Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

XVI
SPIRITUAL OPTICS (1851)

AFTER the death of Peel, Carlyle had given up the hope of being allowed to do anything in current politics. The organizing of national education had to be left to other hands in later generations, and the organizing of labour is hardly yet begun,--to our immeasurable loss. To name one item only,--we can hardly count even the cost of the stoppage of the coal-mines in 1926. But our country's loss has been the world's gain. "Heaven makes no mistakes." The time of Carlyle, which might have been consumed in wrestle with the sons of darkness in our provincial idol-caverns, was given to the Life of John Sterling and the history called by the name of Frederick.

When giving the John Sterling its finishing touches in April he wrote in his journal:--'In the spiritual world, as in the astronomical, it is the earth that turns and produces the phenomena of the Heavens. In all manner of senses this is true; we are in the thick of the confusion attendant on learning this; and thus all is at present so chaotic with us. Let this stand as an aphoristic saying? or work it out with some lucidity of detail? Most true it is, and it forms the secret of the spiritual epoch we are in.'

What may have suggested it is thus stated by a biographer of Kant.1--'Two centuries and a half before his time, Copernicus (whose cell at Frauenburg on the Frisches Haff makes him a neighbour of Kant) had restored to the sun that central rank in our system from which traditional astronomy had long ousted it. Kant looked upon himself as a Copernicus of mind.' In short, he supposed his formulas told the truth in a final way.

Which was not so absurd as it seems. The makers of such formulas all feel like that. Carlyle ignored Metaphysics as merely morbid; but he saw sense in some of the

____________________
1
Kant, by William Wallace, p. 155, Blackwood, 1882. Italics added.

-374-

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