The Muftis were the high legal authorities of the Ottoman Empire (Brittanica Online), "Muslim priest[s] or expounder[s] of law" (OED). Carlyle invokes their name to cast unflattering light upon the English chancellors and lawyers of his own time. Carlyle literally says that the English people are ignorant of their chancellors and other government officials before the time of Bacon, but he implies that English law and government were themselves primitive and heathenistic during the Victorian era.
The English need leaders in whom they can place their trust, even their love, Carlyle says; what they have instead is a "leather species of men; to whose tanned soul God"s Universe becomes a jangling logic-cockpit and little other....Considerable part of [their] trade, as I have been informed, is the talent of lying in a way that cannot be laid hold of." Carlyle uses his "Muftis" reference to extend his tirade against the public's reflexive admiration of well-known figures, no matter how obtuse and corrupt. By dropping the name of a culture considered both inferior and a threat to western civilization, he calls into question whether British society itself can be considered civilized. If its lawmen are no more than Muftis, Carlyle implies, there is little hope for justice in English society, and none for the English people if they cannot recognize that fact.
Last modified 23 October 2002