In his essay “Hudson’s Statue,” Thomas Carlyle attacks the English for wanting to erect a monument of financier George “the railway king” Hudson. He condemns society for elevating corrupt figures and failing to realize its own superficial, even profane values. He denounces the “poor English public” for their idolatry and deification of influential citizens such as Hudson, condemning them for so blindly praising and honoring “anybody of a large class” both as spiritual and physical models. The basis of Carlyle’s argument, however, is not in the immoral worshipping of the aristocracy, but in the idea that the idolatry of another is ultimately a reflection of the self. He writes early on in the piece: “Show me the man you honour; I know by that symptom, better than by any other, what kind of man you yourself are.” With this said, Carlyle continues his argument that a peoples chosen statue is, more than a manifestation of their devotion to a specific figure, revealing to what kind of people they are. The major conflict in the essay is that Carlyle proclaims the English people have chosen to idolize corrupt people, therefore reflecting poorly upon themselves and their values.
If the world were not properly anarchic, this question "Who shall have a Statue?" would be one of the greatest and most solemn for it. Who is to have a Statue? means, Whom shall we consecrate and set apart as one of our sacred men? Sacred; that all men may see him, be reminded of him, and, by new example added to old perpetual precept, be taught what is real worth in man. Whom do you wish us to resemble? Him you set on a high column that all men, looking on it, may be continually apprised of the duty you expect from them. What man to set there, and what man to refuse forevermore the leave to be set there: this, if a country were not anarchic as we say, — ruleless, given up to the rule of Chaos, in the primordial fibres of its being, — would be a great question for a country!
And to the parties themselves, lightly as they set about it, the question is rather great. Whom shall I honour, whom shall I refuse to honour? If a man have any precious thing in him at all, certainly the most precious of all the gifts he can offer is his approbation, his reverence to another man. This is his very soul, this fealty which he swears to another: his personality itself, with whatever it has of eternal and divine, he bends here in reverence before another. Not lightly while a man give this, — if he is still a man. If he is no longer a man, but a greedy blind two-footed animal, "without soul, except what saves him the expense of salt and keeps his body with its appetites from putrefying," — alas, if he is nothing now but a human money-bag and meat-trough, it is different! In that case his "reverence" is worth so many pounds sterling; and these, like a gentleman, he will give willingly. Hence the British Statues, such a populace of them as we see. British Statues, and some other more important things! Alas, of how many unveracities, of what a world of irreverence, of sordid debasement, and death in "trespasses and sins," is this light unveracious bestowal of one's approbation the fatal outcome! Fatal in its origin; in its developments and thousandfold results so fatal. It is the poison of the universal Upas-tree, under which all human interests, in these bad ages, lie writhing as if in the last struggle of death. Street-barricades rise for that reason, and counterfeit kings have to shave off their whiskers, and fly like coiners, and it is a world gone mad in misery bestowing its appobation wrong!
In this passage Carlyle not only addresses his argument that the chosen statue is a reflection of the people (“Whom do you wish us to resemble?”, “This is his very soul....his personality itself,”) but also that if the people themselves are corrupt, as he suggests the English in fact are, the idols they choose will prove to be “fatal [outcomes].”
1. What are the implications of beginning the passage about the significance of the statue with “if the world were not properly anarchic...”? Does Carlyle undermine the rest of the passage by starting it off like this?
2. Carlyle poses many questions (31 altogether) in “Hudson’s Statue”; what are the effects of the questions upon the audience? Do they seem to be engaging the reader in a dialogue? Are they rhetorical? How would either intention change the impact the piece?
3. How is Carlyle able to make himself a figure of authority? What is it that lends him credibility in the eyes of the reader?
4. Who is the intended audience for "Hudson's Statue"?
5. What else could Carlyle be suggesting about people and their blind idolatry? What does this text imply about communities and their abilities to choose leaders for themselves?
Last modified 24 February 2011