Portions of Tennyson's In Memoriam and Carlyle's "Characteristics"function in the context of theories of evolution and Charles Darwin's work. Darwin's The Descent of Man was not published until 1871, twenty-one years after the publication of In Memoriam, but much of the evidence for Darwin's thought had already been collected. It is clear that Tennyson knew about the fossils of extinct species. In sections 55 and 56, he discusses "type," by which he means species:

Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life.

So careful of the type?" but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, "A thousand types are gone;
I care for nothing , all shall go."

Clearly Tennyson is frightened by the notion that Nature has no compunction about eliminating entire species from the face of the earth, and goes on the extrapolate that Man will probably become extinct in time.

Carlyle, twenty years earlier than Tennyson, discusses the idea in a more abstract fashion: "In change, therefore, there is nothing terrible, nothing supernatural: on the contrary, it lies in the very essence of our lot and life in this world . . . . Change, indeed, is painful; yet ever needful" (Norton 962). He makes no mention of evolution specifically, and alludes to it nowhere else within the text; the notion was yet to be popularized. His thought on the subject of change is significant in that it represents the changing attitudes of Victorian Society. The increasing momentum of the Industrial Revolution and the incredibly rapid transformation of the world Carlyle inhabited certainly affected his thought; the world of the pre-Romantics, though not far back in time, was centuries and centuries in the past in terms of technology. Carlyle inhabited a world that was becoming accustomed to the notion of change as a constant reality.

The increasingly technologically nature of Victorian society set the stage for Darwin and his theories of natural selection. The fossils had always been in the rocks; it was only at this time that the mind of Man was prepared to understand the information held within the stones.


Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle

Created 1990