When Thomas Carlyle refers to his reader as "my friend," the appellation comes with a tinge of sarcasm. At other times, he exhibits open disdain towards his reader. In "Hudson's Statue," the narrator refers to his audience, either directly or indirectly, as fools, flunkeys, and blockheads. But he does so with seemingly unquestionable authority. He directly confronts his reader with their ignorance and their idolatry and sets himself apart from "the English people" (p.5). He proclaims himself the lone iconoclast in a world where the silly masses worship undeserving men.
Such I take to be the origin of that extraordinary population of Brazen and other Images which at present dominate the marketplaces of towns, and solicit worship from the English people. The ugliest images, and to the strangest case of persons, ever set up in this world. Do you call these demigods? England must be dreadfully off for demigods! My friend, I will not do the smallest stroke of worship to them. One in the thousand I will snatch out of bad company, if I ever can, the other nine hundred and ninety-nine I will with pious joy, in the like case, reduce to the state of broken metal again, and veil forever from all men. As warming-pans, as cheap brass-candlesticks, men will get good of this metal; as devotionary Images in such form, evil only. These are not heroes, gods, or demigods; and it is a horrible idolatry, if you knew it, to set them up as such! Are these your Pattern Men? Great Men? They are your lucky (or unlucky) ers swollen big . Paltry Adventurers for most part; worthy of no worship, and incapable forever of getting any, except from the soul consecrated to flunkeyism. Will a man's soul worship that, think you? Never; if you fashioned him of solid gold, big as Benlomond, no heart of a man would ever look upon him except with sorrow and despair. To the flunkey-heart alone is he, was he or can he at any time be, a thing to look upon with upturned eyes of "transcendent admiration," worship or worship so-called. He, you unfortunate fools, he is not the one we want to be kept in mind of; not he at all by any means! To him and his memory, — if you had not been unfortunate and blockheads, — you would have sunk a coalshaft rather than raised a column. Deep coalshaft, there to bury him and his memory, that men might never speak or hear of him more; not a high column to admonish all men that they should try to resemble him! [p. 5]
By confronting his readers so unabashedly, Carlyle runs the risk of alienating them. And yet, his voice commands with so much authority as almost to build himself up as the Pattern Man he disparages, one whose words we would be foolish not to heed.
1. How does Carlyle manage to engage a reader whom he directly insults?
2. How does the narrator's relationship with the reader, and hence his position as narrator, develop during this passage?
3. Carlyle frequently qualifies his own language — "lucky (or unlucky)," "worship or worship so-called." Why does he do so and what are the implications for the reader?
4. These two paragraphs parallel each other in many interesting ways (they begin with similar questions and end with similar exclamations, etc.). How does Carlyle transform his language and use this repetition to achieve his goals?
5. Carlyle's argument against idolatrous statues focuses, at times, on who should be represented. He mentions the "one in a thousand I will snatch out of bad company" (p.5). Why does Carlyle allow even the smallest hint of hypocrisy to enter his argument? Does he employ these figures rhetorically, for effect, or should the reader assume that there do exist men to be worshiped if certain standards of conduct and aesthetics are met? If a contradiction exists, how does it challenge his authority?
Last modified 10 March 2005