Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

XXI
IN THE DOLDRUMS (1848-49)

A NEW edition of Cromwell Carlyle began before 1848 was out and finished next summer, but that was easy work,--like proof-correcting. He was steady every morning at his desk, puzzling over what else to do. The revolutionary rows on the Continent were like the crackling of conflagrations in adjacent streets. His Irish friends were keeping him awake to the failure of potatoes this year also,--starvation was again impending over millions in Ireland; but cholera at home and exciting foreign news were diverting the public attention. What was he to do?

It might be now, when Young Ireland was in prison, that Espinasse heard Carlyle remarking that "the Irish priests alone stood up persistently for the people."1 That would be because they were Irishmen as well as priests. It was an old saying which even the priests' pet boy, Dan O'Connell, himself repeated,--"From Rome we take our religion; but politics we prefer home-made."2 They would have done better with home-made religion also.

'Popery and the Papacy Carlyle held in abhorrence,' says Espinasse. 'He thought that the misfortunes of the Irish were in great part clearly traceable to their rejection of the Reformation. "The Irish peasant," he said, "if left to commune with his own soul, would feel that murder was a damnable crime, but he knows that the priest will give him absolution for it, and so he thinks little of it."' Espinasse enquired about 'the old scheme for a State endowment of the Irish Roman Catholic clergy,' which Charles Buller had been reviving; but now that Charles Buller was dead, and Carlyle was watching with loathing the dirty deals of the Whigs with O'Connell and Company, he answered grimly:-- "If it were to be done at all, it would have to be done by

____________________
1
Literary Recollections, by F. Espinasse, p. 198.
2
Life of Cardinal Manning, by E. S. Purcell. II, p. 622.

-71-

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