n his essay “Hudson's Statue,” Thomas Carlyle explores the societal implications of an unfinished statue of railway financier George Hudson. The essay begins with an examination of the worship and idolatry implicit in the construction of any statue before Carlyle turns to a line of questioning to explain the selection of a subject for the statue. In an ideal world. where every man is given “the meed of honour he has merited,” the construction of a new statue would be considered with the utmost seriousness. Men would search for the perfect representation of their values to put up on display for all. Although this perfect world does not exist, he writes, it is man's duty to strive toward it; if he doesn't, he has “renounced fealty to Nature and its Almighty Maker.” Carlyle believes he lives in such a society, where men do not work for the ideal but instead wallow in their own existence. He went on to examine how such a society would select its idols:

Who's to have a statue? The English, at present, answer this question in a very off-hand manner. So far as I can ascertain the method they have, it is somewhat as follows.

Of course, among the many idle persons to whom an unfortunate world has given money and no work to do, there must be with or without wisdom (without, for most part), a most brisk demand for work. Work to do is very desirable, for those that have only money and not work. "Alas, one cannot buy sleep in the market!" said the rich Farmer-general. Alas, one cannot buy work there; work, which is still more indispensable. One of these unfortunates with money and no work, whose haunts lie in the dilettante line, among Artists' Studios, Picture-Sales, and the like regions, — an inane kingdom much frequented by the inane in these times, — him it strikes, in some inspired moment, that if a public subscription for a Statue to Somebody could be started good results would follow. Perhaps some Artist to whom he is Maecenas, might be got to do the Statue, at all events there would be extensive work and stir going on, — whereby the inspired dilettante, for his own share, might get upon committees, see himself named in the newspapers; might assist in innumerable consultations, open utterances of speech and balderdash; and on the whole, be comfortably present, for years to come, at something of the nature of "a house on fire:" house innocuously, nay beneficently on fire; a very Goshen to an idle man with money in his pocket.

To Carlyle, the selection of a subject begins with indulgence. A subject is sought after because someone wants to build a statue — not because some subject has demonstrated such merit as to deserve a statue. Once the decision is made to raise a statue, all that remains is the search for an idol.

This is the germ of the idea, now make your idea an action. Think of a proper Somebody. Almost anybody much heard of in the newspapers, and never yet convicted of felony; a conspicuous commander in-chief, duke no matter whether of Wellington or of York; successful stump-orator, political intriguer; lawyer that has made two hundred thousand pounds; scrip-dealer that has made two hundred thousand: — anybody of a large class, we are not particular, he will be your proper Somebody. You are then to get a brother idler or two to unite his twenty-pound note to yours: the fire is kindled, smoke rises through the editorial columns; the fire, if you blow it, will break into flame, and become a comfortable house on fire for you; solacing the general idle soul, for years to come; and issuing in a big hulk of Corinthian brass, and a notable instance of hero-worship, by and by.

It seems that the subject doesn't really matter to society. As long as he or she is well known enough and hasn't done anything to make themselves hated, the public will be happy enough to worship them with a statue. In the final section of the essay, Carlyle laments this method and warns the public of following such false idols.

Questions

1. How does Carlyle's description of the desires of the statue's commissioner frame the creation of the statue?

2. Does Carlyle's use of irony increase his credibility?

3. Is this passage targeting the public or those who would commission and celebrate statues?

4. Why does Carlyle describe those who would create a statue as “idlers”?


Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Hudson's Statue

Last modified 22 February 2011