Carlyle was heavily influenced by German writers. Goethe's Wilhelm Meister helped him discover his capabilities as a writer, Schiller's use of metaphor as a means of revealing spiritual reality influenced his style, and Kant's theory of internal time and space contributed to his conception of the world. Carlyle learned Kant's ideas from the work of Friedrich Leopold, Baron von Hardenberg, who wrote with pseudonym Novalis. In "Novalis" (1829) Carlyle approved of the German's writer's idea that Time and Space "are mere forms of man's spiritual being, laws under which his thinking nature is constitued to act" (Essays , II, 25-26). If time and space are only ideas, history itself becomes the record of divine will. In this way, if one is virtuous one is not restricted by time and space and can become closer to the "God, Freedom, Immortality" that Carlyle mentions in "Hudson's Statue."

Carlyle applied Novalis's idea to England's predicament. People obsessed by capitalism accepted all the factors that accompanied it. In this way people idolized Hudson, even though he was a corrupt man whose chief concern in life was himself and his wealth. Carlyle argues that people should not admire these "railway miracles" since the distances shortened by the speed of trains are wordly and limited to the earthly sphere. Instead, people should be aspire to religion, for religion will lead to the crossing of temporal and spatial distances far more impressive.

Although Carlyle rejected Novalis's argument that all the ills of the Enlightenment flowed from the Reformation, he agreed with the mystic's account of the destructive effect of the rationalism which culminated in "hatred for the Bible, for Christian belief, and finally for Religion itself" (Werke, IV, 138-39). Carlyle, without directly blaming the Church, laments the lack of effective religious guidance in England. In this way, in 1832 he recorded in his notebook "The grand Pulpit is now the Press; the true Church (as I have said twenty times of late) is the Guild of Authors." (Two Notebooks, 263) While he was decrying the Church's effectiveness, he was declaring that a new source of moral guidance existed, namely literature. This idea, like all the the others discussed so far, seems to derive from Novalis; for in "Hudson's Statue" he ascribes the idea of literature playing a Biblical role to Novalis: '"The highest problem of Literature," says Novalis, very justly, "is the Writing of a Bible."'

Victorian Overview Thomas Carlyle Hudson's Statue

Last modified 23 October 2002