Francis Grant's portrait of Hudson

Sir Francis Grant's portrait of George Hudson. [Added by GPL]

George Hudson (b. 1800, York — d. 1871, London), the "English financier, known as the railway king whose enterprise made York a major railway and commercial hub. Having risen from an apprenticeship in the drapery business to partnership in the firm, he began his railroad activities in 1827 by investing a 30,000 pound bequest in North Midland Railway shares. Hudson helped obtain passage of an act of Parliament to raise capital for the York and North Midland Railway, of which he subsequently became chairman...By 1844 he controlled more than 1,000 miles of railway" Britannica Online.

In "Hudson's Statue" Carlyle bases his argument upon interpretation of the proposed commemorative statue of George Hudson. Before Carlyle can begin he must convince the audience that the issue of statues reflects important aspects of people: "Show me the man you honour; I know by that symptom, better than by any other, what kind of man you yourself are." From this starting point about the knowledge gained of one person by who they honour Carlyle moves on to knowlege about a whole people by who they consecrate, who they raise as spiritual models and physical statues.

Implicit in his argument is the knowledge of his audience's knowledge of the Bible and some classic images of heathen cultures, in which statues explicitely represented objects of deity worship. All Carlyle's readers would recognize this as idolatry, forbidden by one of the ten commandments. When Carlyle shows that by raising a statue to Hudson the English people in effect say "Hudson is my god, and to him I will sacrifice this twenty-pound note," his readers would have gasped with shock at their own evil actions. This type of argument comes straight out of sermons, where the preacher accosts his congregation for dispicable actions of which they are unaware and shocked to discover. Victorian people could very easily accept this form of rhetoric as it comprised much of what they absorbed in public speaking, sermons on church day.

Beyond the mere evil of idolatry which Carlyle discovers that in the people's actions another evil exists: the adverse effects of communal decision making evidenced by the unworthy nature of Hudson as a hero in the first place. Hudson only invested some capital at the right time and exploited a market with the " unexpected and ideed most disastrous result" of destroying many communities in England. Showing that the public elevated a completely erroneous hero, Hudson, by their own choice points out the problem with letting the people decide things for themselves. Carlyle extrapolates on this point and lets the reader think about the possible disaster in letting universal suffrage determine government, if universal suffrage results in the erection of a statue blaspheming all the supposed values of the national community.

Related Material

Further Reading

Arnold, A. J. and S. M. McCartney. George Hudson: The Rise and Fall of the Railway King. London and New York: Hambeldon and London, 2004. [Added 2 September 2005 by GPL]

A very early piece, last modified 8 February 2023>