initial I N ONE OF these families, in a house which his father, who was a mason, had built with his own hands, Thomas Carlyle was born on December 4, 1795" (EL, 1: 3). These biographical facts represented for Carlyle the place and time that constituted him as rebel and author. The house symbolized his birth into a community created by and embodied in its builder and chief authority, James Carlyle. Seventeen ninety-five, significantly, was the year with which Carlyle was to conclude his history of the French Revolution. He was born into both a timeless space in which authority and belief had not yet become problematic, and a world fraught with historical time as manifested in the revolutionary upheavals that culminated a century of skepticism and inaugurated an "Era of Unbelief " (SR, 112).

This birth into the conflicting realms of authority and revolution provided the terms of the narrative through which Carlyle represented his literary career. In the 1820s, he created a series of narratives describing the process of becoming an author. Through these biographical, fictional, and autobiographical narratives-which reached their climax in the narrative of Diogenes Teufelsdröckh's discovery of his vocation as author in Sartor Resartus — Carlyle strove to make himself both author and authority. (On the literary career in the nineteenth century, see Said, 236-75; Arac, Commissioned Spirits, 23).

Schiller, Goethe, and the Career Narrative

The revivers of the patriarchal theory of government in the early nineteenth century regarded the history of the family unit as a microcosm of the larger historical movement from theocratic patriarchy to social contract. Significantly, those writers like Burke and Coleridge who [15/16 ] wished to return to the theocratic idyll also helped to revive patriarchal theory (which had waned in the eighteenth century), making the family the model of hierarchical and communal harmony in opposition to the warfare inherent in economic individualism (Schochet, 276-81; D. Roberts, 17-32). Carlyle's portrayal of the career of the man of letters borrows from this tradition the narrative exile from and return to the idyllic family.

We can see the critique of the national shift from theocracy to political economy being applied to the history of the family in Peter Gaskell's Artisans and Machinery (1833), which represents the destruction of an idyllic family by the urban factory system. (The edition cited is a revision of an edition published in 1833. For a discussion of the representation of the family as a preindustrial idyll, see Davidoff et al. There is a similar relationship between family and pastoral in Dickens; see Marcus, chaps. 4 and 5; Welsh, chap. 9). In Gaskell's narrative, the home of the preindustrial family comprises a harmonious domestic economy to which each family member makes a contribution; because they work together, they do not have "separate and distinct" interests but share communal aims (60). The relationship between parents and children is a benign hierarchy in which "parental authority" guides children in their moral development (59). The urban economy, in which members of the family no longer work together at home but in separate factories or different parts of a factory, destroys this unity: as individual family members earn their own wages, they no longer hold a common interest in the profits of their labor. In fact, conflicting interests divide the family, and "quarrelling, fighting, a total alienation of affection, and finally, a separation from home" ensue (88; see 68). Correspondingly, urban factory life upsets the hierarchical relations between parents and children and undermines the moral influence of parents promoted by those relations: once they become financially independent, children are no longer compelled to obey their parents (64, 85-87). When "selfishness" replaces "Sacred obligations," the home becomes a mere "lodging-house" in which the members of the family are related to one another only by "pecuniary profit and loss" (65).

Gaskell's narrative suggests that the industrial system does not possess any means of producing a moral code or a just social order. On the contrary, he argues, in addition to destroying the moral influence of parents, the factory system itself promotes immorality. Although he does not offer specific solutions, Gaskell's critique of the industrial "revolution" implies the necessity of introducing the familial community of interest into the urban economy by recovering the domestic idyll of a preindustrial era (362). [16/17]

Carlyle's Schiller and Goethe recuperate the domestic idyll by turning to the institution of literature. In Carlyle's first book, The Life of Schiller (1823-25), the young Schiller wants to become a clergyman, but the duke of Wüemberg convinces his father to place him in a military college and make him study the law, which becomes "representative," for Schiller, of the restraints of education by "military drill" (10, 9). Schiller;s desire for a higher calling beyond the lim*ts of the law brings him into conflict with the authoritarian father figure, the duke. Unable to pursue his theological interests, he begins to read and write poetry. His first play, The Robbers, thematically enacts his rebellion against the authority of the duke while seeking to establish his own authority as an artist. The duke, recognizing the challenge to his authority, condemns The Robbers as a dangerous work and threatens Schiller with further repression. But when becoming a successful author frees Schiller "from school tyranny and military constraint," he rejects his prescribed career, flees Wüemberg, and establishes himself as a man of letters (24).

Since he has no religious doubts, Schiller does not, unlike Carlyle's other heroes who replace a religious with a literary career, reject the religious beliefs of his own father. But by rebelling against the father figure, the duke, he is effectively exiled from the "religious" idyll of the family, which disappears from the biography after he leaves Wüemberg. Precisely because he does not lose his religious faith, Schiller's exile makes his career in literature problematic. Literature does not enable him to return home because it cannot fully replace what it does not fully reject. He becomes a "wanderer" on an endless quest, and his ceaseless literary activities-figurative wanderings — necessarily fail to find their opposite; although he is "crowned with laurels," he remains "without a home" (81; see 50. Carlyle concludes that Schiller was never able to return home, that he found "no rest, no peace" (203). Had he remained in Würtemberg, he would have been oppressed by an authority that would not permit him to follow a higher calling, but his new-gained literary authority does not permit him to displace the duke so he can return to the childhood idyll.

Instead of creating a promised land into which he could lead his people, Schiller becomes a commercial traveler. Initially, he envisions literature as an idyll that, like the family, exists outside the laws of economy. Before his exile, he claims that he "honour[s]" literature "too highly to wish to live [i.e., make his living] by it," but, when he [17-18] cuts himself off from "his stepdame home," he must "go forth, though friendless and alone, to seek his fortune in the great market of life" that "dissolve[s]" his "connexions" to his family and replaces them with the demands of a multifarious "public" (12, 28, 40; emphasis added). Instead of discovering a new idyll, he works in cities like Leipzig, which is the "centre of commerce of all sorts, that of literature not excepted" (54). Although the bookseller system frees him, as it had others, from dependence on the aristocratic patronage of the duke, he is not truly free, because the new system replaces the law of the patron with the law of the public and its demand for particular kinds of literary commodities. Neither system of production can satisfy Schiller's desire for the transcendental. Although The Life of Schiller concludes by affirming the "creed" of literature, it does not successfully envision literature as capable of reproducing the lost idyll.

Carlyle's first major essay on Goethe (1828) solves this problem by separating the loss of home from the act of rebellion and by eliminating the constraints of economy from the representation of the literary career. The essay divides Goethe's life into two phases: that of the youthful "Unbeliever" who wrote Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers, and that of the mature "Believer" who wrote Wilhelm Meister (CME, 1: 210). Because his father represents the authority of the law, not of religious belief, Goethe's home is not the domestic idyll that Schiller's had been. Goethe's father plays the role that the duke had played in The Life of Schiller while the role of Schiller's father is eliminated. Goethe's father represents the law, both because he is a lawyer, and because, like the duke, he commands his son to study the law. Not only does Goethe rebel against the law laid down by his father, but, by refusing to become a lawyer, he questions the authority of his father's career.

Because the religious idyll is absent, Goethe's rebellion is at first only a rejection of his father's authority rather than an attempt to establish his own. Schiller's rebellion against the duke and his adoption of literature had been a single, unified step. The literary career through which he attempted to recuperate the domestic idyll was inextricably linked with the rebellion that made it impossible for him to stop wandering and begin to find his way home. By eliminating the domestic idyll in his narrative of Goethe's career, Carlyle shifted Goethe's rebellion to the first stage of the narrative, separating the rebellious negation from the later affirmation of authority in literature.[18/19] The Sorrows of Young Werter does not yet create a new mythology; it simply negates belief. During his period of "Unbelief," Goethe, like Schiller, becomes a wanderer; blown about by the "Harmattan breath of Doubt," a "nameless Unrest" prevents him from authoring a new idyll (CME, 1: 216). Only in the second stage of the narrative, when he attains belief, does Goethe become a prophetic author who can lead his people "home" to the promised land (217, 224)

In his essay on Schiller's correspondence (1829; published 1830, Carlyle employs the new structure of "Goethe" to revise the narrative of Schiller's career. just as he divides Goethe's life into the phases of unbelief and belief, he now divides Schiller's life into the "worldly" epoch before he takes his "Literary Vows" and the "spiritual" epoch afterward (CME, 2:175). The Life of Schiller had represented both epochs as posing the same problems, his youth divided between the piety of the family and the oppression of the duke, and his literary career divided between his desire for a high calling and the demands of economy. But "Schiller" creates a structural opposition between them: "what lies before this epoch, and what lies after it, have two altogether different characters" (175). Schiller begins life already in the "worldly epoch" of time and history where he experiences the "oppression, distortion, isolation" of economy and the duke's law (177). While the essay mentions a "glad season" of youth at a time when Schiller still lived in the domestic idyll, the two-part structure excludes it from the basic narrative sequence, suggesting that this idyll exists outside of time, in a realm before Schiller's life proper began (178; see SR, 90 [19-20] the literary career will take on a more distinctly religious cast. This Schiller not only discovers his authority but fully recovers the realm of the transcendental and discovers a promised land.

Victorian Website Overview Thomas Carlyle Next Contents

Last modified 28 December 2009