Two of the great pleasures of reading Carlyle are the passion with which he puts forth his case (however much we modern readers may disagree with aspects of that case), and the expressive language and command of imagery that he uses in his role as a "voice crying in the wilderness." The following passages are good examples of both the power and the variety of his exhortative technique.

From "Signs of the Times":

Thus does man, in every age, vindicate, consciously or unconsciously, his celestial birthright. Thus does Nature hold on her wondrous, unquestionable course; and all our systems and theories are but so many froth-eddies or sandbanks, which from time to time she casts up, and washes away. When we can drain the Ocean into mill-ponds, and bottle-up the Force of Gravity, to be sold by retail, in gas jars; then may we hope to comprehend the infinitudes of man's soul under formulas of Profit and Loss; and rule over this too, as over a patent engine, by checks, and valves, and balances.

And from "Hudson's Statue":

But this your "Ideal," my misguided fellow-citizens? Good Heavens, are you in the least aware what damage, in the very sources of their existence, men get from Cockney Sooterkins saluting them publicly as models of Beauty? I charitably feel you have not the smallest notion of it, or you would shriek at the proposal! Can you, my misguided friends, think it humane to set up, in its present uncomfortable form, this blotch of mismolten copper and zinc, out of which good warming-pans might be made? That all men should see this; innocent young creatures still in arms, be taught to think this beautiful;--and perhaps women in an interesting situation look up to it as they pass? I put it to your religious feeling, to your principles as men and fathers of families!

How different these two passages are, and yet the aim of each is to urge audience members to consider their "evil" ways and amend them. Carlyle's purpose is to stir his audience by simultaneously rebuking them while appealing to the better part of their souls. How does his use of language facilitate this? I refer to his thunderous images and also the very meter of his sentences. I also think the multifarious ways in which he couches his ideas are an important part of his rhetoric. How does he vary his tone, and how might these variations make his work more effective? We have examined the work of other sages and satirists this semester — Didion, Wolfe, and Swift. Is their aim, like Carlyle's, persuasion? How do their techniques differ from Carlyle's sermonic prose? We have discussed the relative effectiveness of Johnson's wisdom-speaking writings when compared to Swift's sagacious satire — how effective is the righteous anger of Carlyle as compared to our satirists? We might ask ourselves if all sages wish to effect change. Is amelioration of the social problems they unveil the primary aim of sages' work?


Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Leading Questions

Last modified 20 February 2002