In his lecture, “The Hero as Man of Letters,” Carlyle mainly focuses on the power of written words and his admiration for writers who took advantage of the press. He augments the reader’s appreciation for these “Literary Heroes” by comparing them to “Prophets” and describing the horrid, disbelieving world from which they emerged. However, in the following passage, Carlyle strays from his original message and assumes a new, passionate voice to describe his vision of a future.
I prophesy that the world will once more become sincere; a believing world; with many Heroes in it, a heroic world! It will then be a victorious world; never till then.
Or indeed what of the world and its victories? Men speak too much about the world. Each one of us here, let the world go how it will, and be victorious or not victorious, has he not a Life of his own to lead? One Life; a little gleam of Time between two Eternities; no second chance to us forevermore! It were well for us to live not as fools and simulacra, but as wise and realities. The world's being saved will not save us; nor the world's being lost destroy us. We should look to ourselves: there is great merit here in the "duty of staying at home"! And, on the whole, to say truth, I never heard of "world's" being "saved" in any other way. That mania of saving worlds is itself a piece of the Eighteenth Century with its windy sentimentalism. Let us not follow it too far. For the saving of the world I will trust confidently to the Maker of the world; and look a little to my own saving, which I am more competent to! — In brief, for the world's sake, and for our own, we will rejoice greatly that Scepticism, Insincerity, Mechanical Atheism, with all their poison-dews, are going, and as good as gone. [Carlyle, “The Hero as Man of Letters”]
As Carlyle discusses his “prophesy,” he enjoins his contemporaries to live as he does, trusting in God and trying to live a good life. His use of the imperative “should” assumes an authority over the reader. In this way, Carlyle attempts to be the wisdom writer he so admires, yet his passion taints his purpose. Instead of instilling confidence in the reader, Carlyle’s enthusiasm results in a rousing monologue that borders on a rant, as his writing speeds into a frenzy of exclamations and assertions.
1. Carlyle takes full advantage of punctuation, using exclamation marks or question marks almost every other sentence. What effect does this usage have on reading the passage? Does the text read passionately or are the marks overused and cumbersome? Does repeated use of exclamations make the author appear less reliable?
2. Carlyle uses scare quotes and italics and capital letters to give importance or emotion to his words. Does this technique have the same effect as the usage of exclamation marks? What effect do emphasized words have on tone?
3. Both Johnson and Carlyle discuss the theme of carpe diem, but in different styles. Johnson suggests that readers can relate to his fictional example, “But perhaps, every man has like me lost an Euryalus, has known a friend die with happiness in his grasp; and yet every man continues to think himself secure of life, and defers to some future time of leisure what he knows it will be fatal to have finally omitted.” (Adventurer 108) In contrast, Carlyle explicitly states his view, “One Life; a little gleam of Time between two Eternities; no second chance to us forevermore!” Which of these approaches is more effective? Why?
4. Johnson concludes his essay Rambler 184 with a religious message similar to Carlyle’s. Johnson writes, “[O]ur being is in the hands of omnipotent Goodness, by whom what appears casual to us, is directed for ends ultimately kind and merciful; and that nothing can finally hurt him who debars not himself from the Divine favour.” How does this compare to Carlyle’s “For the saving of the world I will trust confidently to the Maker of the world”? What effect does narrative voices have on the reader’s interpretation of the message?
Carlyle, Thomas. On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1966.
Last modified 20 April 2004