Carlyle, Thomas (17951881)

Carlyle, Thomas, born in the village of Ecclefechan, Annandale, Dumfriesshire; son of James Carlyle, a stone-mason, and afterwards a small farmer, a man of great force, penetration, and integrity of character, and of Margaret Aitken, a woman of deep piety and warm affection; educated at the parish school and Annan Academy; entered the University of Edinburgh at the age of 14, in the Arts classes; distinguished himself early in mathematics; enrolled as a student in the theological department; became a teacher first in Annan Academy, then at Kirkcaldy; formed there an intimate friendship with Edward Irving; threw up both school-mastering and the church; removed to Edinburgh, and took to tutoring and working for an encyclopedia, and by-and-by to translating from the German and writing criticisms for the Reviews, the latter of which collected afterwards in the “Miscellanies,” proved “epoch-making” in British literature, wrote a “Life of Schiller”; married Jane Welsh, a descendant of John Knox; removed to Craigenputtock, in Dumfriesshire, “the loneliest nook in Britain,” where his original work began with “Sartor Resartus,” written in 1831, a radically spiritual book, and a symbolical, though all too exclusively treated as a speculative, and an autobiographical; removed to London in 1834, where he wrote his “French Revolution” (1837), a book instinct with the all-consuming fire of the event which it pictures, and revealing “a new moral force” in the literary life of the country and century; delivered three courses of lectures to the élite of London Society (1837-1840), the last of them “Heroes and Hero-Worship,” afterwards printed in 1840; in 1840 appeared “Chartism,” in 1843 “Past and Present,” and in 1850 “Latter-Day Pamphlets”; all on what he called the “Condition-of-England-Question,” which to the last he regarded, as a subject of the realm, the most serious question of the time, seeing, as he all along taught and felt, the social life affects the individual life to the very core; in 1845 he dug up a hero literally from the grave in his “Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell,” and after writing in 1851 a brief biography of his misrepresented friend, John Sterling, concluded (1858-1865) his life's task, prosecuted from first to last, in “sore travail” of body and soul, with “The History of Friedrich II. of Prussia, called Frederick the Great,” “the last and grandest of his works,” says Froude; “a book,” says Emerson, “that is a Judgment Day, for its moral verdict on men and nations, and the manners of modern times”; lies buried beside his own kindred in the place where he was born, as he had left instructions to be. “The man,” according to Ruskin, his greatest disciple, and at present, as would seem, the last, “who alone of all our masters of literature, has written, without thought of himself, what he knew to be needful for the people of his time to hear, if the will to hear had been in them ... the solitary Teacher who has asked them to be (before all) brave for the help of Man, and just for the love of God” (17951881).

Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)

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