Carlyle spent most of his time indoors and out of direct touch with a mass public. He didn't like to be hemmed in by outer elements, whether universal or personal, social or political. But the present was pressing, and although Carlyle opposed many philanthropic and monetary pursuits, fiscal necessity forced him to lecture. However reluctant Carlyle was to speak in front of a large group, the lecture was an immediate, influential venue. In his lecture, "The Hero as Man of Letters," three literary heroes illuminate a deplored, godless society:

Here and there one does now find a man who knows, as of old, that this world is a Truth, and no Plausibility and Falsity; that he himself is alive, not dead or paralytic; and that the world is alive, instinct with Godhood, beautiful and awful, even as in the beginning of days! One man once knowing this, many men, all men, must by and by come to know it. It lies there clear, for whosoever will take the spectacles off his eyes and honestly look, to know! For such a man the Unbelieving Century, with its unblessed Products, is already past; a new century is already come. The old unblessed Products and Performances, as solid as they look, are Phantasms, preparing speedily to vanish. To this and the other noisy, very great-looking Simulacrum with the whole world huzzaing at its heels, he can say, composedly stepping aside: Thou art not true; thou art not extant, only semblant; go thy way! — Yes, hollow Formulism, gross Benthamism, and other unheroic atheistic Insincerity is visibly and even rapidly declining. An unbelieving Eighteenth Century is but an exception, such as now and then occurs. I prophesy that the world will once more become sincere; a believing world; with many Heroes in it, a heroic world! It will then be a victorious world; never till then.

The literary hero is not only hero but prophet. He carries knowledge of 'the beautiful and (my italics) awful' to lead many from darkness to light. By impressing the past on the present, Carlyle becomes a uniquely bound prophet struggling against his own skeptical, machinated age and optimistically prophesizes a believing world.

1. While Carlyle is rarely shy of using an exclamation mark or italicizing words for effect, why are these devices used more heavily in this text than "Signs of the Times" or "Hudson's Statue"?

2. Does 'strength' have different meaning and/or connotation(s) in "Signs of the Times" than in this text?

3. How would your reading of this text and its persuasive techniques change if you didn't know it was a lecture and addressed to a direct, large audience? Regardless of whether "The Hero as Man of Letters" would have been written at all, how do you think it might have been written if it were not a lecture?

4. Repetition of is a prominent tool used in the above passage and throughout the text. Does this repetition belie Carlyle's skepticism in the present society? Does the repetition of 'then' and 'world' in the last three sentences of the above passage reinforce his prophesy or betray doubt?


Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Leading Questions

Last modified 11 October 2007