he working-class bias and the working-class associations of these types perhaps explain why Thomas Carlyle, who makes such major use of Exodus in Sartor Resartus, so rarely employs it in his political writings. On these occasions when he does employ secularized types derived from the Exodus narrative, he applies them m a manner very different from that found in Massey and other working-class radicals. "Jesuitism," one of The Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850), thus bases an elaborate analogy of modern man's desire for freedom upon the Exodus account. But when Carlyle states, "if it please Heaven, we shall all yet make our Exodus from Houndsditch," he is not concemed with freedom from political or economic oppression. Instead, this Victorian sage, who desires freedom from illusion, spiritual blindness, and the slavery of "Consecrated Falsity," wants his contemporaries to make their "Exodus into wider horizons, into God's daylight once more." To free themselves from this form of Egyptian slavery, men of the nineteenth century, says Carlyle, must cast off an outmoded Old Testament religion (in which he apparently includes a great deal of Christianity as well). When men have grown enough to put aside such belief, they, "immeasurably richer for having dwelt among the Hebrews, shall pursue their human pilgrimage. St. Ignatius and much other saintship, and superstitious terror and lumber, lying safe behind us (20.32 30). Like Swinburne writing two decades later, Carlyle masterfully uses typological images to attack the religion on which they are based.
Even when alluding to the departure from Egyptian slavery in an overtly political work, such as The French Revolution (1837), Carlyle gives this episode his own peculiar intonation. The chapter "Give Us Arms," which relates the events of 13 July 1789 when the people of Paris obtained weapons, might seem the obvious context in which to make the usual political application of this type. Carlyle, however, instead uses it to argue that the urge to be free is essentially a spiritual fact, and he thus mentions the great "moment, when tidings of Freedom reach us; when the long-enthralled soul, from amid its chains and squalid stagnancy, arises, were it still only in blindness and bewilderment, and swears by Him that made it, that it will be free!" According to this Victorian prophet who would on the contrary later in his career emphasize that men have a basic drive to be led, "it is the deep commandment, dimmer or clearer, of our whole being, to befree. Freedom is the one purport . . . of all man's struggles, toilings, and sufferings." Therefore, it is one of life's supreme moments when a man realizes that he can — that he must be free. It is, says Carlyle, a "first vision as of a flame-girt Sinai, in this our waste Pilgrimage, — which thenceforth wants not its pillar of cloud by day, and pillar of fire by night!" (2.183)
Carlyle obviously concentrates on the enslaved person's spiritual state and does not even mention the enslaving power, be it Pharaoh, Satan, or the mill owners. His analogy hence does not serve the prime political purpose of sharply opposing groups or factions each of which immediately receives a predetermined moral status. Like many others who cite Exodus typology in a political context, he relies upon it to attach religious prestige, as it were, to an essentially secular matter. Similarly, in describing the mental state of a person awakening to the possibility of freedom, he employs this Exodus narrative to make that political awakening appear part of some essential principle of history. Nevertheless, he employs such imagery in neither the usual political or religious manner: although setting forth a political event, he concentrates upon the spiritual state of its participants; although claiming to perceive a universal spiritual principle in a historical event, and although casting that historical occurrence in terms of the Old Testament, he does not bring in Christ or Christian truth, directly or indirectly.
Like Rossetti, who employs secularized types in a non-political context, Carlyle draws upon the complex structure of the typological relation as a means of finding a meaning and order to human history. What makes the Carlylean application of the Exodus narrative function as an unorthodox, extended, and secularized type is not that the Old Testament events find completion in the lives of individuals. Such uses, as we have frequently observed, are considered to be entirely proper by leading Victorian exegetes. The crucial point is that Carlyle, who here sounds much like a preacher describing the way sinners suddenly desire freedom from Satan in Christ, has no room in his system for a Saviour. Thus, whereas Newman, in "The Pillar of the Cloud" (1833), can pray: "Lead Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,/ Lead Thou me on!" Carlyle's pillars of fire and cloud are entirely subjective and internal. He believes that a universal principle makes all men capable of thus desiring liberty, but, like Swinburne, he holds that men themselves and not God, must direct this Exodus.
Such fundamental spiritual attitudes explain in part why Carlyle does not make the usual applications of Exodus typology to politics and history in The French Revolution. Although he clearly believes in the forces of history, he does not accept that they guide men in a manner analogous to that of Moses or Christ. According to Carlyle, when societies base themselves upon what he terms "Lies," such as ruling classes that do not govern and churches that do not guide, eventually the masses whom these false rulers oppress will revolt and sweep them away. Although Carlyle uses typology to spiritualize such forces, thus attempting to endow them with the spiritual prestige of a goveming divinity, such rhetorical procedures only show how far he has moved from his earlier Evangelical faith. Like Ruskin, Newman, George Eliot, and many other Victorian writers who abandoned an early Evangelicalism, Carlyle always retained many habits of thought which that cast-off faith had originally created, and one of the most important of these involves his attitudes towards types and symbols. Like so many Victorians who learned to search biblical history for types and shadows of Jesus, Carlyle long retained the characteristic Evangelical delight in finding complex and unexpected meanings in the oddest events. He had become addicted, in other words, to the delights of interpretation. Furthermore, he had also learned both to manipulate individual types and to apply many of them to his own life and to those of the people about whom he wrote. He had become accustomed, in other words, to conceiving human lives in biblical terms; and no matter what the subject, biblical allusion, citation, and quotation came naturally to him. In Thomas Hood's "Ode to Rae Wilson, Esquire" (1837), his satire on Evangelicalism, the poet announced:
I do not hash the Gospel in my books, And thus upon the public mind intrude it.... On Bible stilts I don't affect to stalk; Nor lard with Scripture my familiar talk, For man may pious text repeat, And yet religion have no inward seat.
Unlike the author of "The Song of the Shirt, (1843), Carlyle always spices his works with scriptural allusion, despite the fact that in him Christianity no longer has an "inward seat." He employs such "pious texts, and the interpretive modes associated with them in part to reassure many in his audience about his lack of orthodoxy. He also uses such scriptural citation or allusion to suggest that his ideas grow forth naturally from traditional belief. But certainly the main reason Carlyle continued throughout his career to walk on "Bible stilts" was that such had become part of his natural manner of proceeding.
None the less, he was always true to his beliefs, and he almost always presents such scriptural borrowings with a wry Carlylean twist. The two Carlylean uses of Exodus imagery at which we have looked suggest his characteristic handling of biblical history, language and symbolism.
Carlyle's allusions at two stages in his career to the episode from the twenty-first chapter of Numbers involving the brazen serpent exemplify additional Carlylean uses of commonplace types in political contexts. In The French Revolution he uses this event during the desert wanderings of the Israelites as a figure for France,s representative assembly: "The States-General, created and conflated by the passionate effort of the whole Nation, is there as a thing high and lifted up. Hope, jubilating, cries aloud that it will prove a miraculous Brazen Serpent in the Wildemess; whereon whosoever looks, with faith and obedience, shall be healed of all woes and serpent bites" (2.151). The Book of Numbers relates that after the Lord sent a plague of serpents to punish the Jews for their lack of faith, Moses interceded with God and was instructed: "Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live, (Numbers 21:8). John 3:14, in which Christ proclaims "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up," taught Christians to see the brazen serpent as a divinely authenticated type of the Crucifixion, but commentators also emphasize that it is an image of saving faith. According to the usual reading of this type, the brazen serpent in the wilderness, which God gave to the people when they repented of their lack of faith, teaches man that he can be saved only by faith in Christ crucified.
Commentators like Thomas Scott emphasize that the brazen serpent is an image of saving faith precisely because the actions commanded by God were themselves so apparently unlikely to produce any beneficial result, and, similarly, without the eye of faith one would hardly think that salvation could conceivably come from gazing with belief at some person suffering painful execution."12 The commentators also remark that Moses set up the brass image upon a pole in the midst of the Israelite camp, like a standard, and Carlyle employs all these elements of the original type when he explains with a characteristic blend of wry irony and sympathy that the Estates-General will prove, if nothing else, "a symbolic Banner" around which the "exasperated complaining Twenty-five Millions, otherwise isolated and without power, may rally, and work — what it is in them to work. If battle must be the work, as one cannot help expecting, then it shall be a battle-banner" (2.151).
The Victorian sage follows his usual strategy of taking some historical fact, casting it in terms borrowed from the Old Testament or similar ancient mythos, and finally emphasizing its spiritual meaning. In this instance he once again reveals the presence in history of one of his most basic beliefs, that men require symbols to live and act. Carlyle, who knows the fate of the Estates-General and its members, uses the image of the brazen serpent to comment ironically upon this first attempt to cure the ills of misgovernment. For those Frenchmen who had lost faith in government, the political assembly seemed an act of faith that might cure their nation's ills; for those who believed that they or the nation had erred and fallen away from the ways of justice, it promised a means of earthly redemption. But the original brazen serpent was a divinely instituted type, whereas men alone made the Estates-General. Although both type and antitype seemed particularly unlikely to cure men's ills, they did so because they originated with God. By comparing the legislative assembly to the brazen serpent, Carlyle emphasizes both that it is equally unlikely to do good and that it does not derive from God. Furthermore, since the brazen serpent as a type was fulfilled by the Crucifixion, Carlyle's citation of the brazen serpent also suggests the eventual fate of the Estates-General. Carlyle, who was always sympathetic to any acts of faith, introduces the Estates-General to his reader in terms of a typological allusion which emphasizes this element of giving faith. His complex manipulations of the hermeneutic tradition associated with this type enables him to suggest the inevitable shortcomings of this governing body.
The potential for satire that obviously exists in Carlyle's use of the brazen serpent here in The French Revolution becomes fully realized in "Hudson's Statue" (1850). In this Latter-Day Pamphlet he follows his usual satiric procedure and takes a contemporary phenomenon as an emblem of the nation's mind and soul. Like the typhus-ridden Irish widow, "that great Hat seven-feet high, which now perambulates London Streets," and the "amphibious Pope" and his "Scenic Theory of Worship" from Past and Present (1843), the affair of Hudson's statue provides Carlyle with a grotesque satiric emblem of what is wrong with the age. He begins by drawing attention to the fact that whereas the people of England had not been able to make up their minds whether to build a statue of Oliver Cromwell, whom Carlyle takes to be one of the nation's greatest heroes, they readily subscribed ~25,000 to erect one to the railway magnate and stock swindler, George Hudson (1800-71). After he was accused of having dishonestly recorded accounts and of having paid dividends out of capital invested by others, Hudson quickly lost his great wealth. He was not an entirely ruined man, for, although the public did not erect a monument to him after all, Sunderland continued to return him to Parliament until 1859.
Claiming that "there was more of real worship in the affair of Hudson than is usual in such" monuments, Carlyle discovers that the people of England, who languish for better men to emulate, have chosen Hudson as one of their "Pattern Men," a member of "as strange a Pantheon of brass gods as was ever got together in this world." According to Carlyle,
Hudson the railway king, if Popular Election be the rule, seems to me by far the most authentic kind extant in this world. Hudson has been "elected by the people" so as almost none other is or was. Hudson solicited no vote; his votes were silent voluntary ones, not liable to be false: he did a thing which men found, in their inarticulate hearts, to be worthy of paying money for; and they paid it. What the desire of every heart was, Hudson had or seemed to have produced: Script out of which profit could be made. They "voted" for him by purchasing his script with a profit to him. Every vote was the spontaneous product of those men's deepest insights and most practical convictions, about Hudson and themselves and this Universe. (20.264-5)
George Hudson, whom many Victorians thought to be the new Saviour, turns out to be an incarnation of Mammon. Unlike Ruskin, who was later to charge that England worshipped the Goddess-ofGetting-On, Carlyle does not here importantly concern himself with the fact that his contemporaries worship such false divinities. Rather he finds in the entire affair an indictment of the nation's capacity to choose for itself.13 He therefore asks:
After all, why was not the Hudson Testimonial completed? As Moses lifted up the Brazen Serpent in the wilderness, why was not Hudson's Statue lifted up? Once more I say, it might have done us good. Thither too, in a sense, poor poison-stricken mortals might have looked, and found some healing! For many reasons, this alarming populace of British Statues wanted to have its chief. The liveliest type of Choice by Suffrage ever given. The consummate flower of universal Anarchy in the Commonwealth, and in the hearts of men: was not this Statue such a flower . . . ? (20.275)
Since several poems in the Tractarian Lyra Apostolica (1836), including "The Religion of the Majority," "National Property," and "National Degradation," use types to charge contemporary England with worship of Mammon and deciding spiritual matters by ballot, Carlyle had ample precedent here.
Carlyle's use of the type of the brazen serpent for satiric commentary upon a contemporary political question again demonstrates his complex manipulation of the interpretive tradition. For example, his initial parodic echo of John 3:14 not only reminds the reader of the usual reading of the brazen serpent but also underlines for him that Englishmen saw Hudson as a messiah. Carlyle's interpretation of this statue that was never constructed is appropriately marked by irony, and he begins setting forth his conceit by making clear that this Son of Man was in fact never lifted up. Thereupon in what seems to be a parody of typological exegesis, he suggests one explanation on the literal or historical level why Hudson's statue should have been erected. Since it represents what the nation really worships, and not what it pretends to worship, such a statue to the incamation of Mammon would have been fitting. Considered in relation to the episode in the Book of Numbers, however, such a statue also "might have done us good. Thither too, in a sense, poor poison-stricken mortals might have looked, and found some healing!" In other words, having before themselves such a Hudson's statue, Carlyle's contemporaries could look on the serpent which had plagued them and find their cure.
Of course, Carlyle is constructing a satiric emblem, not an orthodox typological reading, and important elements turn out to be inverted. One looks upon Hudson's statue as a brazen serpent, if one would be saved, not with faith but with necessary disbelief. The statue then becomes an emblem of saving skepticism and not saving faith. It instructs us, nevertheless, about two matters necessary for our "salvation." First, we learn to recognize the idolatrous nature of modern worship, and in so doing we also learn that we have fallen away from the true God. According to Carlyle, his is one of those epochs in which men "keep a set of gods or fetishes, reckoned respectable, to which they mumble prayers, asking themselves and others triumphantly, "Are not these respectable gods?" and all the while their real worship . . . concentrates itself on quite other gods and fetishes, — on Hudsons and scripts, for instance." This miserable epoch, which is "in a manner lost beyond redemption," has added to its "brutish forgettings of the true God . . . an immense Hypocrisy' (20.278), and perhaps such a putative Hudson's statue would state things so clearly that men would realize what they were worshipping.
The second great lesson according to Carlyle is that such a Hudson's statue would inform his contemporaries of the true nature of universal suffrage, which is the particular target of this Latter-Day Pamphlet. Carlyle, who had decisively turned from his earlier radical sympathies to embrace the reactionary political beliefs for which he is generally known, claims that giving the vote to everyone is but "a scheme to substitute for the revelation of God's etemal Law, the official declaration of the account of heads! It is as if men had 7 abdicated their right to attempt following the abovesaid Law, and with melancholy resignation had agreed to give it up, and take temporary peace and good agreement as a substitute" (20.274). For Carlyle of The Latter-Day Pamphlets, the fact that Englishmen subscribed to build a statue of the Railway King means, in essence, that they have fallen away from God (or whatever it is that he defines as God) . As he explains in terms which parody the New Testament,
Know whom to honour and emulate and follow, know whom to dishonour and avoid, and coerce under hatches, as a foul rebellious thing: this is all the Law and all the Prophets. All conceivable evangels, bibles, homiletics, liturgies and litanies, and temporal and spiritual law-books for a man or people, issue practically here.
Carlyle, who devoted his later career to biographies of heroes such as Frederick, and Cromwell whom he could honor, uses "Hudson's Statue," as he uses all The Latter-Day Pamphlets, to instruct his contemporaries "whom to dishonour and avoid, and coerce under hatches, as a foul rebellious thing" (20.279). Since, unlike revolutionaries and working-class radicals, he is unwilling to follow the people, he must find someone else to honor and emulate, and the central problem of his later career is that he cannot find anyone in contemporary Britain worthy of his faith.
This central problem of Carlyle as a political sage appears in his use of extended types. Although he writes with the language and rhetoric of the Old Testament prophet — particularly when he lambasts his contemporaries for their "brutish forgettings of the true God" — he lacks the one thing Jeremiah and Isaiah believed they had, the details of a specific religious ritual to which they could call back the Jews who had fallen away from the true God. He effortlessly dismisses all "liturgies and litanies," just as he also brushes away "respectable Hebrew and other fetishes" (20.278), but he cannot replace them with anything to which his contemporaries can give their allegiance. In the end, we realize that it is not the Railway King's non-existent monument which must be a true brazen serpent but Carlyle's Latter-Day Pamphlet entitled "Hudson's Statue." His pamphlet, which both wams the public about the consequences of false worship and instructs them in true belief, exists as the antitype, the true fulfillment, of the original brazen serpent. Unfortunately for Carlyle, the existence of an authentic typological relation requires both a God and a Christ, and he does not really believe in either one in anything like the normal sense — in the sense, that is, which typology requires. Consequently, Carlyle's wonderfully proficient manipulation of the brazen serpent results in the kind of complex image which arises only near the end of a tradition. Like many authors who employ secularized types7 he uses them because they permit him to conjure up the imaginative power of a belief system without having to endorse it. Stated in the baldest possible terms, a secularized or extended type uses the materials of christological typology for effect. Hence it is a "decadent" technique in so far as one defines that term to imply, not moral value, but something appearing near the end of an intellectual, artistic, or other tradition.
As one might expect from such self-reflective and often ironic handling of a tradition, Carlyle's brazen-serpent passage in "Hudson's Statue," like many of his secularized types, demands that the reader be well acquainted with the fine points of typological exegetics. A second representative fact that becomes apparent when we look closely at the Carlylean secularized type is that this image comes to the reader laced with ironies and double meanings, not all of which he intended. Carlyle, whose exuberant love of language and symbolism colors all his writing, pushes such extensions of typology close to their limits. As a wnter who wishes to use imagery for more than effect or mere emphasis, he tends to exploit the symbolic resonance of the original types as much as possible. But as he makes his secularized version of Christian symbolism ever more rich and complex, he unwittingly draws attention to the crucial fact that there is no Christ at the center of his typology; so, paradoxically, the more tightly Carlyle knits together his typological images, and the more elaborately he makes them resonate in the manner of the true typologist, the more likely he is to remind us that he employs, not something to which he grants full belief, but merely a powerful imaginative creation.
Last modified 4 April 2015