Carlyle, in "Hudson's Statue," marks the tendency of humanity to worship certain members of the community. He disdainfully shows how this hero worship can extend even to despicable types when setting up a comparison between Odin and Hudson. "If Odin," he says, "who 'invented runes,' or literatures... is worshipped in one epoch; and if Hudson, who conquered railway directors, and taught men to become suddenly rich by scrip, is worshipped in another, — the characters of these two epochs must differ a good deal!" To understand how critically Carlyle undercuts Hudson and how severely he ridicules the "worship" of Hudson, one must further investigate the relationship between "runes" and "scrip," which are set up as equivalents.

Runes, on the one hand represents an alphabet, a primeval language with its origins in Germanic peoples which existed in the lands of Northern Europe, Britain, Scandinavia, and Iceland from the 3rd century A.D. to the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries A.D. A rather late form of writing, runes seem to have two possible roles. One is for magical purposes such as appeals to the deities, for charms, and for memorial inscriptions (the root "ru" means "mystery, secret, secrecy"). The other is for simple communication such as in secular documents, legal provisions, contracts, genealogies, and poems. Scrip on the other hand, according to The Concise Oxford Dictionary signifies a "provisional certificate of money subscribed to bank or company entitling the holder to formal certificate in dues time," or what seems to be modern-day credit.

Thus, Carlyle sets up a worship of letters and literature in one epoch and a worship of money, economics, and commodity in the later age. As a man of letters himself, Carlyle bitterly accuses his age of misguided hero worship.


Victorian Overview Thomas Carlyle Hudson's Statue

Last modified 23 October 2002