dward Irving's [1792-1834] warfare has closed; if not in victory, yet in invincibility, and faithful endurance to the end. The Spirit of the Time, which could not enlist him as its soldier, must needs, in all ways, fight against him as its enemy: it has done its part, and he has done his. One of the noblest natures; a man of antique heroic nature, in questionable modern garniture, which he could not wear! Around him a distracted society, vacant, prurient; heat and darkness, and what these two may breed: mad extremes of flattery, followed by madder contumely, by indifference and neglect! These were the conflicting elements; this is the result they have made out among them. The voice of our "son of thunder," — with its deep tone of wisdom that belonged to all articulate-speaking ages, never inaudible amid wildest dissonances that belong to this inarticulate age, which slumbers and somnambulates, which cannot speak, but only screech and gibber, — has gone silent so soon. Closed are those lips. The large heart, with its large bounty, where wretchedness found solacement, and they that were wandering in darkness the light as of a home, has paused. The strong man can no more: beaten-on from without, undermined from within, he must sink overwearied, as at nightfall, when it was yet but the mid-season of day. Irving was forty-two years and some months old: Scotland sent him forth a Herculean man, our mad Babylon wore him and wasted him, with all her engines; and it took her twelve years. He sleeps with his fathers, in that loved birth-land: Babylon with its deafening inanity rages on; but to him henceforth innocuous, unheeded — forever.
Reader, thou hast seen and heard the man, as who has not,- — with wise or unwise wonder; thou shall not see or hear him again. The work, be what it might, is done; dark curtains sink over it, enclose it ever deeper into the unchangeable Past. Think, for perhaps thou art one of a thousand, and worthy so to think, That here once more was a genuine man sent into this our ungenuine phantasmagory of a world, which would go to ruin without such; [297/298] that here once more, under thy own eyes, in this last decade, was enacted the old Tragedy, and has had its fifth-act now, of The Messenger of Truth in the Age of Shams, — and what relation thou thyself mayest have to that. Whether any? Beyond question, thou thyself art here; either a dreamer or awake; and one day shall cease to dream.
This man was appointed a Christian Priest; and strove with the whole force that was in him to be it. To be it: in a time of Tithe Controversy, Encyclopedism, Catholic Rent, Philanthropism, and the Revolution of Three Days! He might have been so many things; not a speaker only, but a doer; the leader of hosts of men. For his head, when the Fog-Babylon had not yet obscured it, was of strong far-searching insight; his very enthusiasm was sanguine, not atrabiliar; he was so loving, full of hope, so simple-hearted, and made all that approached him his. A giant force of activity was in the man; speculation was accident, not nature. Chivalry, adventurous field-life of the old Border, and a far nobler sort than that, ran in his blood. There was in him a courage, dauntless not pugnacious, hardly fierce, by no possibility ferocious; as of the generous war-horse, gentle in its strength, yet that laughs at the shaking of the spear. — But, above all, be what he might, to be a reality was indispensable for him. In his simple Scottish circle, the highest form of manhood attainable or known was that of Christian; the highest Christian was the Teacher of such. Irving's lot was cast. For the foray-spears were all rusted into earth there; Annan Castle had become a Townhall; and Prophetic Knox had sent tidings thither: Prophetic Knox; and, alas, also Sceptic Hume; and, as the natural consequence, Diplomatic Dundas! In such mixed incongruous element had the young soul to grow.
Grow nevertheless he did, with that strong vitality of his; grow and ripen. What the Scottish uncelebrated Irving was, they that have only seen the London celebrated and distorted one can never know. Bodily and spiritually, perhaps there was not, in that November 1822, when he first arrived here, a man more full of genial energetic life in all these Islands.
By a fatal chance, Fashion cast her eye on him, as on some impersonation of Novel-Cameronianism, some wild Product of Nature from the wild mountains; Fashion crowded round him, with her meteor lights and Bacchic dances ; breathed her foul incense on him; intoxicating, poisoning. One may say, it was bis own nobleness that forwarded such ruin; the excess of his sociability and sympathy, of his value for the suffrages and sympathies Of men. Syren songs, as of a new Moral Reformation (sons of [298/299] Mammon, and high sons of Belial and Beelzebub, to become sons of God, and the gumflowers of Almacks to be made living roses in a new Eden), sound in the inexperienced ear and heart. Most seductive, most delusive ! Fashion went her idle way, to gaze on Egyptian Crocodiles, Iroquois Hunters, or what else there might be; forgot this man, — who unhappily could not in his turn forget. The intoxicating poison had been swallowed; no force of natural health could cast it out. Unconsciously, for most part in deep unconsciousness, there was now the impossibility to live neglected; to walk on the quiet paths, where alone it is well with us. Singularity must henceforth succeed Singularity. O foulest Circean draught, thou poison of Popular Applause! madness is in thee, and death; thy end is Bedlam and the Grave. For the last seven iars, Irving, forsaken by the world, strove either to recall it, or forsake it; shut himself up in a lesser world of ideas and persons, and lived isolated there. Neither in this was there health: for this man such isolation was not fit, such ideas, such persons.
One light still shone on him; alas, through a medium more and more turbid: the light from Heaven. His Bible was there, wherein must lie healing for all sorrows. To the Bible he more and more exclusively addressed himself. If it is the written Word of God, shall it not be the acted Word too? Is it mere sound, then ; black printer's-ink on white rag-paper? A half-man could have passed on without answering; a whole man must answer. Hence Prophecies of Millenniums, Gifts of Tongues, — whereat Orthodoxy prims herself into decent wonder, and waves her, Avaunt! Irving clave to his Belief, as to his soul's soul; followed it whithersoever, through earth or air, it might lead him; toiling as never man toiled to spread it, to gain the worlds ear for it, — in vain. Ever wilder waxed the confusion without and within. The misguided noble-minded had now nothing left to do but die. He died the death of the true and brave. His last words, they say, were : "In life and in death, I am the Lord's." — Amen!
One who knew him well, and may with good cause love him, said: "But for Irving, I had never known what the communion of man with man means. His was the freest, brotherliest, bravest human soul mine ever came in contact with: I call him, on the whole, the best man I have ever, after trial enough, found in this world, or now hope to find."
The first time I saw Irving was six-and-twenty year ago, in his native town, Annan. He was fresh from Edinburgh, with College prizes, high character and promise: he had come to see our Schoolmaster, who had also been, his. We heard of famed Professors [299/300], of high matters classical, mathematical, a whole Wonderland of Knowledge: nothing but joy, health, hopefulness without end, looked out from the blooming young man. The last time I saw him was three months ago, in London. Friendliness still beamed in his eyes, but now from amid unquiet fire; his face was flaccid, wasted, unsound; hoary as with extreme age: he was trembling over the brink of the grave. — Adieu, thou first Friend; adieu, while this confused Twilight of Existence lasts! Might we meet where Twilight has become day!"
- Henry Irving and the Catholic Apostolic Church
- Carlyle and Henry Irving
- Carlyle on the Condition of Religion in the Nineteenth Century
Carlyle, Thomas. "The Death of Edward Irving." The Collected Works. 16 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1858. IV, 297-300. This essay originally appeared in Fraser's Magazine 61 (1834).
Last modified 12 March 2005