Carlyle distinguishes between the “chimera” and the “reality” of “Chartism,” stating that the “reality” has succumbed to “gravitation and law of nature,” but that the “living essence” of the movement predates and will outlive the temporary “embodiment” which people assume to encompass its entirety (151). Throughout “Chartism,” Carlyle emphasizes this dichotomy between physical form and the inner “soul,” perhaps donning religious lenses for his metaphors. Although his attitudes toward religion and the church are ambiguous, it seems that Carlyle employs the more general idea of spirituality as a means to argue against Mechanism. He attributes the “wastefulness” and demise of England to its transition from a world of God to a world of Machine. The following passages illustrate Carlyle’s views on Mechanism, the physical, and the workman’s nee! d to free himself from this bondage to machine.

The huge demon of Mechanism smokes and thunders, panting at his great task, in all sections of English land; changing his shape like a very Proteus, and infallibly, at every change of shape, oversetting whole multitudes of workmen, and as if with the waving of his shadow from afar, hurling them asunder, this way and that, in their crowded march and course of work or traffic, so that the wisest no longer knows his whereabout. (174)

If men had lost belief in a God, their only resource against a blind No-God, of Necessity and Mechanism, that held them like a hideous World-Steamengine, like a hideous Phalaris’ Bull, imprisoned in his own iron belly, would be, with or without hope, — revolt. They could, as Novalis says, by a simultaneous universal act of suicide, depart out of the World-Steamengine; and end, if not in victory, yet in invincibility, and unsubduable protest that such World-Steamengine was a failure and stupidity. (178)


1. How does Carlyle use ideas of shape and form in order to convey his ideas about Mechanism? Does he invert traditional notions which associate tangibility and substance with reality?

2. Does Carlyle actually create a binary opposition between the “No-God” world of the Steamengine and spirituality--or does his argument seem to imply that the two worlds are not cleanly separable?

3. What is the significance of Carlyle’s (frequent) references to Greek mythology in relation to his emphasis on God and spirituality?

4. Does Carlyle’s emphasis on collectivity and “simultaneous universal…suicide” strengthen or undermine his views against Mechanism?

Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Leading Questions

Last modified 25 February 2003