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Carlyle’s Political Influence
by [?]

The numerous articles called forth by Carlyle’s “Reminiscences,” both in this country and in England, while varying greatly in the proportions in which they mix their praise and blame, leave no doubt that there has occurred a very strong revulsion of feeling about him, so strong in England that we are told that the subscriptions for a proposed memorial to him have almost if not entirely ceased. The censure which Carlyle’s friends are visiting on Mr. Froude for his indiscretion in printing the book, though deserved, has done but little to mitigate the severity of the judgment passed on the writer himself. In fact, we are inclined to believe that Mr. Froude’s want of judgment rather helps to deepen the surprise and disappointment with which the book has been received, as affording an additional proof of the feebleness of Carlyle’s own powers in estimating the people about him. That, after heaping contempt on so many of whom the world has been accustomed to think highly, he should have retained to the last his confidence in, and respect for, a person capable of dealing his fame such a deadly blow as Mr. Froude, not unnaturally increases the irritation with which the public has read his recollections of his friends and contemporaries. The “disillusion and disenchantment” worked by the book, in so far as it affects Carlyle’s fame as a prophet, is, of course, a misfortune, and a very serious one. What it was he preached when his preaching first startled the world, but very few now undertake to say, and these few by no means agree in their story. His influence, apparently, was not of the kind which reaches a man through articulate speech, but rather that which comes through the blast of a trumpet or the marching tune of a good band, and fills the heart with a feeling of capacity for high endeavor, though one cannot say in what particular field it is to be displayed. But though he founded no school and taught no system of morals, his eminence as a mere preacher was one of the very valuable possessions of the Anglo-Saxon world, as a sort of standing protest against the materialistic tendencies of the age; and this eminence rested a good deal on the popular conception of the elevation of his own character. This conception has undoubtedly, whether justly or unjustly, been greatly shaken, if not destroyed, by the revelation that invidious comparison between himself and others was almost a habit of his life; that, while preaching patient endurance, he did not himself endure patiently even the minor ills of existence; that, when looking at the fine equipages at Hyde Park Corner, he had to support himself by “sternly thinking”–“yes, and perhaps none of you could do what I am at;” that his mental attitude during the preparation of most of his books was that of a man not properly appreciated who was going to cast pearls before swine; or, in other words, the attitude of an ordinary literary man burdened with too much vanity for his powers, and more concerned about the effect his work was likely to have on his personal fortunes than on the mental or moral condition of the world. While full of contempt for sciolists and pretenders and newspapers, he wrote, and was ready to write, on the American war without any knowledge of the facts, and scorned Darwinism without ever bestowing a thought on it. Carlyle’s public were long ago conscious, as one of his critics has said, that he canted prodigiously about cant, and talked voluminously in praise of silence; but then it recognized that much repetition has always the air of cant, and that to persuade men to be silent, as well as to do anything else, one must talk a great deal. A prophet has to be diffuse and loud, and often shrill, and his disciples will always forgive any number of mistakes in method or manner as long as they believe that behind the preaching there is perfect simplicity and self-forgetfulness. That this belief has been weakened in many minds with regard to Carlyle by the “Reminiscences” there is no question, and the consequence of it is that the Anglo Saxon world has lost one of its best possessions; and it is a kind of possession which no apologies or explanations, and no proof of Mr. Froude’s indiscretion, can restore.