John Clubbe, ed., Carlyle and His Contemporaries: Essays in Honor of Charles Richard Sanders (Duke University Press, 1976. [This review first appeared in The Wordsworth Circle 9 (1978): 306-11].
ionel Stevenson begins his essay on Carlyle and Meredith in this volume with the correct assertion that "The most explosive impact in English literature during the nineteenth century is unquestionably Thomas Carlyle's. From about 1840 onward, no author of prose or poetry was immune from his influence. In discussing this topic, it is not necessary to observe the customary precautions as to opportunities of contact. Any writer who was not aware of Carlyle and his opinions would have been totally isolated from the contemporary world" (p. 257). John Clubbe's excellent gathering of essays does much to help us understand Carlyle's relationships with his contemporaries. Approximately half of the essays concentrate upon Carlyle himself, placing him in the context of contemporary and earlier Scottish, English, French, and German thought, while the remaining ones study his influence upon major Victorian authors. Festschriften have long had such a poor reputation that many publishers are loathe to produce them, but this excellent collection, like Knoepfl-macher's and Tennyson's California volume in honor of E. D. H. Johnson, may go a long way to bring them back in fashion. Here we have important essays on a subject that is crucial to understanding Romantic and Victorian thought.
Ian Campbell's "Carlyle's Religion: the Scottish Background" analyzes the sources of the "reasoning behind [Carlyle's] craving for belief in an age of unbelief" (p. 19). He locates the two chief sources of this reasoned yearning in the Scottish university tradition and in the evangelical Protestantism of the Carlyle family's Burgher Seceder Church of Eccelefechan. Carlyle was a member of the last generation to partake of that eigthteenth-century Scottish university education which approached all subjects through an emphasis upon the human mind, and Campbell seems quite convincing when he observes many similar emphases of this philosophically oriented educational program and Carlyle's childhood Puritan faith. Unfortunately, he neglects areas of the Scottish religious background which had major influence upon the sage's thought, for, like Ruskin, Carlyle drew upon his Puritan heritage in many ways, utilizing its attitudes towards morality, work, conversion, language, and emblematic thought. Indeed, the characteristically Carlylean literary form—the Jeremiad of the secular sage--is heavily indebted to Puritan sermon traditions, and one would have liked at least some attention to these more crucial influences.
In contrast to Campbell, who studies the native Scottish influences upon Carlyle, both K. J. Fielding and Frederick W. Hilles observe his relation to France and Frenchmen. Hilles details Carlyle's acquaintance with a French revolutionary in "The Hero as Revolutionary: Godefroy Cavaignac," while Fielding profitably reonens the question of bis relation to the Saint-Simonians. Previous studies of Carlyle and the Saint-Simonians neglected both important letters and materials which members of this group sent him in hopes of converting him to their cause. According to Fielding, the additional evidence suggests that Hill Shine overestimated Carlyle’s reading of their work, and, examining Saint-Simon's Nouveau Christianisme, which they sent to Carlyle and he read closely, he concludes that the Scotsman was primarily attracted by elements of that work resembling his native Scottish radical tradition rather than any historical theories. Having thus reopened a supposedly solved case, Fielding argues that his results “forcibly remind us how sharply his opinions were to change; they should dissuade us from generalizing about him without specifying the period; and they might incline us to look on Carlyle of the thirties as a radical writer. Lastly, [they] might encourage us to question some accepted comments and return to the position of Emery Neff, of being willing to see Sartor as, in content, 'a synthesis of the ideas of the German philosophers and the Saint-Simonians'" (p. 55). The conservative sage's early radicalism will hardly surprise readers of LaValley’s Carlyle and the Idea of the Modern (1968), an important book Fielding does not mention; but his new look at an early episode in Carlyle's career suggests how valuable it is thus to open old questions--and how much manuscript and similar evidence remains presently unused.
Carlisle Moore looks at Germany to illuminate a particularly interesting influence upon Carlyle’s thought. Moore begins "Carlyle and Goethe as Scientist" with the somewhat curious fact that the Carlyle who became disenchanted with logical analysis and mechanistic physics retained throughout his career a deep respect for science as a source of truth. Since few literary scholars will realize that Carlyle had considerable mathematical gifts and expertise, Moore points out both that he had a small contemporary reputation as mathematician and that he still appears in modern histories of mathematics. This essay is particularly valuable when it specifies the kind of mathematical inquiry which had appeal for Carlyle--a synthetic geometry which deliberately limited the scope of inquiry "in order to protect its epistemological claim to truth" (p. 26). After thus placing Carlyle within the context of contemporary science and mathematics, Moore turns to Goethe to explain "two anomalies: Carlyle's continued contacts with science and scientists after he had repudiated science and turned to literature, and the special nature of his attitude toward science and scientific methods" (p. 24). The German polymath's intuitive, unitary approach to science encouraged Carlyle to accept that it joined religion and philosophy in one related whole.
Like Moore's essay, David J. DeLaura's "The Future of Poetry: A Context for Carlyle and Arnold" sets the stage within both English and German thought. Pointing out that the confused antipoetic climate of early Victorian criticism provides the background of Carlyle's attempts, in the twenties and thirties, to find some role for poetry, DeLaura examines prevalent notions that poetry was nearly defunct, and he traces them to their eighteenth-century sources and development by Hazlitt, Shelley, and Peacock. As DeLaura points out, "The historical scheme of poetry followed by Carlyle, and the causes of its decline, followed very closely a pattern already well established in the period. The genius of Carlyle, and a central source of his great power, lay in his development of this insight into a comprehensive view of the maladies and responsibilities of the modern situation. The eclipse of poetry was a symptom and an index of the diseases of modernity; the reappearance of poetry would be a sign of regained spiritual health" (pp. 160-61). Having located Carlyle's sources in contemporary and earlier critical theory, DeLaura offers an excellent analysis of the complex Victorian notion that poetry might replace religion. He carefully discriminates among the various intonations of this idea throughout the period, emphasizing most usefully that poetry-as-religion is not, as some students have assumed, the same as a religion-of-poetry. In fact, as DeLaura points out, Englishmen were not ready for the German--and particularly Goethean--notion of aesthetic culture, even in Carlylean form.
Richard D. Altick's excellent essay on topical allusion takes a different approach to the question of Carlyle's relations with his contemporaries. His "Past and Present: Topicality as Technique" convincingly argues: "Although the rhetorical texture of Past and Present is dense with allusions to the Bible, to classical and Scandinavian mythology, to ancient Rome, and to the Middle Ages, this 'matter of the past,' as it may be called, was balanced by the 'matter of the present,' a system of topicalities and allusions to more or less recent history designed to underscore the urgency of the condition of England question" (p. 112). Since Altick's point requires that he demonstrate the precise topicality of the items which comprise this "matter of the present," he must first identify the referent of each allusion, then demonstrate how frequently it serves as an allusion in other authors, and finally create a picture of its chronological and cultural range. His proposed methodology for scholarly revivification of allusions obviously goes far beyond usual attempts at mere identification, but Altick, to the surprise of no one, implements it with the grace and knowledge we have come to expect from his work. In the process of examining a wide range of allusions of varying topicality, he demonstrates precisely how Carlyle translates the material of the newspaper into emblems of high significance.
Edward Spivey makes a useful, but less ambitious contribution to our understanding of Carlyle in "Carlyle and the Logic-Choppers: J. S. Mill and Diderot," which argues that he consciously designed his essays on Johnson and Diderot as companion pieces much in the manner of Mill's on Coleridge and Bentham. After pointing out the many basic similarities which Carlyle's eighteenth-century subjects share, Spivey suggests that his fierce denunciations of Diderot were occasioned by the problems which the philosophe's lack of faith created for Carlyle's emerging notion of the Hero. Because Diderot came so close to meeting Carlyle's requirements for the great, the central man, he found it necessary to destroy the Frenchman's claims to greatness. The underlying burden of "Diderot" thus does much to explain both why there is such an abrupt, unconvincing shift of attitude in its closing section, and why it helped end Mill's discipleship. Mill, who perceived the denunciations of Diderot to be implicit criticisms of himself, could not accept Carlyle's claim that greatness required a spiritual, intuitive intellect. Although Spivey uses materials familiar to students of the period, he has managed to shed new light on the relationship of these two seminal figures and on the relationship of Carlyle's essays to each other.
Although Carlyle and His Contemporaries contains no discussions of his creation of the essentially new genre or mode of the secular sage, Janet Ray Edwards does examine some of the sage's methods from another vantage point in "Carlyle and the Fictions of Belief: Sartor Resartus to Past and Present." According to this critic, although Carlyle does write fictions, his primary techniques in them are antinovelistic and even antinarrative--something which, we may add, makes him the unnoticed precursor of important experimental work of the last two decades. In place of verisimilitude, the author of Sartor substitutes concreteness of facts, while in place of narrative, he substitutes "the development of character, setting, and event into symbols" (p. 92). This long essay makes some good points, but the author's critical narrowness prevents her from progressing much beyond the insights of LaValley, Levine, and Tennyson. Although it is occasionally useful to compare Sartor to the novel of social realism, surely it would be more productive to compare it to the marchen and their partial analogues (and heirs) in that vital English tradition of the prose fantasy which extends from Carlyle through MacDonald and Morris. Similarly, although it might be somewhat interesting to consider Past and Present as fiction, it is far more useful to see it as characteristically Carlylean non-fiction. In short, it is difficult to comprehend the full use of his fictional techniques unless one perceives their role in his usual alternation of vision and satire.
Michael Goldberg's interesting essay on the critical reception of the Latter-Day Pamphlets also raises basic problems in the evaluation of Carlyle's style and methods. Setting these tracts within the context of his career and contemporary thought is necessary, since, as Goldberg points out, "there seemed in 1850, as today, to be genuine confusion as to what precisely constituted their novelty or their offense" (p. 138). According to Goldberg, in these pamphlets neither Carlyle’s ideas nor his literary strategies differed appreciably from his better received earlier work, and yet they produced frequent charges that he was impractical, vague, and incapable of inspiring his fellow Victorians. Once he had run afoul of contemporary notions of progress, critics perversely separated his style from his opinions, and complained "when considering his opinions that Carlyle was too explicit and when considering his language that he was too obscure" (p. 146). However valuable this discussion of what Goldberg correctly perceives to be "the Carlyle problem" (p. 147), he does not finally come to terms with it--something I find particularly puzzling since George Levine has already suggested and demonstrated a means of doing so. After reading Levine's "The Use and Abuse of Carlylese" (The Art of Victorian Prose ), one must conclude that the crux of the problem with Goldberg's discussion appears in his unproved assertion that the style and thought of the Latter-Day Pamphlets are essentially the same as those of the earlier work, for while it is correct that many of Carlyle's defining mannerisms remain unchanged, it is not at all certain that a basic identity exists in earlier and later work. Levine, in fact, has convincingly demonstrated that a close reading of individual images, such as that of the Negro slave, reveals important shifts, particularly a new rigidity and insensitivity to implications of his imagery. Oddly enough, despite all his useful examination of modern opinion of these tracts, Goldberg never mentions Levine's crucial essay; but if he is to convince us that the Latter-Day Pamphlets possess an essential unity with Carlyle's early writings, he must provide counterexamples, disproving Levine's case in its own terms.
In "Parody as Style: Carlyle and his Parodists," G. B. Tennyson provides a delightful discussion of the critical reception of the sage's techniques. Arguing that effective parody must penetrate to the essence of an author's style and turns of thought, Tennyson furnishes a fascinating history of Carlyle's parodies as a guide to Carlyle's style. The remaining six essays in the volume are concerned with Carlyle's influence upon his major contemporaries and his personal relationships with them. The finest of these essays, and perhaps the one which makes the most significant contribution of any in the collection, is George Allen Cate's "Ruskin's Discipleship to Carlyle: A Revaluation." The indebtedness of the author of Modern Painters to the man he called his master has long seemed so obvious that scholars have not looked deeply into their complex relationship, which, as Cate points out, "was not merely intellectual, but deeply personal and emotional; and no surveyor of the subject can afford to ignore either aspect in concentrating upon the other" (p. 229). After surveying earlier studies, Cate, who has long been assembling the Ruskin-Carlyle letters, explains that Ruskin's curious discipleship was "one of independence in the midst of dependence, conducted under Ruskin's changing concepts of himself" (p. 230). Ruskin, who at first was not at all attracted to Carlyle, gradually grew toward him and his ideas, finally coming to see himself as disciple and then son and heir of the elder sage; while Carlyle, who was at first equally chary of Ruskin, came to accept him, occasionally assuming a greater identity of ideas and interests than in fact existed. Cate is particularly convincing when he demonstrates that Ruskin came to perceive his own life in terms of ten-year periods--the 1840s devoted chiefly to painting, the '50s to architecture, the '60s to society and economics--in which Carlyle became increasingly important. When Ruskin wrote his first "Carlylean" works he did not perceive himself as a disciple, but after 1862 he increasingly quotes Carlyle, acknowledges broad indebtedness, and even attributes his own ideas to the Master. As Cate demonstrates, there were two important factors here: first, Carlyle, who had strongly encouraged Ruskin’s enterprise, now gave him full support in the face of fierce public opposition. Second, "Ruskin had to face the hostility of the public by himself after the publication of Unto This Last, and that frightful experience may have convinced him that it would henceforth be wise to be more visibly associated with a man who was respected by that same public as one of its two greatest sages (Tennyson being the other)" (p. 245). The full story of the Carlyle-Ruskin relationship demands a book to examine the many complexities of their intellectual and personal connections while comparing their contributions to the art of the Victorian sage. Having made such a superb beginning in this important essay, Cate is the one to produce such a needed volume, and one hopes that he will undertake the venture.
Lionel Stevenson’s "Carlyle and Meredith" uses the novelist as a "case history of the Carlyle pervasion" of Victorian literature: "Here all the elements are represented: the personal acquaintance at a formative moment, the enthusiastic response to stimulating ideas, the experimentation with florid rhetoric and poetic imagery in prose style, and the exasperated perception of the master’s defects" (p. 257). After a first section narrating the course of the Carlyle-Meredith relationship, Stevenson examines the novelist's changing estimate of Carlyle. A third section discusses the critical recognition, both Victorian and modern, of similarities between the two writers, and the essay closes with a discussion of Beauchamp's Career (1875) as an important example of Carlyle's influence.
In contrast to these essays which discuss rather direct and obviously demonstrable relations between Carlyle and a contemporary, those by Ruth ap-Roberts and Clyde de L. Ryals gamely wrestle with more difficult forms of influence. Recognizing that Carlyle and Trollope are "so remote in temper, in office, in kind" (p. 204) that it might seem inappropriate to link them at all, Professor apRoberts nonetheless attempts to demonstrate the existence of a "radical basso continuo of Carlylean thought" (p. 205) in Trollope's fiction. She finds that from Carlyle the novelist learned the doctrine of work, a sense of the wonder of existence, and a means of defining himself by opposition. Her chief point, however, is that "Trollope’s work is, throughout, to bring the Carlylean ideal face to face with real life, and his work retains its validity just because the moral ideal is so strong with him, at the same time that he is the most developed of all Victorian novelists in psychological realism" (p. 222). It is difficult, finally, to perceive to what degree Trollope is properly to be considered Carlylean or anti-Carlylean. Many readers will decide that she has provided a most valuable comparison of two differing modes of representing Victorian reality without having managed to demonstrate the influence of one upon the other. Ryals undertakes a somewhat easier task in "'Analyzing humanity back into its elements': Browning's Aristophanes' Apology and Carlyle," for although there is no mention of Carlyle in this late poem, critics have long accepted a Carlylean influence upon Browning. Although Ryals offers a fine analysis the poem's method and meaning, he does not convince me that its themes derive from Carlyle's emphasis upon the antinomies of existence, or even that "Carlyle taught, perhaps more insistently than any other nineteenth-century English thinker, body and soul stand in need of each other" (p. 291); these views can be found in a form closer to that of Browning in Modern Painters where Ruskin specifically makes these points about high art and poetry.
Whereas Cate, Stevenson, and Ruth apRoberts combine biographical and critical approaches in their studies, Gordon S. Haight furnishes a largely biographical estimate in "The Carlyles and the Leweses." Drawing upon previously unpublished materials, he sets forth the ways in which George Eliot and G. H. Lewes continued to admire Carlyle while the puritanic Scotsman disapproved of their relationship. There are here a great many details, many of them valuable and interesting, in the story of what the Carlyles read by George Eliot, but Haight examines the seer's influence only upon Lewes, essentially abandoning the equally interesting problem of that upon the great novelist. It is fascinating, of course, to perceive that Lewes, who had become an eager disciple by 1835, became the Englishman who made Goethe known to English readers, but one would also like to learn more about direct and indirect influences upon George Eliot. Ever since Holloway grouped George Eliot with Carlyle in his study of the Victorian sage, students of the period have recognized that they share literary methods to some extent. One now needs a closer examination of the role Carlyle played in George Eliot's development of the seerlike narrator who commands the audience's attention and respect by means of supposedly "non-novelistic" moral and philosophical sententiae.
John Clubbe's "Grecian Destiny: Froude's Portraits of the Carlyles" provides a fitting close to this excellent volume. By demonstrating Carlyle's influence on his own biographer, he enables us to understand both men better. At the same time he broaches very interesting problems in Froude's biography and in biography in general. Clubbe demonstrates how Froude organized his representations of Carlyle’s life in terms of large controlling metaphors. Froude, on whom the Faerie Queene had long exercised great fascination, uses the image of Gloriana and the structure of relations among the characters in the poem to present Carlyle's fascination with Lady Ashburton. More central to the biography is its author's conception of Carlyle as Oedipus and Mrs. Carlyle as Iphigenia, a conception which produces dramatic intensity at the cost of distortion. Such a metaphoric organization, for example, causes Froude to neglect Carlyle's great capacity for friendship and his wide circle of acquaintances. After defending Froude against earlier charges of bias and inaccuracy, Clubbe does a fine job of illuminating the strengths and weaknesses of his essentially Carlylean biography of Carlyle.
Last modified 6 May 2019