Saturday, 20 August 2016

Thomas Carlyle and the Negro Question


My previous post on this topic is
negro question
Carlyle's Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question.


Today I was reading in the blog of a Carlyle scholar who criticises the use of the term 'nigger' in the work of Thomas Carlyle. He is aware that there is a certain anachronism involved, but he insists that by the start of the 19th. century things were changing and polite society represented by such as John Stuart Mill used the term 'negro'. There is an irony there in that Mill and his father worked in India House the H.Q. of the colonial plunder and the swag that was the white man's burden. One recalls too that Mill fils took a dim view of helping the Irish during the Famine. Offering this whited sepulchre as an example of probity is ironic.

However the fierceness of Carlyle's scorn in his Discourse on the Negro Question and his apparent support of slavery as superior to anarchic idleness has an unlikely supporter in Leslie Stephen. Writing on Carlyle's Ethics.

It shocks one to find an open advocacy of slavery for black Quashee. But we must admit, and admit for the reasons given by Carlyle, that even slavery may be better than sheer anarchy and barbarism; that, historically speaking, the system of slavery represents a necessary stage in civilisation ; and therefore that the simple abolition of slavery—a recognition of unconditional " right" without reference to the possession of the instincts necessary for higher kinds of society—might be disguised cruelty. The error was in the hasty assumption that his Quashee was, in fact, in this degraded state; and the haste to accept this disheartening belief was but too characteristic. That liberty might mean barbarism was true; that it actually did mean it in certain given cases was a rash assumption too much in harmony with his ordinary aversion to the theorists of his time.

Stephen's father Sir Joseph was the Colonial Undersecretary of State and a noted abolitionist. More irony there. A brother was a legal aide to the Council of State in Delhi. Compartments were hermetically sealed, one from the other.

Text for the Day:
Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

May i add that I understand perfectly that a young academic would want to draw a cordon sanitaire around Carlyle on this question

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