Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

VII
CARLYLE AND GAVAN DUFFY (1849)

IN going from Kilkenny to Waterford on Thursday, 12.7.49, Carlyle and Duffy had the railway for about a third of the way. The rest was not made yet, so that they had to go by the road, walking where it was steep, and most of the way sitting chatting on a "private car,"--"Duffy keeping me busy at talk!"1 noted Carlyle.

'Our talk was at first of the scenes in the ( Kilkenny) workhouse,' wrote Duffy.2 'The house was full of men fit for active industry, and women, vigorous and healthy, squatting on the floor like negroes in a slaveship. Carlyle was vehement in his indignation' and said:--"I look at many things in Ireland with silent pity, but the workhouse where no one works is unutterably despicable. Consider the absurdity of shutting up thousands of forlorn creatures to be fed at the cost of beggars like themselves. Why not regiment these unfortunate wretches, and thrash them, if it proved needful, into habits of industry on some lands at home or in the colonies? Try them for a couple of years, I would say, and if they cannot feed and clothe themselves, they ought to be put out of the world."

To which of course Duffy replied at once that the poor people would be delighted to work, but were the serfs of a Parliament which made them swelter in idleness. The rest of their talk, he says, was mostly 'of eminent men whom he had known. When I named a man, he spoke of him. When I named another, he took up the second'; and so on; and whatever seemed memorable was written 'daily, and finally offered to him to read.' Carlyle 'playfully excused himself, but tacitly sanctioned the practice.' Duffy was not imitating Boswell. He says he was writing simply for 'my personal instruction,' and thought of destroying the notes when they had 'answered their original purpose.' It was

____________________
1
Reminiscences of My Irish Journey, by T. Carlyle, pp. 87-92.
2
Conversations with Carlyle, by Sir C. Gavan Duffy, pp. 73-4. 46-53.

-117-

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