Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

XI
THE PRESENT TIME (1850)

THE first Latter-Day Pamphlet, "'The Present Time,'"-- was a plea for the organization of labour as the thing most needful. But instead of pleasing fashionable folk by letting bygones be bygones, Carlyle laid bare the meaning of recent events in a style somewhat like that of Daniel to the King in presence of the Lords of Babylon, without any false pretence of lamentation, saying,--"God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it. Thou art weighed in the balance, and art found wanting." He used verbally to quote these very words, and emphasize found, meaning found out.

He told how 'a good country priest ' elected Pope had decided to be honest on the throne,--and so in his simplicity started rebellion in Sicily, and that made the French explode.

'Close following which, as if by sympathetic, subterranean electricities, all Europe exploded, and we had the year 1848, one of the most humiliating the European world ever saw. Kings everywhere, and reigning persons, started in sudden horror, and, what was peculiar and notable in this year for the first time, the Kings all made haste to go, as if exclaiming, "Don't kill us; we couldn't help it!" Not one of them turned round, and stood upon his Kingship, as upon a right he could afford to risk his skin upon. Democracy, on this new occasion, finds all Kings conscious that they are but Playactors. The miserable mortals, enacting their High Life Below Stairs. They fled precipitately in terror of the treadmill or worse. Such was the history, from Baltic to Mediterranean, in Italy, France, Prussia, Austria, from end to end of Europe, in those March days of 1848. Since the destruction of the old Roman Empire by inroad of the Northern Barbarians, I have known nothing similar.

'And so there remained in Europe no King except the Public Haranguer, haranguing on barrel-head, in leading article; or getting himself aggregated into a National Palaver to harangue. In city after city, street-barricades

-240-

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