Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

V
MRS. JAMESON STANDS UP FOR HAPPINESS, &c.

MRS. JAMESON had helped Mrs. Carlyle to make a good bargain with Fraser about Heroes. She was a woman of letters and a year older than Carlyle himself, and always welcome at Cheyne Row. Reporting without a date, she tells us:--'I have had arguments, if it be not presumption to call them so, with Carlyle on this point,'--the happiness of virtue and the misery of vice.1 'It appeared to me that he confounded happiness with pleasure, with self-indulgence. He set aside with a towering scorn the idea of living for the sake of happiness so-called (which), he styled,--"the philosophy of the frying-pan."'

'Speaking of education, Carlyle said to me:--"I want to see some institution to teach a man the truth, the worth, the beauty, the heroism of which his present existence is capable. Where's the use of sending him to study what the Greeks and Romans did and said and wrote? Do you think the Greeks and Romans would have been what they were, if they had just studied only what the Phenicians did before them?"' Mrs. Jameson afterwards wrote, 'I should have answered, had I dared,--Yet perhaps the Greeks and Romans would not have been what they were if the Egyptians and Phenicians had not been before them.' Which would have been irrelevant. The Greeks and Romans did not make their best young men waste their early years on Phenician or Egyptian grammatical gibberish.

Mrs. Jameson describes without naming 'a celebrated orator,' whom Carlyle apostrophised:--"You blasphemous scoundrel! God gave you that gifted tongue of yours and set it between your teeth, to make known your true meaning to us, not to be rattled like a muffin-man's bell!" Which was like what the Rev. George Gilfillan seems to have heard him say of Brougham: 2--"an eternal grinder of commonplace and pretentious noise, like a man playing on a hurdy- gurdy."

____________________
1
A Commonplace Book of Thoughts, &c., by Mrs. Jameson, pp. 9, 34, 111-12, 1854
2
History of a Man, by Rev. G. Gilfillan, p. 152.

-17-

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