Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

features in Macaulay's writings which rendered them almost equally repugnant to him. Carlyle was born at Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire, on December 4, 1795. His father, originally a stonemason, afterwards a small farmer, was an excellent specimen of the best type of Scottish peasant, a man of great force of character, rigid morals, deep religious feelings of the Calvinistic kind, and of abilities which, if cultivated, would have made their mark in any sphere. His mother, whom throughout life he loved as he never loved any one else, was a woman of gentle nature and much practical good sense. After acquiring the elements of knowledge at the parish school of Ecclefechan, Carlyle was sent to the academy at Annan, where he remained till, in 1809, he entered the University of Edinburgh. There he went through the ordinary course, distinguishing himself in mathematics, but quitting it in 1804 without taking a degree. His parents had indulged the hope, common to Scottish people of their class, that they might yet see their son “wag bis head in a pulpit.” But it was not destined so to be. After leaving the University, Carlyle, to use his own words, "got (by competition at Dumfries, summer 1814) to be “mathematical master' in Annan Academy, with some potential outlook on divinity as ultimatum (a rural divinity student visiting Edinburgh for a few days each year, and delivering' certain 'discourses'). Six years of that would bring you to the church gate, as four years of continuous divinity hall' would; unluckily only that in my case I never had the least enthusiasm for the business, and there were even grave prohibitive doubts more and more rising ahead." His theological studies were pretty much confined to the writing and delivering in the Divinity Hall of two discourses—one in English, the other in Latin. In 1816 he was appointed “classical and mathematical” master at Kirkcaldy, in room of the old parish schoolmaster, who had been bought off as incapable. Edward Irving, whose death he *commemorated in words of burning eloquence, was then master of an “academy” there, and Carlyle and he, who were previously acquainted with each other, spent much time to

a

6

gether. From the books in Irving's library Carlyle derived great benefit.

The destinies of the two friends were very different. Irving, after a career of blazing populari'y as a London preacher, is now a name and nothing besides ; Car. lyle, long unnoticed and unknown, has left an abiding impress on the literature of the nineteenth century.

Carlyle was ill fitted to be a teacher, and his impatience of folly and stupidity made him a harsh and stern preceptor. “In 1818,” he writes, “I had come to the grim conclusion that schoolmastering must end, whatever pleased to follow; that it were better to perish,' as I exaggeratively said to myself, than continue schoolmastering.” He accordingly went to Edinburgh, “intending, darkly, towards potential "literature.'” His first publications were sixteen articles, mostly biographical, contributed to Brewster's “Edinburgh Encyclo. pædia” in 1820–23. These articles, which have never been reprinted, cannot be said to show any extraordinary promise. To the New Edinburgh Review, a short-lived periodica!, he contributed in 1821 a paper on Joanna Baillie's “Metrical Legends,” and in 1822 another on Goethe's “Faust,” interest. ing as being his earliest reference to the great German whom he did so much to make known in this country. In 1822 he became tutor to Charles Buller, whose premature death in 1848 cut short the course of a politician of whom great things were expected. This connection was profitable to Carlyle in many ways. He received £200 a year as salary; and the Bullers, who recognised the great genius that lay beneath his rough and occasionally harsh exterior, were instrumental in introducing him to a better order of society than he had previously been accustomed to. Meanwhile his pen was not idle. In 1823–24 his “Life of Schiiler” appeared by instalments in the London Magazinc. In 1824 were published his translation of "Legendre's Geometry," with an able essay on Proportion by Carlyle himself; and his first important work, the admirable translation of Goethe's “Wil. heim Meister.” In the same year he paid his first visit to London, and in 1824. also, his engagement with the Bullers

Carlyle's Works.

423

was brought to an end at his own desire. In 1825 his “ Life of Schiller” was republished in book form. In the following year occurred his marriage to Miss Jane Welsh, only daughter of Dr. John Welsh, a Haddington physician, who, as Carlyle liked to think, was believed to be a lineal descendant of John Knox. Along with his wife, Carlyle settled at Comely Bank, Edinburgh, where his first two articles for the Edinburgh Review,—those on “Richter" and on the “State of German Literature," — were written. They were published in 1827, in which year also appeared, in four volumes, “German Romance," a series of translations, which formed Carlyle's last piece of literary journey-work.

In 1828 he removed to Craigenputtoch, in Dumfriesshire, a small estate belonging to his wife, where, for about six years, he lived amid the bleak mountain solitudes, “in those quiet ways where alone it is well with us," perfecting his sel:-culture. There he wrote many articles for the Edinburgh Revier', the Foreign Quarterly Review, and Fraser's Magazine ; and, in 1830, “Sartor Resartus," which may be described as a spiritual biography of himself, containing the leading features of all his subsequent teaching. In 1834 he removed to London, fixing his residence at 5 Cheyne Row, Chelsea, where he remained for the rest of his life.

In the same year he began the writing of his “French Revolution,” published in 1837. “Sartor Resartus," for which he failed to find a publisher, had appeared by instalments in Fraser's Magazine in 1833-34. In 1838 it was published in book form, after having been reprinted in America with a preface by Emerson. In the following year his essays were collected and published. In 1837 he delivered in London a course of lectures on German Literature; in 1838 a course on the History of Literature; in 1839 a course on the Revolutions of Modern Europe, and in 1840 a course on Hero-Worship. Of these only the last series was published, appearing in 1941. “Chartism," in which he broke ground upon the “Condition of England” question, appeared in 1839; “Past and Present" in 1843 ; " Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches” in 1845; “ Latter

a

Day Pamphlets,” a series of fiery diatribes on social and political problems, in 1850; and the “Life of John Sterling” in 1851. In 1858 the first two volumes of his “Life of Frederick the Great” were published, the third in 1862, the fourth in 1864, and in 1865 the work was completed. In 1865 he was appointed Lord Rector of Edinburgh University, and in April of the following year delivered his installation address to a crowded and enthusiastic audience. All the pleasure of his triumph on this occasion was drowned in his sorrow at the sudden death of his wife, which occurred during his absence in Edinburgh. The only important publication of the solitary years of his old age was his “Early Kings of Norway” and “Essay on the Portraits of John Knex," reprinted in 1875 from Fraser's Magazine, He died on February 5, 1881.

Such is a brief summary of the more important events in Carlyle's life. It was the lot of the present writer to read nearly all the obituary notices of him which appeared in the leading journals after his death. With not an exception they were extremely eulogistic, praising his works and applauding in the highest terms the dignity and stern conscientiousness of his life. But when, about three weeks later, the “Reminiscences" were published by Mr. Froude, the tide took a turn. They were found to be full of harsh, and, as in the case of Charles Lamb, even cruel and heartless judgments; and Carlyle's faults of temper, his malice, and his uncharitableness began to be sharply commented on. A few of the more sturdy admirers of the Seer of Chelsea protested that the “Reminiscences" did not give any idea of the real Carlyle at all; that nothing could be more unjust than to form an estimate of his character from angry passages written in his old age, when weak health anci agonising sorrow had rendered him scarcely responsible for his utterances. This desence proved to be but a refuge of lies. In 1882 Mr. Froude published his memoir of the first forty years of Carlyle's life, and it was found that the most sharp and biting passages of the “Reniniscences" might be easily paralleled from the letters he wro:e when in the prime of manhood. The truth is, that Carlyle was very

Carlyle's Characteristics.

425

far indeed from being a faultless character. The higher duties of morality he acted up to as few have done. No praise can be deemed too high for the resolute devotion with which, through evil report and good report, through poverty and riches, through obscurity and fame, he remained constantly honest to his convic:ions; resolved to write on no subject which he had not studied to the bottom, and deterinined to speak out what he believed to be the truth, however unpalatable it might be to the world. Nor are we soon tired of admiring his inflexible integrity, his lofty spirit of indepen dence, his unwearied affection for all the members of his family, and the stern dignity which prevented him from ever, even on a single occasion, treading the miry ways of falsehood or chicanery. But it must be confessed that in him virtue was often clothed in a very unattractive guise. He was arrogant and contemptuous beyond any man recorded in literary history. Whatever was foolish and vicious in a character was sure to be carefully noted by him, while geniality, kind-heartedness, and self-sacrifice often passed with no recognition at all, or at best a very slight and grudging one. He was constantly intolerant of those who differed from him ; never by any chance imagining the possibility that they might be right and he wrong. Always proclaiming in his books the infinite virtues of silence and patience, he made no attempt whatever to practise as he preached. The least illness, the least personal inconvenience, such as getting his tea too weak or his coffee too cold, made him complain as if all the world had been going hea ilong to ruin, and he himself were the only righteous man lest alive. His temper, which he was at no particular pains to curb, was harsh and violent. Altogether he was, as his mother well observed, "gey ill to live wi'.”

There is something very pathetic in the story of the relations of himself and his gisted wif as retold by Mr. Froude. The bond which linked them together was one of duty rather than of love. Both were persons of strong character, sharp temper, and a rather cynical way of looking at things. They admired each other cordially; but they never knew that mutual confidence and domestic

« ForrigeFortsæt »