Towards the end of "Hudson's Statue," Carlyle disparages the fact that the country is run by lawyers and chancellors, men who earn their respect by superficial "tongue-fence" and who work to defend the material possessions of greedy capitalists. Such men, Carlyle says, should not be at the top of the political and social hierarchy; instead, the leaders of the country should be men of real heroic merit, as in the days before James I.
Carlyle mocks the ruling class by describing them as a "kind of Proteus' flock;" that is, as the seals who were members of the flock of the Greek and Roman sea-god. The image of black seals swimming in the dark depths reflects a complex motif of death, degradation, and chaos that runs through the whole essay; elswhere Carlyle writes about deep coal shafts, "bottomless atrocities", "gulfs" in religious affairs and the "death-dance" which railways create. Carlyle implies that lowly and destructive forces, which in previous times did not rise up through society, have now taken it over. Aa Carlyle phrases his charge, Proteus' flock of seals has wriggled up to the top of the mountain — an allusion to the rise of the undeserving lawyers to the pinnacle of social and political power. The image of seals trying to climb up a mountain and in their awkward animal way trying to make policies and decisions well exemplifies how Carlyle uses humour to make his points.
Last modified 23 October 2002