Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

VII
HOPE REVIVED (1848)

SOLILOQUIZING in February, 1848, on what to write about, Carlyle remarked that this was a 'Scavenger Age, really up to nothing better than the sweeping out the gutter. Might it but do that well! It is the indispensable beginning of all.' This was his habitual feeling, one of complete detachment from passing squabbles; but even as the 1830 Revolution in Paris made him look anew at current events, and was one of the reasons why he wrote The French Revolution, so the 1848 disturbances, when he had rested enough after Cromwell to be looking for fresh work, led him into contemporary politics. First of all he articulated what was really needed,--efficient administration of public business; and when it seemed too much to hope for any heed about that from the 'public men' in power, he turned him to the task of showing in Frederick the Great what the efficient administration of public business was like. Incidentally in holding up the mirror to reality, he revealed eighteenth century Europe as it really was,--giving us a movie-picture of men's souls, like the best of Tacitus.

It was before the end of February that the pleasant news came from Paris of another revolution; and immediately, instead of merely buying as usual a newspaper for his wife to read, and remaining himself content with whatever she distilled to him, or others told him in private, he now began to take in the Times and study it closely, as well as a French daily paper. Soon he was complaining to Espinasse1 that he had expected from the Times "cleverer writing than he found in it," with its "Johnsonian" articles and "sentences all properly balanced." He spoke of the clever journalists,-- enquiring, "What are these fellows doing? They serve only to cancel one another." To which Espinasse as a journalist at once replied," They are like barristers who

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1
Literary Recollections, by F. Espinasse, pp. 224-5.

-21-

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