In his essay “Signs of the Times,” Thomas Carlyle warns his readers that the Western world has forsaken its passion for religion and philosophy in the interest of bringing about a "Mechanical Age." Unlike the many who might consider mechanization a sign of progress, Carlyle asserts that its “cunning abbreviating processes” make it an imposing point to renovate and facilitate even the simplest industrial activity; meanwhile, the accomplished inventor of these “abbreviating processes” sees himself elevated to near-idol status in the eyes of his fellow citizens.

The legacy that this kind of inventor leaves behind, whether deserved or undeserved, is the focus of Carlyle’s other essay, titled “Hudson’s Statue,” which presents a bleaker, more scathing commentary on honoring railway financier George Hudson and what such an act of honoring might imply about the new standards of British hero-worship. Whereas in “Signs of the Times” Carlyle’s tone appeared moralizing and instructional, carefully laying out the many issues of industrialization so that they might be overturned, his tone in “Hudson’s Statue” seems cheeky and acerbic. In this essay, the author wryly placates his “dear Reader” instead of educating him, and as a result comes off as more of a satirist than a sage. However, every one of Carlyle’s sarcastic direct addresses also implies an urge for his readers to reform and to return to a more sensible rubric for idolization. One of the main questions of this essay, then, is how Carlyle might reconcile instructing his readers with insulting them — how he might improve “the deep-sunk condition of the English mind” even as he explicitly, insensitively acknowledges it to his target British readers.

The truth is, dear Reader, nowhere, to an impartial observant person, does the deep-sunk condition of the English mind, in these sad epochs; and how, in all spiritual or moral provinces, it has long quitted company with fact, and ceased to have veracity of heart, and clearness or sincerity of purpose, in regard to such matters, — more signally manifest itself, than in this affair of Public Statues. Whom doth the king delight to honour? that is the question of questions concerning the king's own honour. Show me the man you honour; I know by that symptom, better than by any other, what kind of man you yourself are. For you show me there what your ideal of manhood is; what kind of man you long inexpressibly to be, and would thank the gods, with your whole soul, for being if you could.

In this point of view, it was always matter of regret with me that Hudson's Statue, among the other wonders of the present age, was not completed. The 25,000 l. subscribed, or offered as oblation, by the Hero-worshipers of England to their Ideal of a Man, awoke many questions as to what outward figure it could most profitably take, under the eternal canopy; questions never finally settled; nor ever now to be settled, now when the universal Hudson ragnarok, or "twilight of the gods," has arrived, and it is too clear no statue or cast-metal image of that Incarnation of the English Vishnu will ever be molten now! Why was it not set up; that the whole world might see it; that our "Religion" might be seen, mounted on some figure of a Locomotive, garnished with Scrip-rolls proper; and raised aloft in some conspicuous place, — for example, on the other arch at Hyde-Park Corner? By all opportunities, especially to all subscribers and pious sacrificers to the Hudson Testimonial, I have earnestly urged: complete your Sin-Offering; buy, with the Five-and-twenty Thousand Pounds, what utmost amount of brazen metal and reasonable sculptural supervision it will cover, — say ten tons of brass, with a tolerable sculptor: model that, with what exactness Art can, into the enduring Brass Portrait and Express Image of King Hudson, as he receives the grandees of this country at his levees or soirees and couchees; mount him on the highest place you can discover in the most crowded thoroughfare, on what you can consider the pinnacle of the English world: I assure you he will have beneficial effects there. 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!

Questions

1. How does Carlyle’s scathing account of Hudson and the terrible implications of honoring him seem to compare with his account of Oliver Cromwell at the beginning of this essay? If it’s largely uncontested that Cromwell, a national hero, should go without a statue while someone like George Hudson is in contention for one, how might Cromwell be further criticizing/characterizing British society?

2. How are unnecessary capitalizations and outside cultural allusions functioning in this passage, specifically the comparisons of mechanization/industralization with “religion”? Does this kind of biting emphasis and criticism seem more so a characteristic of satire — as in Wolfe’s “Pump-house Gang” — and if so, is it functioning in a similar way here?

3. How might this type of essay, with its tendency to insult its target audience, have established ethos for its author? Since a key part of sage writing, by my conception, involves the sage proving himself as a moral or ethical authority, are Carlyle’s criticisms and witticisms off-putting in the sense that they might dissuade many offended readers from his instruction?

4. If portions of this essay can be considered satirical, how does the more blatant sense of irony and criticism compare to Swift’s consistently implied sense? If it is instead considered primarily as sage writing, how does its style differ from Montaigne’s, who is also simultaneously warning and criticizing his readers? Is Montaigne more effective in the sense that his criticisms are less invective to readers?


Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Hudson's Statue

Last modified 22 February 2011