Hero-Worshipper in Literature

Chip Off the Old Block

Thomas Carlyle was born in Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland four days into the month of December in 1795. His father, the stone mason and main influence, was later to be described by Thomas as the most

"remarkable man" ever "met in my journey through life;..." with "...sterling sincerity in thought, word, and deed, most quiet, but capable of blazing into whirlwinds when needful, and such a flash of just insight and natural eloquence and emphasis, true to every feature of it...." "None of us will ever forget that bold, glowing style of his, flowing free from the untutored soul, full of metaphor, thought he knew not what metaphor was, with all manner of potent words which he appropriated and applied with surprising accuracy."

School Days

Carlyle's parents were able to upgrade the prodigious son from his village schooling to Annan Grammar School in 1805, where his parents dreamed of his ordination in the Scottish Kirk. He entered the University at Edinburgh arriving there after the eighty mile hike from his hometown. At Edinburgh, Thomas continued his self guided inspired study, though he later noted his situation there had lacked the idealistic stimulation only discovered later. Five years later he went back to his Annan Grammar School -- this time as one of its mathematics teachers -- a position he held for two more years. His next position was Master of Kirkcaldy School until 1818, however, during the year before he decided to go against his parent's wishes of his becoming a minister; and therefore by the time he left Kirkcaldy for Edinburgh he was intent on becoming a lawyer and writing.

Edinburgh Angst

The rock and the hard place Thomas found himself between was the obtuseness of legal studies and the beginning of a lifetime of painful dyspepsia; thus, he rejected his parents' Christian teaching and initially embraced ideas written by Edward Gibbon and David Hume. But he would not lean as far left from his supernaturally derived religion as those with "mechanical philosophy" of the 18th century, and so he became entranced with the trancendentalists Jean Paul Richter and Johann Gottlieb Fichte. A year after meeting and being drawn like an electromagnet to his future wife in 1821, the bright Jane Baillie Welsh, he obtained a position tutoring the Butler family's children. By this time he now understood his destiny as a professional artist of literature and he finally married his belle in 1826.

House in the Country

Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle, after two years living in Edinburgh found a quiet place, Craigneputtock in Dumfriesshire, fifteen miles from anything but perhaps conducive to writing. Jane could only put up with the isolation for six years -- broken up only by visits to Edinburgh and London. The pattern of emotional household turbidity started in the cabin fever here was but a preview. The cosmopolitan get aways are where he met other writers, especially significant was the acquaintance of John Stuart Mill. This is the period Carlyle produced what could be considered his philosophical template: Sartor Resartus. These ideas are where he sets the source definitions for:

  • Religion: Human freedom and the "Infinite nature of Duty"
  • Government: Ruled by the select wise and powerful over the foolish and weak
  • Society: Mutual sympathy
  • Philosophy: Spiritual interpretation of natural appearances
  • Condition of all knowledge: Sincerity

London Angst

The house the Carlyles settled into in Cheyne Row in Chelsea in 1834 would be their last, and around this time Thomas began composing his literary documentary, The French Revolution. If life imitates art, then the agony within his subject matter was reflected in the travail during any of Carlyle's writing endeavors, and the adventure that followed his finishing the first volume added misery upon misery. His friend, J.S. Mill, had lent the borrowed manuscript to a Mrs. Taylor, whose maid had thrown in the fire. In spite of Thomas' finances tapped out, forcing a rushed and frantic rewrite, he never spoke ill of his comrade, and furthermore his resignation was premature confessed to his wife:

"I know not whether this book is worth anything, nor what the world will do with it, or misdo....but this I could tell the world: You have not had for a hundred years any book that comes more direct and flamingly from the heart of a living man."

His work published at the start of 1837 was publically and critically acclaimed putting him on the map from here on in.

London Times

He lectured in London until 1840 developing and publishing out of them came his most popular book, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History. He began at this time to be more involved thinking about and contributing his opinion on current events concerning political and social relevance. Publishing in this decade:

  • Chartism (1840)
  • Past and Present (1843)
  • Latter-Day Pamphlets (1851)

He published The Life of John Sterling in 1851 about this other good friend who was prematurely taken from them in death. And before his tumultous marriage ended by Jane's death, leaving him on a guilt trip the rest of his life, he finished the almost dozen years' work of History of Frederick the Great. It was published in 1865 the year he was elected Edinburgh University's Lord Rector, and he gave the inaugural address in April, 1866 three months after he was left a widower. He lived with his despondancy within him, while without he was continually bestowed with accolades until he died in February 5, 1881 and was buried in his birthplace, Ecclefechan. If MacAulay represented the pratical side of the Victorian era, Thomas Carlyle was a dreamer, and no wonder he harshly condemned the fomer: "He has no vision."

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