At the beginning of chapter four in "Chartism," Thomas Carlyle expresses his disappointment with the way in which a hard working, dedicated poor man who wishes to work is treated. Carlyle believes that the New Poor-Law has hurt the poor man and put him right alongside the animals.

A man willing to work, and unable to find work, is perhaps the saddest sight that Fortune's inequality exhibits under this. Burns expresses freely what thoughts it gave him: a poor man seeking work; seeking leave to toil that he might be fed and sheltered! That he might be put on a level with the four-footed workers of the Planet which is his! There is not a horse willing to work but can get food and shelter in requital; a thing this two-footed worker has to seek for, to solicit occasionally in vain. He is nobody's two-footed worker; he is not even anybody's slave. And yet, he is a two-footed worker; it is currently reported there is an immortal soul in him, sent down out of Heaven into the Earth; and one beholds him seeking for this! — Nay what will a wise Legislature say, if it turn out that he cannot find it; that the answer to their postulate propositin is not affirmative but negative?

Questions

1. Carlyle, in this passage, suggests that man and horse are treated equally in Victorian England, with the horse possibly having a higher quality of life. He also reffers to a man's soul as immortal. As readers, should we believe that Carlyle is more concerned with a man's search for pleasure in the material world or his search for pleasing his soul? If Carlyle feels the soul is more important, does he feel that the only way it can be satisfied is through work?

2. Hand in hand with the first question: in class we have discussed the major role that religion plays in Victorian life. In light of this, should we believe that Carlyle wants a Legislature that is more dedicated to the needs of religion or work for man?

3. Carlyle's question at the end of the passage, "Nay what will a waie Legislature say, if it turn out that he cannot find it...," wonders aloud what would happen if a man who wishes to find work cannot. With all of the talk in this passage about animals and religion, can we believe that Carlyle is putting down the Legislature by putting on the same organizational structure as one of animals?


Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Leading Questions

Last modified 26 February 2003