Stopford A. Brooke, the editor of Robertson's Life and Letters, describes the important influence Thomas Carlyle had upon the liberal Protestant clergyman:

His intellectual power became rapidly greater, in proportion as his individuality of character increased. As he freed himself from conventional forms of thought, he secured a mental grasp and vigour which he had not had at Winchester. He began now to hew out his own path to his convictions. His continuous reading of Carlyle marks the state of intelectual ferment in which he now lived. "I have gained good and energy from that book," he says, speaking of Past and Present. [48]

Like almost every other Victorian Carlyle influenced, Robertson did not accept everything the sage wrote. Writing in the early 1850s, he found that he did "not quite know what to say about Carlyle," though he was sure

that his mind has had more influence on the thoughtful young men of the day than any other I could name. His thought is more moulded into many of the leading Americans' thought, and his power has told more upon the tone of feeling amongst the most highly educated manufacturers than that of any, I suppose, in England; and I am not prepared to think that that is an attribute of mere talent. Formative influence is a prerogative of genius ; but the truth is, that talent, at least, often becomes nearly as intuitive as genius. When the mind is stored with a vast variety of thoughts, which by digestion it has made its own, it is wonderful how rapid by habit those combinations become, which we generally attribute to genius only. Then again, as Carlyle says of Mirabeau, who was charged with using other men's materials, (to make other men's thoughts really your own, and not simply reproduce them, is an evidence of genius. Why did they not make as much use of the raw material of their own thoughts as he did ?' [November 5th, p. 146]

Robertson does, however, find fault with the sage, arguing that "one of Carlyle's faults, as it seems to me, is this tendency to see the Divine everywhere, and to make little distinction between the amount of Divinity which is contained in different forces, provided only that they be Force." Clearing judging Carlyle to have a place among the prophets or Victorian sages of his own time, Robertson explains his conception of prophecy:

Now the prophetic power, in which I suppose is chiefly exhibited that by which we mean inspiration, depends almost entirely on moral greatness. The prophet discerns large principles true for all time — principles social, political, ecclesiastical — chiefly by largeness of heart and sympathy of spirit with God's spirit. That is my conception of inspiration. [Letter 139, p. 265]


Brooke, Stopford A. Life and Letters of Fred[erick]. W. Robertson, M. A., Incumbent of Trinity Chapel, Brighton, 1847-53. People's Edition. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co., 1902.

Victorian Overview Religion F. W. Robertson

Last modified 8 December 2007