decorative initial 'W'hen explaining his theories of the hero in different historical periods, Carlyle attempts to create a certain distance from the men he discusses. He treats them as examples from the past that transcend eras and therefore are separate from him and the times he lived in. When he embarks on the section entitled "The Hero as Man of Letters," however, he becomes much more involved with the examples brought up and the ideas theorized because of his own role as writer. The question of how he himself fits into the scheme he has created is raised for the reader most perceptibly when he lists the qualities marking a Hero of Letters.

There are genuine Men of Letters, and not genuine; as in every kind there is a genuine and a spurious. If Hero be taken to mean genuine, then I say the Hero as Man of Letters will be found discharging a function for us which is ever honourable, ever the highest; and was once well known to be the highest. He is uttering-forth, in such way as he has, the inspired soul of him; all that a man, in any case, can do. I say inspired; for what we call "originality," "sincerity," "genius," the heroic quality we have no good name for, signifies that. The Hero is he who lives in the inward sphere of things, in the True, Divine and Eternal, which exists always, unseen to most, under the Temporary, Trivial: his being is in that; he declares that abroad, by act or speech as it may be, in declaring himself abroad. His life, as we said before, is a piece of the everlasting heart of Nature herself: all menšs life is,--but the weak many know not the fact, and are untrue to it, in most times; the strong few are strong, heroic, perennial, because it cannot be hidden from them. The Man of Letters, like every Hero, is there to proclaim this in such sort as he can. Intrinsically it is the same function which the old generations named a man Prophet, Priest, Divinity for doing; which all manner of Heroes, by speech or by act, are sent into the world to do. [pp. 155-6]

Though he is supposedly discussing authors such as Dante and Rousseau, the reader is aware of the fact that Carlyle himself is a writer and therefore has to either fit into the category of genuine or of spurious. It is impossible to think of him as being the latter, however, so one must assume that he himself fits into category of hero, and therefore is describing himself when describing the attributes of the Hero as a Man of Letters. The text takes on a self-reflective task as he sets up his own guidelines for judging literature which may or may not enter the canon. It asks the reader as well to judge his text and the lasting impact that it will have on future generations, whether or not it will remain sincere and original for centuries to come. It is the part of the text which most engages both himself and the reader in relation to the idea of the Hero and actively assessing the nature of his theory of Hero worship.


1. Are we to assume that Carlyle wants to be thought of as a Hero within his culture? Can this be seen as a motive in his writing of these lectures? What does this idea do to the text as a whole, and in relation to the Victorian Era?

2. Are we willing to classify Carlyle as a Hero, given how different many of his views are from those that we hold today? Does his text have the lasting power that he says Men of Letters should possess? Do his theories still hold up?

3. Does our culture still consider Men of Letters to be "discharging a function for us which is ever honourable, ever the highest"? Can we add to his theory by brining in our own, new form of hero, or do all of the types of Hero occur within an era at once?


Carlyle, Thomas. On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1966.

Last modified 20 April 2004