In his discussion of how society has become overrun by "mechanism," Carlyle states that one of the problems with modern culture is that people no longer have a strong sense of "wonder" with regard to the natural world. He implies that the importance people place on "cause and effect"-type logic has resulted in a decrease in the appreciation of the world's beauty:

'Cause and effect' is almost the only category under which we look at, and work with, all Nature. Our first question with regard to any object is not, What is it? but, How is it? We are no longer instinctively driven to apprehend, and lay to heart, what is Good and Lovely, but rather to inquire, as onlookers, how it is produced, whence it comes, whither it goes. Our favourite Philosophers have no love and no hatred; they stand among us not to do, nor to create anything, but as a sort of Logic mills, to grind out the true causes and effects of all that is done and created...Wonder, indeed, is, on all hands, dying out: it is the sign of uncultivation to wonder. Speak to any small man of a high, majestic Reformation, of a high majestic Luther; and forthwith he sets about 'accounting' for it.


1. Carlyle seems to mourn the loss of wonder in the world. Is it possible that fantasy writers living in the Victorian period agreed with this sentiment and created fantasy books in order to restore imagination and wonder? Did writers like Carroll and MacDonald create their fantastic works with Carlyle in mind?

2. In what ways does the character of Anodos in MacDonald's Phantastes embody the general ideas that are conveyed in "Signs of the Times". Things to think about might include nature, the journey of the individual, and religion.

3. In the first few sentences of "Signs of the Times," Carlyle says that it is not very beneficial to put too much emphasis on looking to the future. He seems to stress that people should live for the present. Yet if this is the case how can he justify all the historical references he gives in his writings. In a way, he seems to be living in the past, which is perhaps just as bad as looking to the future.

Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Leading Questions

Last modified 26 February 2003