Varying between rich figurative language almost Biblical in style and eloquent rhetorical devices, Thomas Carlyle tries to show his readers that the present state of his society is eroding towards one of superficial, secular ways. Writing almost as if he were an Old Testament prophet himself, Carlyle uses the Hudson statue as an insight into how, instead of prizing truth and trusting intuition and nature, people now value expediency, money, and trust in mechanistic institutions. Simultaneously, Carlyle also predicts how the advent of railways would lead to increased feelings of displacement and isolation, implying that though technology may eliminate earthly distances, these trends would eventually widen the more crucial gap between man and spirituality. He expresses such sentiments indirectly via various voices in this essay, often answering voiced or implied comments from his opponents or other characters to more persuasively and creatively illustrate his points:

Most excellent Fitzsmithytrough, it is a long time since I have stopped short in admiring your stupendous railway miracles. I was obliged to strike work, and cease admiring in that direction. Very stupendous indeed; considerable improvement in old roadways and wheel and-axle carriages; velocity unexpectedly great, distances attainable ditto ditto: all this is undeniable. But, alas, all this is still small deer for me, my excellent Fitzsmithytrough; truly nothing more than an unexpected take of mice for the owlish part of you and me. The distances, you unfortunate Fitz? The distances of London to Aberdeen, to Ostend, to Vienna, are still infinitely inadequate to me! Will you teach me the winged flight through Immensity, up to the Throne dark with excess of bright? You unfortunate, you grin as an ape would at such a question; you do not know that unless you can reach thither in some effectual most veritable sense, you are a lost Fitzsmithytrough, doomed to Hela's death-realm and the Abyss where mere brutes are buried. I do not want cheaper cotton, swifter railways; I want what Novalis calls "God, Freedom, Immortality": will swift railways, and sacrifices to Hudson, help me towards that?

Questions

1. In this paragraph, Carlyle shifts the perspective from a sermon for the reader to a direct address to a most probably fictional character "Fitzsmithytrough," a construction he repeats throughout "Hudson's Statue" in the guise of tirades for "Friend Heavyside," "Mr. Bull," "M'Croudy," and various other distillations of societal stereotypes. What effect does riddling his essay with these imaginary speeches have on the reader?

2. Would Carlyle's high, mythological metaphors and strident moral absolutes be effective in swaying the subjects of his attacks? For example, would an Englishman who has already succumbed to the superficiality and pettiness of his times be able to understand when Carlyle asks: "Will you teach me the winged flight through Immensity, up to the Throne dark with excess of bright?" Or would such practical men doff his "Hela's death-realm" and "the Abyss" as mere rant?


Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Leading Questions

Last modified 26 September 2003