Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

XV
ON CHRIST AND IMMORTALITY

JOHN STERLING was only one of many disciples. Espinasse assures us1 that Carlyle was always patient and beautifully courteous to religious enquirers; but that religion was not a topic 'to which he cared often to advert or dwell on long.' When once Espinasse was proving these statements to an inquisitive friend by many instances, his sister interposed a correction, saying,--"I heard Carlyle swearing with my own ears." Her brother and she then recalled the whole of the talk she was thinking of.

Leigh Hunt had said, "The Glasgow people are so stingy that they would not subscribe to put down Hell." Defending Glasgow and answering Hunt, Carlyle quoted Burns's words,--"The fear of Hell's the hangman's whip, to hold the wretch in order," and said it was "scarcely desirable to abolish the terror of Hell all at once." This involved the usual contrast between Hunt's "unlimited faith" in human goodness and Carlyle's matter-of-fact adherence to older opinions, which he defended on this occasion by saying,-- "Every man must feel that he is a damned scoundrel," which horrified Miss Espinasse, but meant no more than what Shakespeare put in Hamlet's words,--"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?" Seeing the horror on her face, her brother, who afterwards explained2 that she was hard of hearing and had missed the point, fraternally turned to her and popped the question,-- "Fanny, do you think we could get on without Hell?" "Hell, Hell!!!" she ejaculated with a shudder, and was silent; Carlyle coming to her rescue with, "Ah, she hasn't turned that over in her mind yet!"

" Carlyle is not one but many men," said Mrs. Carlyle to Espinasse, who added that he once heard Carlyle disapprove

____________________
1
Literary Recollections, by F. Espinasse, pp. 195-200.
2
Espinasse to D. A. W., who was present when Mr. Espinasse's sister thus corrected him, and pp. 195-200 of his Literary Recollections here quoted were supplemented by what Mr. Espinasse said verbally to. D. A. W. Italics added.

-371-

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