Over the course of "Signs of the Times," Carlyle's thoroughly patronizing essay on society in England, he laments the mechanization of everything from government to science and even literature in the country. Though Carlyle supports technological progress to a certain extent, he feels mechanization has robbed society of much of its creativity and some of its work ethic. Carlyle laments the rigidity which settled into society under mechanization. Dynamic thinking is the positive counterpart of Mechanical thinking and it is this type of thought missing from society today according to Carlyle. After examining the many facets of everyday English life where dynamism is lacking, Carlyle turns his attention to religion and specifically the Christian faith which he says is a chief example of the problems of society.

Or, to take an infinitely higher instance, that of the Christian Religion, which, under every theory of it, in the believing or unbelieving mind, must ever be regarded as the crowning glory, or rather the life and soul, of our whole modern culture: How did Christianity arise and spread abroad among men? Was it by institutions, and establishments and well-arranged systems of mechanism? Not so; on the contrary, in all past and existing institutions for those ends, its divine spirit has invariably been found to languish and decay. It arose in the mystic deeps of man's soul; and was spread abroad by the preaching of the word," by simple, altogether natural and individual efforts; and flew, like hallowed [108/109] fire, from heart to heart, till all were purified and illuminated by it; and its heavenly light shone, as it still shines, and (as sun or star) will ever shine, through the whole dark destinies of man. Here again was no Mechanism; man's highest attainment was accomplish, Dynamically, not Mechanically. Nay, we will venture to say, that no high attainment, not even any far-extending movement among men, was ever accomplished otherwise. Strange as it may see if we read History with any degree thoughtfulness, we shall find that checks and balances of Profit and Loss have never been the grand agents with men, that they have never been roused into deep, thorough, all-pervading efforts by any computable prospect of Profit and Loss, for any visible, finite object; but always for some invisible and infinite one. The Crusades took their rise in Religion; their visible object was, commercially speaking, worth nothing. It was the boundless Invisible world that was laid bare in the imaginations of those men; and in its burning light, the visible shrunk as a scroll. Not mechanical, nor produced by mechanical means, was this vast movement. No dining at Freemasons' Tavern, with the other long train of modern machinery; no cunning reconciliation of "vested interests," was required here: only the passionate voice of one man, the rapt soul looking through the eyes of one man; and rugged, steel-clad Europe trembled beneath his words, and followed him whither he listed. In later ages it was still the same. The Reformation had an invisible, mystic and ideal aim; the result was indeed to be embodied in external things; but its spirit, its worth, was internal, invisible, infinite. Our English Revolution too originated in Religion. Men did battle, in those old days, not for Purse-sake, but for Conscience-sake. Nay, in our own days, it is no way different. The French Revolution itself had something higher in it than cheap bread and a Habeas-corpus act. Here too was an Idea; a Dynamic, not a Mechanic force. It was a struggle, though a blind and at last an insane one, for the infinite, divine nature of Right, of Freedom, of Country.

In this passage, Carlyle expresses his fondness for the inspiration that religion can spark in a person. For the most part, society has lost the abstract concepts of inspiration and passion. Carlyle never bothers to methodically define his thoughts on Dynamic thinking, instead focusing on the flaws he sees in Mechanical thinking, but by examining the passage on religion, we can try to understand the qualities of Dynamic thinking more clearly.


1. Carlyle writes that Christianity was not spread by "institutions, and establishments and well-arranged systems of mechanism," and concluding that when it was spread through those means it withered. What would Carlyle have to say about Christianity's spread and the contributions to society by the Church in Roman and Medieval times?

2. People who are motivated solely by economic means are would not be considered Dynamic thinkers by Carlyle, as evidenced by his comments on Profit and Loss. Is there room for material gains in Dynamic thinking? Why is Carlyle seemingly critical of wealth here?

3. Carlyle also states, "The Crusades took their rise in Religion; their visible object was, commercially speaking, worth nothing," which certainly can be debated. How is Carlyle justified in this statement? Does this remark undermine his other points if we believe this comment to be misleading or inaccurate?

4. How can we define the internal feelings that Carlyle says are missing from society today? Is there a better way to explain what Carlyle is speaking about than falling back on "Freedom" and "Country" as he does in the final sentence?

Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Leading Questions

Last modified 11 October 2007