Carlyle As A Thinker And His Style
CARLYLE AS A THINKER
Carlyle exerted such a profound influence upon generation by his thought as to be called the “Censor of the age”. His was a clarion cry to Victorian England to abandon its self-complacency and profit and loss philosophy and to know and hold to the “Everlasting Yea”. In the age of democracy and individualism he preached the gospel of hero-worship and medieval organization. Belief in human freedom and in the “infinite nature of duty”, as the basis of religion; belief in the rule if the few wise and strong over the many weak and foolish, as the basis of government; belief in mutual sympathy, as the basis of society; belief in a spiritual interpretation of natural appearances, as the basis of philosophy; and, above all, belief in sincerity as the condition of all knowledge—these are the foundations on which Carlyle built.
By his friends, Carlyle was considered to be a great teacher, more like a great tonic—as a source of intellectual and moral stimulus and refreshment , rather than of theoretical and practical guidance. Tyndall says “Carlyle was great awakener”. Emerson says “he is a friend and aider of those who would believe in power and worship.
CARLYLE --- AN ICONOCLAST (A breaker of images/ superstitions)
Carlyle delivered vehement and even savage attacks against some of his most eminent contemporaries, whether they were heads of religious institutes or lover of science like Charles Darwin. Once he called Darwin’s discoveries as “Gorilla damnifications of humanity”. His wrath was specially directed at the metaphysicians, scientists and political economists whom he labeled together as “logic-chopping” machines.
NOT A PESSIMIST: Carlyle philosophy, if carefully considered, will be found to be dangerously optimist rather than pessimist. As a thinker Carlyle is not sad, but recklessly and rather unscrupulously satisfied. For he seems to have held the theory that good can not be defeated definitely in the world; and the every thing in the long run finds its right level. It began with what we may call the “Bible of History” idea; that all human affairs and politics were a clouded but unbroken revelation of the Devine.
Carlyle religion was that of a mystic, a transcendentalist. He got his faith from the German philosophers Kant and Fichte and from great German writers like Richter, Novalis and Goethe, the influence of last one being the paramount and abiding on Carlyle’s career and belief. Carlyle’s spiritual conversion came about in June 1821, when he was having a walk. Carlyle considers Universe to be Divine and Matter having no existence. In his words “To me the Universe was all void of life, of purpose, of volition or hostility; it was a huge dead mass.”
PERFORMANCE OF DUTY: To Carlyle, the chief aim and end of life is the performance of duty, and only consolation in life is to be sense of doing the duty. He is full of contempt for the pursuit of happiness. His stern creed allows no collateral support to the discharge of duty.
DUTY OF WORK: The first great duty is the duty of work—action, activity. This eminent feature in his preaching has called “the Gospel of Labour”. Man’s greatest enemy is disorder: his most imperative and crying duty is to subdue disorder, convert chaos into order and method. Furthermore, he lays great emphasis on duty of Obedience and duty of Sincerity.
HERO WORSHIP: To the readers of Carlyle, nothing in his writings is so well-known as his doctrine of Hero-worship. We conceive of history of peoples, Carlyle conceived of History as the Biography of Great Men or Heroes who are responsible for what the world has been or will be. Carlyle swept aside the current conceptions of Democracy and Freedom and said; “In freedom for itself there is nothing to raise a man above a fly; the value of human life is that of its work done; the prime province of law is to get from its subjects the most of the best work. The first duty of people is to find—which means to accept—their chief; their second and last to obey him.
SOCIALISM: He points out three ideas as dominant in Carlyle’s social political treatises, firstly protest against the doctrine of Laissez Faire, side by side with wrong support of free trade, secondly the advocacy of the Organization of Labour, and thirdly advocacy of Emigration, as a remedy for over-population. We may say that his chief contribution to political thought was the vigour of his demonstration that man lives by spiritual as well as material things, and that civilization is not a piece of mechanism grinding out results of itself, but is dependent on the energy and will and devotion which men put into it.
Carlyle is known for his peculiar style, known as “Carlylese”. His style is mirror of his mind. No writer is as idiosyncratic as he is. It illustrates not only all is traits but all his moods. It brings out into the starkest relief his defects as well as his qualities. It is terribly indiscreet and lays bare his caprice, his lack of deference, his defiance if discipline, his intoxicated responsibilities.
GERMAN INFLUENCE: There are some writers who believe that German writers and philosophy had deep impact in the moulding Carlyle’s style. Once Carlyle admitted that his style “had its origin in his father’s house in Annandale”. Carlyle often stated that style was not a thing a man could put off and on, and that matter was more important than manner. A man should have something to say, and should say it in the manner that comes natural to him. Carlyle was parent of own style.
DEFECTS OF CARLYLE’S STYLE: The defects in Carlyle’s style are more apparent than its merits. Its “ellipsis, gestures capitals, interjection, iterations”, its “barbarous, new, erroneous coinages and locution”, “the constant recurrence of some words in quaint and queer connexion”,” Germanized compounds, frequency of inversion, fatiguing over-emphasis”,” occasional jerking and almost spasmodic excitement “ lie on the surface. Besides, these easily perceptible defects there are two other which are more fundamental. One is the noise of the style, the strident emphasis by the trick of italicizing, and the other is the intense self-consciousness of all his writing, good and bad alike; the self-reference, the self-lashing, the self scrutiny, the self-distrust.
MERITS OF CARLYLE’S STYLE: He always tried to paint the light shining in the darkness comprehending it not, and therefore it was that he strive so hard to invent a new style which should express not simply the amount of human knowledge, but also so far as possible, the much vaster amount of human ignorance against which that knowledge sparkled in more radiant points breaking the gloom. It seems to me a style invented for the purpose of convincing those whom it charmed, that moral truth can only be discerned by a brilliant imaginative tact and audacity in discriminating the various stars sprinkled in a great vault of mystery, and then walking boldly into the doubtful light they give; that there is much which cannot be believed except by self-deceivers or fools, but that wonder is of the essence of all right mindedness.
CHARACTERSTICS OF CARLYLE’S STYLE
(a)Romantic and Oratorical Prose: Carlyle’s style does not match with the Classical writers of Prose because he does not possess the Classical qualities of clearness, ease and balance. It rather looks to be Romantic Prose since it is addressed to the ear rather than to eye, to the feelings rather than to the understanding.
(b)Love of the concretely picturesque: He speaks in images so beautifully that it creates mental vision in reader’s mind. With the help of Metaphors and Similes, he makes blur image look clear, and this faculty is in born in him.
(c)Vocabulary: His command of words must be pronounced to be of the highest order. Among the few that stand next to Shakespeare, he occupies very high place in describing characters. He coined new words and compounds plentiful and makes new forms of syntax.
(d)Humour: Bromwell calls Carlyle’s humor a trifle, flat and artificial, because it is more than willful. but that is an unjust sentence. His humor presents picture of amusement, scorn and sadness. Sometimes he looks a little out of place and his Humour a bit “elephantine”. But as a rule he master of irony and the ludicrous. He is great in sarcasms, satire and euphemisms.
(e) Wealth of allusions: Carlyle’s range of allusions is wide, and in one passage he will be giving allusions half a dozen different and widely separated books in literature. He draws upon theology, mathematics, science, philosophy, history, economics etc. for his instances and images.