Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

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CARLYLE'S IMITATION OF CHRIST (1849-50)

EVER since Tuesday, 13.11.49, Carlyle and Neuberg had been busy among the heaps of unpublished MSS. at Cheyne Row, copying and burning, arranging and finishing. What had been "fermenting" in Carlyle "during four years of silence" was now being distilled into fiery waters. The outcry on The Nigger, Question seems to have frightened editors. Not even the Times would take the rest for nothing. But publishers were willing. Chapman proposed a series of pamphlets; and one cold windy Sunday, apparently 30.12.49, he might have been seen walking in the company of Carlyle and John Forster towards his house in the Strand. He had the MS. of the first two Latter-Day Pamphlets in his pocket, to come out on the first of February and March next. There were to be two more in April, on the first and fifteenth of the month, and the remaining four on the first days of the months following, May, June, July, and August,--only eight in all, tho twelve were at first intended.

Since the letters of Junius, nothing so sensational in politics had been printed in England, but there was nothing personal or nasty about them. "Carlyle has taken to whisky," grinned fashionable London then; but he only laughed at that.1 The critics compared the writer to a Hebrew prophet. It might be relevant to quote the Sermon on the Mount in a Law-court to-day. So it may be permissible as it is true to call these pamphlets Carlyle's imitation of Christ.

About Friday, 11.1.50, before the first was published, Neuberg wrote to his sister in Germany, reporting something Carlyle said of the Bible:2--"It is a wonderful Book, that. Some years ago I read the four Gospels through, and I wept a great deal over it. It is full of sincerities and everlasting truths. I did not find Christ that pound-of-fresh-butter character, which people have made of him. On the contrary,

____________________
1
David Masson's verbal report to D. A. W.
2
Macmillan's Mag., Aug., 1884, pp. 283-4.

-237-

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