In a section heavy with images of dramatic and unwelcome change, Carlyle presents a dismal nineteenth-century England. Reading the passage carefully, however, it becomes clear that the importance of his argument rests not on these larger images, but on the particular words to which the meaning of these images are anchored.
All men are aware that the present is a crisis of this sort; and why it has become so. The repeal of the Test Acts, and then of the Catholic disabilities, has struck many of their admirers with an indescribable astonishment. Those things seemed fixed and immovable; deep as the foundations of the world; and lo, in a moment they have vanished, and their place knows them no more! Our worthy friends mistook the slumbering Leviathan for an island; often as they had been assured, that Intolerance was, and could be nothing but a monster; and so, mooring under the lee, they had anchored comfortably in his scaly rind, thinking to take good cheer; as for some space they did. But now their Leviathan has suddenly dived under; and they can no longer be fastened in the stream of time; but must drift forward on it, even like the rest of the world; no very appalling fate, we think, could they but understand it; which, however, they will not yet, for a season. Their little island is gone; sunk amid deep confused eddies; and what is left caring for in the universe? What is it to them that the great continents of the earth are still standing; and the polestar and all our loadstars" in the heavens, still shining and eternal? Their cherished little haven is gone, and they will not be comforted. And therefore, day after day, in all manner of periodical or perennial publications, the most lugubrious predictions are sent forth. The King has virtually abdicated; the Church is a widow, without jointure; public principle is gone; private honesty is going; society, in short, is fast falling in pieces; and a time of unmixed evil is come upon us.
At such a period, it was to be expected that the rage of prophecy should be more than usually excited. Accordingly, the Millennarians have come forth on the right hand, and the Millites on the left. The Fifth-monarchy men prophesy from the Bible, and the Utilitarians from Bentham. The one announces that the last of the seals is to be opened, positively, in the year 1860; and the other assures us that "the greatest-happiness principle" is to make a heaven of earth, in a still shorter time. We know these symptoms too well, to think it necessary or safe to interfere with them. Time and the hours will bring relief to all parties. The grand encourager of Delphic or other noises is the Echo. Left to themselves, they will sooner dissipate, and die away in space. Meanwhile, we too admit that the present is an important time; as all present time necessarily is.
The poorest Day that passes over us is the conflux of two Eternities; it is made up of currents that issue from the remotest Past, and flow onwards into the remotest Future .
Our worthy friends, says Carlyle, mistook the slumbering Leviathan for an island. Interestingly, all of the definitions for "leviathan" seem to apply in this context; and so the reader is left with the tricky job of understanding the different affects of the various definitions. Leviathan" in its most biblical context" means a demon ("In that day the Lord will punish the fleeing serpent- Isaiah 27:1). Used by Hobbes, Leviathan indicates the Commonwealth ("The multitude so united in one person, is called a Commonwealth. This is the generation of that great Leviathan"). According to another definition, the Leviathan is a mythically aquatic monster, referred to frequently in Hebrew poetry. With these varying definitions of "Leviathan," how might we differently read the meaning of this passage? Do the natures of "they" and "intolerance" shift as we read "Leviathan" differently?
As the Leviathan sinks, they can no longer be fastened in the stream of time; but must drift forward on it, even like the rest of the world . . . Is this sudden loss of stability and isolation a cause or effect in the process of the mechanization of England?
Carlyle writes that the grand encourager of Delphic or other noises is the Echo. Left to themselves, they will the sooner dissipate, and die away in space. What might Carlyle want the reader to believe about the nature of the echo and how might his construction of the echo in this passage relate to his understanding of the nature of the transmission of traditions and beliefs?
According to Carlyle, the poorest Day that passes over us is the conflux of two Eternities. Apparently quite fond of this phrase, he also writes in Sartor Resartus that man stands in the center of Immensities, in the conflux of Eternities. This image of man standing between an infinite past and an infinite future is a claustrophobic one; what relationship might this image of present man's positioning between the past and future have with Carlyle's understanding of the role"both ideal and actual"of man? What should his relationship be with the past and future?
Last modified 3 October 2003