Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

XIX
CURSING KING CHARLES (1850)

ON 31.5.50 Carlyle wrote to his friend Thomas Spedding at Keswick,1 replying to a recent letter which has not been kept; but from the reply it appears that Spedding had quoted the ancient saying which Oxenstiern, the Chancellor of Sweden, had used in 1648 in talking to his son,--"Don't you know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?"

'Oxenstiern,' wrote Carlyle, 'himself a supremely wise man, had no doubt seen with continual sorrow and protest how far reality fell short of the ideal pattern, in his time; as unluckily it does in all times. The peculiarity of certain times is that they lose the very Ideal, and consider it moonshine or a dream of the speculative mind; and wise men, like T.S., express themselves content with a stuffed sack for chief governor, and declare that he and a street constable will do! These latter seem to me very peculiar and alarming times--different from any that Oxenstiern ever dreamt of; and, indeed, unexampled under the sun, except in England since the "Nell-Gwynn Defender of the Faith" made out his "glorious Restoration" to these parts; certainly one of the damnablest cargoes that ever arrived here. Said extraordinary "Defender" (O God, Almighty Maker, how can any of us laugh at such a thing!) has introduced new products and manifold elements not dreamt of in English or human history before. To refrain from bursting into profane swearing (which, perhaps, is sacred swearing), I hurry on and say only, Hell's Fuel, so far as I understand it, is, was, and always will be, precisely such unideal practices and ages as those introduced by said extraordinary "Defender." As if an age should say to

____________________
1
T. Carlyle and T. Spedding, by A. Carlyle, Cornhill, June, 1921, pp. 753-5.

-271-

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