Chapter 2, Part 4 of the author's
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he representation of Teufelsdröckh's achievement of authority did not attain transcendental authority for Carlyle. As we shall see in the following chapter, the authority achieved in Sartor Resartus remains problematic. But even putting that aside, the book could not establish Carlyle's authority when he completed it in 1831 because he could not get it published, the publishers rejecting, in effect, his authority. Six months after taking the manuscript to London to seek a publisher, he still remained there, but he had given up hope of getting Sartor into print. At this point his father died, and he expressed his anxieties about his tenuous authority in the "Reminiscence of James Carlyle."
Although Thomas Carlyle the narrator attempts to revive and assume the authority of his father by literally authoring him in the memoir and making him the model of his own authority, the themes of loss, exile, and death insistently suggest the radical distance between father and son, and so the impossibility of achieving authority.
In "The Reminiscence of James Carlyle," as in the previous narratives, the future author's family resides in a theocratic idyll. Whereas his predecessors represented the dominance of the law over belief, James Carlyle represents the ideal union of belief and the law. His beliefis authoritative, both in the sense that it is unshakeable — he is "never visited with Doubt" and in the sense that it enables him to author or create a religious ethos for his family that he introduces into the Burgher Seceder sect (4; see 9-10). He also participates in and affirms the hierarchical order through which the transcendental authority of religion is transmitted into the polity. Within the family, James Carlyle is the head, a natural aristocrat and communal patriarch who pays his men "handsomely and with overplus," and he in turn defers to the Scottish gentry because they are the "true 'ruler[s] of the people"' (11, 8). These hierarchical gradations of authority ordain and sustain a stable and just social order. The Carlyles are ideally situated between the corrupting wealth of aristocracy and the severe poverty that strikes many of their neighbors during the "dear years" of [33/34] 1799-1800. As in Gaskell's representation of the pastoral family, the domestic economy of the Carlyles promotes a community of interests uncontaminated by the individualism of political economy.
James Carlyle's authority as leader of the religious community, respectable citizen, and father is embodied in his skill as a mason, a craft he practiced from the age of fifteen to the age of fifty-seven, some seven years after Carlyle left home for the university. James Carlyle built the house in which his family lived, symbolically constructing the structure of belief through which they lived their lives. His buildings function, like the Bible, as sources of authority, of belief and law; they are sacred "texts ... of the Gospel of man's Free-will" (2). Carlyle also implicitly compares his father's building to texts in two later statements in the reminiscence discussed below (7, 33). Linda Peterson's reading of Sartor Resartus as a text that employs the hermeneutic technique of biblical interpretation is equally appropriate to the "Reminiscence of James Carlyle," which could be regarded as an interpretation of the meaning of his father's life for him (chap. 2).
Although James Carlyle's buildings function like sacred writings, the fact that they are made of stone distinguishes them from paper documents-most certainly from the writings of his son. Like sacred texts, James Carlyle's buildings incorporate the transcendental into the material; his labors lay the "foundations" of a heavenly "city" (31). Carlyle emphasizes this process in his discussion of the first project his father worked on, the bridge at Auld Garth. In Sartor Resartus, the "Bridge-builder" is a "Pontifex, or Pontiff," the "Poet and inspired Maker" of symbols that combine the natural and the supernatural (79, 225). Carlyle draws on the etymological derivation and the historical application of the term pontiff to suggest that the bridge-builder is a religious authority who builds bridges between the realms of everyday life and the supernatural. Consequently, Auld Garth bridge, as Carlyle represents it, partakes of the transcendental, remaining unchanged in the fifty years since it was built even though all around it has altered: "The Auldgarth Bridge still spans the water, silently defies its chafing ... 0 Time! 0 Time! wondrous and fearful art thou; yet there is in man what is above thee" (24).
Thus Carlyle makes the very substantiality of masonry — James Carlyle becomes a mason in an era of "Substance and Solidity" — the emblem of his father's ability to bridge the gulf between the natural and the supernatural (5, 23; see V). By filling the natural world, a world that consists only of insubstantial "husks" of things, with the reality of divine presence, he gives substance and solidity to that world, a plenitude that manifests itself in the fertility of the pastoral idyll (5; see 28). Work — James Carlyle's "great maxim" is "That man was created to work" — becomes the human equivalent of divine creation (5). In equating his father's power and authority with that of [34/35] kings, Carlyle emphasizes this procreative capacity: James Carlyle is "a true Workman in this vineyard of the Highest: be his work that of Palace-building and Kingdom-founding, or only of delving and ditching, to me it is no matter" (3). The king and the mason are united in the Palace-builder, a man who creates the building that houses the royal family, but also a father who builds the hereditary dynasty. Furthermore, Carlyle equates the creation of a human society — king founding a land or nation — with the substantial act of ditching and delving that makes land arable. Not surprisingly, when the "industrious" James Carlyle turns from masoncraft to farming, he remains equally creative: "Two ears of corn are now in many places growing where he found only one" (24, 31). Not only does this activity make the land produce, it is irreversible, leaving a permanent mark: "a portion of this Planet bears beneficent traces of his strong Hand and strong Head" (2). The text of James Carlyle's teaching here takes its most substantial form, and this image of turning wasteland into productive tillage would become a major topos in Carlyle's later writings.
Carlyle's narrative does not so much recover James Carlyle's world in the process of representing it as mourn its passing. The form of the narrative radically separates the narrating son from the nar ated father, who exist in parallel narratives, the narrative in which Carlyle writes-referring to London and the present-and the narrative in which his father lives-referring to Ecclefechan and the past.
Carlyle wrote the reminiscence at intervals over the four-day period from Wednesday evening, January 2 5, 183 2 -the day after he learned of his father's death-to Sunday evening, January 29-two days after the funeral. He records the individual times of writing (Wednesday evening, Thursday morning and evening, Friday during the funeral and in the evening, and Saturday evening) in the text of the reminiscence and comments on events in the present like the funeral and the condolatory visit of the Irvings. These references to the act of writing frame the reminiscence, separating the rememberer from the remembered. While the form of the private memoir and the tone of loss suggest an emotional union with his father, the fact that the intention to write it appears to have been premeditated suggests a more ritualistic distance. When Teufelsdröckh's father dies, Diogenes writes a "Character" in which, like Carlyle, he speaks of his father's "natural ability" and "deserts in life" and makes "long historical inquiries [35/36] into the genealogy of the . . . Family" (107). The death of the "real" James Carlyle becomes submerged in the symbolic death of the father already imagined in "Illudo Chartis," Wotton Reinfred, and Sartor Resartus. Although, in the conclusion of his narrative, Teufelsdröckh appears to recover the lost authority of his father, Carlyle finds that in January 1832 he can only reenact the moment of loss.
While representing James Carlyle as the creator of eternal structures, both domestic and institutional, the reminiscence repeatedly mourns the passing of the world he created. Although that world is timeless and so not subject to decay, the narrator resides in a historical realm, radically cut off from the timeless idyll that exists only in relation to his father. "With him," Carlyle writes, "a whole threescore-and-ten years of the Past has doubly died for me" (33)- Carlyle intimates that this loss predates the literal death of the father when he tells us that his earliest recollection-experienced when he was only two years old-is of the "united pangs of Loss and of Remorse" (29). Although he depicts his father living in a timeless idyll, Carlyle describes his own experience as a series of losses, the death not only of his father, but of two uncles, a grandfather, and his sister Margaret. Like the "doubly orphaned" Teufelsdröckh, Carlyle feels that his father is "doubly" dead.
The reminiscence persistently emphasizes the distance between father and son. The idyll dies with the death of its creator and sustainer, James Carlyle, who lived in "the ruins of a falling Era," and consequently has not "left his fellow" (13, 7). After his death, the religious faith that is the foundation of the domestic idyll becomes inaccessible. He belongs to the "second race of religious men in Annandale," but "there is no third rising" (26). Carlyle implies that he should have belonged to that latter generation just as, when he underscores the word "he" in the sentence "He was never visited with Doubt," he implies that others, including himself, do doubt; as he writes elsewhere: "I cannot remember that 1, at that age, had any such force of belief" (19). just as there is no new religious generation, his father's respect for the political hierarchy is "perhaps no longer possible," and just as he contrasts his own doubt with his father's faith, he recalls his own rebellion against the gentry and social hierarchy when he writes that his father "was there to be governed" and therefore "did not revolt" (31) In the absence of the theocratic combination of religious and [36/37] political authority' political economy emerges to ruin masoncraft by substituting "show and cheapness" for "Substance" (31)
Even in Carlyle's own special realm of activity, language, James Carlyle possesses a creative power to make transcendental meaning that is no longer available to his son. Since Carlyle shares the traditional suspicion that tropes substitute persuasive expression for real meaning, he contrasts hig father's "clear" Ian uage of "full white sunlight" to the obscuring "colours" of rhetoric. James Carlyle's "potent words" make us see the things he speaks of, his "bold glowing style," both energetic" and "emphatic," "render[ing] visible" his meaning (3-4)He talks as much as the average man, Carlyle concludes, but "by extent of meaning communicated" he says far more because he never uses words for their own sake, always subordinating them to the concrete effects they are intended to produce (6). He is "a man of Action, even with Speech subservient thereto"; like "sharp arrows," his words rend asunder [the] official sophistries" of the law, enabling him to produce natural justice" (9, 4, 6).
In this portrait, Carlyle privileges speech over writing, thus differentiating his father's use of language from his own. James Carlyle's language produces the same plenitude as his masonry, while Thomas's words are as ephemeral as the paper on which they are written. Whereas Carlyle has chosen writing as his vocation, his father exhibits his character most fully by "silence" in the midst of dispute (32). Even when he does speak, his words partake more of silence than of speech, since they efface themselves before the truths they represent or the actions they effect; they are articulated silences that give direct access to the transcendental signified. While James Carlyle can complete his silent substantial work and "rest from [his] labours" in the idyll he has created, his son's highly self-referential writings, which draw attention to the surface of writing itself, open up an endless discourse that constantly attempts, but fails, to author the lost idyll (2). Carlyle can only conclude his description of his father's language by lamenting its inaccessibility: "Never shall we again hear such speech as that was ... Ach, und dies alles ist hin [Ah, and this is all gone forever]!" (3-4).
Carlyle, however, blames his father, notjust himself, for the loss of the maternal idyll. Early in the reminiscence, Carlyle insists that it had been his father "exclusively that determined on educating me ... and [37/38] made me whatever I am or may become" (2-3). Like his predecessors, James Carlyle exiles his son from the domestic idyll by forcing on him an urban education, an act that entails his separation from "Mother" and "Home" (29-30) Kaplan notes, significantly, that Margaret Carlyle actively opposed the separation decided upon by James (24). Carlyle does attempt to argue that his education did not separate him from his father and family. His father, he says, had disregarded the warning that if he educated his son, he would "grow up to despise his ignorant parents" and had later assured him that the prophecy had not been fulfilled (Rem., 12). But the fact that Carlyle needs assurance in itself betrays his anxiety that education has separated them, and the metaphorical resonances are clear when he writes that, after going to school at age ten, he "was never habitually beside" his father again (28).
That Carlyle associates the world from which he is exiled with home and mother rather than with his father indicates the extent to which the father is not what Carlyle longs for or misses in his exile. The father is simply the possessor of the idyll who has the power to exile his son from it. The loss of the mother manifests itself by her almost total exclusion from the reminiscence, a variant of the excluded idyll in Carlyle's earlier narratives. Carlyle was deeply attached to his mother, as his loving letters demonstrate, yet he excluded her not only from the "Reminiscence of James Carlyle" but from The Reminiscences as a whole; he mentions her only briefly, representing her, like the mothers of his German heroes and his fictional characters, as a religious woman descended of "the pious, the just and wise" (27).(fn24) The mother as idyll cannot be represented or recovered; she can only be mourned for, her absence indicated. Consequently, the reminiscence cannot return him to his mother or her domestic idyll; it can only attempt to cover over the loss of them.(fn25)
When he exiles his son to the urban academy, the father transforms the protective walls of the home into the oppressive walls of the prison. Excluded from the realm of his mother's belief, the son experiences the law laid down by his father as an "inflexible . . . Authority encircl[ing]" the family (28). While this circle, like the house he built for his family, protects, it also encloses and confines, and Carlyle portrays his father as a man enclosed within the encircling walls he has constructed for himself. As opposed to his much-travelled son, he is "limited to a circle of some forty miles diameter," a circle that becomes a barrier "wall[ing] in ... [h]is heart" so that his family, even his wife, cannot "freely love him." The circle finally contracts to a point, the narrow world of a man who, though "genuine and coherent, 'living and life-giving,"' remains but "half developed" (10). The James Carlyle of the reminiscence is an arbiter of the law concerned with the most trivial transgressions, even his friends' card playing and his own father's fondness for reading fiction. From this point of view, he is not so much God the loving progenitor as the "dreaded" God of "wrath," an "Irascible, choleric" man who creates "an atmosphere of Fear" and "awe" rather than love and protection; "To me," Carlyle concludes, "it was especially so" (6, 10, 28). [38/39]
Bound within the narrow confines of the law, Carlyle can only establish his authority by rebelling against his father and breaking down the walls of his prison. The "Reminiscence of James Carlyle" suggests the possibility that he might obtain his father's authority by imitating it. Carlyle insists throughout that he must "imitate" his father, admonishing himself to "write my books as he built his Houses" and to become a "continuation, and second volume of my Father" (2, 7, 33; see 3, 4, 7, 10, 19-20, 33-34; CL, 6:109, 111). But, when the father becomes the law that deprives the son of belief, the son can no longer discover authority, authority that unites law and belief, by imitating the father. He can only discover it by rebelling against the law of the father. Revolution is both an exterior force that intrudes on the domestic idyll, forcing history upon it, and an inner force that enables the prisoner to break out of the prison, to break down the walls of the finite in order to reattain the transcendental: "The great world-revolutions send in their disturbing billows to the remotest creek; and the overthrow of thrones more slowly overturns also the households of the lowly" (30)just as the revolutionaries in France had torn down the Bastille, so the son tears down the walls of his prison in the hope of building a new home.
Carlyle's rebellion asserts his own authority, his ability to write books as his father built houses, but it also inserts him into the circuit of desire that constantly undermines authority. In Sartor Resartus, he had claimed superiority to his father by arguing that books are far more lasting than bridges, that the author of a book has "built what will outlast all marble and metal, and be . . . a Temple, and Seminary and Prophetic Mount" (173). But in the "Reminiscence of James Carlyle" he reverses himself, asserting that "a good Building will last longer than most Books, than one Book of a million" (24). If the "Reminiscence of James Carlyle" suggests the son's need to rebel, it also manifests the son's anxiety that his rebellion will not lead to the establishment of renewed authority, that Sartor Resartus had not created a new home or a new "Mythus" but only reenforced the walls of his prison.
Last modified 5 October 2001