« PreviousContinue »
the centre of our human life. So odd the subject and apparently grotesque the style, that London publishers looked very shy at the offered manuscript, which could find its way to the public only in fragments through the pages of “Fraser's Magazine” (1833–34).
The year 1837 is the central point in Carlyle's literary life, for then appeared The French Revolution, a History, written as no history had ever been written before. All the scenes in that wonderful tale of blood and tears flash out upon our gaze, as we read, with a startling vividness and distinctness of outline, entirely unlike the way in which the stately pictures of Gibbon and Macaulay grow upon the unfolding canvas, and thoroughly in keeping with the wild hurry and seeming disjointedness of the tumultuous time. Carlyle's pen never outdid this brilliant historic piece. But it must not be forgotten, that those
who wish to know all the minutive of the French Revolu1837 tion, must supplement their reading of Carlyle's “History"
with the study of calmer works, which aim, not so much
at fixing on the mind with bright sun-darts a succession of indelible photographs, as at heaping together with quiet and careful industry all the details of the tremendous drama. Defiant of critical canons, and regarding that stately pomp of diction which some think “the dignity of history” requires, as an intolerable sham, this hater of old clothes works out his own ideas in his own way-paints with a brush of daring lawlessness- -is minute at one time, even to the wart on a hero's eyebrow, at another so broad in his treatment that a single dash of colour depicts a man-violates every propriety of conventional art, historical perspective excepted—fills his pages with abrupt and startling apostrophes—often flings together a bundle of words, which, upon cool analysis, we find to be a mass of disjointed notes—drives at full swing through all school-notions of logical order and grammatical arrangement, scattering right and left into ignominious exile nominatives and verbs, articles and pronouns--and yet strikes so surely to the brain and heart, that his pictures, printed with an instantaneous flash, live on the mental retina for ever.
The delivery of certain courses of Lectures on German Literą.
CROMWELL'S LETTERS AND SPEECHES.”
ture --The Revolutions of Modern Europe,--and Heroes, Hero. Worship, and the Heroic in History (1840), combined with the production of a tract on Chartism (1839) and an historical contrast, entitled Past and Present (1843), filled up eight years between the publication of the “French Revolution ” and the appearance of a second great work.
That work is entitled The Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, with Elucidations. A vast heap of materials, collected with painful patience from all sources, "fished up," as the collector tells us," from foul Lethean quagmires, and washed clean from foreign stupidities—such a job of buck-washing as I do not long to repeat,"
,”—was given to the world in fair order and modernized form, the great Puritan being made to speak from the dead past with bis own voice and pen. This book, however, is no mere edition of Cromwell's works. What he modestly called "Elucidations," the setting of these rough recovered gems, are brilliant specimens of Carlyle's historic style. His portraiture of the great Oliver, and his battle-piece of Dunbar, are well worthy 1845 of the pencil which drew Mirabeau and Marie Antoinette, the storming of the Bastille, and the shrill drumled march of the Paris women to Versailles. That substratum of the Puritan or old Covenanter in his character, to which Leigh Hunt and Hannay make allusion, kindled into volcanic flame when Cromwell formed his theme. He was, indeed, himself a literary Cromwell, waging sternest war with all the force of an earnest soul against modern humbug, untruth, and noisy pretension. No wonder that this soldier of the pen, among the stanchest of our century, looking back across two hundred years of history, should have recognized natural royalty in the craggy brow, solid frame, and iron soul of a Huntingdon farmer who could lead armies to certain triumph and dissolve a senate with the stamping of his foot. An electric sympathy linked the two: true manhood sharpened Cromwell's sword and true manhood guided Carlyle's pen.
The toppling thrones and surging peoples of the disastrous year 1848 stirred the impulsive oracle to a vehement utterance. The Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850) assailed with most galling invec(15)
HISTORY OF FREDERICK THE GREAT."
tive and contemptuous ridicule the leading politicians and institutions of the country. The hollowness of great men and the servility of small are lashed with a furious, stinging whip, whose thongs, steeped in the salt of grim fantastic wit, cut and smart to the very bone. Yet many blows are too fierce, too sweeping, and
many fall harmless upon sound and honest things. His Life of John Sterling (1851), a brilliant Essayist who had conducted the “Athenæum” for a while, and who died prematurely in 1844, grew out of his dissatisfaction with the picture which Archdeacon Hare had given of the free-thinking curate. It is a fine . specimen of literary skill; but the sympathy which the writer shows for the loose religious views of his friend has been heavily blamed.
During his later years Mr. Carlyle resided chiefly at Chelsea. His last great work was The History of Friedrich II., called Frederick the Great. This stern soldier was chosen as the hero of a new work, not because the historian believed him to have been a truly great man, but “ because he managed not to be a liar and a charlatan, as his century was.” Frederick and Voltaire
are the types of action and of thought in the eighteenth 1858 century. In 1858 the first and second volumes of
"Frederick" appeared; but they were only preliminary
to the greater 'story of his reign, bringing his life through a tangled thicket of Brandenburg and Hohenzollern genealogy, up to the death, in 1740, of his bearish old father, Friedrich Wilhelm. Mr. Carlyle visited the leading battle-fields of the Seven Years' War, while collecting material for the concluding volumes of his History. Though inferior to his French Revolution, this work presents here and there pictures coloured with that lawless but potent brilliance, that wild, abrupt, impulsive touch, which distinguish this master's style from that of all other writers of English.
Nor Clarendon nor Gibbon nor Macaulay, all great masters of the historic pencil and well skilled in the portraiture of men, could match—certainly none of them could overmatch—that image of the great Frederick—the very
Fritz himself—that starts to life in Carlyle's pages.
SPECIMEN OF CARLYLE'S PROSE.
In his later years Carlyle wrote Reminiscences of his life, in which he described with graphic pen, but with occasional bitterness of spirit, the character of his father, his wife, Lord Jeffrey, and other literary friends. These Reminiscences, edited by Mr. Froude, were published shortly after Carlyle's death, which occurred early in 1881.
PORTRAIT OF FREDERICK THE GREAT.
He is a king every inch of him, though without the trappings of a king. Pre. sonts himself in a Spartan simplicity of vesture: no crown, but an old military cocked hat-generally old, or trampled and kneaded into absolute softness if new; no sceptre but one like Agamemnon's, a walking-stick cut from the woods, which serves also as a riding-stick (with which he hits the horse “between the ears," say authors); and for royal robes, a mere soldier's blue coat with red facings,coat likely to be old, and sure to have a good deal of Spanish snuff on the breast of it; rest of the apparel dim, unobtrusive in colour or cut, ending in high overknee military boots, which may be brushed (and, I hope, kept soft with an underhand suspicion of oil), but are not permitted to be blackened or varnished, -Day and Martin with their soot-pots forbidden to approach. The man is not of god-like physiognomy, any more than of imposing stature or costume: closeshut mouth with thin lips, prominent jaws and nose, receding brow, by no means of Olympian height; head, however, is of long form, and has superlative gray eyes in it. Not what is called a beautiful man; nor yet, by all appearance, what is called a happy. On the contrary, the face bears evidence of many sorrows, as they are termed, of much hard labour done in this world ; and seems to anticipate nothing but more still coming. Quiet stoicism, capable enough of what joys there were, but not expecting any worth mention ; great unconscious and some conscious pride, well tempered with a cheery mockery of humour, are written on that old face, which carries its chin well forward, in spite of the slight stoop about the neck; snuffy nose, rather flung into the air, under its old cocked hat, like an old snuffy lion on the watch ; and such a pair of eyes as no man, or lion, or lynx of that century bore elsewhere, according to all the testimony we have. “Those eyes,” says Mirabeau, “which, at the bidding of his great soul, fascinated you with seduction or with terror.” Most excellent, potent, brilliant eyes, swift-darting as the stars, steadfast as the sun; gray, we said, of the azure. gray colour ; large enough, not of glaring size; the habitual expression of them vigilance and penetrating sense, rapidity resting on depth. Which is an excellent combination, and gives us the notion of a lambent outer radiance, springing from some great inner sea of light and fire in the man. The voice, if he speak to you, is of similar physiognomy: clear, melodious, and sonorous; all tones are in it, from that of ingenuous inquiry, graceful sociality, lightHowing banter (rather prickly for most part), up to definite word of com. mand, up to desolating word of rebuke and reprobation.
ESSAYISTS, CRITICS, ETC.
THEOLOGIANS AND BCHOLARS.
HISTORIANS AND BIOG
Sir Archibald Alison.
THOMAS Hood, born in 1798, was the son of a London bookseller. His literary career began in Dundee, where he contributed to a local magazine. His works abound in sparkling wit and humour, being crammed with the choicest puns and most whimsical turns of thought. But his true power as a poet, unfortunately seldom put forth, appears in such tragic pieces as Eugene Aram's Dream. The Song of the Shirt, and The Bridge of Sighs, or