Carlyle uses specific events from his time to support his arguments. Unlike Tom Wolfe, who uses specifics to show personality and familiarity, or Samuel Johnson who rarely uses specifics, only in a vague, non-specific way, Carlyle's speaker supports his views with real events and well-known figures. The following passage demonstrates many of these examples.

Old England too has had her share of such frenzies and panics; though happily, like other old maladies, they have grown milder of late: and since the days of Titus Oates have mostly passed without loss of men's lives; or indeed without much other loss than that of reason, for the time, in the sufferers. In this mitigated form, however, the distemper is of pretty regular recurrence; and may be reckoned on at intervals, like other natural visitations; so that reasonable men deal with it, as the Londoners do with their fogs, — go cautiously out into the groping crowd, and patiently carry lanterns at noon; knowing, by a wellgrounded faith, that the sun is still in existence, and will one day reappear. How often have we heard, for the last fifty years, that the country was wrecked, and fast sinking; whereas, up to this date, the country is entire and afloat. The "State in Danger" is a condition of things, which we have witnessed a hundred times; and as for the Church, it has seldom been out of "danger" since we can remember it.

All men are aware that the present is a crisis of this sort; and why it has become so. The repeal of the Test Acts, and then of the Catholic disabilities, has struck many of their admirers with an indescribable astonishment. Those things seemed fixed and immovable; deep as the foundations of the world; and lo, in a moment they have vanished, and their place knows them no more! Our worthy friends mistook the slumbering Leviathan for an island; often as they had been assured, that Intolerance was, and could be nothing but a Monster; and so, mooring under the lee, they had anchored comfortably in his scaly rind, thinking to take good cheer; as for some space they did. But now their Leviathan has suddenly dived under; and they can no longer be fastened in the stream of time; but must drift forward on it, even like the rest of the world: no very appalling fate, we think, could they but understand it; which, however, they will not yet, for a season. Their little island is gone; sunk deep amid confused eddies; and what is left worth caring for in the universe? What is it to them that the great continents of the earth are still standing; and the polestar and all our loadstars ' in the heavens, still shining and eternal? Their cherished little haven is gone, and they will not be comforted And therefore, day after day, in all manner of periodical or perennial publications, the most lugubrious predictions are sent forth. The King has virtually abdicated; the Church is a widow, without jointure; public principle is gone; private honesty is going; society, in short, is fast falling in pieces; and a time of unmixed evil is come on us.

Carlyle's references to specific people and situations make the reader aware of the historical period as well as his speaker's views on the current climate. These little name droppings characterize his style and litter his prose, showing the reader that he not only has a basis for his argument but also has a firm grasp on the happenings of the time.


1. How does Carlyle use Thomas Oates, London fog, and the repeal of the Test Acts to make his point stronger? How does he use listing — "The King has virtually abdicated; the Church is a widow, without jointure; public principle is gone; private honesty is going; society, in short, is fast falling in pieces" — differently from Johnson?

2. Carlyle asks questions of the reader in the second paragraph. What is the purpose of posing questions in an essay?

3. Why does Carlyle start his paragraph with "All men"? How does this generalization compare to Johnson's use of the general?

4. Why would Carlyle choose to refer to England as a "little island" that dived under? What does he mean by "the little island is gone"?

Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Leading Questions

Last modified 7 March 2005