Some Personal Recollections of Carlyle

THOMAS CARLYLE is incontestably dead at last, by the acknowledgment of all newspapers. I had, however, the pleasure of an intimate intercourse with him when he was an infinitely deader man than he is now, or ever will be again, I am persuaded, in the remotest seculum seculorum. I undoubtedly felt myself at the time every whit as dead (spiritually) as he was, and, to tell the truth, I never found him averse to admit my right of insight in regard to myself, But I could never bring him, much as he continually inspired me so to do, to face the philosophic possibility of this proposition in regard to himself. On the contrary, he invariably snorted at the bare presentation of the theme, and fled away from it, with his free, resentful heels high in air, like a spirited horse alarmed at the apparition of a wheelbarrow.

However, in spite of our fundamental difference about this burly life which now is, one insisting upon death as the properer name for it, the other bent upon maintaining every popular illusion concerning it, we had for long years what always appeared to me a very friendly intercourse, and I can never show myself sufficiently grateful to his kindly, hospitable manes for the many hours of unalloyed entertainment his ungrudging fireside afforded me. I would like to reproduce from my notebook some of the recollections and observations with which those sunny hours impressed me, and so amuse, if I can, the readers of The Atlantic. These reminiscences were written many years ago, when the occurrences to which they relate were fresh in my memory ; and they are exact, I need not say, almost to the letter. They will tend, I hope and am sure, to enhance the great personal prestige Carlyle enjoyed during life ; for I cherish the most affectionate esteem for his memory, and could freely say or do nothing to wound that sentiment in any honest human breast. At the same time, I cannot doubt that the proper effect of much that I have to say will be to lower the estimation many persons have formed of Carlyle as a man of ideas. And this I should not he sorry for. Ideas are too divinely important to derive any consequence from the persons who maintain them. They are images or revelations, in intellectual form, of divine or infinite good, and therefore reflect upon men all the sanctity they possess, without receiving a particle from them. This estimate of Carlyle, as a man of ideas, always struck me as unfounded in point of fact. I think his admirers, at least his distant admirers, generally mistook the claim he made upon attention.

Copyright, 1881, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.

They were apt to regard him as eminently a man of thought, whereas his intellect, as it seemed to me, except where his prejudices were involved, had not got beyond the stage of instinct. They insisted upon finding him a philosopher, but he was only and consummately a man of genius. They had the fatuity to deem him a great teacher, but he never avouched himself to be anything else than a great critic.

I intend no disparagement of Carlyle’s moral qualities in saying that he was almost sure finally to disappoint one’s admiration. I merely mean to say that he was without that breadth of humanitary sympathy which one likes to find in distinguished men ; that he was deficient in spiritual as opposed to moral force. He was a man of great simplicity and sincerity in his personal manners and habits, and exhibited even an engaging sensibility to the claims of one’s physical fellowship. But he was wholly impenetrable to the solicitations both of your heart and your understanding. I think he felt a helpless dread and distrust of you instantly that he found you had any positive hope in God or practical love to man. His own intellectual life consisted so much in bemoaning the vices of his race, or drew such inspiration from despair, that he could n’t help regarding a man with contempt the instant he found him reconciled to the course of history. Pity is the highest style of intercourse he allowed himself with his kind. He compassionated all his friends in the measure of his affection for them. “Poor John Sterling,” he used always to say, “ poor John Mill, poor Frederic Maurice, poor Neuberg, poor Arthur Helps, poor little Browning, poor little Lewes,” and so on ; as if the temple of his friendship were a hospital, and all its inmates scrofulous or paralytic. You wondered how any mere mortal got legitimately endowed with a commiseration so divine for the inferior race of man ; and the explanation that forced itself upon you was that he enjoyed an inward power and beatitude so redundant as naturally to seek relief in these copious outward showers of compassionate benediction. Especially did Carlyle conceive that no one could be actively interested in the progress of the species without being intellectually off his balance, and in need of tenderness from all his friends. His own sympathy went out freely to cases of individual suffering, and he believed that there was an immense amount of specific divine mercy practicable to us. That is to say, he felt keenly whatever appealed to his senses, and willingly patronized a fitful, because that is a picturesque, Providence in the earth. He sympathized with the starving Spitalfields weaver, and would have resented the inhumanity of the slave’s condition as sharply as any one, if he had had visual contact with it, and were not incited, by the subtle freemasonry that unites aristocratic pretension in literature with the same pretension in politics, to falsify his human instincts. I remember the pleasure he took in the promise that Indian corn might be found able to supplant the diseased potato in Ireland. And he would doubtless have admitted ether and chloroform to be exquisitely ordained ministers of the divine love. But as to any sympathy with human nature itself and its inexorable wants, or any belief in a breadth of the divine mercy commensurate with those wants, I could never discern a flavor of either in him. He scoffed with hearty scorn at the contented imbecility of church and state with respect to social problems, but his own indifference to these things, save in so far as they were available to picturesque palaver, was infinitely more indolent and contented. He would have been the last man formally to deny the divine existence and providence, but that these truths had any human virtue, any living efficacy to redeem us out of material and spiritual penary, I don’t think he ever dreamt of such a thing. That our knowledge of God was essentially expansive ; that revelation contemplated its own spiritual enlargement and fulfillment in the current facts of human history, in the growth and enlargement of the human mind itself, — so that Thomas Carlyle, if only he had not been quite so stubborn and conceited, might have proved himself far better, and not far worse, posted in the principles of the divine administration than even Plato was, and so have freed himself from the dismal necessity he was all his life under to ransack the graves of the dead, in order to find some spangle, still untarnished, of God’s reputed presence in our nature, — all this he took every opportunity to assure you was the saddest bosh. “ Poor John Mill,” he exclaimed one night, — “ poor John Mill is writing away there in the Edinburgh Review about what he calls the Philosophy of History ! As if any man could ever know the road he is going, when once he gets astride of such a distracted steed as that ! ”

But to my note-book. “ I happened to be in Carlyle’s library, the other day, when a parcel was handed in which contained two books, a present from some American admirer. One of the books proved to be a work of singular intellectual interest, as I afterwards discovered, entitled Lectures on the Natural History of Man, by Alexander Kinmont, of Cincinnati; the other a book of Poems. Carlyle read Mr. Kinmont’s title-page, and exclaimed, ‘ The natural history of man, forsooth, and from Cincinnati too, of all places on this earth! We had a right, perhaps, to expect some light from that quarter in regard to the natural history of the hog, and I can’t but think that if the well-disposed Mr. Kinmont would set himself to study that unperverted mystery he would employ his powers far more profitably to the world. I am sure he would employ them far less wearisomely to me. There ! ’ he continued, handing me the book, ‘ I freely make over to you all my right of insight into the natural history of man as that history dwells in the portentous brain of Mr. Alexander Kinmont, of Cincinnati, being more than content to wait myself till he condescend to the more intelligible animal.’ And then opening to the blank leaf of the volume of Poems, and without more ado, he said, ‘ Permit me to write my friend Mrs. Soand-So’s name here, who perhaps may get some refreshment from the poems of her countryman, for, decidedly, I shall not.’ When I suggested to him that he himself did nothing all his days but philosophize in his own way, that is, from the artist point of view, or ground of mere feeling, and that his prose habitually decked itself out in the most sensuous garniture of poetry, he affected the air of M. Jourdain, in Molière, and protested, half fun, half earnest, that he was incapable of a philosophic purpose or poetic emotion.”

Carlyle had very much of the narrowness, intellectual and moral, which one might expect to find in a descendant of the old Covenanting stock, bred to believe in God as essentially inhuman, and in man, accordingly, as exposed to a great deal of divine treachery and vindictiveness, which were liable to come rattling about his devoted ears the moment his back was turned. I have no idea, of course, that this grim ancestral faith dwelt in Carlyle in any acute, but only in chronic, form. He did not actively acknowledge it, but it was latent in all his intellectual and moral personality, and made itself felt in that cynical, mocking humor and those bursts of tragic pathos which set off all his abstract views of life and destiny. But a genuine pity for man as sinner and sufferer underlay all his concrete judgments, and no thought of unkindness ever entered his bosom except for people who believed in God’s undiminished presence and power in human affairs, and were therefore full of hope in our social future. A moral reformer like Louis Blanc or Robert Dale Owen, a political reformer like Mr. Cobden or Mr. Bright; or a dietetic reformer like the late Mr. Greaves or our own Mr. Alcott, was sure to provoke his most acrid intellectual antipathy.

Moral force was the deity of Carlyle’s unscrupulous worship, — the force of unprincipled, irresponsible will ; and he was ready to glorify every historic vagabond, such as Danton or Mirabeau, in whom that quality reigned supreme. He hated Robespierre because he was inferior in moral or personal force to his rivals, being himself a victim to ideas, or, as Carlyle phrased it, to formulas. Picturesqueness in man and nature was the one key to his intellectual favor, and it made little difference to his artist eye whether the man were spiritually angel or demon. Besides, one never practically surmounts his own idea of the divine name, and Carlyle, inheriting and cherishing for its picturesque capabilities this rude Covenanting conception, which makes God a being of the most aggravated moral dimensions, of a wholly superhuman egotism or sensibility to his own consequence, of course found Mahomet, William the Conqueror, John Knox, Frederic the Second of Prussia, Goethe, men after God’s own heart, and coolly told you that no man in history was ever unsuccessful who deserved to be otherwise.

Too much cannot be said of Carlyle in personal respects. He was a man of even a genial practical morality, an unexceptionable good neighbor, friend, and citizen. But in all larger or human regards he was a literalist of the most unqualified pattern, incapable of uttering an inspiring or even a soothing word in behalf of any struggling manifestation of human hope. It is true, he abused every recognized guide of the political world with such hearty good-will that many persons claimed him at once as an intelligent herald of the new or spiritual divine advent in human nature. But the claim was absurdly unfounded. He was an amateur prophet exclusively, — a prophet “ on his own hook,” or in the interest of his own irritable cuticle, without a glimmer of sympathy with the distinctively public want, or a gleam of insight into its approaching divine relief; a harlequin in the guise of Jeremiah, who fed you with laughter in place of tears, and put the old prophetic sincerity out of countenance by his broad, persistent winks at the by-standers over the foot-lights.

“ I heard Carlyle, last night, maintain his habitual thesis against Mr. Tennyson, in the presence of Mr. Moxon and one or two other persons. Carlyle rode a very high horse indeed, being inspired to mount and lavishly ply the spur by Mr. Tennyson, for whom he has the liveliest regard ; and it was not long before William the Conqueror and Oliver Cromwell were trotted out of their mouldy cerements, to affront Sir Robert Peel and the Irish viceroy, whose name escapes me. ’ Nothing,’ Carlyle over and over again said and sung,—‘nothing will ever pry England out of the slough she is in, but to stop looking at Manchester as heaven’s gate, and free-trade as the everlasting God’s law man is bound to keep holy. The human stomach, I admit, is a memorable necessity, which will not allow itself, moreover, to be long neglected ; and political economy no doubt has its own right to be heard among all our multifarious jargons. But I tell you the stomach is not the supreme necessity our potato-evangelists make it, nor is political economy any tolerable substitute for the eternal veracities. To think of our head men believin’ the stomach to be the man, and legislatin’ for the stomach, and compellin’ this old England into the downright vassalage of the stomach ! Such men as these, forsooth, to rule England, the England once ruled by Oliver Cromwell ! No wonder the impudent knave O’Connell takes them by the beard, shakes his big fist in their faces, does his own dirty will, in fact, with England, altogether! Oh for a day of Duke William again ! ’

“ In vain his fellow Arcadian protested that England was no longer the England of Duke William, nor even of Oliver Cromwell, but a totally new England, with self-consciousness all new and unlike theirs ; Carlyle only chanted or canted the more lustily his inevitable ding-dong: Oh for a day of Duke William again!

“Tired out at last, the long-suffering poet cried, ‘ I suppose you would like your Duke William back, to cut off some twelve hundred Cambridgeshire gentlemen’s legs, and leave their owners squat upon the ground, that they might n’t be able any longer to bear arms against him ! ’ ‘ Ah ! ’ shrieked out the remorseless bagpipes, in a perfect colic of delight to find its supreme blast thus unwarily invoked, — ‘ ah! that was no doubt a very sad thing for the duke to do, but somehow he conceived he had a right to do it; and upon the whole he had! ’ ‘ Let me tell your returning hero one thing, then,’ replied his practical-minded friend, ‘ and that is that he had better steer clear of my precincts, or he will feel my knife in his guts very soon.’ ” It was in fact this indignant and unaffected prose of the distinguished poet which alone embalmed the insincere colloquy to my remembrance, or set its colors, so to speak.

Carlyle was, in truth, a hardened declaimer. He talked in a way vastly to tickle his auditors, and his enjoyment of their amusement was lively enough to sap his own intellectual integrity. Artist-like, he precipitated himself upon the picturesque in character and manners wherever he found it, and he did n’t care a jot what incidental interest his precipitancy lacerated. He was used to harp so successfully on one string, the importance to men of doing, and the mere artistic effects he produced so infatuated him, that the whole thing tumbled off at last into a sheer insincerity, and he no longer saw any difference between doing well and doing ill. He who best denounced a canting age became himself its most signal illustration, since even his denunciation of the vice succumbed to the prevalent usage, and announced itself at length a shameless cant.

Of course I have no intention to represent this state of things as a conscious one on Carlyle’s part. On the contrary, it was a wholly unconscious one, betokening such a complete absorption of his faculties in the talking function as to render him unaffectedly indifferent to the practical action which such talk, when sincere, ought always to contemplate. I recur again to my note-book. “ I was diverted last evening by an account Carlyle gave of a conversation he had had with Lord John Manners and some other of the dilettanti aristocratic reformers, who had been led by his books to suppose that he had some practical notion, at all events some honest desire, of reform, and therefore called upon him to take counsel. Carlyle had evidently been well pleased by a visit so deferential from such distinguished swells, but so far was he from feeling the least reflective sympathy with the motive of it that he regarded the whole affair as ministering properly to the broadest fan. ‘ They asked me,’ he said, ‘with countenances of much interrogation, what it was, just, that I would have them to do. I told them that I had no manner of counsel to bestow upon them ; that I did n’t know how they lived at all up there in their grand houses, nor what manner of tools they had to work with. All I knew was, I told them, that they must be doing something erelong, or they would find themselves on the broad road to the devil.’ And he laughed as if he would rend the roof.

“ He also spoke of a call he had just received from the new rector of the parish in which he lived. He had got some previous intimation of the rector’s dutiful design, so that when he came Carlyle met him at the door, hat on head and cane in hand, ready for a walk. He apologized to the somewhat flustered visitor for not asking him in, but the fact was his health was so poor that a walk in the afternoon had become a necessity for him. Would the reverend gentleman be going towards the city, perhaps? Yes? Ah, then we can confer as we walk. Of course the reverend gentleman’s animus in proffering the visit had been to feel his doughty parishioner’s pulse, and ascertain once for all how it beat towards religion as by law established. And equally of course Carlyle had not the least intention of assisting at any such preposterous auscultation. The hopeful pair had no sooner begun their trudge, accordingly, than Carlyle proceeded to dismount his antagonist’s dainty guns by a brisk discharge from his own ruder batteries. ‘ I have heard of your settlement in the parish,’ he said, ‘ with great pleasure, and my friends give me great hope that you have a clear outlook at the very serious work that lies before you here. The butcher up there at the corner of Sloane Street was a great thorn, I am told, in the side of your predecessor, and is prepared, no doubt, to give you as much trouble as he can consistently with the constitution of the vestry and his own evangelical principles ; and the dissenters are notoriously a forward, lively folk in the parish. But it is my firm belief that if these turbulent people could once be brought to know some one who really believed for himself the eternal veracities, and didn’t merely tell them of some one else who in old time was thought to have believed them, they would all be reduced to speedy silence. Our sanguinary evangelical friend at the corner, yonder, would betake himself hopelessly to his muttons, and dissent have no leg left to run upon. It is much, no doubt, to have a decent ceremonial of worship, and an educated, polite sort of person to administer it. But the main want of the world, as I gather, just now, and of this parish especially, which is that part of the world with which I am altogether best acquainted, is to discover some one who really knows God otherwise than by hearsay, and can tell us what divine work is actually to be done here and now in London streets, and not of a totally different work which behooved to be done two thousand years ago in old Judæa. I have much hope that you are just the man we look for, and I give you my word that you will strike dissent dumb if such really be the case. What ? Your road carries you now in another direction ? Farewell, then ! I am glad to find that we are capable of so good an understanding with each other.’

“ Carlyle was full of glee in recounting this exploit, and his laugh like the roar of a mountain brook when the snow melts in spring. And it is funny, no doubt, to fancy how hopelessly asquint the rector’s intellectual vision was bound to become as he pursued his solitary walk homeward. But, after all, there is nothing higher than fun in either of these experiences. It is capital fun, I admit, and I enjoyed Carlyle’s enjoyment of it in this light, as much as anybody could. I only allow myself to characterize it thus strictly in order to show that Carlyle is not at all primarily the man of humanitary ideas and sympathies which many people fancy him to be. Of course he has a perfect right to be what he is, and no one has a keener appreciation of him in that real light than I have. I only insist that he has no manner of right to be reported to us in a false light, as we shall thereby lose the lesson which legitimately accrues to us from his immense personality. Lord John Manners is a sincere sentimentalist, who really believes that by reviving old English sports, and putting new vigor into existing Christmas, May-day, and other festivities, and inaugurating generally a sort of systematic, voluntary humility on the part of the aristocracy towards the dependent classes, revolution may be indefinitely staved off, and England saved from the terrors of a speedy “ kingdom come.” And Carlyle, if ideas were really uppermost with him, would have treated his visitors’ weakness tenderly, and shown them, by reference to certain well-established principles of human nature, — the indomitable instinct of freedom, for example, — how very disproportionate their remedy was to the formidable disease in hand. As it was, he sent them away unblessed, and, so far as he could effect such a result, disheartened.

“ The easily baffled rector, too, clearly ought not, on the hypothesis of Carlyle being the enlightened person his admirers think him, to have so alarmed Carlyle by his approach as to ravish him from his study, and make him descend to the level of the street, in order to secure the advantage of his adversary, in case there should be need of a retreat. Were he a man of true sympathy with human want, and of earnest thought as to the best way of appeasing it, as his admirers believe him to be, how frankly would he have met the rector’s friendly, harmless overture, and said to him, ‘Yes, my friend, come to me as often as you will, and let us reason together of righteousness and temperance and judgment to come ; for I, as well as you, have hope in God that he will show himself adequate, in ways we little dream of, to our sore public and private need, and would gladly communicate thereupon with any like hopeful man.’ ”

I was not in the least surprised at Carlyle’s puerile gabble in Macmillan’s Magazine about the American Iliad; for he always felt himself qualified a priori to crack and pick any philosophic nut extant; to discuss and determine the toughest providential problem conceivable, without a taking of testimony or investigation of any sort, but by sheer force of genius or æsthetic instinct. One might often have felt tempted to use a more summary word, so much do the effects of the two things in certain circumstances resemble each other. But I conceive it would have been very unjust to Carlyle. He was not constitutionally arrogant. He was a man of real modesty. He was even, I think, constitutionally diffident. He was a man, in short, whom you could summer and winter with, without ever having your self-respect wantonly affronted as it habitually is by mere conventional men and women. He was, to be sure, a very sturdy son of earth, and capable at times of exhibiting the most helpless natural infirmity. But he would never ignore nor slight your human fellowship because your life or opinions exposed you to the reproach of the vain, the frivolous, the self-seeking. He would of course curse your gods ever and anon in a manful way, and scoff without mercy at your tenderest intellectual hopes and aspirations ; but upon yourself personally, all the while, especially if you should drink strong tea and pass sleepless nights, or suffer from tobacco, or be menaced with insanity, or have a gnawing cancer under your jacket, he would have bestowed the finest of his wheat. He might not easily have forgiven you if you used a vegetable diet, especially if you did so on principle, and he would surely have gnashed his teeth upon you if you should have claimed any scientific knowledge or philosophic insight into the social problem,—the problem of man’s coming destiny upon the earth. But within these limits you would have felt how truly human was the tie that bound you to this roaring, riotous, most benighted, yet not unbenignant, brother. Leave England, above all, alone ; let her stumble on from one slough of despond to another, so that he might have the endless serene delight of walloping her chief “ niggers,” Peel, Palmerston, Russell, Brougham, and the rest, and he would dwell forever in friendly content with you. But only hint your belief that these imbecile statesmen were the true statesmen for the time, the only men capable, in virtue of that very imbecility, of truly coworking with the Providence that governs the world, and is guiding it full surely to a haven of final peace and blessedness, and he would fairly deluge you with the vitriol of his wrath. No, all that can be said for Carlyle on this score is that, having an immense eye for color, an immense genius for scenic effect, he seized with avidity upon every crazy, time-stained, dishonored rag of personality that still fluttered in the breeze of history, and lent itself to his magical tissues, and he did n’t like that any one should attempt to dispute his finery with him. The habit was tyrannous, no doubt, but no harm, and only amusement, could have come of it, —least of all would it have pushed him to his melancholy “ latter - day ” drivel, — had it not been for the heartless people who hang, for their own private ends, upon the skirts of every pronounced man of genius, and do their best, by stimulating his vanity, to make him feel himself a god. I again have recourse to my note-book.

“ I happened to be at Mr. Carlyle’s a Sunday or two since, when a large company was present, and the talk fell upon repudiation, which Jeff. Davis and Mississippi legislation are bringing into note. Among others a New Yorker was present, to whom his friends give the title of General, for no other reason that I can discover but to signify that he is nothing in particular, — an agreeable-mannered man, however, with something of that new-born innocence of belief and expectation in his demeanor and countenance which Englishmen find it so hard to do justice to in Americans ; and he was apparently defending, when I went in, our general repute for honesty from the newspaper odium which is beginning to menace it. Mr. Henry Woodman,—I will call him,— from Massachusetts, was also present, an amiable, excellent man, full of knowledge and belief in a certain way, who in former times was a Unitarian clergyman in good standing ; but having made what seemed to him a notable discovery, namely, that there is no personal devil, — none, at least, who is over six feet in height, and who therefore is not essentially amenable to police discipline, — he forthwith snaps his fingers at the faded terror, drops his profession, and betakes himself to agriculture, for which he has a passion. He overflows with good feeling, and is so tickled with the discovery he has made of old Nick’s long imposture that he never makes an acquaintance without instantly telling him of it, nor ever keeps one without instantly, in season and out of season, reminding him of it. He had saturated Carlyle’s outward ear with the intelligence, but to no inward profit. For Carlyle’s working conception of the deity involves so much of diabolism that the decease and sepulture of a thousand legitimate old bogies, authentically chronicled in The Times, would hardly enliven his sombre imagination ; and he entertains a friendly contempt and compassion, accordingly, for the emancipated Mr. Woodman which are always touching to me to witness. The evening in question my attention was suddenly arrested by Carlyle saying somewhat loudly to General―that we were all on our way to the devil in America, and that unless we turned a short corner we should infallibly bring up in that perilous company. Mr. Woodman was talking, at the moment, with his hostess, of whom he is a deserved favorite, at the other extremity of the room; but he would have heard the name of his vanished adversary had it been pronounced in a whisper. The grateful sound no sooner reached his ear, accordingly, than he averted himself from his companion, and cried out, delighted, ‘ What devil do you speak of, Mr. Carlyle ? ’ ‘ What devil, do you ask ? ’ Carlyle fairly roared back in reply. ‘ What devil, do you ask, Mr. Woodman? The devil, Mr. Woodman, that has been known in these parts from the beginning, and is not likely soon to become unknown, — the father of all liars, swindlers, and repudiators, Mr. Woodman ! The devil that in this Old World boasts a very numerous, though unconscious, progeny, and in your New World, Mr. Woodman, seems, from all accounts, to be producing a still more numerous and still more unconscious one ! That is just the devil I mean, Mr. Woodman, and woe be to you and yours the day you vote him lifeless!’

“ Mr. Woodman was discouraged, and at once reverted to his quiet colloquy with his softer companion, while the rest of us profited by the exhilarating breeze he had so suddenly conjured up. ‘ Speaking of the evil one,’General ― hastened to say, ‘ I have been visiting to-day subterranean London, its sewers, and so forth,’ — and the conversation soon fell into its ordinary undulations. But earnest as Carlyle’s reply to his friend undoubtedly sounded, any listener would have very much mistaken the truth of the case if he had supposed that it meant anything more than his hopeless, helpless, and consequently irritable way of contemplating social facts and tendencies. Carlyle does n’t believe, of course, in the literal personality of the devil near so much as Mr. Woodman does ; that is, he believes in it so little as to disdain the trouble of denying it. But he has a profound faith that there is at the head of affairs some very peremptory person or other, who will infallibly have his own will in the end, or override all other wills ; and he is able, consequently, to variegate his conversation and writing with lurid lights that seem most orthodox and pious to innocent imaginations, and would make the ghost of John Knox roll up the whites of his eyes in grateful astonishment. Whatever be Carlyle’s interest in any question of life or destiny, he talks so well and writes so well that it can hardly escape being all swallowed up in talk or writing; and he would regard you as a bore of the largest calibre if, talking in the same sense with him, you yet did not confine yourself to talk, but went on to organize your ideas in some appropriate action.”

You would say, remembering certain passages in Carlyle’s books, notably his Past and Present and his pamphlet on Chartism, that he had a very lively sympathy with reform and a profound sentiment of human fellowship. He did, indeed, dally with the divine ideas long enough to suck them dry of their rhetorical juices, but then dropped them, to lavish contempt on them ever after when anybody else should chance to pick them up and cherish them, not for their rhetorical uses, but their absolute truth. He had no belief in society as a living organizing force in history, but only as an empirical necessity of the race. He had no conception of human brotherhood or equality as the profoundest truth of science, disclosing a hell in the bosom wherever it is not allowed to reveal a heaven, but only as an emotional or sentimental experience of happily endowed natures. On the contrary, he used to laugh and fling out his scornful heels at the bare suggestion of such a thing, much as a tropical savage would laugh and fling out his heels at the suggestion of frozen rivers. He looked at the good and evil in our nature as final or absolute quantities, and saw no way, consequently, of ever utilizing the evil element. He saw no possible way of dealing with weak races but by reducing them to slavery ; no way of dealing successfully with evil men but by applying lynch law to them, and crushing them out of existence. In short, he had not the least conception of history as a divine drama, designed to educate man into self-knowledge and the knowledge of God ; and consequently could never meet you on any ground of objective truth, but only on that of your subjective whim or caprice. It was this intellectual incapacity he was under to esteem truth for its own sake, or value it except for the personal prestige it confers, that made him so impotent to help a struggling brother on to daylight, and fixed him in so intense and irritable a literary self-consciousness.

“ I went to see Carlyle last night to get permission to bring a friend — J. McK.— to see him the next day, who had it much at heart to thank him for the aid and comfort his books had given him, years ago, away out on the shores of Lake Erie. Would he treat the friend kindly, in case I brought him ? Or would he altogether pulverize him, as he had erewhile pulverized a certain person we both wotted of ? Nay, nay ; he would be all that Chesterfield himself could desire of polite and affable! Well, then, what would be the most auspicious hour ? When would the inward man be most unpuckered? — for I should really be sorry to see my friend go home with his ardent thirst of worship all unslaked. ‘Ask Jane,’ was the reply.

What she appoints I will give my diligence to conform to.’ Mrs. Carlyle, who sat upon the sofa beside us, obligingly entered into my anxieties, and said, ’ You shall bring your friend to-morrow, after dinner, or between two and three o’clock; for I often observe that is a very placid hour with the creature, and I think we may reckon upon a great success if we will just avail ourselves of it.’ Accordingly, we did n’t fail to be in the little Chelsea parlor this afternoon, at the hour appointed, my friend and I, — not without a certain prophetic tremor, I can assure you, on my part, for his raised expectations. As we entered the room Carlyle stood upon a chair, with his back to us, vainly trying, to all appearance, to close his inside window-shutters. He did n’t at all desist, on our entrance, but cried out, ’ Is that you, J., and have you brought your friend McK. with you ? I don’t know whether he is at all related to my friend, Sandy McK., of Glasgow. If he is, he can’t be related to a worthier man.’ By this time he had reduced his refractory windowshutter to order, and descended from his perch to take a first look at his guest. My friend of course made a neat little salutatory expressive of his intellectual obligations, and the need he felt to make some sort of avowal of them, before he again set his face westward. ‘ I don’t believe a word of it! ’ said Carlyle, as my friend gracefully perorated. ’ I don’t believe a word of it! I don’t believe that I ever helped any man. I don’t believe that any man ever helped another. It is indeed unspeakable folly to conceive such a thing. The only man I ever found (and him I did n’t find) who seemed to me sincere in such a thought was a ship captain, some time ago, who wrote to me to say, without giving me name or address, that he had called his vessel the Thomas Carlyle, because he had got some good, he fancied, from my books. I thought it behooved me to look the man up, so I traversed the London docks from end to end, asking of the sailors ever and anon if they knew any vessel in those parts bearin’ the portentous name of Thomas Carlyle; but it was all in vain, and I returned home persuaded that, whatever else might betide me, I should probably never see under this sun the extraordinary individual who had named his vessel the Thomas Carlyle.’ You may easily imagine the sudden pallor that came over my friend’s ruddy devotion. It was not that Carlyle intended out of pure wantonness to mock the admiration he lives to conciliate. It was only that he chanced at that moment to feel the ghastly disproportion which existed between his real aims and those lent him by the generous faith of his disciples, and instead of doing penance by himself for the diversity he preferred to make the devotee pay his share of the penalty.”

Carlyle used to strike me as a man of genius or consummate executive faculty, and not primarily of sympathy or understanding. Every one is familiar with this discrimination. We all know some one or other who is a genius in his way, or has a power of doing certain things as no one else can do them, and as arrests our great admiration. And yet, as likely as not, this person so marvelously endowed is a somewhat uncomfortable person apart from his particular line of action. Very possibly, and even probably, he is domineering and irritable to the pitch of insanity in his personal intercourse with others, and his judgments are apt to be purely whimsical, or reflect his own imperious will. We admire the genius in his own sphere of work or production, and feel a divine force in him that moves the world. But at the same time we are persuaded that there is something in us, not half so resplendent as genius, which is yet a vast deal better, and that is spiritual character, or a cultivated deference to the humblest forms of goodness and truth. At best genius is only a spiritual temperament in man, and therefore, though it serves as an excellent basis for spiritual character, should yet never be confounded with it. The genius is God’s spoiled child upon earth ; woe be unto him, if he look upon that indulgence as consecrating him for the skies as well. Character, or spiritual manhood, is not created, but only communicated. It is not our birthright, but is only brought about with our own zealous privity, or solicitous concurrence in some sort. It is honestly wrought out of the most literal conformity to the principles of universal justice. It puts up with no histrionic piety, tramples under foot the cheap humility of the prayer-book and the pew, and insists upon the just thing at the just moment, under pain of eternal damnation, — which means, abandonment to the endless illusions of selflove. Hence it is that, while the genius cuts such a lustrous figure in the eyes of men, and wins oftentimes so loud a renown, we yet know many a nameless person whom we value more than a raft of genii, because we confide without stint in their living truth, their infinite rectitude of heart and understanding. We like the genius, or whatsoever makes life glorious, powerful, divine, on Sundays or holidays ; but we prefer the ordinary, unconscious, unostentatious stuff which alone keeps it sweet and human on all other days.

It always appeared to me that Carlyle valued truth and good as a painter does his pigments, not for what they are in themselves, but for the effects they lend themselves to in the sphere of production. Indeed, he always exhibited a contempt so characteristic as to be comical for every one whose zeal for truth or good led him to question existing institutions with a view to any practical reform. He himself was wont to question established institutions and dogmas with the utmost license of skepticism, but he obviously meant nothing beyond the production of a certain literary surprise, or the enjoyment of his own æsthetic power. Nothing maddened him so much as to be mistaken for a reformer, ready intent upon the interests of God’s righteousness upon the earth, which are the interests of universal justice. This is what made him hate Americans, and call us a nation of bores, that we took him at his word, and reckoned upon him as a sincere well-wisher to his species. He hated us, because a secret instinct told him that our exuberant faith in him would never be justified by closer knowledge ; for no one loves the man who forces him upon a premature recognition of himself. I recall the uproarious mirth with which he and Mrs. Carlyle used to recount the incidents of a visit they had received from a young New England woman, and describe the earnest, devout homage her credulous sold had rendered him. It was her first visit abroad, and she supposed — poor thing ! — that these famous European writers and talkers, who so dominated her fancy at a distance, really meant all they said, were as innocent and lovely in their lives as in their books ; and she no sooner crossed Carlyle’s threshold, accordingly, than her heart offered its fragrance to him as liberally as the flower opens to the sun. And Carlyle, the inveterate comedian, instead of being humbled to the dust by the revelation which such simplicity suddenly flashed upon his own eyes of his essentially dramatic genius and exploits, was irritated, vexed, and outraged by it as by a covert insult. His own undevout soul had never risen to the contemplation of himself as the priest of a really infinite sanctity, and when this clear-eyed barbarian, looking past him to the substance which informed him, made him feel himself for the moment the transparent mask or unconscious actor he was, his self - consciousness took the alarm. She sat, the breathless, silly little maid, between him and Mrs. Carlyle, holding a hand of each, and feeling the while her anticipations of Paradise on earth so met in this foolish encounter that she could not speak, but barely looked the pious rapture which filled her soul.

One more extract from my note-book, and I shall have done with it, for it is getting to be time to close my paper. I mentioned a while since the name of O’Connell, and apropos of this name I should like to cite a reminiscence which sets Carlyle in a touchingly amiable spiritual light.

“ Sunday before last I found myself seated at Carlyle’s with Mr. Woodman and an aid-de-camp of Lord Castlereagh, who had just returned from India, and was entertaining Mrs. Carlyle with any amount of anecdotes about the picturesque people he left behind him. To us enter Dr. John Carlyle and a certain Mr.æ, a great burly Englishman, who has the faculty (according to an aside of Mrs. Carlyle, dexterously slipped in for my information) of always exciting Carlyle to frenzy by talk about O’Connell, of whom he is a thick-andthin admirer. The weather topic and the health inquiry, on both sides, were soon quietly disposed of, but immediately after Mrs. Carlyle nudged my elbow, and whispered in a tone of dread. ‘ Now for the deluge ! ’ For she had heard the nasty din of politics commencing, and too well anticipated the fierce and merciless mêlée that was about to ensue. It speedily announced itself, hot and heavy, and for an hour poor breathless Mr. Woodman and myself, together with the awe-struck aid-de-camp, taking refuge under the skirts of outraged Mrs. Carlyle, assisted at a lit de justice such as we had none of us ever before imagined. At last tea was served, to our very great relief. But no ! the conflict was quite unexhausted, apparently, and went on with ever new alacrity, under the inspiration of the grateful souchong. Mrs. Carlyle had placed me at her left hand, with belligerent or bellowing Mr. Bull next to me, and as her teatable chanced to be inadequate to the number of her guests we were all constrained to sit in very close proximity. Soon after our amiable and estimable hostess had officiated at the tea-tray, I felt her foot crossing mine to reach the feet of my infuriated neighbor and implore peace! She successfully reached them, and succeeded fully, also, in bringing about her end, without any thanks to him, however. For the ruffian had no sooner felt the gentle, appealing pressure of her foot than he turned from Carlyle to meet her tender appeal with undisguised savagery. ’ Why don’t you,’ he fiercely screamed, — ‘why don’t you, Mrs. Carlyle, touch your husband’s toe ? I am sure he is greatly more to blame than I am!’ The whole company immediately broke forth in a burst of uncontrollable glee at this extraordinary specimen of manners, Carlyle himself taking the lead, and his amiable convive, seeing, I suppose, the mortifying spectacle he had made of himself, was content to ‘ sing small ’ for the remainder of the evening.

“ Anyhow, I heard nothing distressing while I remained. But happening to have made an appointment with Mrs. Carlyle for the next day, I went down to Chelsea in the morning, and found my friend seated with her stocking-basket beside her, diligently mending the gudeman’s hose. I asked her if any dead had been left on the battlefield the night before, and she replied, ‘ Yes ; I never saw Carlyle more near to death than he is this dismal Monday morning ! I must first tell you that he has been a long time in the habit of going to Mr. ―’s, in―Street, for a Sunday dinner, protesting that, though his friends have no acquaintance with books or literary people, he never pays them a Sunday visit without feeling himself renovated against all the soil of the week, and never comes away without being baptized anew in unconsciousness. Now yesterday he had gone to this friend’s to dine, and when he returned, about three or four o’clock, he said to me, Jane, I am henceforth a regenerate man, and eschew evil from this hour as a snake does its skin ! This he said with conviction and earnest purpose, as if that lovely family had inoculated him with the blessed life . What a scathing sense of weakness, then, besets the poor man this morning ! Such a contrast between the placid noon of yesterday and the horrid, hideous night ! ’

“ To my inquiry whether anything had further occurred of disagreeable after I had left, Mrs. Carlyle replied, ‘ Everything went on swimmingly till about eleven o’clock, when it pleased your unfortunate countryman, Mr. Woodman, to renew the war-whoop by saying, Let us return a moment to O’ Connell. If the talk was frightful before you left, what did it now become? Altogether unbearable, and when, about twelve o’clock, John Carlyle got up to go, taking his friend along with him, Carlyle, lighting his candle to see the company to the door, stretched out his hand to his late antagonist, with the frank remark, Let bygones be bygones ! The latter scorned to take it, saying, Never again shall I set foot in this house ! I knew how cruelly Carlyle would feel this rebuff, and scarcely dared to glance at him as he came up-stairs after lighting his guests out; but when I did look, there he stood at the door of the room, holding the candle above his head, and laughing with bitter, remorseful laughter, as he repeated the words of the morning : Jane, I am henceforth a regenerate man, and eschew evil from this hour as the snake does its skin.’ ”

Alas ! poor Yorick !

The main intellectual disqualification, then, of Carlyle, in my opinion, was the absoluteness with which he asserted the moral principle in the human bosom, or the finality which his grim imagination lent to the conflict of good and evil in men’s experience. He never had the least idea, that I could discover, of the true or intellectually educative nature of this conflict, as being purely ministerial to a new and final evolution of human nature itself into permanent harmony with God’s spiritual perfection. He never expressed a suspicion, in intercourse with me, — on the contrary, he always denounced my fervent conviction on the subject as so much fervent nonsense, — that out of this conflict would one day emerge a positive or faultless life of man, which would otherwise have been impracticable; just as out of the conflict of alkali and acid emerges a neutral salt which would otherwise be invisible. On the contrary, he always expressed himself to the effect that the conflict was absolutely valid in itself; that it constituted its own end, having no other result than to insure to good men the final dominion of evil men, and so array heaven and hell in mere chronic or fossil antagonism. The truth is he had no idea but of a carnal or literal rectitude in human nature, — a rectitude secured by an unflinching inward submission to some commanding outward or personal authority. The law, not the gospel, was for him the true bond of intercourse between God and man, and between man and man as well. That is to say, he believed in our moral instincts, not as constituting the mere carnal body or rude husk of our spiritual manhood, but its inmost kernel or soul; and hence he habitually browsed upon the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as if it had been divinely commended to us for that purpose, or been always regarded as the undisputed tree of life, not of death. He was mother Eve’s own darling cantankerous Thomas, in short, the child of her dreariest, most melancholy old age, and he used to bury his worn, dejected face in her penurious lap, in a way so determined as forever to shut out all sight of God’s new and better creation.

Of course this is only saying in other words that Carlyle was without any sense of a universal providence in human affairs. He supposed that God Almighty literally saw with our eyes, and had therefore the same sympathy for strong men that we ourselves have, and the same disregard for feeble men. And he conceived that the world was governed upon the obvious plan of giving strong men sway, and hustling weak men out of sight. In the teeth of all the prophets who have ever prophesied, he held that the race is always to the swift, the battle always to the strong. Long before Mr. Darwin had thought of applying the principle of natural selection to the animal kingdom, Carlyle, not in words but in fact, had applied it to the spiritual kingdom, proclaiming as fundamental axioms of the divine administration, Might makes right and Devil take the hindmost. He thought the divine activity in the world exceptional, not normal, occasional, not constant; that God worked one day out of seven, and rested the remaining six ; thus, that he had a much nearer relation to holiday persons like Plato, or Shakespeare, or Goethe, than he has to every-day people like the negro, the prison convict, the street-walker. In this shallow way the great mystery of godliness, which the angels desire to look into, became to his eyes as flat as any pancake ; Deity himself being an incomparable athlete, or having an enormous weight of selfhood, so that all his legitimate children are born to rule. Ruler of men, this was Carlyle’s most rustical ideal of human greatness ; rule on the one hand, obedience on the other, this was his most provincial ideal of human society or fellowship, and he never dreamt of any profounder key to the interpretation of our earthly destiny. The strong man to grow ever more strong, the feeble man to grow ever more feeble, until he is finally extinguished, that was his very pedantic and puerile conception of the rest that remains to the people of God. The glorification of force, ability, genius, “ that is the one condition,” he always said, “in my poor opinion, of any muchtalked-of millennial felicity for this poor planet, — the only thing which will ever rescue it from being the devil’s churchyard and miserable donkey pasture it now for the most part turns out to be.”

The divine hieroglyphics in human nature are never going to be deciphered in this sensuous, childish way. The divine gait is not lop-sided. As His special glory is to bring good out of evil, one can easily see that He has never had a thought of exalting one style of man outwardly or personally above another style, but only of reducing both styles to a just humility. The tree of knowledge of good and evil is a tree which belongs exclusively to the garden of our immature, sensuous, or scientific intelligence, and it will not bear transplantation to a subtler spiritual soil. Our moral experience has always been, in purpose, intellectually educative. It is adapted, in literal or outward form, to our rude and crude, or nascent scientific, intelligence, and was intended to afford us, in the absence of any positive conceptions of infinitude, at least a negative spiritual conception, that so we might learn betimes a modest or humble conceit of ourselves. Now Carlyle’s precise intellectual weakness was that he never had a glimpse of any distinctively divine ends in human nature, but only in the more or less conflicting persons of that nature; and hence he was even childishly unable to justify the advance of the social sentiment in humanity, the sanest, deepest, most reconciling sentiment ever known to man’s bosom. To escape Carlyle’s fatuity, then, and avoid the just reproach which he is fated to incur in the future, we must give up our hero-worship, or sentimental reverence for great men, and put ourselves in the frankest practical harmony with the Providence that governs the world. Nor is this half so difficult a task as our leading lazy-bones in church and state would have us believe. Our leaders should be called our misleaders, in fact, so often do they betray us as to the principles of the divine administration. The world is not administered, as Carlyle and Louis Napoleon would have us fancy, upon the principle of making everything bend to the will of the strongest. On the contrary, the true will of the Strongest is, and always has been, to efface Himself before every the meanest creature He has made, and his profoundest joy, not to have His own way, but to give way to every such creature, provided, first of all, there be nothing in that way injurious to the common weal. In fact, the one principle of divine administration in human affairs, as we learn from Christianity, is to disregard high things, and mind only low things; to contemn whatsoever is highly esteemed among men, and exalt or utilize whatsoever they despise and reject. Henry Carey has been long and vainly showing us that a proper economy of the world’s waste is all we need to inaugurate in the material sphere the long-promised millennium. And Liebig published, not many years ago, what he calls a legacy to his fellows, in which he proves : first, that European agriculture is fast becoming so fruitless, by the exhaustion of soils, that unless some remedy be provided Europe must soon go into hopeless physical decrepitude; and, secondly, that men have the amplest remedy against this contingency in their own hands, by simply economizing the sewage of large towns, and restoring to the land the mineral wealth their food robs it of. Only think of this : Europe actually depends for her material salvation upon a divine redemption mercifully stored up for her in substances which her most pious churchmen and wisest statesmen have always disdained as an unmitigated nuisance ! If any one thing be more abhorrent than another to our dainty sensual pride, if one thing more than another has been permitted to fill our selfish, stupid life with disgust and disease, it is this waste material of the world, which we, in our insanity, would gladly hurry into the abyss of oblivion ! And yet in God’s munificent wisdom this self-same odious waste teems with incomparably greater renovation to human society than all the gold, silver, and precious stones ever dug from earth to madden human lust and enslave human weakness !

Now, what is the philosophic lesson of this surprising scientific gospel ? When science thus teaches us, beyond all possibility of cavil, that the abject waste and offscouring of the planet, which we ourselves are too fastidious even to name, is fuller of God’s redeeming virtue, of his intimate presence, than all its pomp of living loveliness, than all its vivid garniture of mineral, vegetable, and animal beauty, what philosophic bearing does the lesson exert ? It is the very gospel of Christ, mind you, reduced to the level of sense, or turned into a scientific verity. What, then, is its urgent message to men’s spiritual understanding? Evidently this, and nothing else, namely: that human life is now so full of want, so full of sorrow, so full of vice— that human intercourse is now so full of fraud, rapacity, and violence— only because the truth of human society, human fellowship, human equality, which alone reveals the infinitude of God’s love, enjoys as yet so stinted a recognition, while race continues to war with race, and sect with sect. Society has as yet achieved only a typical or provisional existence, by no means a real or final one. Every clergyman is the professional fellow or equal of every other; every lawyer or physician enjoys the equal countenance of his professional brethren. But no man is yet sacred to his brother man by virtue of his manhood simply, but only by virtue of some conventional or accidental advantage. The vast majority of our Christian population are supposed to be properly excluded from an equal public consideration with their more fortunate compeers by the fact of their poverty or enforced subjection to natural want, and the personal limitations which such want imposes ; while outside of Christendom the entire mass of mankind is shut out of our respect and sympathy, if not exposed to the incursions of our ravenous cupidity, because they do not profess the exact faith we profess, nor practice the literal maxims we practice. Thus, the righteousness of the letter prevails everywhere over that of the spirit, everywhere betrays and condemns our divinest natural manhood to dishonor and death ; the inevitable consequence being, that God’s living energy in our nature, disdaining, as it does, anything but a universal operation, is shut up to the narrowest, most personal and penurious dimensions, — is associated, in fact, with the meanest, most meagre, bosoms of the race,— while the great mass of men, in whose hearts and brains its infinite splendors lie seething and tumultuous for an outlet, are cast out of our Christian fellowship, are dishonored and reviled as so much worthless rubbish or noisome excrement.

It is quite time, then, in my opinion, that we should cease minding Carlyle’s rococo airs and affectations ; his antiquated strut and heroics, reminding us now of John Knox and now of Don Quixote; his owlish, obscene hootings at the endless divine day which is breaking over all the earth of our regenerate nature. We have no need that he or any other literary desperado should enlighten us as to the principles of God’s administration, for we have a more sure word of prophecy in our own hearts, — a ray of the light which illumines every man who comes into the world, and is ample, if we follow it, to scatter every cloud that rests upon the course of history. We are all of us parents, potentially or actually, and although we represent the infinite paternity most imperfectly, we do, nevertheless, represent it. And how do we administer our families ? Do we bestow our chief solicitude upon those of our children who need it least, or upon those who need it most; upon those who are most up to the world’s remorseless demands upon them, or those who fall short of those demands ? I need not wait for an answer. All our base, egotistic pride may go to the former, but we reserve all our care and tenderness for those whom an unkind nature, as we say, consigns to comparative indigence and ignominy. Now God has absolutely no pride and no egotism, being infinitely inferior to us in both those respects. But then, for that very reason, he is infinitely our superior in point of love or tenderness. I don’t believe that the tenderness we bestow upon our prodigals is worthy to be named in the same day with that which he bestows upon his. I don’t believe, for my part, that he ever lifts a finger, or casts a glance, to bless those of his offspring who resemble him, or are in sympathy with his perfection, — for such persons need no blessing, are themselves already their own best blessing, — but reserves all his care and tenderness for the unblessed and disorderly, for the unthankful and the evil, for those who are disaffected to his righteousness, and make a mock of his peace. I doubt not, if a celestial visitor should come to us tomorrow in the flesh, we should engage the best rooms for him at the Parker House ; supply his table with the fat of the land; place a coach and four at his beck, whisk him off to the State House, introduce him to all the notabilities, ecclesiastic, political, scholastic, financial ; give him a public dinner, a box at the opera, the most conspicuous pew in church ; in short, do everything our stupidity could invent to persuade him, at all events, that we regarded him as an arrival from the most uncelestial corner of the universe. Well, we have in truth at this time, and all the time, no celestial visitant in the flesh among us, but a divine resident in the spirit, whom the heaven of heavens is all unmeet to contain, and who yet dwells — awaiting there his eventual glorious resurrection — a patient, despised, discredited, spiritual form in every fibre of that starved, and maddened, and polluted flesh and blood which feeds our prisons and fattens our hospitals, and which we have yet the sagacity to regard as the indispensable base of our unclean and inhuman civilization. And it is my fixed conviction that unless we speedily consent to recognize His humiliated form in that loathsome sepulchre, and give emancipation to it there, first of all, by bringing this waste life, this corrupt and outcast force of Christendom, into complete social recognition, or clothing it with the equal garments of praise and salvation that hide our own spiritual nakedness, we shall utterly miss our historic justification, and baffle the majestic Providence which is striving through us to inaugurate a free, unforced, and permanent order of human life.

Henry James.