Saturday, 8 March 2014

Getting Carlyle Wrong


The problem with Carlyle is this. It is easy for hasty readers to be so dazzled by words such as 'nigger', 'chains', 'lash' and so forth that the lineaments of the argument escapes their grasp. A catenary or formula is created and used as the basis for an essay of their own. I generally begin a systematic study by reading an author for myself just applying my own wit without the prior influence of critics. The Reminiscences you will be told spoiled the reputation of Carlyle and people were aghast at the personal revelations about his wife. This obiter dicta seems to me to have no actual basis in the text. After the sudden death of his wife part of his grieving was to jot down his memories of her. They are a deeply felt mixture of guilt and gratitude. He spent 13 years of constant toil writing Fredrick the Great collating vast amounts of material, living like a hermit in his own house his only exercise going out horse riding at night. The Victorian Age was the golden era of valetudinarianism and both Jane and Tom stand well in the first rank. Poor Alice James was the Cousins champ. Could lead in the water pipes have something to do with it? We can only speculate but the breakfast exchange of symptoms was an augurs almanac. However after a fall Jane became much more frail and was often bedridden and weak due to a loss of appetite. Still she stood by him and let him get on with his work. His appreciation of this together with the regret at not paying more attention to her is the sort of double-bind that scourged him.

John Morrow's Thomas Carlyle I am reading by Googlepeek. He seems to me balanced without evasion of the rebarbative aspects of the man. As I discerned by mere dint of my reading finger work is at the centre of the Occasional Discourse.A subsistence type of farming carried on by the freed slaves does not exhaust the full potentialities of the West Indies. In the Calvinist work ethic which Carlyle never left behind, to fully exploit their environment was a duty but because of their innate shiftlessness they would not think to do so on their own. He was not in favour of re-enslavement as is suggested but was impressed by French public works programs. His was a paternalist approach and ties in with his support of colonialism as Morrow points out. If the natives don't do it we must make the desert bloom.

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