Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

XV
IN VANITY FAIR (1848)

IT was mainly in the evenings that Carlyle was now reading the Acts of the Saints or other books of general interest. The revolutionary disturbances of 1848 had been like a morning bugle to him. Daily he was at his desk in his working hours. As he afterwards said of the four years following 1845,--'Much was fermenting in me, in very painful ways. Irish Repeal, etc., newspaper articles,-- trifling growls, words idly flung away. In the revolutionary 1848, matters had got to a kind of boiling pitch with me, and I was becoming very wretched for want of a voice. Much MS. was accumulating on me, with which I did not know what in the world to do.' What could he do when the most friendly editors were muzzling him?

About this time he was soliloquizing in his journal ( 10.8.48.).--'May I mark this as the nadir of my spiritual course at present? Never till now was I so low--utterly dumb this long while, barren, undecided, wretched in mind. My right hand has altogether lost its cunning. Alas! and I have nothing other wherewith to defend myself against the world without, and keep it from overwhelming me as it often threatens to do. Many things close at hand are other than happy for me just now; but that is no excuse.' Which shows how exacting he was to himself; for these vague words seem to refer to his private nightmare that his wife's nervous system might give way altogether and she sink into insanity. Most men of letters would feel that that was reason enough for their right hands being numb. His soliloquy went on.-- 'If my own energy desert me, I am indeed deserted. . . .

'The most popular character a man can have is that which he acquires by being offensive to nobody, soft and agreeable to everybody. All men will cordially praise him, and even in some measure love him if so. A fact worth some reflection: a fact which puts the popular judgment

-54-

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