A theme from Thomas Carlyle's "Signs of the Times" repeated in "Chartism" is Carlye's disdain for the "faith in Mechanism" (77) that he perceives in his contemporaries. As he writes in "Signs," "Intellect, the power man has of knowing and believing, is now nearly synonymous with Logic... Its implementation is not Meditation, but Argument" (77). Carlyle dislikes this focus on facts and figures at the expense of a more pure form of thought, and this sentiment can be seen in "Chartism," when Carlyle criticizes statistics.

Statistics is a science which ought to be honourable, the basis of many most important sciences; but it is not to be carried on by steam, this science, any more than others are; a wise head is requisite for carrying it on. Conclusive facts are inseparable from inconclusive except by a head that already understands and knows. ...Statistics, one may hope, will improve gradually,and become good for something. Meanwhile, it is to be feared. [157]

Questions

In the section of Chartism quoted above, Carlyle is clearly dismissive of the new focus on statistical studies. However, a few pages later he refers to a "fact which Statistic Science has communicated" (168). Why does Carlyle use these sciences that he expresses so much disdain for? Is it a recognition of the necessities of the public debate of his time, or is he using the tactics of his opponents against them (the fact he quotes refers to the Irish peasants' lack of sufficient food)?

Carlyle's dismissal of statistics is not whole-hearted; he says that it "ought to be honourable." How does this implied and underhanded acceptance of statistical sciences compare to his earlier, stronger dimissal of "Mechanism?"

Is Carlyle's desire for the "[drive] to apprehend, and lay to heart, what is Good and Lovely, [instead of] to inquire...how it is produced, whence it comes, whither it goes" (77) a trifle naive? Especially when considered in the context of "Chartism," where statistics at least "ought" to provide some kind of incontrovertible truth, the dismissal of "Argument" in favor of "Meditation" would seem to make it difficult to have any sort of debate. What exactly is Carlyle's differentiation between "Intellect" (which he sees as bad) and "Logic" (good)?


Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Leading Questions

Last modified 25 February 2003