Prophets pervade Thomas Carlyle's writing. "Signs of the Times" criticized the overabundance of people who looked only to the future and ignored the present. At the same time, the speaker in Carlyle's writing spoke as a prophet of the present, one who diagnosed immediate problems with society and worked to resolve those problems peaceably. Prophets make an appearance in "Hudson's Statue" as well, where the Brazen Image of Hudson's statue acts as a prophet that has been deified by the English public:
To all men who are struggling for your approbation, and fretting their poor souls to fiddlestrings because you will not sufficiently give it, I will say, leading them to the foot of the Hudson mount of vision:
See, my worthy Mr. Rigmarole; consider this suprising Copper Pyramid, in partly human form: did the celestial value of men's approbation ever strike you so forcibly before? The new Apollo Belvidere this, or Ideal of the Scrip Ages. What do you think of it? Allah Ilallah, there is still one God, you see, in England; and this is his Prophet. Let it be a source of healing to you, my unhappy Mr. Rigmarole; draw from it uses of terror, as the old divines said; uses of amazement, of new wisdom, of unattainable reflection upon the present epoch of the world [p. 2]!
Comparing Hudson's statue to a pyramid and the Apollo Belvidere creates a definite sense of exaltation. The pyramids at Giza are regularly considered among the greatest manmade structures in the world and were favored as both burial sites for monarchs and locales for religious activity. Likewise, the Apollo Belvidere was worshipped as a culmination of human art and nature for hundreds of years after it was discovered in the late fifteenth century. These comparisons point to the apotheosis the English have allowed their chosen heroes, Hudson being the prophet of the one God left in England.
1. Which meaning of "prophet" would Carlyle have meant in referring to Hudson's statue?
2. Who or what does Carlyle refer to in naming the one God left in England if Hudson's statue is this God's prophet? Does the statue's not being finished imply anything about that God?
3. Going on the traditional definition of prophet as one who looks to the future, who might have been the prophets in Didion's The White Album?
4. Was Didion herself a sage (prophet) in the same sense that Carlyle was, or does she more closely resemble a wisdom speaker, like Samuel Johnson in the Rambler essays?
Last modified 9 March 2005