In Past and Present, as in "Signs of the Times", Carlyle exposes and decries what he views as the underlying debasement and savagery of contemporary England and of the socalled civilized world that follows it; indeed he seems to object to and even to reject the spirit of the age: the liberalism and capitalism that leaves every man for himself, attentive fundamentally to his own needs and his own condition, without powerful moral or spiritual principles, other than "Valetism", which seems to be a pervasive vanity that leaves men unable to act against the grain of popular fashion.
In one passage that is stylistically characteristic of his entire narrative, he asks,
To whom, then, is this wealth of England wealth? Who is it that it blesses; makes happier, wiser, beautifuler, in any way better? Who has got hold of it, to make it fetch and carry for him, like a true servant, not like a false mock-servant; to do him any real service whatsoever? As yet no one. Our successful industry is hitherto unsuccessful, a strange success, if we stop here! In the midst of plethoric plenty, the people perish; with gold walls, and full barns, no man feels himself safe or satisfied.
He makes constant use of rhetorical questions, exclamations, vivid, concrete imagery of the world, as well as analogies and illustrative vignettes.
What impact does this style of presentation have on the reader?
Does it make the argument more immediate and palpable? Is Carlyle's style, more than his ideas, responsible for the power of his writing? Can all the repetition and the verbal flourishes and the eloquent declarations be viewed as an appeal to emotion?
Is Carlyle trying to incite passion? Is he trying to get the reader to change his life? Does he think it is possible for England to change?
Last modified 23 September 2003