The Concept of Nature in Nineteenth-Century English Poetry

By Joseph Warren Beach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
CARLYLE

THERE is one imaginative prose writer whose influence was so widespread, and who had so much to do with the dissemination among poets of the German romantic feeling for nature, that we cannot afford to pass him by without some brief consideration. Carlyle was eagerly read by poets like Emerson, Whitman, Meredith, and even, I believe, by Longfellow, and served particularly as a means of passing on to them in popular form certain elements in the thought of Goethe and of the German transcendental philosophers.

Carlyle indulged little in the description of natural scenery and outdoor life. But in his early essays on German literature, on Richter and Goethe, he gives a notion of the romantic tone of German writing about nature. And there is one glowing passage in Sartor Resartus, in which an account of wild mountain scenery is made the occasion to strike nearly every possible note of the romantic philosophy of nature. It is in the chapter on the Sorrows of Teufelsdröckh, and serves to exhibit the solace and elevation which nature may bring to the heart of sad and disenchanted mortals.

A hundred and a hundred savage peaks, in the last light of Day; all glowing, of gold and amethyst, like giant spirits of the wilderness; there in their silence, in their solitude, even as on the night when Noah's deluge first dried! Beautiful, nay solemn, was the sudden aspect to our Wanderer. He gazed over these stupendous masses with wonder, almost with longing desire; never till this hour had he known Nature, that she was One, that she was his Mother and divine. And as the ruddy glow was fading into clearness in the sky, and the Sun had now departed, a murmur of Eternity and Immensity, of Death and of Life, stole through his soul; and he felt as if Death and Life were one, as if the Earth were not dead, as if the Spirit of the Earth had its throne in that splendor, and his own spirit were therewith holding communion.1

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