that worshipped Canopus, or the Caabah Black-Stone, he, as we saw, was superior to the horse that worshipped nothing at all! Nay there was a kind of lasting merit in that poor act of his; analogous to what is still meritorious in Poets: recognition of a certain endless divine beauty and significance in stars and all natural objects whatsoever.
  • It is the property of every Hero, in every time, in every place and situation, that he come back to reality; that he stand upon things, and not shows of things. According as he loves, and venerates, articulately or with deep speechless thought, the awful realities of things, so will the hollow shows of things, however regular, decorous, accredited by Koreishes or Conclaves, be intolerable and detestable to him.
  • All this of Liberty and Equality, Electoral suffrages, Independence and so forth, we will take, therefore, to be a temporary phenomenon, by no means a final one. Though likely to last a long time, with sad enough embroilments for us all, we must welcome it, as the penalty of sins that are past, the pledge of inestimable benefits that are coming.
  • in the whole world, that day, there was not a more entirely unimportant-looking pair of people than this Miner and his Wife. And yet what were all Emperors, Popes and Potentates, in comparison? There was born here, once more, a Mighty Man; whose light was to flame as the beacon over long centuries and epochs of the world; the whole world and its history was waiting for this man. It is strange, it is great.
I find it altogether suitable to Luther's function in this Earth, and doubtless wisely ordered to that end by the Providence presiding over him and us and all things, that he was born poor, and brought up poor, one of the poorest of men. He had to beg, as the school-children in those times did; singing for alms and bread, from door to door. Hardship, rigorous Necessity was the poor boy's companion.
A boy of rude figure, yet with weak health, with his large greedy soul, full of all faculty and sensibility, he suffered greatly.
A youth nursed up in wintry whirlwinds, in desolate darkness and difficulty, that he may step forth at last from his stormy Scandinavia, strong as a true man, as a god: a Christian Odin,—a right Thor once more, with his thunder-hammer, to smite asunder ugly enough Jotuns and Giant-monsters!
  • At bottom, as was said above, we are to consider Luther as a Prophet Idol-breaker; a bringer-back of men to reality. It is the function of great men and teachers.
  • Luther's merit in literary history is of the greatest: his dialect became the language of all writing. They are not well written, these Four-and-twenty Quartos of his; written hastily, with quite other than literary objects. But in no Books have I found a more robust, genuine, I will say noble faculty of a man than in these. A rugged honesty, homeliness, simplicity; a rugged sterling sense and strength. He dashes out illumination from him; his smiting idiomatic phrases seem to cleave into the very secret of the matter. Good humor too, nay tender affection, nobleness and depth: this man could have been a Poet too! He had to work an Epic Poem, not write one.
there is a great free human heart in this man. The common speech of him has a rugged nobleness, idiomatic, expressive, genuine; gleams here and there with beautiful poetic tints.
  • Theocracy, Government of God, is precisely the thing to be struggled for!
  • The Age of Miracles is forever here!

The Hero as Man of Letters[edit]

The Hero as Man of Letters. Johnson, Rousseau, Burns
  • Alas, the Hero from of old has had to cramp himself into strange shapes: the world knows not well at any time what to do with him, so foreign is his aspect in the world!
  • this same Man-of-Letters Hero must be regarded as our most important modern person. He, such as he may be, is the soul of all.
  • In the true Literary Man there is thus ever, acknowledged or not by the world, a sacredness: he is the light of the world; the world's Priest;—guiding it, like a sacred Pillar of Fire, in its dark pilgrimage through the waste of Time.
  • There is clear truth in the idea that a struggle from the lower classes of society, towards the upper regions and rewards of society, must ever continue. Strong men are born there, who ought to stand elsewhere than there.
For Men of Letters, as for all other sorts of men. How to regulate that struggle? There is the whole question. To leave it as it is, at the mercy of blind Chance; a whirl of distracted atoms, one cancelling the other; one of the thousand arriving saved, nine hundred and ninety-nine lost by the way; your royal Johnson languishing inactive in garrets, or harnessed to the yoke of Printer Cave; your Burns dying broken-hearted as a Gauger; your Rousseau driven into mad exasperation, kindling French Revolutions by his paradoxes: this, as we said, is clearly enough the worst regulation. The best, alas, is far from us!
  • For the Scepticism, as I said, is not intellectual only; it is moral also; a chronic atrophy and disease of the whole soul. A man lives by believing something; not by debating and arguing about many things.
  • Great souls are always loyally submissive, reverent to what is over them.
  • The man whom Nature has appointed to do great things is, first of all, furnished with that openness to Nature which renders him incapable of being insincere! To his large, open, deep-feeling heart Nature is a Fact: all hearsay is hearsay; the unspeakable greatness of this Mystery of Life, let him acknowledge it or not, nay even though he seem to forget it or deny it, is ever present to him,—fearful and wonderful, on this hand and on that.
  • This Burns appeared under every disadvantage: uninstructed, poor, born only to hard manual toil; and writing, when it came to that, in a rustic special dialect, known only to a small province of the country he lived in. Had he written, even what he did write, in the general language of England, I doubt not he had already become universally recognized as being, or capable to be, one of our greatest men.
A wild impetuous whirlwind of passion and faculty slumbered quiet there; such heavenly melody dwelling in the heart of it. A noble rough genuineness; homely, rustic, honest; true simplicity of strength; with its lightning-fire, with its soft dewy pity;—like the old Norse Thor, the Peasant-god!
  • Burns's Brother Gilbert, a man of much sense and worth, has told me that Robert, in his young days, in spite of their hardship, was usually the gayest of speech; a fellow of infinite frolic, laughter, sense and heart; far pleasanter to hear there, stript cutting peats in the bog, or such like, than he ever afterwards knew him. I can well believe it. This basis of mirth, a primal element of sunshine and joyfulness, coupled with his other deep and earnest qualities, is one of the most attractive characteristics of Burns. A large fund of Hope dwells in him; spite of his tragical history, he is not a mourning man. He shakes his sorrows gallantly aside; bounds forth victorious over them.
Burns's gifts, expressed in conversation, are the theme of all that ever heard him. All kinds of gifts: from the gracefulest utterances of courtesy, to the highest fire of passionate speech; loud floods of mirth, soft wailings of affection, laconic emphasis, clear piercing insight; all was in him.
Burns too could have governed, debated in National Assemblies; politicized, as few could.
  • In books lies the soul of the whole Past Time; the articulate audible voice of the Past, when the body and material substance of it has altogether vanished like a dream.
  • Certainly the Art of Writing is the most miraculous of all things man has devised.
  • All that Mankind has done, thought, gained or been: it is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of Books.
  • It depends on what we read, after all manner of Professors have done their best for us.
  • The suffering man ought really 'to consume his own smoke'; there is no good in emitting smoke till you have made it into fire, — which, in the metaphorical sense too, all smoke is capable of becoming!
  • Adversity is sometimes hard upon a man; but for one man who can stand prosperity, there are a hundred that will stand adversity.
    • (Often shortened to "can't stand prosperity" as an unknown quote).
  • The true University of these days is a Collection of Books.
  • One life; a little gleam of Time between two Eternities; no second chance to us for evermore!
  • Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporter's Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.

The Hero As King[edit]

The Hero as King. Cromwell. Napoleon: Modern Revolutionism
  • Find in any country the Ablest Man that exists there; raise him to the supreme place, and loyally reverence him: you have a perfect government for that country; no ballot-box, parliamentary eloquence, voting, constitution-building, or other machinery whatsoever can improve it a whit.
  • There is no act more moral between men than that of rule and obedience. Woe to him that claims obedience when it is not due; woe to him that refuses it when it is! God's law is in that, I say, however the Parchment-laws may run: there is a Divine Right or else a Diabolic Wrong at the heart of every claim that one man makes upon another.
  • I esteem the modern error, That all goes by self-interest and the checking and balancing of greedy knaveries, and that in short, there is nothing divine whatever in the association of men, a still more despicable error, natural as it is to an unbelieving century, than that of a "divine right" in people called Kings. I say, Find me the true Konning, King, or Able-man, and he has a divine right over me.
  • To me, in these circumstances, that of "Hero-worship" becomes a fact inexpressibly precious; the most solacing fact one sees in the world at present. There is an everlasting hope in it for the management of the world. Had all traditions, arrangements, creeds, societies that men ever instituted, sunk away, this would remain. The certainty of Heroes being sent us; our faculty, our necessity, to reverence Heroes when sent: it shines like a polestar through smoke-clouds, dust-clouds, and all manner of down-rushing and conflagration.
  • far be it from me to say or insinuate a word of disparagement against such characters as Hampden, Elliot, Pym; whom I believe to have been right worthy and useful men. I have read diligently what books and documents about them I could come at;—with the honestest wish to admire, to love and worship them like Heroes; but I am sorry to say, if the real truth must be told, with very indifferent success! At bottom, I found that it would not do. They are very noble men, these; step along in their stately way, with their measured euphemisms, philosophies, parliamentary eloquences, Ship-moneys, Monarchies of Man; a most constitutional, unblamable, dignified set of men. But the heart remains cold before them.
  • I plead guilty to valuing such a man beyond all other sorts of men. Smooth-shaven Respectabilities not a few one finds, that are not good for much. Small thanks to a man for keeping his hands clean, who would not touch the work but with gloves on!
  • Truly it is a sad thing for a people, as for a man, to fall into Scepticism, into dilettantism, insincerity; not to know Sincerity when they see it. For this world, and for all worlds, what curse is so fatal?
  • For being a man worth any thousand men, the response your Knox, your Cromwell gets, is an argument for two centuries whether he was a man at all. God's greatest gift to this Earth is sneeringly flung away.
  • "Detect quacks"? Yes do, for Heaven's sake; but know withal the men that are to be trusted! Till we know that, what is all our knowledge; how shall we even so much as "detect"? For the vulpine sharpness, which considers itself to be knowledge, and "detects" in that fashion, is far mistaken. Dupes indeed are many: but, of all dupes, there is none so fatally situated as he who lives in undue terror of being duped.
The sincere alone can recognize sincerity. Not a Hero only is needed, but a world fit for him;
  • We shall either learn to know a Hero, a true Governor and Captain, somewhat better, when we see him; or else go on to be forever governed by the Unheroic;—had we ballot-boxes clattering at every street-corner, there were no remedy in these.
  • With his sharp power of vision, resolute power of action, I doubt not he could have learned to write Books withal, and speak fluently enough;—he did harder things than writing of Books. This kind of man is precisely he who is fit for doing manfully all things you will set him on doing.
  • Examine the man who lives in misery because he does not shine above other men; who goes about producing himself, pruriently anxious about his gifts and claims; struggling to force everybody, as it were begging everybody for God's sake, to acknowledge him a great man, and set him over the heads of men! Such a creature is among the wretchedest sights seen under this sun. A great man? A poor morbid prurient empty man; fitter for the ward of a hospital, than for a throne among men. I advise you to keep out of his way. He cannot walk on quiet paths; unless you will look at him, wonder at him, write paragraphs about him, he cannot live. It is the emptiness of the man, not his greatness. Because there is nothing in himself, he hungers and thirsts that you would find something in him. In good truth, I believe no great man, not so much as a genuine man who had health and real substance in him of whatever magnitude, was ever much tormented in this way.
  • there is an irrepressible tendency in every man to develop himself according to the magnitude which Nature has made him of; to speak out, to act out, what nature has laid in him. This is proper, fit, inevitable; nay it is a duty, and even the summary of duties for a man. The meaning of life here on earth might be defined as consisting in this: To unfold your self, to work what thing you have the faculty for.

Past and Present (1843)[edit]

online text
  • Genius is 'the inspired gift of God.' It is the clearer presence of God Most High in a man. Dim, potential in all men; in this man it has become clear, actual.
  • Thou, O World, how wilt thou secure thyself against this man? Thou canst not hire him by thy guineas; nor by thy gibbets and law-penalties restrain him. He eludes thee like a Spirit. Thou canst not forward him, thou canst not hinder him. Thy penalties, thy poverties, neglects, contumelies: behold, all these are good for him. Come to him as an enemy; turn from him as an unfriend; only do not this one thing,—infect him not with thy own delusion: the benign Genius, were it by very death, shall guard him against this!—What wilt thou do with him? He is above thee, like a god. Thou, in thy stupendous three-inch pattens, art under him. He is thy born king, thy conqueror and supreme lawgiver: not all the guineas and cannons, and leather and prunella, under the sky can save thee from him. Hardest thickskinned Mammon-world, ruggedest Caliban shall obey him, or become not Caliban but a cramp. Oh, if in this man, whose eyes can flash Heaven's lightning, and make all Calibans into a cramp, there dwelt not, as the essence of his very being, a God's justice, human Nobleness, Veracity and Mercy,—I should tremble for the world. But his strength, let us rejoice to understand, is even this: The quantity of Justice, of Valour and Pity that is in him. To hypocrites and tailored quacks in high places, his eyes are lightning; but they melt in dewy pity softer than a mother's to the downpressed, maltreated; in his heart, in his great thought, is a sanctuary for all the wretched.
  • Not a May-game is this man's life; but a battle and a march, a warfare with principalities and powers. No idle promenade through fragrant orange-groves and green flowery spaces, waited on by the choral Muses and the rosy Hours: it is a stern pilgrimage through burning sandy solitudes, through regions of thick-ribbed ice. He walks among men; loves men, with inexpressible soft pity,—as they cannot love him: but his soul dwells in solitude, in the uttermost parts of Creation. In green oases by the palm-tree wells, he rests a space; but anon he has to journey forward, escorted by the Terrors and the Splendours, the Archdemons and Archangels. All Heaven, all Pandemonium are his escort. The stars keen-glancing, from the Immensities, send tidings to him; the graves, silent with their dead, from the Eternities. Deep calls for him unto Deep.
  • To this man life is already as earnest and awful, and beautiful and terrible, as death.
  • World,—this man is not a slave with thee! None of thy promotions is necessary for him. His place is with the stars of Heaven: to thee it may be momentous, to him it is indifferent, whether thou place him in the lowest hut, or forty feet higher at the top of thy stupendous high tower, while here on Earth. The joys of Earth that are precious, they depend not on thee and thy promotions. Food and raiment, and, round a social hearth, souls who love him, whom he loves: these are already his. He wants none of thy rewards;
  • Such souls are, in these days, getting somewhat out of humour with the world. Your very Byron, in these days, is at least driven mad; flatly refuses fealty to the world. The world with its injustices, its golden brutalities, and dull yellow guineas, is a disgust to such souls: the ray of Heaven that is in them does at least pre-doom them to be very miserable here. Yes:—and yet all misery is faculty misdirected, strength that has not yet found its way. The black whirlwind is mother of the lightning. No smoke, in any sense, but can become flame and radiance! Such soul, once graduated in Heaven's stern University, steps out superior to your guinea.
  • He has now a second far greater success to gain: to seek out his real superiors, whom not the Tailor but the Almighty God has made superior to him, and see a little what he will do with these! Rebel against these also? Pass by with minatory eagle-glance, with calm-sniffing mockery, or even without any mockery or sniff, when these present themselves? The lion-hearted will never dream of such a thing. Forever far be it from him! His minatory eagle-glance will veil itself in softness of the dove: his lion- heart will become a lamb's; all is just indignation changed into just reverence, dissolved in blessed floods of noble humble love, how much heavenlier than any pride, nay, if you will, how much prouder!
  • Men do reverence men. Men do worship in that 'one temple of the world,' as Novalis calls it, the Presence of a Man! Hero- worship, true and blessed, or else mistaken, false and accursed, goes on everywhere and everywhen. In this world there is one godlike thing, the essence of all that was or ever will be of godlike in this world: the veneration done to Human Worth by the hearts of men. Hero-worship, in the souls of the heroic, of the clear and wise,—it is the perpetual presence of Heaven in our poor Earth: when it is not there, Heaven is veiled from us; and all is under Heaven's ban and interdict, and there is no worship, or worthship, or worth or blessedness in the Earth any more!—
  • To reconcile Despotism with Freedom:—well, is that such a mystery? Do you not already know the way? It is to make your Despotism just. Rigorous as Destiny; but just too, as Destiny and its Laws. The Laws of God: all men obey these, and have no 'Freedom' at all but in obeying them. The way is already known, part of the way;—and courage and some qualities are needed for walking on it!
  • Every toiling Manchester, its smoke and soot all burnt, ought it not, among so many world-wide conquests, to have a hundred acres or so of free greenfield, with trees on it, conquered, for its little children to disport in; for its all-conquering workers to take a breath of twilight air in? You would say so! A willing Legislature could say so with effect. A willing Legislature could say very many things! And to whatsoever 'vested interest,' or such like, stood up, gainsaying merely, "I shall lose profits,"—the willing Legislature would answer, "Yes, but my sons and daughters will gain health, and life, and a soul."—
forbid!"—The Legislature, even as it now is, could order all dingy Manufacturing Towns to cease from their soot and darkness; to let in the blessed sunlight, the blue of Heaven, and become clear and clean; to burn their coal-smoke, namely, and make flame of it. Baths, free air, a wholesome temperature, ceilings twenty feet high, might be ordained by Act of Parliament, in all establishments licensed as Mills. There are such Mills already extant;—honour to the builders of them! The Legislature can say to others: Go ye and do likewise; better if you can.
Nay interference has begun: there are already Factory Inspectors,—who seem to have no lack of work. Perhaps there might be Mine-Inspectors too:—might there not be Furrowfield Inspectors withal, and ascertain for us how on seven and sixpence a week a human family does live! Interference has begun; it must continue, must extensively enlarge itself, deepen and sharpen itself. Such things cannot longer be idly lapped in darkness, and suffered to go on unseen: the Heavens do see them; the curse, not the blessing of the Heavens is on an Earth that refuses to see them.
  • The Soldier is perhaps one of the most difficult things to realise; but Governments, had they not realised him, could not have existed: accordingly he is here.
  • Why, reader, truly, if they asked thee or me, Which way we meant to vote?—were it not our likeliest answer: Neither way! I, as a Tenpound Franchiser, will receive no bribe; but also I will not vote for either of these men. Neither Rigmarole nor Dolittle shall, by furtherance of mine, go and make laws for this country. I will have no hand in such a mission. How dare I! If other men cannot be got in England, a totally other sort of men, different as light is from dark, as star-fire is from street-mud, what is the use of votings, or of Parliaments in England?
  • Unless some Hero-worship, in its new appropriate form, can return, this world does not promise to be very habitable long.
  • Man, little as he may suppose it, is necessitated to obey superiors. He is a social being in virtue of this necessity; nay he could not be gregarious otherwise. He obeys those whom he esteems better than himself, wiser, braver; and will forever obey such; and even be ready and delighted to do it.
  • Henry of Essex's religion was the Inner Light or Moral Conscience of his own soul; such as is vouchsafed still to all souls of men;—which Inner Light shone here 'through such intellectual and other media' as there were; producing 'Phantasms,' Kircherean Visual-Spectra, according to circumstances! It is so with all men. The clearer my Inner Light may shine, through the less turbid media; the fewer Phantasms it may produce,—the gladder surely shall I be, and not the sorrier! Hast thou reflected, O serious reader, Advanced- Liberal or other, that the one end, essence, use of all religion past, present and to come, was this only: To keep that same Moral Conscience or Inner Light of ours alive and shining.
  • But oppression by your Mock-Superiors well shaken off, the grand problem yet remains to solve: That of finding government by your Real-Superiors! Alas, how shall we ever learn the solution of that, benighted, bewildered, sniffing, sneering, godforgetting unfortunates as we are? It is a work for centuries; to be taught us by tribulations, confusions, insurrections, obstructions; who knows if not by conflagration and despair! It is a lesson inclusive of all other lessons; the hardest of all lessons to learn.
  • Democracy, which means despair of finding any Heroes to govern you, and contented putting up with the want of them,—alas, thou too, mein Lieber, seest well how close it is of kin to Atheism, and other sad Isms: he who discovers no God whatever, how shall he discover Heroes, the visible Temples of God?
  • And yet I will venture to believe that in no time, since the beginnings of Society, was the lot of those same dumb millions of toilers so entirely unbearable as it is even in the days now passing over us. It is not to die, or even to die of hunger, that makes a man wretched; many men have died; all men must die,—the last exit of us all is in a Fire-Chariot of Pain. But it is to live miserable we know not why; to work sore and yet gain nothing; to be heart-worn, weary, yet isolated, unrelated, girt in with a cold universal Laissez-faire: it is to die slowly all our life long, imprisoned in a deaf, dead, Infinite Injustice, as in the accursed iron belly of a Phalaris' Bull! This is and remains forever intolerable to all men whom God has made. Do we wonder at French Revolutions, Chartisms, Revolts of Three Days? The times, if we will consider them, are really unexampled.
Life was never a May-game for men: in all times the lot of the dumb millions born to toil was defaced with manifold sufferings, injustices, heavy burdens, avoidable and unavoidable; not play at all, but hard work that made the sinews sore, and the heart sore.
  • Consider how, even in the meanest sorts of Labour, the whole soul of a man is composed into a kind of real harmony, the instant he sets himself to work! Doubt, Desire, Sorrow, Remorse, Indignation, Despair itself, all these like helldogs lie beleaguering the soul of the poor dayworker, as of every man: but he bends himself with free valour against his task, and all these are stilled, all these shrink murmuring far off into their caves. The man is now a man. The blessed glow of Labour in him, is it not as purifying fire, wherein all poison is burnt up, and of sour smoke itself there is made bright blessed flame!
  • The latest Gospel in this world is, Know thy work and do it. 'Know thyself:' long enough has that poor 'self' of thine tormented thee; thou wilt never get to 'know' it, I believe! Think it not thy business, this of knowing thyself; thou art an unknowable individual: know what thou canst work at; and work at it, like a Hercules! That will be thy better plan.
  • Money is miraculous. What miraculous facilities has it yielded, will it yield us; but also what never-imagined confusions, obscurations has it brought in; down almost to total extinction of the moral-sense in large masses of mankind!
  • And wonderful it is to see how the Ideal or Soul, place it in what ugliest Body you may, will irradiate said Body with its own nobleness; will gradually, incessantly, mould, modify, new-form or reform said ugliest Body, and make it at last beautiful, and to a certain degree divine!
  • The inventive genius of great England will not forever sit patient with mere wheels and pinions, bobbins, straps and billy-rollers whirring in the head of it. The inventive genius of England is not a Beaver's, or a Spinner's or Spider's genius: it is a Man's genius, I hope, with a God over him!
  • In brief, all this Mammon- Gospel, of Supply-and-demand, Competition, Laissez-faire, and Devil take the hindmost, begins to be one of the shabbiest Gospels ever preached on Earth; or altogether the shabbiest.
  • In a valiant suffering for others, not in a slothful making others suffer for us, did nobleness ever lie.
  • Properly speaking, the Land belongs to these two: To the Almighty God; and to all His Children of Men that have ever worked well on it, or that shall ever work well on it. No generation of men can or could, with never such solemnity and effort, sell Land on any other principle: it is not the property of any generation, we say, but that of all the past generations that have worked on it, and of all the future ones that shall work on it.
  • Of all the Nations in the world at present we English are the stupidest in speech, the wisest in action. As good as a 'dumb' Nation, I say, who cannot speak, and have never yet spoken,— spite of the Shakspeares and Miltons who skew us what possibilities there are!—O Mr. Bull, I look in that surly face of thine with a mixture of pity and laughter, yet also with wonder and veneration. Thou complainest not, my illustrious friend; and yet I believe the heart of thee is full of sorrow, of unspoken sadness, seriousness,—profound melancholy (as some have said) the basis of thy being. Unconsciously, for thou speakest of nothing, this great Universe is great to thee. Not by levity of floating, but by stubborn force of swimming, shalt thou make thy way. The Fates sing of thee that thou shalt many times be thought an ass and a dull ox, and shalt with a god-like indifference believe it. My friend,—and it is all untrue, nothing ever falser in point of fact! Thou art of those great ones whose greatness the small passer-by does not discern. Thy very stupidity is wiser than their wisdom. A grand vis inertiae is in thee; how many grand qualities unknown to small men! Nature alone knows thee, acknowledges the bulk and strength of thee: thy Epic, unsung in words, is written in huge characters on the face of this Planet,—sea-moles, cotton-trades, railways, fleets and cities, Indian Empires, Americas, New- Hollands; legible throughout the Solar System!
  • The spoken Word, the written Poem, is said to be an epitome of the man; how much more the done Work. Whatsoever of morality and of intelligence; what of patience, perseverance, faithfulness, of method, insight, ingenuity, energy; in a word, whatsoever of Strength the man had in him will lie written in the Work he does. To work: why, it is to try himself against Nature, and her everlasting unerring Laws; these will tell a true verdict as to the man.
  • "No man in this fashionable London of yours," friend Sauerteig would say, "speaks a plain word to me. Every man feels bound to be something more than plain; to be pungent withal, witty, ornamental. His poor fraction of sense has to be perked into some epigrammatic shape, that it may prick into me;—perhaps (this is the commonest) to be topsyturvied, left standing on its head, that I may remember it the better! Such grinning inanity is very sad to the soul of man. Human faces should not grin on one like masks; they should look on one like faces! I love honest laughter, as I do sunlight; but not dishonest: most kinds of dancing too; but the St.-Vitus kind not at all! A fashionable wit, ach Himmel, if you ask, Which, he or a Death's- head, will be the cheerier company for me? pray send not him!"
  • This poor amphibious Pope too gives loaves to the Poor; has in him more good latent than he is himself aware of. His poor Jesuits, in the late Italian Cholera, were, with a few German Doctors, the only creatures whom dastard terror had not driven mad: they descended fearless into all gulfs and bedlams; watched over the pillow of the dying, with help, with counsel and hope; shone as luminous fixed stars, when all else had gone out in chaotic night: honour to them!
  • It is all work and forgotten work, this peopled, clothed, articulate-speaking, high-towered, wide-acred World. The hands of forgotten brave men have made it a World for us; they,— honour to them; they, in spite of the idle and the dastard. This English Land, here and now, is the summary of what was found of wise, and noble, and accordant with God's Truth, in all the generations of English Men. Our English Speech is speakable because there were Hero-Poets of our blood and lineage; speakable in proportion to the number of these. This Land of England has its conquerors, possessors, which change from epoch to epoch, from day to day; but its real conquerors, creators, and eternal proprietors are these following, and their representatives if you can find them: All the Heroic Souls that ever were in England, each in their degree; all the men that ever cut a thistle, drained a puddle out of England, contrived a wise scheme in England, did or said a true and valiant thing in England.
  • The manner of men's Hero-worship, verily it is the innermost fact of their existence, and determines all the rest,—at public hustings, in private drawing-rooms, in church, in market, and wherever else. Have true reverence, and what indeed is inseparable therefrom, reverence the right man, all is well; have sham-reverence, and what also follows, greet with it the wrong man, then all is ill, and there is nothing.
  • Let the modern eye look earnestly on that old midnight hour in St. Edmundsbury Church, shining yet on us, ruddy-bright, through the depths of seven hundred years; and consider mournfully what our Hero-worship once was, and what it now is!
Our new Abbot has a right honest unconscious feeling, without insolence as without fear or flutter, of what he is and what others are. A courage to quell the proudest, an honest pity to encourage the humblest. Withal there is a noble reticence in this Lord Abbot: much vain unreason he hears; lays up without response. He is not there to expect reason and nobleness of others; he is there to give them of his own reason and nobleness. Is he not their servant, as we said, who can suffer from them, and for them; bear the burden their poor spindle-limbs totter and stagger under; and in virtue thereof govern them, lead them out of weakness into strength, out of defeat into victory!
He has a mild grave face; a thoughtful sternness, a sorrowful pity: but there is a terrible flash of anger in him too.
  • In all cases, therefore, we will agree with the judicious Mrs. Glass: 'First catch your hare!' First get your man; all is got: he can learn to do all things, from making boots, to decreeing judgments, governing communities; and will do them like a man.
  • Why not? What is to hinder this Samson from governing? There is in him what far transcends all apprenticeships; in the man himself there exists a model of governing, something to govern by! There exists in him a heart-abhorrence of whatever is incoherent, pusillanimous, unveracious,—that is to say, chaotic, _un_governed; of the Devil, not of God. A man of this kind cannot help governing! He has the living ideal of a governor in him; and the incessant necessity of struggling to unfold the same out of him.
  • Thus Mr. Sale informs me, the old Arab Tribes would gather in liveliest gaudeamus, and sing, and kindle bonfires, and wreathe crowns of honour, and solemnly thank the gods that, in their Tribe too, a Poet had shewn himself. As indeed they well might; for what usefuller, I say not nobler and heavenlier thing could the gods, doing their very kindest, send to any Tribe or Nation, in any time or circumstances?
  • it is a most important social act; nay, at bottom, the one important social act. Given the men a People choose, the People itself, in its exact worth and worthlessness, is given. A heroic people chooses heroes, and is happy; a valet or flunkey people chooses sham-heroes, what are called quacks, thinking them heroes, and is not happy.
  • May not this religious reticence, in these devout good souls, be perhaps a merit, and sign of health in them? Jocelin, Eadmer, and such religious men, have as yet nothing of 'Methodism;' no Doubt or even root of Doubt. Religion is not a diseased self-introspection, an agonising inquiry: their duties are clear to them, the way of supreme good plain, indisputable, and they are traveling on it. Religion lies over them like an all-embracing heavenly canopy, like an atmosphere and life- element, which is not spoken of, which in all things is presupposed without speech. Is not serene or complete Religion the highest aspect of human nature.
  • It is the very joy of man's heart to admire, where he can; nothing so lifts him from all his mean imprisonments, were it but for moments, as true admiration.
  • Behold therefore, this England of the Year 1200 was no chimerical vacuity or dreamland, peopled with mere vaporous Fantasms, Rymer's Foedera, and Doctrines of the Constitution, but a green solid place, that grew corn and several other things. The Sun shone on it; the vicissitude of seasons and human fortunes. Cloth was woven and worn; ditches were dug, furrowfields ploughed, and houses built. Day by day all men and cattle rose to labour, and night by night returned home weary to their several lairs. In wondrous Dualism, then as now, lived nations of breathing men; alternating, in all ways, between Light and Dark; between joy and sorrow, between rest and toil, between hope, hope reaching high as Heaven, and fear deep as very Hell. Not vapour Fantasms, Rymer's Foedera at all!
  • He thinks that Hero-worship, done differently in every different epoch of the world, is the soul of all social business among men; that the doing of it well, or the doing of it ill, measures accurately what degree of well-being or of ill- being there is in the world's affairs. He thinks that we, on the whole, do our Hero-worship worse than any Nation in this world ever did it before: that the Burns an Exciseman, the Byron a Literary Lion, are intrinsically, all things considered, a baser and falser phenomenon than the Odin a God, the Mahomet a Prophet of God. It is this Editor's clear opinion, accordingly, that we must learn to do our Hero-worship better; that to do it better and better, means the awakening of the Nation's soul from its asphyxia, and the return of blessed life to us,—Heaven's blessed life, not Mammon's galvanic accursed one. To resuscitate the Asphyxied, apparently now moribund, and in the last agony if not resuscitated: such and no other seems the consummation. 'Hero-worship,' if you will,—yes, friends; but, first of all, by being ourselves of heroic mind.
It is, O friends, that all of us, that many of us, should acquire the true eye for talent, which is dreadfully wanting at present! The true eye for talent presupposes the true reverence for it,—O Heavens, presupposes so many things!
  • Never till now, in the history of an Earth which to this hour nowhere refuses to grow corn if you will plough it, to yield shirts if you will spin and weave in it, did the mere manual two-handed worker (however it might fare with other workers) cry in vain for such "wages" as he means by "fair wages," namely food and warmth!
Insurrections!—The world, with its Wealth of Nations, Supply-and-demand and such like, has of late days been terribly inattentive to that question of work and wages. We will not say, the poor world has retrograded even here: we will say rather, the world has been rushing on with such fiery animation to get work and ever more work done, it has had no time to think of dividing the wages; and has merely left them to be scrambled for by the Law of the Stronger, law of Supply-and-demand, law of Laissez-faire, and other idle Laws and Un-laws.
  • for this also we will honour the poor Manchester Insurrection, and augur well of it. A deep unspoken sense lies in these strong men,— inconsiderable, almost stupid, as all they can articulate of it is. Amid all violent stupidity of speech, a right noble instinct of what is doable and what is not doable never forsakes them: the strong inarticulate men and workers, whom Fact patronises; of whom, in all difficulty and work whatsoever, there is good augury!
  • men's hearts ought not to be set against one another; but set with one another, and all against the Evil Thing only.
  • Oceans of horse-hair, continents of parchment, and learned-sergeant eloquence, were it continued till the learned tongue wore itself small in the indefatigable learned mouth, cannot make unjust just.
  • Descend where you will into the lower class, in Town or Country, by what avenue you will, by Factory Inquiries, Agricultural Inquiries, by Revenue Returns, by Mining-Labourer Committees, by opening your own eyes and looking, the same sorrowful result discloses itself: you have to admit that the working body of this rich English Nation has sunk or is fast sinking into a state, to which, all sides of it considered, there was literally never any parallel.
  • "A fair day's wages for a fair day's work": it is as just a demand as governed men ever made of governing. It is the everlasting right of man.
    • Bk. I, ch. 3.
  • Fire is the best of servents; but what a master!
    • Bk. II, ch. 9.
  • All work, even cotton spinning, is noble; work is alone noble ... A life of ease is not for any man, nor for any god.
    • Bk. III, ch. 4.
  • Every pitifulest whipster that walks within a skin has had his head filled with the notion that he is, shall be, or by all human and divine laws ought to be, 'happy.' His wishes, the pitifulest whipster's, are to be fulfilled for him; his days, the pitifulest whipster's, are to flow on in an ever-gentle current of enjoyment, impossible even for the gods. The prophets preach to us, Thou shalt be happy; thou shalt love pleasant things, and find them. The people clamor, Why have we not found pleasant things? ...God's Laws are become a Greatest Happiness Principle. There is no religion; there is no God; man has lost his soul.
    • Bk. III, ch. 4.
  • The English are a dumb people. They can do great acts, but not describe them.
    • Bk. III, ch. 5.
  • Every noble crown is, and on earth will forever be, a crown of thorns.
    • Bk. III, ch. 7.
  • Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness.
    • Bk. III, ch. 11.
  • He who takes not counsel of the Unseen and Silent, from him will never come real visibility and speech.
    • Bk. III, ch. 11.
  • Captains of Industry.
    • Bk. IV, ch. 4 (chapter title).

Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850)[edit]

online text

The Present Time (February 1, 1850)[edit]

  • But in the days that are now passing over us, even fools are arrested to ask the meaning of them; few of the generations of men have seen more impressive days. Days of endless calamity, disruption, dislocation, confusion worse confounded: if they are not days of endless hope too, then they are days of utter despair. For it is not a small hope that will suffice, the ruin being clearly, either in action or in prospect, universal. There must be a new world, if there is to be any world at all!
  • Paris, which for sixty years past has been the City of Insurrections. The French People had plumed themselves on being, whatever else they were not, at least the chosen "soldiers of liberty," who took the lead of all creatures in that pursuit, at least; and had become, as their orators, editors and litterateurs diligently taught them, a People whose bayonets were sacred, a kind of Messiah People, saving a blind world in its own despite, and earning for themselves a terrestrial and even celestial glory very considerable indeed.
The French explosion, not anticipated by the cunningest men there on the spot scrutinizing it, burst up unlimited, complete, defying computation or control. Close following which, as if by sympathetic subterranean electricities, all Europe exploded, boundless, uncontrollable; and we had the year 1848, one of the most singular, disastrous, amazing, and, on the whole, humiliating years the European world ever saw.
what was peculiar and notable in this year for the first time, the Kings all made haste to go, as if exclaiming, "We are poor histrios, we sure enough;—did you want heroes? Don't kill us; we couldn't help it!" Not one of them turned round, and stood upon his Kingship, as upon a right he could afford to die for, or to risk his skin upon; by no manner of means. That, I say, is the alarming peculiarity at present. Democracy, on this new occasion, finds all Kings conscious that they are but Play-actors.
They fled precipitately, some of them with what we may call an exquisite ignominy,—in terror of the treadmill or worse.
  • And so in City after City, street-barricades are piled, and truculent, more or less murderous insurrection begins; populace after populace rises, King after King capitulates or absconds; and from end to end of Europe Democracy has blazed up explosive, much higher, more irresistible and less resisted than ever before; testifying too sadly on what a bottomless volcano, or universal powder-mine of most inflammable mutinous chaotic elements, separated from us by a thin earth-rind, Society with all its arrangements and acquirements everywhere, in the present epoch, rests! The kind of persons who excite or give signal to such revolutions—students, young men of letters, advocates, editors, hot inexperienced enthusiasts, or fierce and justly bankrupt desperadoes, acting everywhere on the discontent of the millions and blowing it into flame,—might give rise to reflections as to the character of our epoch. Never till now did young men, and almost children, take such a command in human affairs.
  • Sure enough, America is a great, and in many respects a blessed and hopeful phenomenon. Sure enough, these hardy millions of Anglo-Saxon men prove themselves worthy of their genealogy; and, with the axe and plough and hammer, if not yet with any much finer kind of implements, are triumphantly clearing out wide spaces, seedfields for the sustenance and refuge of mankind, arenas for the future history of the world; doing, in their day and generation, a creditable and cheering feat under the sun. But as to a Model Republic, or a model anything, the wise among themselves know too well that there is nothing to be said.
what noble new phasis of human arrangement, or social device worthy of Prometheus or of Epimetheus, yet comes to light in America? Cotton crops and Indian corn and dollars come to light; and half a world of untilled land, where populations that respect the constable can live, for the present without Government: this comes to light; and the profound sorrow of all nobler hearts, here uttering itself as silent patient unspeakable ennui, there coming out as vague elegiac wailings, that there is still next to nothing more.
Corn and bacon are granted: not a very sublime boon, on such conditions; a boon moreover which, on such conditions, cannot last!—No: America too will have to strain its energies, in quite other fashion than this; to crack its sinews, and all but break its heart, as the rest of us have had to do, in thousand-fold wrestle with the Pythons and mud-demons, before it can become a habitation for the gods. America's battle is yet to fight; and we, sorrowful though nothing doubting, will wish her strength for it. New Spiritual Pythons, plenty of them; enormous Megatherions, as ugly as were ever born of mud, loom huge and hideous out of the twilight Future on America; and she will have her own agony, and her own victory, but on other terms than she is yet quite aware of.
My friend, brag not yet of our American cousins! Their quantity of cotton, dollars, industry and resources, I believe to be almost unspeakable; but I can by no means worship the like of these. What great human soul, what great thought, what great noble thing that one could worship, or loyally admire, has yet been produced there? None: the American cousins have yet done none of these things.
  • The Noble in the high place, the Ignoble in the low; that is, in all times and in all countries, the Almighty Maker's Law.
  • friend!—Will the ballot-box raise the Noblest to the chief place; does any sane man deliberately believe such a thing?
  • I say, it is the everlasting privilege of the foolish to be governed by the wise; to be guided in the right path by those who know it better than they. This is the first "right of man;" compared with which all other rights are as nothing.
  • On the dust of our heroic ancestors we too sit ballot-boxing, saying to one another, It is well, it is well! By inheritance of their noble struggles, we have been permitted to sit slothful so long. By noble toil, not by shallow laughter and vain talk, they made this English Existence from a savage forest into an arable inhabitable field for us; and we, idly dreaming it would grow spontaneous crops forever,—find it now in too questionable a state.
  • Who would govern that can get along without governing? He that is fittest for it, is of all men the unwillingest unless constrained.
  • Between our Black West Indies and our White Ireland, between these two extremes of lazy refusal to work, and of famishing inability to find any work, what a world have we made of it, with our fierce Mammon-worships, and our benevolent philanderings, and idle godless nonsenses of one kind and another! Supply-and-demand, Leave-it-alone, Voluntary Principle, Time will mend it:—till British industrial existence seems fast becoming one huge poison-swamp of reeking pestilence physical and moral; a hideous living Golgotha of souls and bodies buried alive; such a Curtius' gulf, communicating with the Nether Deeps, as the Sun never saw till now. These scenes, which the Morning Chronicle is bringing home to all minds of men,—thanks to it for a service such as Newspapers have seldom done,—ought to excite unspeakable reflections in every mind. Thirty thousand outcast Needlewomen working themselves swiftly to death; three million Paupers rotting in forced idleness, helping said Needlewomen to die: these are but items in the sad ledger of despair.
  • Alas, our noble men of genius, Heaven's real messengers to us, they also rendered nearly futile by the wasteful time;—preappointed they everywhere, and assiduously trained by all their pedagogues and monitors, to "rise in Parliament," to compose orations, write books, or in short speak words, for the approval of reviewers; instead of doing real kingly work to be approved of by the gods!
England, as I persuade myself, still contains in it many kings; possesses, as old Rome did, many men not needing "election" to command, but eternally elected for it by the Maker Himself. England's one hope is in these, just now. They are among the silent, I believe; mostly far away from platforms and public palaverings; not speaking forth the image of their nobleness in transitory words, but imprinting it, each on his own little section of the world, in silent facts, in modest valiant actions, that will endure forevermore. They must sit silent no longer. They are summoned to assert themselves; to act forth, and articulately vindicate, in the teeth of howling multitudes, of a world too justly maddened into all manner of delirious clamors, what of wisdom they derive from God.
England, and the Eternal Voices, summon them; poor England never so needed them as now. Up, be doing everywhere: the hour of crisis has verily come! In all sections of English life, the god-made king is needed; is pressingly demanded in most; in some, cannot longer, without peril as of conflagration, be dispensed with.
  • In all European countries, especially in England, one class of Captains and commanders of men, recognizable as the beginning of a new real and not imaginary "Aristocracy," has already in some measure developed itself: the Captains of Industry;—happily the class who above all, or at least first of all, are wanted in this time. In the doing of material work, we have already men among us that can command bodies of men. And surely, on the other hand, there is no lack of men needing to be commanded: the sad class of brother-men whom we had to describe as "Hodge's emancipated horses," reduced to roving famine,—this too has in all countries developed itself; and, in fatal geometrical progression, is ever more developing itself, with a rapidity which alarms every one. On this ground, if not on all manner of other grounds, it may be truly said, the "Organization of Labor" (not organizable by the mad methods tried hitherto) is the universal vital Problem of the world.

Model Prisons (March 1, 1850)[edit]

  • Among the articulate classes, as they may be called, there are two ways of proceeding in regard to this. One large body of the intelligent and influential, busied mainly in personal affairs, accepts the social iniquities, or whatever you may call them, and the miseries consequent thereupon; accepts them, admits them to be extremely miserable, pronounces them entirely inevitable, incurable except by Heaven, and eats its pudding with as little thought of them as possible. Not a very noble class of citizens these; not a very hopeful or salutary method of dealing with social iniquities this of theirs, however it may answer in respect to themselves and their personal affairs! But now there is the select small minority, in whom some sentiment of public spirit and human pity still survives, among whom, or not anywhere, the Good Cause may expect to find soldiers and servants: their method of proceeding, in these times, is also very strange. They embark in the "philanthropic movement;" they calculate that the miseries of the world can be cured by bringing the philanthropic movement to bear on them. To universal public misery, and universal neglect of the clearest public duties, let private charity superadd itself: there will thus be some balance restored, and maintained again; thus,—or by what conceivable method? On these terms they, for their part, embark in the sacred cause; resolute to cure a world's woes by rose-water; desperately bent on trying to the uttermost that mild method. It seems not to have struck these good men that no world, or thing here below, ever fell into misery, without having first fallen into folly, into sin against the Supreme Ruler of it, by adopting as a law of conduct what was not a law, but the reverse of one; and that, till its folly, till its sin be cast out of it, there is not the smallest hope of its misery going,—that not for all the charity and rose-water in the world will its misery try to go till then!
To admit that the world's ways are foul, and not the ways of God the Maker, but of Satan the Destroyer, many of them, and that they must be mended or we all die; that if huge misery prevails, huge cowardice, falsity, disloyalty, universal Injustice high and low, have still longer prevailed, and must straightway try to cease prevailing: this is what no visible reformer has yet thought of doing: All so-called "reforms" hitherto are grounded either on openly admitted egoism (cheap bread to the cotton-spinner, voting to those that have no vote, and the like), which does not point towards very celestial developments of the Reform movement; or else upon this of remedying social injustices by indiscriminate contributions of philanthropy, a method surely still more unpromising. Such contributions, being indiscriminate, are but a new injustice; these will never lead to reform, or abolition of injustice, whatever else they lead to!
Philanthropy, emancipation, and pity for human calamity is very beautiful; but the deep oblivion of the Law of Right and Wrong; this "indiscriminate mashing up of Right and Wrong into a patent treacle" of the Philanthropic movement, is by no means beautiful; this, on the contrary, is altogether ugly and alarming.
  • Human virtue, if we went down to the roots of it, is not so rare. The materials of human virtue are everywhere abundant as the light of the sun: raw materials,—O woe, and loss, and scandal thrice and threefold, that they so seldom are elaborated, and built into a result! that they lie yet unelaborated, and stagnant in the souls of wide-spread dreary millions, fermenting, festering; and issue at last as energetic vice instead of strong practical virtue!
  • I take the liberty of asserting that there is one valid reason, and only one, for either punishing a man or rewarding him in this world; one reason, which ancient piety could well define: That you may do the will and commandment of God with regard to him; that you may do justice to him. This is your one true aim in respect of him; aim thitherward, with all your heart and all your strength and all your soul, thitherward, and not elsewhither at all! This aim is true, and will carry you to all earthly heights and benefits, and beyond the stars and Heavens. All other aims are purblind, illegitimate, untrue; and will never carry you beyond the shop-counter, nay very soon will prove themselves incapable of maintaining you even there. Find out what the Law of God is with regard to a man; make that your human law, or I say it will be ill with you, and not well!

Downing Street (April 1, 1850)[edit]

  • To all men it is evident that the social interests of one hundred and fifty Millions of us depend on the mysterious industry there carried on; and likewise that the dissatisfaction with it is great, universal, and continually increasing in intensity,—in fact, mounting, we might say, to the pitch of settled despair.
  • These are the two vices that beset Government Offices; both of them originating in insufficient Intellect,—that sad insufficiency from which, directly or indirectly, all evil whatsoever springs!
  • What a People are the poor Thibet idolaters, compared with us and our "religions," which issue in the worship of King Hudson as our Dalai-Lama! They, across such hulls of abject ignorance, have seen into the heart of the matter; we, with our torches of knowledge everywhere brandishing themselves, and such a human enlightenment as never was before, have quite missed it. Reverence for Human Worth, earnest devout search for it and encouragement of it, loyal furtherance and obedience to it: this, I say, is the outcome and essence of all true "religions," and was and ever will be. We have not known this. No; loud as our tongues sometimes go in that direction, we have no true reverence for Human Intelligence, for Human Worth and Wisdom: none, or too little,—and I pray for a restoration of such reverence, as for the change from Stygian darkness to Heavenly light, as for the return of life to poor sick moribund Society and all its interests. Human Intelligence means little for most of us but Beaver Contrivance, which produces spinning-mules, cheap cotton, and large fortunes. Wisdom, unless it give us railway scrip, is not wise. True nevertheless it forever remains that Intellect is the real object of reverence, and of devout prayer, and zealous wish and pursuit, among the sons of men; and even, well understood, the one object.
  • Tell me what kind of man governs a People, you tell me, with much exactness, what the net sum-total of social worth in that People has for some time been.
  • a man of Intellect, of real and not sham Intellect, is by the nature of him likewise inevitably a man of nobleness, a man of courage, rectitude, pious strength; who, even because he is and has been loyal to the Laws of this Universe, is initiated into discernment of the same; to this hour a Missioned of Heaven; whom if men follow, it will be well with them; whom if men do not follow, it will not be well. Human Intellect, if you consider it well, is the exact summary of Human Worth; and the essence of all worth-ships and worships is reverence for that same.
  • For the Able Man, meet him where you may, is definable as the born enemy of Falsity and Anarchy, and the born soldier of Truth and Order: into what absurdest element soever you put him, he is there to make it a little less absurd, to fight continually with it till it become a little sane and human again. Peace on other terms he, for his part, cannot make with it; not he, while he continues able, or possessed of real intellect and not imaginary. There is but one man fraught with blessings for this world, fated to diminish and successively abolish the curses of the world; and it is he. For him make search, him reverence and follow; know that to find him or miss him, means victory or defeat for you, in all Downing Streets, and establishments and enterprises here below.
  • Who is there that can recognize real intellect, and do reverence to it; and discriminate it well from sham intellect, which is so much more abundant, and deserves the reverse of reverence? He that himself has it!—One really human Intellect, invested with command, and charged to reform Downing Street for us, would continually attract real intellect to those regions, and with a divine magnetism search it out from the modest corners where it lies hid. And every new accession of intellect to Downing Street would bring to it benefit only, and would increase such divine attraction in it, the parent of all benefit there and elsewhere!
  • But leaving this, let us remark one thing which is very plain: That whatever be the uses and duties, real or supposed, of a Secretary in Parliament, his faculty to accomplish these is a point entirely unconnected with his ability to get elected into Parliament, and has no relation or proportion to it, and no concern with it whatever.
  • In the lowest broad strata of the population, equally as in the highest and narrowest, are produced men of every kind of genius; man for man, your chance of genius is as good among the millions as among the units;—and class for class, what must it be! From all classes, not from certain hundreds now but from several millions, whatsoever man the gods had gifted with intellect and nobleness, and power to help his country, could be chosen: O Heavens, could,—if not by Tenpound Constituencies and the force of beer, then by a Reforming Premier with eyes in his head, who I think might do it quite infinitely better. Infinitely better. For ignobleness cannot, by the nature of it, choose the noble: no, there needs a seeing man who is himself noble, cognizant by internal experience of the symptoms of nobleness.
  • From the lowest and broadest stratum of Society, where the births are by the million, there was born, almost in our own memory, a Robert Burns; son of one who "had not capital for his poor moor-farm of Twenty Pounds a year." Robert Burns never had the smallest chance to got into Parliament, much as Robert Burns deserved, for all our sakes, to have been found there. For the man—it was not known to men purblind, sunk in their poor dim vulgar element, but might have been known to men of insight who had any loyalty or any royalty of their own—was a born king of men: full of valor, of intelligence and heroic nobleness; fit for far other work than to break his heart among poor mean mortals, gauging beer! Him no Tenpound Constituency chose, nor did any Reforming Premier: in the deep-sunk British Nation, overwhelmed in foggy stupor, with the loadstars all gone out for it, there was no whisper of a notion that it could be desirable to choose him,—except to come and dine with you, and in the interim to gauge.
  • "By what method or methods can the able men from every rank of life be gathered, as diamond-grains from the general mass of sand: the able men, not the sham-able;—and set to do the work of governing, contriving, administering and guiding for us!" It is the question of questions. All that Democracy ever meant lies there: the attainment of a truer and truer Aristocracy, or Government again by the Best.
  • Constitution,—the apex of all its intelligences and mighty instincts and dumb longings: it is I? William Conqueror's big gifts, and Edward's and Elizabeth's; Oliver's lightning soul, noble as Sinai and the thunders of the Lord: these are mine, I begin to perceive,—to a certain extent. These heroisms have I,—though rather shy of exhibiting them. These; and something withal of the huge beaver-faculty of our Arkwrights, Brindleys; touches too of the phoenix-melodies and sunny heroisms of our Shakspeares, of our Singers, Sages and inspired Thinkers all this is in me, I will hope,—though rather shy of exhibiting it on common occasions.

The New Downing Street (April 15, 1850)[edit]

  • In looking at this wreck of Governments in all European countries, there is one consideration that suggests itself, sadly elucidative of our modern epoch. These Governments, we may be well assured, have gone to anarchy for this one reason inclusive of every other whatsoever, That they were not wise enough; that the spiritual talent embarked in them, the virtue, heroism, intellect, or by whatever other synonyms we designate it, was not adequate,—probably had long been inadequate, and so in its dim helplessness had suffered, or perhaps invited falsity to introduce itself; had suffered injustices, and solecisms, and contradictions of the Divine Fact, to accumulate in more than tolerable measure; whereupon said Governments were overset, and declared before all creatures to be too false.
This is a reflection sad but important to the modern Governments now fallen anarchic, That they had not spiritual talent enough. And if this is so, then surely the question, How these Governments came to sink for want of intellect? is a rather interesting one. Intellect, in some measure, is born into every Century; and the Nineteenth flatters itself that it is rather distinguished that way!
I rather guess, the intellect of the Nineteenth Century, so full of miracle to Heavyside and others, is itself a mechanical or beaver intellect rather than a high or eminently human one. A dim and mean though authentic kind of intellect, this; venerable only in defect of better. This kind will avail but little in the higher enterprises of human intellect, especially in that highest enterprise of guiding men Heavenward, which, after all, is the one real "governing" of them on this God's-Earth:—an enterprise not to be achieved by beaver intellect, but by other higher and highest kinds.
  • If Governments neglect to invite what noble intellect there is, then too surely all intellect, not omnipotent to resist bad influences, will tend to become beaverish ignoble intellect; and quitting high aims, which seem shut up from it, will help itself forward in the way of making money and such like; or will even sink to be sham intellect, helping itself by methods which are not only beaverish but vulpine, and so "ignoble" as not to have common honesty.
The Government, taking no thought to choose intellect for itself, will gradually find that there is less and less of a good quality to choose from: thus, as in all impieties it does, bad grows worse at a frightful double rate of progression.
  • All the gifted souls, of every rank, who are born to you in this generation. These are appointed, by the true eternal "divine right" which will never become obsolete, to be your governors and administrators; and precisely as you employ them, or neglect to employ them, will your State be favored of Heaven or disfavored. This noble young soul, you can have him on either of two conditions; and on one of them, since he is here in the world, you must have him. As your ally and coadjutor; or failing that, as your natural enemy: which shall it be? I consider that every Government convicts itself of infatuation and futility, or absolves and justifies itself before God and man, according as it answers this question.
  • The crop of spiritual talent that is born to you, of human nobleness and intellect and heroic faculty, this is infinitely more important than your crops of cotton or corn, or wine or herrings or whale-oil, which the Newspapers record with such anxiety every season.
This is not quite counted by seasons, therefore the Newspapers are silent: but by generations and centuries, I assure you it becomes amazingly sensible; and surpasses, as Heaven does Earth, all the corn and wine, and whale-oil and California bullion, or any other crop you grow.
  • The pious soul,—which, if you reflect, will mean the ingenuous and ingenious, the gifted, intelligent and nobly-aspiring soul,—such a soul, in whatever rank of life it were born, had one path inviting it; a generous career, whereon, by human worth and valor, all earthly heights and Heaven itself were attainable. In the lowest stratum of social thraldom, nowhere was the noble soul doomed quite to choke, and die ignobly.
The Church, poor old benighted creature, had at least taken care of that: the noble aspiring soul, not doomed to choke ignobly in its penuries, could at least run into the neighboring Convent, and there take refuge. Education awaited it there; strict training not only to whatever useful knowledge could be had from writing and reading, but to obedience, to pious reverence, self-restraint, annihilation of self,—really to human nobleness in many most essential respects. No questions asked about your birth, genealogy, quantity of money-capital or the like; the one question was, "Is there some human nobleness in you, or is there not?" The poor neat-herd's son, if he were a Noble of Nature, might rise to Priesthood, to High-priesthood, to the top of this world,—and best of all, he had still high Heaven lying high enough above him, to keep his head steady, on whatever height or in whatever depth his way might lie!
You made the born noble yours, welcoming him as what he was, the Sent of Heaven: you did not force him either to die or become your enemy; idly neglecting or suppressing him as what he was not, a thing of no worth. You accepted the blessed light; and in the shape of infernal lightning it needed not to visit you. How, like an immense mine-shaft through the dim oppressed strata of society, this Institution of the Priesthood ran; opening, from the lowest depths towards all heights and towards Heaven itself, a free road of egress and emergence towards virtuous nobleness, heroism and well-doing, for every born man.
  • a million blockheads looking authoritatively into one man of what you call genius, or noble sense, will make nothing but nonsense out of him and his qualities, and his virtues and defects, if they look till the end of time. He understands them, sees what they are; but that they should understand him, and see with rounded outline what his limits are,—this, which would mean that they are bigger than he, is forever denied them. Their one good understanding of him is that they at last should loyally say, "We do not quite understand thee; we perceive thee to be nobler and wiser and bigger than we, and will loyally follow thee."
  • Wise command, wise obedience: the capability of these two is the net measure of culture, and human virtue, in every man; all good lies in the possession of these two capabilities; all evil, wretchedness and ill-success in the want of these.
  • Literature, the strange entity so called,—that indeed is here. If Literature continue to be the haven of expatriated spiritualisms, and have its Johnsons, Goethes and true Archbishops of the World, to show for itself as heretofore, there may be hope in Literature. If Literature dwindle, as is probable, into mere merry-andrewism, windy twaddle, and feats of spiritual legerdemain, analogous to rope-dancing, opera-dancing, and street-fiddling with a hat carried round for halfpence, or for guineas, there will be no hope in Literature.

Stump Orator (May 1, 1850)[edit]

  • It lies deep in our habits, confirmed by all manner of educational and other arrangements for several centuries back, to consider human talent as best of all evincing itself by the faculty of eloquent speech. Our earliest schoolmasters teach us, as the one gift of culture they have, the art of spelling and pronouncing, the rules of correct speech; rhetorics, logics follow, sublime mysteries of grammar, whereby we may not only speak but write. And onward to the last of our schoolmasters in the highest university, it is still intrinsically grammar, under various figures grammar. To speak in various languages, on various things, but on all of them to speak, and appropriately deliver ourselves by tongue or pen,—this is the sublime goal towards which all manner of beneficent preceptors and learned professors, from the lowest hornbook upwards, are continually urging and guiding us.
So in universities, and all manner of dames' and other schools, of the very highest class as of the very lowest; and Society at large, when we enter there, confirms with all its brilliant review-articles, successful publications, intellectual tea-circles, literary gazettes, parliamentary eloquences, the grand lesson we had. Other lesson in fact we have none, in these times. If there be a human talent, let it get into the tongue, and make melody with that organ. The talent that can say nothing for itself, what is it? Nothing; or a thing that can do mere drudgeries, and at best make money by railways. All this is deep-rooted in our habits, in our social, educational and other arrangements; and all this, when we look at it impartially, is astonishing. Directly in the teeth of all this it may be asserted that speaking is by no means the chief faculty a human being can attain to; that his excellence therein is by no means the best test of his general human excellence, or availability in this world; nay that, unless we look well, it is liable to become the very worst test ever devised for said availability.
First, that excellent speech, even speech really excellent, is not, and never was, the chief test of human faculty, or the measure of a man's ability, for any true function whatsoever; on the contrary, that excellent silence needed always to accompany excellent speech, and was and is a much rarer and more difficult gift. Secondly, that really excellent speech—which I, being possessed of the Hebrew Bible or Book, as well as of other books in my own and foreign languages, and having occasionally heard a wise man's word among the crowd of unwise, do almost unspeakably esteem, as a human gift—is terribly apt to get confounded with its counterfeit, sham-excellent speech! And furthermore, that if really excellent human speech is among the best of human things, then sham-excellent ditto deserves to be ranked with the very worst. False speech,—capable of becoming, as some one has said, the falsest and basest of all human things:—put the case, one were listening to that as to the truest and noblest! Which, little as we are conscious of it, I take to be the sad lot of many excellent souls among us just now. So many as admire parliamentary eloquence, divine popular literature, and such like, are dreadfully liable to it just now: and whole nations and generations seem as if getting themselves asphyxiaed, constitutionally into their last sleep, by means of it just now!
In fact, the spiritual detriment we unconsciously suffer, in every province of our affairs, from this our prostrate respect to power of speech is incalculable.
  • The Working Man as yet sought only to know his craft; and educated himself sufficiently by ploughing and hammering, under the conditions given, and in fit relation to the persons given: a course of education, then as now and ever, really opulent in manful culture and instruction to him; teaching him many solid virtues, and most indubitably useful knowledges; developing in him valuable faculties not a few both to do and to endure,—among which the faculty of elaborate grammatical utterance, seeing he had so little of extraordinary to utter, or to learn from spoken or written utterances, was not bargained for; the grammar of Nature, which he learned from his mother, being still amply sufficient for him. This was, as it still is, the grand education of the Working Man. As for the Priest, though his trade was clearly of a reading and speaking nature, he knew also in those veracious times that grammar, if needful, was by no means the one thing needful, or the chief thing. By far the chief thing needful, and indeed the one thing then as now, was, That there should be in him the feeling and the practice of reverence to God and to men; that in his life's core there should dwell, spoken or silent, a ray of pious wisdom fit for illuminating dark human destinies;—not so much that he should possess the art of speech, as that he should have something to speak!
  • To such a one, already filled with intellectual substance, and possessing what we may call the practical gold-bullion of human culture, it was an obvious improvement that he should be taught to speak it out of him on occasion; that he should carry a spiritual banknote producible on demand for what of "gold-bullion" he had, not so negotiable otherwise, stored in the cellars of his mind. A man, with wisdom, insight and heroic worth already acquired for him, naturally demanded of the schoolmaster this one new faculty, the faculty of uttering in fit words what he had. A valuable superaddition of faculty:—and yet we are to remember it was scarcely a new faculty; it was but the tangible sign of what other faculties the man had in the silent state.
Can it be doubtful that this is still the rule of human education; that the human creature needs first of all to be educated not that he may speak, but that he may have something weighty and valuable to say! If speech is the bank-note of an inward capital of culture, of insight and noble human worth, then speech is precious, and the art of speech shall be honored. But if there is no inward capital; if speech represent no real culture of the mind, but an imaginary culture; no bullion, but the fatal and now almost hopeless deficit of such? Alas, alas, said bank-note is then a forged one; passing freely current in the market; but bringing damages to the receiver, to the payer, and to all the world, which are in sad truth infallible, and of amount incalculable.
  • Considered as the last finish of education, or of human culture, worth and acquirement, the art of speech is noble, and even divine; it is like the kindling of a Heaven's light to show us what a glorious world exists, and has perfected itself, in a man.
  • Our English careers to born genius are twofold. There is the silent or unlearned career of the Industrialisms, which are very many among us; and there is the articulate or learned career of the three professions, Medicine, Law (under which we may include Politics), and the Church. Your born genius, therefore, will first have to ask himself, Whether he can hold his tongue or cannot? True, all human talent, especially all deep talent, is a talent to do, and is intrinsically of silent nature; inaudible, like the Sphere Harmonies and Eternal Melodies, of which it is an incarnated fraction.
  • If a soul is born with divine intelligence, and has its lips touched with hallowed fire, in consecration for high enterprises under the sun, this young soul will find the question asked of him by England every hour and moment: "Canst thou turn thy human intelligence into the beaver sort, and make honest contrivance, and accumulation of capital by it? If so, do it; and avoid the vulpine kind, which I don't recommend. Honest triumphs in engineering and machinery await thee; scrip awaits thee, commercial successes, kingship in the counting-room, on the stock-exchange;—thou shalt be the envy of surrounding flunkies, and collect into a heap more gold than a dray-horse can draw. "—"Gold, so much gold?" answers the ingenuous soul, with visions of the envy of surrounding flunkies dawning on him; and in very many cases decides that he will contract himself into beaverism, and with such a horse-draught of gold, emblem of a never-imagined success in beaver heroism, strike the surrounding flunkies yellow. This is our common course; this is in some sort open to every creature, what we call the beaver career; perhaps more open in England, taking in America too, than it ever was in any country before. And, truly, good consequences follow out of it: who can be blind to them? Half of a most excellent and opulent result is realized to us in this way; baleful only when it sets up (as too often now) for being the whole result.
  • Let us honor all honest human power of contrivance in its degree. The beaver intellect, so long as it steadfastly refuses to be vulpine, and answers the tempter pointing out short routes to it with an honest "No, no," is truly respectable to me; and many a highflying speaker and singer whom I have known, has appeared to me much less of a developed man than certain of my mill-owning, agricultural, commercial, mechanical, or otherwise industrial friends, who have held their peace all their days and gone on in the silent state. If a man can keep his intellect silent, and make it even into honest beaverism, several very manful moralities, in danger of wreck on other courses, may comport well with that, and give it a genuine and partly human character; and I will tell him, in these days he may do far worse with himself and his intellect than change it into beaverism, and make honest money with it.
  • Probably some ninety-nine out of every hundred of our gifted souls, who have to seek a career for themselves, go this beaver road. Whereby the first half-result, national wealth namely, is plentifully realized; and only the second half, or wisdom to guide it, is dreadfully behindhand.
But now if the gifted soul be not of taciturn nature, be of vivid, impatient, rapidly productive nature, and aspire much to give itself sensible utterance,—I find that, in this case, the field it has in England is narrow to an extreme; is perhaps narrower than ever offered itself, for the like object, in this world before. Parliament, Church, Law: let the young vivid soul turn whither he will for a career, he finds among variable conditions one condition invariable, and extremely surprising, That the proof of excellence is to be done by the tongue. For heroism that will not speak, but only act, there is no account kept.
  • If the young aspirant is not rich enough for Parliament, and is deterred by the basilisks or otherwise from entering on Law or Church, and cannot altogether reduce his human intellect to the beaverish condition, or satisfy himself with the prospect of making money,—what becomes of him in such case, which is naturally the case of very many, and ever of more? In such case there remains but one outlet for him, and notably enough that too is a talking one: the outlet of Literature, of trying to write Books. Since, owing to preliminary basilisks, want of cash, or superiority to cash, he cannot mount aloft by eloquent talking, let him try it by dexterous eloquent writing. Here happily, having three fingers, and capital to buy a quire of paper, he can try it to all lengths and in spite of all mortals: in this career there is happily no public impediment that can turn him back; nothing but private starvation—which is itself a finis or kind of goal—can pretend to hinder a British man from prosecuting Literature to the very utmost, and wringing the final secret from her: "A talent is in thee; No talent is in thee." To the British subject who fancies genius may be lodged in him, this liberty remains; and truly it is, if well computed, almost the only one he has.
  • in the learned professions as in the unlearned, and in human things throughout, in every place and in every time, the true function of intellect is not that of talking, but of understanding and discerning with a view to performing!
  • it is our fatalest misery just now, not easily alterable, and yet urgently requiring to be altered, That no British man can attain to be a Statesman, or Chief of Workers, till he has first proved himself a Chief of Talkers: which mode of trial for a Worker, is it not precisely, of all the trials you could set him upon, the falsest and unfairest?
  • The Age that admires talk so much can have little discernment for inarticulate work, or for anything that is deep and genuine. Nobody, or hardly anybody, having in himself an earnest sense for truth, how can anybody recognize an inarticulate Veracity, or Nature-fact of any kind; a Human Doer especially, who is the most complex, profound, and inarticulate of all Nature's Facts? Nobody can recognize him: till once he is patented, get some public stamp of authenticity, and has been articulately proclaimed, and asserted to be a Doer. To the worshipper of talk, such a one is a sealed book. An excellent human soul, direct from Heaven,—how shall any excellence of man become recognizable to this unfortunate? Not except by announcing and placarding itself as excellent,—which, I reckon, it above other things will probably be in no great haste to do.
  • That, on the whole, if you have got the intrinsic qualities, you have got everything, and the preliminaries will prove attainable; but that if you have got only the preliminaries, you have yet got nothing. A man of real dignity will not find it impossible to bear himself in a dignified manner; a man of real understanding and insight will get to know, as the fruit of his very first study, what the laws of his situation are, and will conform to these.
  • Such parliamentary bagpipes I myself have heard play tunes, much to the satisfaction of the people.
While the galleries were all applausive of heart, and the Fourth Estate looked with eyes enlightened, as if you had touched its lips with a staff dipped in honey,—I have sat with reflections too ghastly to be uttered.
  • Get, by six hundred and fifty-eight votes, or by no vote at all, by the silent intimation of your own eyesight and understanding given you direct out of Heaven, and more sacred to you than anything earthly, and than all things earthly,—a correct image of the fact in question, as God and Nature have made it: that is the one thing needful; with that it shall be well with you in whatsoever you have to do with said fact. Get, by the sublimest constitutional methods, belauded by all the world, an incorrect image of the fact: so shall it be other than well with you; so shall you have laud from able editors and vociferous masses of mistaken human creatures; and from the Nature's Fact, continuing quite silently the same as it was, contradiction, and that only. What else?


On The Choice Of Books (1866)[edit]

online text
  • flimsy, desultory readers, who fly from foolish book to foolish book, and get good of none, and mischief of all—are not these as foolish, unhealthy eaters, who mistake their superficial false desire after spiceries and confectioneries for their real appetite, of which even they are not destitute, though it lies far deeper, far quieter, after solid nutritive food?
  • A man perfects himself by work much more than by reading.
  • The habits of study acquired at Universities are of the highest importance in after-life. At the season when you are in young years the whole mind is, as it were, fluid, and is capable of forming itself into any shape that the owner of the mind pleases to order it to form itself into. The mind is in a fluid state, but it hardens up gradually to the consistency of rock or iron, and you cannot alter the habits of an old man, but as he has begun he will proceed and go on to the last.
  • What the Universities have mainly done—what I have found the University did for me, was that it taught me to read in various languages and various sciences, so that I could go into the books that treated of these things, and try anything I wanted to make myself master of gradually, as I found it suit me. Whatever you may think of all that, the clearest and most imperative duty lies on every one of you to be assiduous in your reading; and learn to be good readers, which is, perhaps, a more difficult thing than you imagine. Learn to be discriminative in your reading—to read all kinds of things that you have an interest in, and that you find to be really fit for what you are engaged in.
  • If you are in a strait, a very good indication as to choice—perhaps the best you could get—is a book you have a great curiosity about. You are then in the readiest and best of all possible conditions to improve by that book.
  • I began gradually to perceive this immense fact, which I really advise every one of you who read history to look out for and read for—if he has not found it—it was that the kings of England all the way from the Norman Conquest down to the times of Charles I. had appointed, so far as they knew, those who deserved to be appointed, peers. They were all Royal men, with minds full of justice and valour and humanity, and all kinds of qualities that are good for men to have who ought to rule over others. Then their genealogy was remarkable—and there is a great deal more in genealogies than is generally believed at present. I never heard tell of any clever man that came out of entirely stupid people. If you look around the families of your acquaintance, you will see such cases in all directions. I know that it has been the case in mine. I can trace the father, and the son, and the grandson, and the family stamp is quite distinctly legible upon each of them, so that it goes for a great deal—the hereditary principle in Government as in other things; and it must be recognised so soon as there is any fixity in things.
  • books—there is a good kind of a book and a bad kind of a book. I am not to assume that you are all ill acquainted with this; but I may remind you that it is a very important consideration at present. It casts aside altogether the idea that people have that if they are reading any book—that if an ignorant man is reading any book, he is doing rather better than nothing at all.
  • the most remarkable piece of reading that you may be recommended to take and try if you can study is a book by Goethe—one of his last books, which he wrote when he was an old man, about seventy years of age—I think one of the most beautiful he ever wrote, full of mild wisdom, and which is found to be very touching by those who have eyes to discern and hearts to feel it. It is one of the pieces in "Wilhelm Meister's Travels." I read it through many years ago; and, of course, I had to read into it very hard when I was translating it (applause), and it has always dwelt in my mind as about the most remarkable bit of writing that I have known to be executed in these late centuries. I have often said, there are ten pages of that which, if ambition had been my only rule, I would rather have written than have written all the books that have appeared since I came into the world.
  • I warmly second the advice of the wisest of men—"Don't be ambitious; don't be at all too desirous to success; be loyal and modest." Cut down the proud towering thoughts that you get into you, or see they be pure as well as high. There is a nobler ambition than the gaining of all California would be, or the getting of all the suffrages that are on the planet just now.
  • If you find many people who are hard and indifferent to you in a world that you consider to be unhospitable and cruel—as often, indeed, happens to a tender-hearted, stirring young creature—you will also find there are noble hearts who will look kindly on you, and their help will be precious to you beyond price.

Attributed[edit]

  • War is a quarrel between two thieves too cowardly to fight their own battle; therefore they take boys from one village and another village, stick them into uniforms, equip them with guns, and let them loose like wild beasts against each other.
    • Quoted by Emma Goldman in her essay, "Patriotism: A Menace to Liberty", chapter five of Anarchism and Other Essays (2nd revised edition, 1911).
  • If they be inhabited, what a scope for misery and folly; if they be na inhabited, what a waste of space.
  • Lord Bacon could as easily have created this planet as he could have written Hamlet.
    • According to Moncure Conway (Thomas Carlyle (1881) p. 122) Carlyle said this in reply to a Baconian enthusiast who was attempting to convert him; alternatively reported as "the planets", remark in discussion, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Can there be a more horrible object in existence than an eloquent man not speaking the truth?
    • Address as Lord Rector of Edinburgh University, (1866), reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Work is the grand cure for all the maladies and miseries that ever beset mankind,—honest work, which you intend getting done.
    • Address as Lord Rector of Edinburgh University, (April 2, 1866), reported in A dictionary of quotations in prose, edited by A. L. Ward (1889).

Quotes about Carlyle[edit]

  • It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs. Carlyle marry one another and so make only two people miserable instead of four.
    • Samuel Butler, Letter to Eliza Savage, 21 November 1884, in Letters between Samuel Butler and E.M.A. Savage, 1871-1885 (1935).
  • I have read -- nay, I have bought! -- Carlyle's Latter Day Pamphlets, and look on my eight shillings as very much thrown away. To me, it appears that the grain of sense is so smothered up in a sack of the sheerest trash, that the former is valueless. He does not himself know what he wants. He has one idea -- a hatred of spoken and acted falsehood; and on that he harps through the whole eight pamphlets. I look on him as a man who was always in danger of going mad in literature and who has now done so.
    • Anthony Trollope, Letter to Frances Trollope, 1850/51, in The Letters of Anthony Trollope, ed. Bradford Allen Booth (1951)

  • It is really, as Coleridge I think said of something else, like reading a story by flashes of lightning!
    • Francis Jeffrey, letter to Carlyle (30 May 1837) on The French Revolution. This is often repeated as stating that Carlyle's style is “like reading history by flashes of lightning”.

  • As a literary artist he has great merits, beginning with the main one that he never wrote one dull line. How well-read, how adroit, what thousand arts in his one art of writing.
  • He is like a lover or an outlaw who wraps up his message in a serenade, which is nonsense to the sentinel, but salvation to the ear for which it is meant. He does not dodge the question, but gives sincerity where it is due. One word more respecting this remarkable style. We have in literature few specimens of magnificence. Plato is the purple ancient, and Bacon and Milton the moderns of the richest strains. Burke sometimes reaches to that exuberant fullness, though deficient in depth. Carlyle in his strange, half mad way, has entered the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and shown a vigour and wealth of resource which has no rival in the tourney play of these times—the indubitable champion of England. Carlyle is the first domestication of the modern system, with its infinity of details, into style.
  • Carlyle was one who stood constantly in the presence of those ‘Eternal verities’ of which he speaks… . The spirit of the prophet was in him… . He was the greatest of the Britons of his time—and after the British fashion of not coming near perfection: Titanic, not Olympian: a heaver of rocks, not a shaper. But if he did no perfect work, he had lightning’s power to strike out marvelous pictures and reach to the inmost of men with a phrase.
  • It is said, that in about the year 1821, he experienced a kind of conversion. No one is really sure how or what happened, but Carlyle himself described it as a conversion to “hatred of the devil, not love of God.” It was then that Carlyle began a serious study of German and took his first steps to becoming one of the most influential social critics in history.
  • Although the boy’s father had hoped his son would enter the ministry, Carlyle instead found that he had a talent with mathematics and thus focused all of his attention to science. But Thomas Carlyle was a strange boy from the very start, so, instead of working hard to earn his degree, he spent all his time combing the library and devouring with passion all the books that he could find.
  • He had already written several articles and essays, and a few of them had appeared in print; but they gave little promise or indication of the power he was afterwards to exhibit.
  • The following is from the article on Necker:— "As an author, Necker displays much irregular force of imagination, united with considerable perspicuity and compass of thought; though his speculations are deformed by an undue attachment to certain leading ideas, which, harmonizing with his habits of mind, had acquired an excessive preponderance in the course of his long and uncontroverted meditations. He possessed extensive knowledge, and his works bespeak a philosophical spirit; but their great and characteristic excellence proceeds from that glow of fresh and youthful admiration for everything that is amiable or august in the character of man, which, in Necker's heart, survived all the blighting vicissitudes it had passed through, combining, in a singular union, the fervour of the stripling with the experience of the sage."[A] [Footnote A: "In the earliest authorship of Mr. Carlyle," says Mr. James Russell Lowell, alluding to these papers, "we find some not obscure hints of the future man.
  • The translation of "Wilhelm Meister," in 1824,[A] was the first real introduction of Goethe to the reading world of Great Britain. It appeared without the name of the translator, but its merits were too palpable to be overlooked, though some critics objected to the strong infusion of German phraseology which had been imported into the English version. This acquired idiom never left our author, even in his original works, although the "Life of Schiller," written but a few months before, is almost entirely free from the peculiarity.
  • It was in the spring of 1837 that Carlyle's first great historical work appeared, "The French Revolution:—Vol. I., The Bastile; Vol. II, The Constitution; Vol. III., The Guillotine." The publication of this book produced a profound impression on the public mind. A history abounding in vivid and graphic descriptions, it was at the same time a gorgeous "prose epic." It is perhaps the most readable of all Carlyle's works, and indeed is one of the most remarkable books of the age. There is no other account of the French Revolution that can be compared with it for intensity of feeling and profoundness of thought.
  • "Mr. Carlyle delivered the first of a course of lectures on German Literature, at Willis's Rooms, on Tuesday, to a very crowded and yet a select audience of both sexes. Mr. Carlyle may be deficient in the mere mechanism of oratory; but this minor defect is far more than counterbalanced by his perfect mastery of his subject, the originality of his manner, the perspicuity of his language, his simple but genuine eloquence, and his vigorous grasp of a large and difficult question. No person of taste or judgment could hear him without feeling that the lecturer is a man of genius, deeply imbued with his great argument." "This course of lectures," says a writer already quoted, "was well attended by the fashionables of the West End; and though they saw in his manner something exceedingly awkward, they could not fail to discern in his matter the impress of a mind of great originality and superior gifts."
  • "A few words will be expected here as to Mr. Carlyle's manner as a lecturer. In so far as his mere manner is concerned, I can scarcely bestow on him a word of commendation. There is something in his manner which, if I may use a rather quaint term, must seem very uncouth to London audiences of the most respectable class, accustomed as they are to the polished deportment[A] which is usually exhibited in Willis's or the Hanover Rooms. When he enters the room, and proceeds to the sort of rostrum whence he delivers his lectures, he is, according to the usual practice in such cases, generally received with applause; but he very rarely takes any more notice of the mark of approbation thus bestowed upon him, than if he were altogether unconscious of it. And the same seeming want of respect for his audience, or, at any rate, the same disregard for what I believe he considers the troublesome forms of politeness, is visible at the commencement of his lecture. Having ascended his desk, he gives a hearty rub to his hands, and plunges at once into his subject. He reads very closely, which, indeed, must be expected, considering the nature of the topics which he undertakes to discuss. He is not prodigal of gesture with his arms or body; but there is something in his eye and countenance which indicates great earnestness of purpose, and the most intense interest in his subject. You can almost fancy, in some of his more enthusiastic and energetic moments, that you see his inmost soul in his face. At times, indeed very often, he so unnaturally distorts his features, as to give to his countenance a very unpleasant expression. On such occasions, you would imagine that he was suddenly seized with some violent paroxysms of pain. He is one of the most ungraceful speakers I have ever heard address a public assemblage of persons. In addition to the awkwardness of his general manner, he 'makes mouths,' which would of themselves be sufficient to mar the agreeableness of his delivery. And his manner of speaking, and the ungracefulness of his gesticulation, are greatly aggravated by his strong Scotch accent. Even to the generality of Scotchmen his pronunciation is harsh in no ordinary degree. Need I say, then, what it must be to an English ear?
  • "All Carlyle's talk, that evening, was a defence of mere force,—success the test of right;—if people would not behave well, put collars round their necks;—find a hero, and let them be his slaves. It was very Titanic, and anti-celestial.
  • "December, 1846.—Accustomed to the infinite wit and exuberant richness of his writings, his talk is still an amazement and a splendour scarcely to be faced with steady eyes. He does not converse;—only harangues. It is the usual misfortune of such marked men,—happily not one invariable or inevitable,—that they cannot allow other minds room to breathe, and show themselves in their atmosphere, and thus miss the refreshment and instruction which the greatest never cease to need from the experience of the humblest. "Carlyle allows no one a chance, but bears down all opposition, not only by his wit and onset of words, resistless in their sharpness as so many bayonets, but by actual physical superiority,—raising his voice, and rushing on his opponent with a torrent of sound. This is not in the least from unwillingness to allow freedom to others. On the contrary, no man would more enjoy a manly resistance to his thought. But it is the impulse of a mind accustomed to follow out its own impulse, as the hawk its prey, and which knows not how to stop in the chase. Carlyle, indeed, is arrogant and overbearing; but in his arrogance there is no littleness,—no self-love. It is the heroic arrogance of some old Scandinavian conqueror;—it is his nature, and the untameable impulse that has given him power to crush the dragons.
  • I have already mentioned Carlyle's earlier writings as one of the channels through which I received the influences which enlarged my early narrow creed; but I do not think that those writings, by themselves, would ever have had any effect on my opinions. What truths they contained, though of the very kind which I was already receiving from other quarters, were presented in a form and vesture less suited than any other to give them access to a mind trained as mine had been. They seemed a haze of poetry and German metaphysics, in which almost the only clear thing was a strong animosity to most of the opinions which were the basis of my mode of thought; religious scepticism, utilitarianism, the doctrine of circumstances, and the attaching any importance to democracy, logic, or political economy. Instead of my having been taught anything, in the first instance, by Carlyle, it was only in proportion as I came to see the same truths through media more suited to my mental constitution, that I recognized them in his writings. Then, indeed, the wonderful power with which he put them forth made a deep impression upon me, and I was during a long period one of his most fervent admirers; but the good his writings did me, was not as philosophy to instruct, but as poetry to animate. Even at the time when out acquaintance commenced, I was not sufficiently advanced in my new modes of thought, to appreciate him fully; a proof of which is, that on his showing me the manuscript of Sartor Resartus, his best and greatest work, which he had just then finished, I made little of it; though when it came out about two years afterwards in Fraser's Magazine I read it with enthusiastic admiration and the keenest delight. I did not seek and cultivate Carlyle less on account of the fundamental differences in our philosophy. He soon found out that I was not "another mystic," and when for the sake of my own integrity I wrote to him a distinct profession of all those of my opinions which I knew he most disliked, he replied that the chief difference between us was that I "was as yet consciously nothing of a mystic." I do not know at what period he gave up the expectation that I was destined to become one; but though both his and my opinions underwent in subsequent years considerable changes, we never approached much nearer to each other's modes of thought than we were in the first years of our acquaintance. I did not, however, deem myself a competent judge of Carlyle. I felt that he was a poet, and that I was not; that he was a man of intuition, which I was not; and that as such, he not only saw many things long before me, which I could only when they were pointed out to me, hobble after and prove, but that it was highly probable he could see many things which were not visible to me even after they were pointed out.

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