Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

I
A "VOLUNTEER SECRETARY" (1849)

AFTER Carlyle had finished the notes of his tour in Ireland, "What next?" he asked himself. To write on politics seemed the obvious answer. It was partly to quicken his utterance on politics that he had gone to Ireland; but what he had seen there of the result of English inefficiency in administration confirmed the grimmest of his conclusions, yet left him more than ever perplexed where to begin. The current dogma of laissez-faire or let-alone,-- let Government do nothing,--seemed to sanctify the silly supposition that any fool could do the work of Government. Carlyle was turning over his bundles of unpublished MSS. with little exhilaration; and writing on 6.11.49 to his old friend William Graham,1 commissioning him to buy a carpet for his mother, he dropped a few remarks which seem to prepare us for what was soon to follow.

He told him he was trying to work, but felt as if clearing away mud before beginning to build.--' London is getting populous again. Absurd "Peace Meetings" with quantities of empty balderdash talked in Exeter Hall,' such things and criminal trials are the talk. 'A thoroughly anarchic Europe, after vain attempts at "reformation" by parliamentary eloquence and street barricades, settling lazily into the old malodorous slough-of-despond again, not to lie long there. . . . One sits rather, looking silent at all that.'

While thus meditating politics in working hours, Carlyle was never neglecting outdoor exercise. One afternoon this November the painter Gambardella brought a 'great, sprawling' double 'velocipede' or bicycle, and Carlyle and he, like a pair of boys, pedalled 'along the highways three hours,' to Wimbledon and back, together.2

In the meantime Mrs. Carlyle had been entertaining her

____________________
1
Unpublished letter.
2
Letters of J. W. Carlyle, edited by L. Huxley, p. 337.

-211-

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