Thomas Carlyle: The Life and Ideas of a Prophet

Thomas Carlyle: The Life and Ideas of a Prophet

Thomas Carlyle: The Life and Ideas of a Prophet

Thomas Carlyle: The Life and Ideas of a Prophet

Excerpt

Though genuine and coherent, "living and life-giving", he was nevertheless but half developed. We had all to complain that we durst not freely love him. His heart seemed as if walled in; he had not the free means to unbosom himself. My Mother has owned to me that she could never understand him; that her affection, and (with all their little strifes) her admiration of him was obstructed: it seemed as if an atmosphere of Fear repelled us from him. To me it was especially so.

THOMAS Carlyle: Reminiscences.

FIFTYSIX YEARS EARLIER, on a dark, frosty November morning, Thomas Carlyle walked with his mother and father through the street of his home village of Ecclefechan, on the way to Edinburgh University. Carlyle was not quite fourteen years old and his parents, as was customary, placed him in the charge of an older boy named Tom Smail. The two boys were to travel by themselves the journey of nearly a hundred miles to Edinburgh -- that also was customary; and when they arrived Smail, who was already a student at the University, was to find lodgings for both of them.

Such a journey, formidable as it may appear to us, was common in the Scotland of that day. Many, perhaps most, of the country students at Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities came from poor families. Their parents' resources were strained to the utmost by the payment of University fees; nothing was left over for a seat in the coach, and there was no question of a boy's parents travelling with him. The habit of self-reliance was engendered by necessity. The means of life -- oatmeal, potatoes, salt, butter and eggs -- would be sent to the students by carrier from home; the returning cart took with it their dirty linen to be washed and mended. With very little money in their purses, and a background of Scottish Puritanism ordering their minds, they were left to find their own diversions; these generally took the forms of sightseeing, reading and the formation of debating clubs. At the end of each term the University . . .

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