Like Trollope, Carlyle condemns the hero-worshipping of swindlers as much as he condemns the cheater himself. He uses the metaphor of the statue-as-god to drive his point home.
Model that, with what exactness Art can, into the enduring Brass Portrait and Express image of King Hudson, as he receives the grandees of this country at his levees or soirees and couchees; mount him on the highest place you can discover in the most crowded thoroughfare, on what you can consider the pinnacle of the English world: I assure you he will have beneficial effects there... "Hudson is my god, and to him I will sacrifice this twenty-pound note: if perhaps he will be propitious to me?" ("Hudson's Statue," 1850; 2)
Carlyle thus compares Hudson to both Apollo Belvedere — known to eighteenth-century artists and critics such as Sir Joshua Reynolds and Johann Winckelmann as the perfect embodiment of the Classical ideal — and Allah, the Moslem appellation for God: "The new Apollo Belvedere this, or Ideal of the Scrip Ages...Allah Ilallah, there is still one God, you see, in England, and this is his Prophet" (2). Clearly he mocks the worshipping of swindlers. Carlyle, however, is more savagely explicit in his opinion of railway speculators who make money out of other people's investments: "His worth, I take it, to English railways, much more to English men, will turn out to be extremely inconsiderable; to be incalculable damage, rather!" (3).
Trollope and Carlyle alternate criticizing the swindler's admirers to condemning the cheater himself. Wealthy financiers who made their fortune from railroad speculations were not uncommon in either the 1840's or 1870's — when "Hudson's Statue" and The Way We Live Now were written, respectively. George Hudson, the railway merchant-prince who muscled his way into fortune, eventually numbering among his acquaintances the Prince Consort and the top drawer of British aristocracy (John Sutherland, "Introduction" to The Way We Live Now, xvii), was the real-life model for Carlyle's essay. As for Trollope's Melmotte, the inspiration for his character came from a conglomeration of railway criminals. In 1872 a foreigner named Lefebvre, who may or may not have been a Frenchman, proposed the Honduras Loan scheme, which supposedly funded the Interoceanic Railway. When fifty miles of the railroad had been completed, however, Honduras loan stock dramatically fell, and many were forced to sell. In 1873 an article in the Illustrated London News (15 March 1873) caught Trollope's eye: "General Fremont (a Frenchman) defies French justice from across the Atlantic...this fictitious company never laid down a single line of rails." The combination of these cheaters was to be the inspiration for Melmotte.
Likewise, Melmotte consciously flouts all the established laws to rise to the status of "merchant-prince." He even wins a seat in Parliament through fraud and is proud of it. "He enjoyed keenly a certain amount of elation. Of course he had committed forgery. That indeed, was nothing, for he had been cheating and forging and stealing all his life" (The Way We Live Now, II, 135). But Trollope does not allow the swindler to get away without justice, for Melmotte eventually is accused of forging the title deed to the Longstaffes' property. Knowing he is in ruins, he commits suicide, but not without the aftershock received by his aristocratic "admirers."
Carlyle and Trollope use the metaphor of the statue to identify both the obsessive reverence accorded by the people to the railway swindler and the potential of their "idol" to fall to pieces. In "Hudson's Statue," Carlyle challenges the English public to "model that, with the exactness Art can, into the enduring Brass Portrait and Express Image of King Hudson" (2). He then alludes to several idols of gods such as Allah and Vishnu, whom he satirically equates with the Railway King, who has transmogrified from a mere person into the embodiment of wealth gained through corrupt Industry. The insistence of the English public to worship a cheater is further played out in a hypothetical statement: "Hudson is my god, and to him I will sacrifice this twenty-pound note" — an implicit reference to the manic purchasing of shareholder's stock. Carlyle, however, also warns the people that their idol has the potential to shatter, for he implies that corruption cannot triumph. He states, "All idols have to tumble, and the hugest of them with the heaviest fall" (3).
Trollope employs a similar technique in The Way We Live Now. Mrs. Hurtle's declaration, "He is a man whose hand I would kiss," (I, 246), echoes Carlyle, for it also alludes to Melmotte-as-statue to be revered. Looming like a Colossus throughout the novel, the cheater is the object of attention for most of the aristocracy who desire part of his wealth. At the same time, however, Paul Montague alludes to Melmotte's downfall when he says to Mrs. Hurtle, "I fear you will find that your idol has feet of clay" (I, 246). Indeed Paul's words ring true when Melmotte eventually finds himself ruined and has to leave his seat in Parliament before his arrest and suicide.
In their characterization of railway "ruffians," Trollope and Carlyle criticize not only the evildoer but the aristocrats and the people who both worship and claim to condemn him. The complexity of the situation, which reveals what the authors believe to be the twisted morality of English society, enables the reader to realize that there are two sides to an argument. In this case, both are guilty, though not in the same degree.
Carlyle, Thomas. "Hudson's Statue." Collected Works of Thomas Carlyle. 16 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1858. Vol. 13: 220-48.
"French News." The Illustrated London News. 15 March 1873: 60.
"Railway Responsibility." Punch 26 September 1874: 127.
Sutherland, John. Introduction. The Way We Live Now. Anthony Trollope. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1982. vii-xxviii.
Trollope, Anthony. The Way We Live Now. Ed. John Sutherland. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1982.
Last modified 25 October 2000