Carlyle's use of the type of the brazen serpent for satiric commentary upon a contemporary political question again demonstrates his complex manipulation of the interpretive tradition. For example, his initial parodic echo of John 3:14 not only reminds the reader of the usual reading of the brazen serpent but also underlines for him that Englishmen saw Hudson as a messiah. Carlyle's interpretation of this planned but never-constructed statue is appropriately marked by irony, and he begins setting forth his conceit by making clear that this Son of Man-- the phrase usually refers to Christ — was in fact never lifted up.

Thereupon in what seems to be a parody of typological exegesis, he suggests one explanation on the literal or historical level why Hudson's statue should have been erected. Since it represents what the nation really worships, and not what it pretends to worship, such a statue to the incamation of Mammon would have been fitting. Considered in relation to the episode in the Book of Numbers, however, such a statue also "might have done us good. Thither too, in a sense, poor poison-stricken mortals might have looked, and found some healing!" In other words, having before themselves such a Hudson's statue, Carlyle's contemporaries could look on the serpent which had plagued them and find their cure.

Of course, Carlyle is constructing a satiric emblem, not an orthodox typological reading, and important elements tum out to be inverted. One looks upon Hudson's statue as a brazen serpent, if one would be saved, not with faith but with necessary disbelief. The statue then becomes an emblem of saving skepticism and not saving faith. It instructs us, nevertheless, about two matters necessary for our "salvation." First, we leam to recognize the idolatrous nature of modern worship, and in so doing we also leam that we have fallen away from the true God. According to Carlyle, his is one of those epochs in which men "keep a set of gods or fetishes, reckoned respectable, to which they mumble prayers, asking themselves and others triumphantly, 'Are not these respectable gods?' and all the while their real worship . . . concentrates itself on quite other gods and fetishes, — on Hudsons and scripts, for instance," This miserable epoch, which is "in a manner lost beyond redemption," has added to its "brutish forgettings of the true God . . . an immense Hypocrisy" (20.278), and perhaps such a putative Hudson's statue would state things so clearly that men would realize what they were worshipping.

References

Landow, George. Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows: Biblical Typology in Victorian Literature, Art, and Thought (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980). Follow for complete on-line version].


Victorian Overview Thomas Carlyle Hudson's Statue

Last modified 23 October 2002