he French Revolution posits the problem of how to "reimprison" or reenclose anarchy once it has been "disimprisoned." "Closure" has two conventional senses. First, it refers to the way in which a narrative is given a sense of ending, of completion. Second, it refers to the aim of a text to enclose its meaning, its aspiration to be a complete and total representation. Both kinds of closure may be regarded as illusory, but this has never prevented authors from seeking to achieve it (see Barthes, "Work to Text"; Derrida; D. Miller; Lotman, 232-39; Vanden Bossche, "Desire and Deferral of Closure"). Carlyle's texts dramatize both the desire for closure and the difficulty of achieving it. Sartor Resartus, "Characteristics," and The French Revolution each represents an attempt to achieve closure by creating a totalizing text, as mythus, philosophy of life, or constitution. Carlyle's later explorations of the problem of closure in "Characteristics" and The French Revolution question the optimism with which he had imagined Teufelsdröckh's achievement of closure when he set out to write a new mythus, and shed light on Carlyle's own effort to create a totalizing epic.
"Characteristics" (1831), the first essay Carlyle wrote after completing [76/77] Sartor Resartus, took shape after he suggested to the editor of the Edinburgh Review that several recent books — Thomas Hope's An Essay on the Origin and Prospects of Man (1831), Friedrich Schlegel's Philosophische Vorlesungen (1830), William Godwin's Thoughts on Man (1831), and a new work by Coleridge, probably Aids to Reflection (1830) were attempts to create totalizing philosophies of life, the equivalent of the Palingenesia that Teufelsdröckh was supposed to be writing at that moment (CL, 6:13). The essay transposes Teufelsdröckh's development into a representation of the development of contemporary society and examines the writings of Hope and Schlegel as products of that development. Like Teufelsdröckh, society has lost the freedom of its idyllic youth and is now locked away in a "prison-house of the soul" (CME, 3:2); both become wanderers, suffering the "fever of Scepticism," the "fever-paroxysms of Doubt" (CME, 3:40; SR, 114); Society is crushed by "the juggernaut wheels" of a "dead mechanical idol" just as Teufelsdröckh encounters a "huge, dead, immeasurable Steamengine, rolling on, in its dead indifference, to grind [him] limb from limb" (CME, 3:29; SR, 164); Teufelsdröckh is caught in the Centre of Indifference between the Everlasting No and the Everlasting Yea, and the current era has "dared to say No and cannot yet say Yea" (CME, 3:31); having completed the process ofdestroying "worn-out Symbols," it must, like Teufelsdröckh, begin to "construct" new ones, to author a new Genesis (CME, 3:31, 33; see 26ff).
While Carlyle discovers signs that society has begun to create new mythuses, he does not ultimately find much hope for Teufelsdröckh's project in the totalizing schemes of Hope and Schlegel. At first, he thinks that there are some hopeful signs: German literature is taking over the functions of religion; the English Utilitarians — he undoubtedly has J. S. Mill in mind — are looking beyond the limits of Utilitarianism; and the French appear to be turning from destruction to the creation of a new religion-a clear reference to the St. Simonians (CME, 3:40-42). But when Carlyle examines the writings of Hope and Schlegel, he discovers that they are products of the era of revolutionary change rather than means of enabling it to achieve transcendental closure. His description of Hope's book as a "painful, confused stammering, and struggling" that "maunders, low, long-winded - - . in ... endless convolutions" anticipates his description of Cagliostro's Babelian discourse (CME, 3:34). Like Teufelsdröckh and Cagliostro, Hope speaks in confused "circumvolutions," opening up an "endless" [77/78] discourse that reinforces revolution rather than achieving closure (CME, 3:293; see SR, 31). Although Carlyle has greater hopes for Schlegel's "clear . . . precise and vivid" language, he, too, fails to achieve closure, his lectures literally ending in mid-sentence "with an 'Aber-,' with a 'But-'!" (CME, 3:34, 35). Carlyle concludes that any philosophy or "theorem of the world" that claims to provide a totalizing representation but lacks transcendental authority will be "found wanting"; after all, he concludes, "what Theorem of the Infinite can the Finite render complete?" (CME, 3:6, 25; see 38). Writing only produces more writing; it does not achieve closure.
The French Revolution explores the problem of closure in two writing projects that echo two similar projects in Sartor Resartus. The revolutionaries' project of writing the constitution in The French Revolution repeats and revises both the Editor's project of writing the life and opinions of Diogenes Teufelsdröckh and Teufelsdröckh's project of writing the Clothes Volume and the Palingenesia. Sartor Resartus problematizes the possibility of closure but holds open the possibility that closure can be achieved, while The French Revolution undermines the possibilities that Sartor Resartus offers. All of the projects in turn reflect on Carlyle's (or his narrator's) project of writing an epic history of the revolution.
The narratives of Teufelsdröckh's life and of the French Revolution run parallel courses, and both have problematic closures. Teufelsdröckh becomes a prisoner of time and eighteenth-century mechanistic philosophy; the French people are prisoners of outworn feudal monarchy. The "sansculotte" Diogenes Teufelsdröckh "breaks-off his neck-halter"; the French people "break prison." After they destroy the old social structures, both Teufelsdröckh and the French people find themselves without any fixed points of reference, without access to transcendental authority. Like sailors with no "Loadstar," both must wander aimlessly, and endlessly (SR, 154; see Landow, "Swim or Drown," Images of Crisis, 59-63).
The Editor of Sartor and the French legislature both attempt to use writing to produce closure, defining a moment when authority is recovered and the new social order inaugurated. For the Editor of Sartor, this moment comes when Teufelsdröckh decides to author a new mythus, and for the French legislature when they author their constitution. Both depict this as a moment that brings wandering to an end; Teufelsdröckh reaches a celestial summit and the French reach [78/79] "harbor." It also brings the endless motion of revolution to a close, the Editor of Sartor declares that Teufelsdröckh's character is now fixed and "no new revolution ... is to be looked for," and the constituent assembly concludes that "the glorious ... Revolution is complete" (SR, 204; FR, 2:197).
In their quest for closure, however, the revolutionaries have proceeded a step further than Teufelsdröckh, actually writing the constitution whereas Teufelsdröckh has not yet begun to author his new mythus, but this constitution merely reveals the shortcomings of all totalizing texts. The fact that these moments of closure occur only about two-thirds of the way through each work, well before the narrative itself is complete, suggests that they will be problematic. In Sartor Resartus, closure at this point does not at first appear to be problematic because it coincides with the end of the biographical narrative that constitutes book 2. But when the analogous moment of closure arrives in The French Revolution, the narrative is far from complete. Whereas the Editor of Sartor Resartus validates Teufelsdröckh's moment of closure, the narrator of The French Revolution challenges the legislative's claim that it has ended the revolution:
The Revolution is finished, then? ... Your Revolution, like jelly sufficiently boiled, needs only to be poured into shapes, of Constitution, and 'consolidated' therein?" [1:234]
The narrator's doubts are soon confirmed when the constitution "bursts in pieces." A closer examination of Sartor Resartus will reveal that it too questions, though less directly, the Editor's discovery of closure.
In order to comprehend the nature of closure in these texts, we must examine them structurally as well as thematically. Carlyle could not reconcile himself to the narrative structure he found in the writings of Goethe, the structure dictated by bildung. In these narratives, each adventure that moves the exiled hero farther away from home also brings him or her one step closer to it, but the home to which the hero returns is not exactly the same place from which he or she departed because the hero has been changed by the process of thejourney. Carlyle attempts to escape this dialectic by keeping its terms oppositional rather than letting them be synthesized in the return home. Because he cannot regard a step away from home as a step back toward it, his heroes move steadily away from home until they suddenly find themselves back again. The home is exactly the same as the one they left behind because it is a perfect idyll that cannot be improved. Yet because [79/80] heroes are fallen and exiled, they can never be certain that the home regained really is the same as the home lost. Whereas the hero of bildung seems to move upward in a rising spiral, Carlyle's heroes, unable to escape history, travel in an endless circle. Nimmo studies endlessly; Werner, and even Schiller, wander endlessly; Coleridge and Dalbrook speak endlessly; but none of them gets anywhere. Of all the moderns, only Goethe is able to return to his "inward home" and achieve rest, and Carlyle eventually came to doubt even this achievement.
The fundamental structure of Sartor Resartus is endless circling. Teufelsdröckh's final words, "Es geht an (It is beginning)," in addition to evoking the revolutionary Ca ira, suggest that, at the very end of the narrative, the privileged moment of closure, he is embarking once again on a quest for authority. Similarly, the Everlasting Yea turns out to be a beginning — the beginning absent from the opening of the biographical section of Sartor, rather than a moment of closure. Although the Editor entitles the first chapter of book 2 "Genesis" in order to stress origins and beginnings, he concedes that Teufelsdröckh's first appearance on earth is an "Exodus" (81). Teufelsdröckh's Genesis, or beginning, occurs instead at the conclusion of the biographical narrative when he is reborn as an author who exclaims, "Let there be Light!" (197). Even the Everlasting Yea is undercut. Borrowing the traditional imagery of closure from spiritual autobiography, the Editor dramatically concludes the biographical section of Sartor Resartus with Teufelsdröckh ascending "the higher sunlight slopes . . . of that Mountain which has no summit, or whose summit is in heaven only" (184; see Peterson, 39). But the framing sections of Sartor Resartus, books 1 and 3, comically deflate this closure. Book 1 reduces the sublime summit to the comically finite heights of the "highest house in the Wahngasse" while also transferring it from the celestial realms to urban Weissnichtwo. In the final chapter of book 3, Teufelsdröckh abandons even this "watchtower." In spite of the Editor's earlier assertion that "no new revolution" is to be anticipated in Teufelsdröckh's life, Teufelsdröckh has reportedly fomented a sedition of tailors and appears to be journeying toward Paris at the moment of the July Revolution.
One might suppose that Teufelsdröckh is more successful at achieving closure than the Editor of Sartor Resartus is at representing it. Certainly, Carlyle projects his own desire for a totalizing myth into [80/81] his characterization of Teufelsdröckh's project. The fate of Teufelsdröckh's Palingenesia, however, seems to be written in the fate of totalizing texts, like the philosophies of Hope and Schlegel and the French constitutions, that Carlyle represented in later works. In SartorResartu's itself, we are left doubting whether the Palingenesia can ever be written. Some readers have argued that Sartor itself is the Palingenesia, but it is useful to insist on Sartor's fiction that Die Kleider, ihr Werden und Wirken (Clothes, their Origin and Influence) is only Teufelsdröckh's first step toward producing a new cultural mythus. Die Klelder, he tells us, is preliminary to the "Transcendent or ultimate portion" of his work, and the Palingenesia remains unpublished, perhaps unfinished, when Teufelsdröckh disappears at the end of Sartor Resartus (199, 217, 297). Die Kleider only brings him to the end of a historical cycle; rebirth will not begin until he publishes the Palingenesia. Since Carlyle turned away from speculative philosophy after Sartor Resartus, this mythus for the new era could not take the form imagined in Sartor. It must turn to fact and history; the rebirth of society will not be represented in the Palingenesia but in The French Revolution.
In The French Revolution, the French, like Teufelsdröckh, seek to achieve closure but circle endlessly without getting anywhere. The three volumes of the history all offer and then undercut a moment of closure. This structural circling, further reinforced by the pervasive imagery of circling, puts into question not only the possibility that the French can create a new social order but that writing can ever achieve closure.
In the first volume of The French Revolution, the legislative intends to conclude the revolution by writing a constitution, but the process of authoring it extends rather than concludes the revolution. The revolution again appears to come to an end at the climax of volume 2, when the king accepts the constitution, but at the conclusion of' this volume, the constitution bursts in pieces. Although volume 3 brings the history to a close, its closure does not resolve the problems raised in the first two volumes. By rapidly repeating a sequence of events parallel to those in volumes 1 and 2, it suggests that, instead of achieving closure, the revolution is accelerating toward total destruction. The final volume begins with a book entitled "September" (in reference to the September massacres) and circles round to conclude with "Vend6rniaire," the month that corresponds to September in the revolutionary [81/82] calendar. Both represent France in an autumnal state, trapped in the endless movement toward wintry death that is never completed, never brought fully round to the season of rebirth. The conclusion of the history, a fictitious ex post facto prophecy, predicts the course of the revolution that has been the subject of Carlyle's history, thus circling us back through the history of the revolution, just as the narrator circles endlessly between the historical moment in which he is writing and the historical moment he records.
While the aim of authoring the constitution is to enable the French people to escape revolution and history, the final volume insists that the revolution continues, that "the end is not yet" (3:314). The end of the Terror does not end revolution but is itself a "new glorious Revolution"; only the "body of Sansculottism" dies, its soul "still lives, and is not dead, but changed . . . still works far and wide, through one bodily shape into another less amorphous" (3:286, 310-11). just as Teufelsdröckh's disappearance at the end of Sartor Resartus leaves him once again wandering Europe-is he in Paris, is he in London?-the French fail to achieve the repose ofclosure, the "blind brute Force" of the revolution offering "no rest ... but in the grave" (3:249). At the conclusion of the history, the French have not returned to the prerevolutionary idyll, but have circled back to the moment at which the old order disintegrated. In 1795, Napoleon's "whiff of grapeshot" gratuitously succeeds where Broglie's had failed in 1789; the French people are still demanding "bread, not bursts of Parliamentary eloquence"; and France is still ruled by the "Aristocracy," albeit an "Aristocracy of the Moneybag" rather than an "Aristocracy of Feudal Parchment" (3:303, 320). The topos of impossible closure is reinforced throughout The French Revolution by the imagery of endless circling. It should not be surprising that the revolution-the word revolution itself originally denoted the circular orbit of celestial bodies, and then the general notion of cyclical periodicity-spreads in ever-widening circles. Whirlpools of Society, whirlpools of Babylonish confusion, regurgitating whirlpools of men and women, World-Whirlpools, whirlblasts, waste vortices, red blazing whirlwinds, fire-whirlwinds, clashing whirlwinds, whirlwinds of military fire and of human passions, and tornados of fatalism "spin" through the pages of the history (1:65, 2:121, 192, 1:169, 2:151, 1:219, 2:2999 222, 3:151, 2:170, 3:70, 122, 212). If the narrative spirals, it spirals downward, not upward; but, most importantly, [82/83] it spirals without end, descending into "endless Conflagration[s]" and "bottomless cataracts" (2:152, 250).
In Sartor Resartus, Carlyle held out the hope that authors who work with words, like laborers who till the soil, could produce something outside themselves, could create a world (see 227-28). Yet Teufelsdröckh the author also believes that "Conviction, were it never so excellent, is worthless till it convert itself into Conduct. Nay, proprrly Conviction is not possible till then; inasmuch as all Speculation is by nature endless, formless, a vortex amid vortices" (195). Teufelsdröckh concludes with the maxim often repeated in Wotton Reinfred: "Doubt of any sort cannot be removed except by Action" (196). Closely related is his transformation of "Know thyself" into "Know what thou canst work at" (1.63)- In "Characteristics," Carlyle laments that "Opinion and Action" have been "disunited," and longs for the time when the "former could still produce the latter" (CME, 3:15).
In "Characteristics," Carlyle complains that in this "age of Metaphysics" during which "the arena of free Activity has long been narrowing, that of sceptical Inquiry becoming more and more universal.... our best effort must be unproductively spent not in working, but in ascertaining our mere Whereabout, and so much as whether we are to work at all" (CME, 3:27-28; emphasis added). Since knowledge is never complete, action tends to be deferred endlessly.
In "Characteristics," Carlyle had condemned contemporary society for its reliance on metaphysical theory or speculation that remains locked in language and cannot be realized in action or social structures. Because society has fallen from the idyll of shared unconscious unity into Babelian fragmentation — " Religion split[ting] itself into Philosophies " — each individual is locked into a self-created universe of private belief in which language necessarily turns in upon itself (CME, 3:15, 33). This inward-turning tendency manifests itself as autophagy: "self- devouring" reviews feed off literature, and in turn a "Review of Reviews" feeds off other reviews (CME, 3:25). Carlyle brilliantly expresses Victorian anxiety about the autophagic tendency of self-conscious philosophy in the image of the Irish saint who carries his head in his mouth: "Consider it well, Metaphysics is the attempt of the mind to rise above the mind; to environ and shut in, or as we say, comprehend the mind. Hopeless struggle, for the wisest, as for the foolishest! What strength of sinew, or athletic skill, will enable the stoutest athlete to fold his own body in his arms, and, by lifting, lift up himself. The Irish Saint swam the Channel, 'carrying his head in his teeth;'but the feat has never been imitated" (CME, 3:27; see Hartman).
Because the attempt to establish belief through metaphysical speculation can never achieve closure, one can never stop speculating and [83/84] begin acting. Anticipating the imagery of The French Revolution, Carlyle depicts speculation "circulat[ing] in endless vortices," "wander[ing] homeless" and declining into "endless realms of Denial" (CME, 3:27, 30, 26). Closely related is the association between speculation, wandering, and illness that Carlyle had already established in The Life of Schiller (see 105). In "Characteristics," Carlyle's dyspepsia becomes the "dyspepsia of Society," and he seeks to recover the period of life before pain makes us aware of our bodies, the idyllic childhood when "the body had not yet become the prisonhouse of the soul" (CME, 3:20, 2; on Carlyle's dyspepsia, see Kaplan, 59, 63-64, 87, 120). It is appropriate that he contemplated including Coleridge among the authors he might discuss in "Characteristics," for he had long associated the poet and philosopher with the treachery of speech and metaphysical speculation. The letters Carlyle wrote after his first meeting with Coleridge in 1824 describe him as grotesquely overweight-one is reminded of the appetite of Cagliostro-and addicted to endless "tawlk" (CL, 3:228, 300). Unable to achieve closure — "He is without beginning or middle or end . . . speaks incessantly . . . there is no method in his talk; he wanders like a man sailing among many currents" — he cannot realize his aimless talk in writing, let alone in action (CL, 3:139, 91; see 90, 351-52). The philosopher Dalbrook in Wotton Reinfred, patterned on these portrayals of Coleridge, has the same tendency to make language circle back on itself until its endless self-reflections make it meaningless: "The whole day long, if you do not check him, he will pour forth floods of speech, and the richest, noblest speech, only that you find no purpose, tendency, or meaning in it!" (WR, 80). Like Coleridge, Dalbrook does not realize his speech in writing or action; although he "has the loftiest idea of what is to be done, he does and feels that he can do nahing" and so "only talks the more" (WR, 81). This last passage draws almost word for word on one of Carlyle's descriptions of Coleridge (CL, 3:90-91; see 6:233, 261). Before he had met him, Carlyle had already put him down as "mystical," placing him in the same category as Fox and Böhme (CL, 2:468). His famous description of Coleridge in The Life of John Sterling draws heavily on the reports in these letters (LJS, 52-62).
The French Revolution provides a similar critique of theoretical speculation. The French, too, have fragmented belief and authority. First, "Twelve Hundred Kings" — the legislative — replace the single monarch; then the entire nation replaces the legislative and "there is properly no Constituted Authority, but every man is his own King" (2:35, 3:40; see 59). The execution of the king, which destroys the last vestige of hierarchical authority, is "the last act these men ever did with concert" (3:112). Instead of social order there is a "duel of Authority with Authority," "as many Parties as there are Opinions" (1: 84, 3: 116).
This collapse of authority leads once again to autophagic selfdestruction. To Burke's lament that the "age of chivalry is gone," Carlyle replies that the "Age of Hunger" has come (2:228, 263). Hunger represents the fundamental human needs that are no longer satisfied when the ethical system that ensures thejust satisfaction of those needs collapses (see 1: 130-31). While chivalry and theocracy had served that function, hunger, from Carlyle's point of view, is simply what remains [84/85] when the ethical system breaks down. The principles of the philosophes, who believe in political economy, do not provide a satisfactory system of justice: "What bonds that ever held a human society happily together, or held it together at all, are in force here?" Carlyle asks them; their only belief, he concludes, is "that Pleasure is pleasant. Hunger they have for all sweet things; and the law of Hunger: but what other law?" (1: 36-37; see 31)
In the absence of any moral system, society reverts to "fact," its "lowest, least blessed fact" being "the primitive one of Cannibalism: That I can devour Thee" (1:55)- Cannibalism, as Carlyle suggests, is social autophagy. Having killed off the royal father, the revolutionary "brothers" swear a "fraternal oath," but without a father to keep order, they turn on one another, becoming a "Brotherhood of Cain" (3:263; see 256). When the revolutionaries send each other to the guillotine during the Terror, the revolution begins "devouring its own children" (3:201, 254). The connotations of devouring in the word consume give a special resonance to Carlyle's repeated description of the Terror as the apocalyptic "Consummation of Sansculottism" (3:202, 222, 236, 243). The imagery of cannibalism pervades the history: Foulon is beheaded and his mouth stuffed with grass after he suggests that the starving people eat grass (1: 112); the guillotine devours its victims (1: 56, 3: 2 53); a " Thyestes" feast precipitates the insurrection of women (1: 247-48); and the revolutionaries reportedly make wigs from the hair of executed women and leather from the skin of men (3:246-47; see also 2:70, 231, 241, 3:71, 205, 253-54; J. Rosenberg, 91-100; Sterrenburg, passim; Brantlinger, 69). Because the revolution "has the property of growing by ... Hunger," it consumes virtually every figure who plays a major role in it: Louis XVI and the royal family, Mirabeau, Danton, the leading Girondists, Marat, and Robespierre, who becomes the appropriate symbol of the revolutionary government that "has to consume itself, suicidally" when he attempts suicide after his arrest (2:17, 3:71; see 3:174, 231, 254, 273).
As in "Cagliostro" and "Characteristics," cannibalistic hunger, which can never be satisfied because speech never achieves closure, represents the oral activity that annihilates the other by absorbing it to itself. Carlyle notes that the majority of the leaders of the revolution were "eloquent" lawyers "skilful in Advocate -fence" who, believing that "Society might become methodic, demonstrable by logic," attempt to found a social system on the basis of theoretical speculation, [85/86] but, as in "Characteristics," he objects that "all theories, were they never so earnest, painfully elaborated, are . . . incomplete" (3:123, 1:54; see 148-51). Their principles do not provide an ethical system like chivalry; hence their "constitution" does not provide "bread to eat," that is, ajust distribution of basic goods (1:226). Instead, the legislative, preoccupied with "debating, denouncing, objurgating" and "bursts of parliamentary eloquence," can produce nothing outside of itself, must feed on and "devour itself' (2:237). Like Coleridge and Dalbrook, parliaments-literally places of speaking-are unsuited to action; sending "your fifty-thousandth part of a new Tongue-fencer into National Debating-club" or "National Palaver" will produce only "talk" (2:26, 198). For Carlyle, parliamentary or legislative "acts" are not true actions; they are only documents sealed off from the world of social activity. The sansculottes never establish their authority; their ideas never get beyond paper.
Although Carlyle is suspicious of theories, his history has its own implicit theory of why the revolution occurred, why it failed, and how its course might have been altered. Implicitly, he also seeks to demonstrate how to reestablish social order in the present. The revolution occurred because the monarchy had lost authority; it had broken down "after long rough tear and wear" (1: 7). The existing aristocracy inaugurated the era of cannibalism and consumption; Louis XVI is, like his father, a "Donothing and Eatall" whose court contents itself with shooting "partridges and grouse" (1: 12, 2 2). The aristocracy, Carlyle writes, has "nearly ceased either to guide or misguide" (1:12). On Louis's incapacity for action and decision, see 2:137, 180,223-24,264,286. But, while Carlyle therefore concludes that the French people werejustified in overturning the government, he does not believe them capable of establishing a new social order.
The people have a kind of authority, but it is an inverse authority capable of producing only an "inverse order," an "organised ... Anarchy" (3:231; see 3:4). While the overindulging aristocracy no longer understands basic human needs, the people, who understand hunger, are a "genuine outburst of Nature," even "transcendental" (1: 2 5 1, 3:2). The "creative Mountain" becomes a "great Authority" that can get the sansculottic nation "accoutred" again (3:12 3, 12 2, 1 8o, 140; see 2:249). But Carlyle ultimately distinguishes this knowledge of human need from knowledge of how to justly satisfy human need. While both kinds of knowledge require that one look beyond the surface, an action that the existing aristocracy was incapable of performing, the sansculottes do not discover the transcendental, but the "dread foundations" and "subterranean deeps" of "Madness and Tophet" (3:2, 2:279, 3: 1; [86/87] see i:80, 2:279). Since the people would never be anything more than an anarchic mass, France needed a leader with transcendental authority (For a cogent summary of these problems, see Brantlinger, 67, 76-77. Brantlinger also argues, as I do below, that the revolution is endless, because the political process provides no solutions to the social problems that produced it; chap3, passim).
Although The French Revolution does not explicitly invoke the idea of hero-worship (which Carlyle had already introduced in Sartor Resartus), its epic framework enables it to suggest the unfulfilled alternative to popular authority and a paper constitution, the discovery of a hero who could create a new hierarchy. In 1789, he writes, the French Aristocracy was "still a graduated Hierarchy of Authorities, or the accredited Similitude of such: they sat there, uniting King with Commonalty; transmitting and translating gradually, from degree to degree, the command of one into the Obedience of the other" (2:232). As opposed to an-archy — the absence of arche or rule — there had formerly been a mon-arch — a single ruler and "reverend Hierarchies" (1:9). Whereas hier-archy, holy-rule, transmits authority from the divinity to the people, now "One reverend thing after another ceases to meet reverence ... one authority after another" (2: 106-7; emphasis added; see 2:262, 3:3, 40). Carlyle seeks throughout his history a hero who could reestablish this hierarchy.
Carlyle attempts to represent Mirabeau, whom he compares throughout the history to Hercules, as a potential epic hero; but he fails to fill even this tenuous role. Carlyle argues that Mirabeau, the sole revolutionary to possess a transcendental "sacred spark," might have become "king" if he had lived another year (2:134). Although he is a "world-compeller" who turns aside from the endless convolutions of parliamentary debate in order to engage in concrete action, it is not at all clear that his attempt to save the monarchy by establishing it on a constitutional basis would have succeeded, even if he had lived. More importantly, Carlyle's representation of Mirabeau as a man who disdains words and theoretical systems in favor of action, based on the elder Mirabeau's assertion that his son has "made away with (hum, swallowed) all Formulas" turns out to be problematic (2:137, 1: 125; see 137). Carlyle's translation of humi as "made away with" suggests that Mirabeau has discarded formulas and theories, but the more exact translation, cited in parentheses, suggests that he has gullibly accepted, or "swallowed," them. Mirabeau the swallower turns out to be another cannibalistic revolutionary rather than a creative hero. Unable to make Mirabeau an epic hero, Carlyle must relegate his history to the domain of "tragedy" (2:147; see Farrell, 215-31).
Napoleon comes closer to enacting the role of the hero as a man [87/88] of action. Unlike the leaders who preceded him — Mirabeau, Danton, Robespierre — Napoleon does not serve in the legislative and is not a man of words. He is a man of action who uses physical force-sansculottism "drilled now into Soldiership" — to create the "first germ of returning Order for France" (3:297, 54). He ends the revolution, not by writing a constitution, but by subduing the insurrection of Vendémiaire with a "whiff of grapeshot." Whereas Mirabeau failed to restore monarchy, Napoleon becomes the modern "Citizen King" (3:322).
Yet whereas Mirabeau and Danton may have compelled belief they "ken" — but were unable to compel obedience, Napoleon compels obedience — he "cans" — but cannot compel belief. Napoleon's actions produce order only in the sense that they impose a legal structure, military discipline; they do not realize a transcendental ideal or the belief of the French people. His failure to reclothe the society stripped naked by the sansculottes becomes manifest when women wearing "flesh-coloured drawers" beneath their sheer empire gowns make nakedness the latest fashion. The social order that emerges at the end of the history is not a new system of belief but a return to the injustices with which it originated, the new "Evangel of Mammon" replacing the aristocratic feudal order with a "baser sort of Aristocracy" that is no better than the "Evangel of jean Jacques" (3:31415). The revolution clears the ground for the hegemony of political economy, the concern of Carlyle's next major works, Chartism and Past and Present, in which, like the French people, he asks, "Can the human stomach satisfy itself with lectures on Free-trade?" (3:136).
The argument of The French Revolution, that all attempts to author a totalizing text in an era that has undermined authority will fall, ultimately applies to The French Revolution itself The book is not an epic as Carlyle defined the genre in "On Biography" but demonstrates the impossibility of epic. Any pretense of closure would be false. just as the Editor of Sartor Resartus could only "conclude if not complete" his narrative, so the narrator of The French Revolution acknowledges that his history "does not conclude, but merely ceases" (3:321). Throughout the history, Carlyle persistently questions his own ability to discover the meaning of a phenomenon that undermines all meaning. Indeed, he undermines closure in his conclusion by introducing, in spite of his insistence that he is producing factual history, a patent fiction spoken by a notorious liar, a prophecy by the "Archquack" Cagliostro [88/89] (3:322; Carlyle borrowed the speech from his essay "The Diamond Necklace" — see Leicester, 15-17). What makes The French Revolution great is precisely Carlyle's openness to the heterogeneity of the history he was recording and the brilliantly heterogeneous vehicle he created to represent it. His history radically reshaped epic, but he sought in epic something other than what he created in The French Revolution: he sought a text thatwould reenclose the forces set loose by the revolution and dazzlingly represented in his history of it.
While The French Revolution seems to teach the lesson that one must stop talking and begin to act, Carlyle clearly prefers men of words like Mirabeau and Danton to men of action like Napoleon. Nor did he give up words himself. Instead, he tried to use writing to get to the end of writing. A typical pattern began to emerge in his letters andjournals. While he was working on a project, he would long to finish writing so that he could return home to Scotland and rest, demonstrating his longing for closure and an affirmation that writing can achieve it. But the closures Carlyle achieved through writing never satisfied him for long. No sooner had he completed a project and made his way to Scotland than he would begin to grow restless and feel the need to write again. In the works that followed, he sought a way out of this dilemma by searching for authority in the acts of political leaders rather than in the writings of poets-the poetic king rather than the legislating poet. Napoleon and Mirabeau did not finally fulfill his vision of the active hero-but another political leader might. Furthermore, Carlyle could no longer be satisfied with merely analyzing society; he must somehow seek to change it. His writings to this point had sought to know the forces that had created modern society; they would now attempt to act upon it.
Contents last modified 2001; reformatted 2006 & 2015