Thomas Carlyle - On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History.pdf - Rethinking the Western Tradition The volumes in this series seek to address

Thomas Carlyle - On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History.pdf

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Unformatted text preview: Rethinking the Western Tradition The volumes in this series seek to address the present debate over the Western tradition by reprinting key works of that tradition along with essays that evaluate each text from di√erent perspectives. EDITORIAL COMMITTEE FOR Rethinking the Western Tradition David Bromwich Yale University Gerald Graff University of Illinois at Chicago Gary Saul Morson Northwestern University Ian Shapiro Yale University Steven B. Smith Yale University On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History T H O M A S C A R LY L E Edited by David R. Sorensen and Brent E. Kinser with essays by Sara Atwood Owen Dudley Edwards Christopher Harvie Brent E. Kinser Terence James Reed David R. Sorensen Beverly Taylor New Haven and London Copyright © 2013 by Yale University. All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, including illustrations, in any form (beyond that copying permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law and except by reviewers for the public press), without written permission from the publishers. Yale University Press books may be purchased in quantity for educational, business, or promotional use. For information, please e-mail [email protected] (U.S. office) or [email protected] (U.K. office). Set in Times Roman type by Keystone Typesetting, Inc. Printed in the United States of America. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data On heroes, hero-worship, and the heroic in history / Thomas Carlyle ; edited by David R. Sorensen and Brent E. Kinser ; with essays by Sara Atwood, Owen Dudley Edwards, Christopher Harvie, Brent E. Kinser, Terence James Reed, David R. Sorensen, Beverly Taylor. Pages cm — (Rethinking the Western tradition) Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 978-0-300-14860-2 (pbk.) 1. Heroes. 2. Hero worship. I. Sorensen, David R., 1953– editor of compilation. II. Kinser, Brent E., editor of compilation. III. Carlyle, Thomas, 1795–1881. On heroes, hero-worship, and the heroic in history. pr4426.a2s67 2013 824%.8—dc23 2012045115 A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (Permanence of Paper). 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 For Fielding, DeLaura, and apRoberts ‘‘Flowing Light-Fountains’’ This page intentionally left blank Contents Introduction, by David R. Sorensen A Note on the Text On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History Lecture 1. The Hero as Divinity Lecture 2. The Hero as Prophet Lecture 3. The Hero as Poet Lecture 4. The Hero as Priest Lecture 5. The Hero as Man of Letters Lecture 6. The Hero as King Essays ‘‘The Tone of the Preacher’’: Carlyle as Public Lecturer in On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History by Owen Dudley Edwards In Defense of ‘‘Religiosity’’: Carlyle, Mahomet, and the Force of Faith in History by David R. Sorensen ‘‘The First of the Moderns’’: Carlyle’s Goethe and the Consequences by Terence James Reed Carlyle, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the Hero as Victorian Poet by Beverly Taylor ‘‘Leading human souls to what is best’’: Carlyle, Ruskin, and HeroWorship by Sara Atwood ‘‘Wild Annandale Grapeshot’’: Carlyle, Scotland, and the Heroic by Christopher Harvie Thomas Carlyle, Social Media, and the Digital Age of Revolution by Brent E. Kinser Glossary Works Cited List of Contributors Index 1 17 21 51 77 104 132 162 199 209 222 235 247 260 272 283 321 331 333 This page intentionally left blank Introduction DAVID R. SORENSEN The other sect (to which I belong) . . . look upon hero-worship as no better than any other idolatry, and upon the attitude of mind of the hero-worshipper as essentially immoral. —T. H. Huxley to Charles Kingsley, 8 Nov. 1866, concerning charges of criminality against Governor John Eyre of Jamaica; Life and Letters 1:304 ‘‘My dear young friend,’’ said Mustapha Mond, ‘‘civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic.’’ —Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932) 161 In a striking example of what Thomas Carlyle called a ‘‘conflux of two Eternities’’ (‘‘Signs of the Times’’ [1829], Works 27:59), the fate of On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1841) has closely paralleled that of his own reputation in the twenty-first century. Today neither Carlyle nor his book is widely known among students of English literature. However unfairly, both have been tarnished by their association with the authoritarian and totalitarian personality cults that brought European civilization to the brink of destruction in World War II and that left what Michael Burleigh has called a ‘‘dystopian stain’’ (xi) on the historical record. Renowned in the early Victorian period as the indomitable opponent of mechanistic social engineering, Carlyle later became implicated in its worst excesses. Significantly, in Culture and Society (1958)—the boldest and most successful attempt to revive Carlyle’s standing as a prophet—Raymond Williams referred to Heroes and Hero-Worship as a turning point in the author’s career, signaling his ‘‘steady withdrawal from genuinely social thinking into the preoccupations with personal power’’ (83). Carlyle’s contemporaries themselves were equally dismayed by the direction his thinking took in the wake of this ‘‘withdrawal.’’ His notorious 2 David R. Sorensen slurs on Africans, Jews, Irish Catholics, and Poles, his equivocal support of the Confederacy in the American Civil War, his adulation of Prussian militarism, and his defense of Governor John Eyre’s brutal suppression of the Jamaican revolt in 1866 offended those who had been moved by his earlier polemics against laissez-faire economics and his tenacious prosecution of the ‘‘Condition of England’’ question. His reputation reached its nadir in early 1945, when in his diary Joseph Goebbels cited Carlyle’s History of Frederick the Great (1858–65) as Adolf Hitler’s chief source of solace during his final months in the Berlin bunker. Never again was the ‘‘Sage of Chelsea’’ readily identified with the cause of common humanity. Like the Prussian state that he revered, Carlyle, the prophet recognized by Williams as ‘‘qualified to become the most important social thinker of his century’’ (76), effectively ceased to exist as an intellectual force in the years after the war. Hero-worship itself has followed a similar downward trajectory. The trend began in the period following the ‘‘Great War’’—the war that was to have prevented World War II and all other wars—when what Paul Fussell called the ‘‘static world’’ of Victorian morality, with its seemingly ‘‘permanent and reliable’’ (21) abstractions, began to unravel as the enormity of the conflict became apparent. Later in the century, in the wake of the catastrophic experiments in human transformation that traumatized societies as politically and culturally diverse as China, Cambodia, Germany, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Romania, and the Soviet Union in the twentieth century— experiments conducted to exalt the supreme wisdom of transcendent leaders—skepticism toward heroic avatars became more deeply entrenched in Western thought. Summarizing this consensus at the outset of a new millennium, Lucy Hughes-Hallett argued that the ‘‘notion of the hero—that some men are born special—is radically inegalitarian. It can open the way for tyranny.’’ She goes on to point out that hero-worship ‘‘allows worshippers to abnegate responsibility, looking to the great man for salvation or for fulfilment that they should more properly be working to accomplish for themselves’’ (3). To those who complained about the triviality of modern life, Hughes-Hallett bluntly responded that the dominance of popular culture was a necessary consequence of a more democratic society. Modern ‘‘triviality,’’ however dispiriting, was far less hazardous to the body politic than the ‘‘desperation that prompts people to crave a champion, a protector, or a redeemer and, having identified one, to offer him their worship’’ (2). Despite the influential efforts of philosophers such as Hannah Arendt and John Rawls to enshrine equality as the highest social good by arguing for the inherent dignity of all human beings, dissenters continue to press the Introduction 3 case for heroic distinction. Robert Faulkner, a shrewd proponent of Aristotelian ‘‘magnanimity,’’ has recently contended that ‘‘the new liberalism’s antipathy to superior statesmen and to human excellence is peculiarly zealous, parochial, and antiphilosophic’’ (210). But his argument is unlikely to gain much traction in the digital age. To a younger generation obsessively attuned to the Internet, blogging, Facebook, and Twitter, heroes are increasingly defined by extrinsic rather than intrinsic factors. In his essay ‘‘From Hero to Celebrity’’ (1987), Daniel Boorstin traced the origins of this shift to the period of what he termed the ‘‘Graphic Revolution’’ in the 1850s, when technological changes began to privilege image over print and accelerated ‘‘the means of fabricating well-knownness’’ (285). Heroes could be created instantly for the sake of a mass market that conflated distinction and popularity. Boorstin cautioned, ‘‘Celebrity-worship and hero-worship should not be confused. Yet we confuse them every day, and by doing so we come dangerously close to depriving ourselves of all real models. . . . We come closer to degrading all fame into notoriety’’ (ix). This personalization of heroes has coincided with the postmodernist urge to ‘‘interrogate’’ the lives of exceptional individuals and to unmask the assumptions of power and hierarchy concealed by their apparent altruism and self-sacrifice. Biographers and historians are encouraged to unearth secrets that will compromise grand narratives and alert the public to the slipperiness of all heroic discourse. As one exasperated advocate of heroes, Peter Gibbon, has complained, ‘‘What role is left for the hero when the culture would rather be titillated than inspired and prefers gossip to gospel?’’ (xviii) Always alive to the ironies of history, Carlyle would have responded to this debate by reminding his audience that too much can be made of the novelty of the present. In the public lectures that he delivered in the spring of 1840, he too voiced alarm at the eviscerated state of hero-worship, which had degenerated into what he had earlier called ‘‘Puffery and Quackery’’ (Sartor 11). Yet he did not believe that the phenomenon Boorstin would label the ‘‘Graphic Revolution’’ was necessarily inimical to the growth of genuine hero-worship. Influential in the campaign to establish national portrait galleries in London and Edinburgh, Carlyle regarded truthful and accurate images of the human face as the surest means to arouse popular veneration for great men and women. What mattered to him most, though, were the internal qualities of heroism. In an important sense, his public lectures marked the culmination of a fruitful period of reflection on the topic, which he had explored from literary, historical, and political perspectives. These writings were united by his conviction that industrialization had contributed to a dehumanization of social life. For him, the ubiquitous 4 David R. Sorensen mechanization of life had leveled moral distinctions, numbed individual initiative, and harnessed human potential to the exigencies of production and consumption. In his first important attempt at social commentary, ‘‘Signs of the Times’’ (1829), Carlyle noticed that society’s drift toward efficiency and uniformity had penetrated to the deepest layers of the human psyche: ‘‘For the same habit regulates not our modes of action alone, but our modes of thought and feeling. Men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand. They have lost faith in individual endeavour, and in natural force, of any kind. . . . Their whole efforts, attachments, opinions, turn on mechanism, and are of a mechanical character’’ (Works 27:62–63). Even in his early commentary, however, Carlyle was not promoting an escape to some idyllic past. He acknowledged the contribution that technology had made ‘‘and [was] still making, to the physical power of mankind; how much better fed, clothed, lodged and, in all outward respects, accommodated men now are.’’ But above all, Carlyle recognized that the cost to humanity of these ‘‘wonderful accessions’’ (Works 27:60) was far steeper than the advocates of progress were prepared to admit. Beneath the surface of an English society that many radicals treated as a petri dish for Utilitarian reform, Carlyle discerned widespread demoralization and indifference to any aims beyond simple material advancement. In his early major works—Sartor Resartus (1833–34), The French Revolution (1837), and Chartism (1839)—he identified the crisis of his age as spiritual in origin. Diogenes Teufelsdröckh, the hero of Sartor Resartus, experiences ‘‘sorrows’’ that spring from his crisis of faith and from his dread of the dominant ‘‘Mechanical Profit-and-Loss Philosophies, with the sick ophthalmia and hallucination they had brought on’’ (123). Not coincidentally, his ecstatic vision of ‘‘Natural Supernaturalism’’ (Sartor book 3, ch. 8) is accompanied by an awakening reverence for the ‘‘Godlike . . . revealed in his fellow-man.’’ It is through heroes that the Professor realizes his own heroic possibilities. Hero-worship itself constitutes for Teufelsdröckh ‘‘the corner-stone of living rock, whereon all Politics for the remotest time may stand secure’’ (185). In The French Revolution Carlyle extended this analysis, insisting that the upheaval in France was not merely economic. Startling all sides in the debate and anticipating the later analyses of Jules Michelet and Alexis de Tocqueville, he treated the Revolution as a miraculous manifestation of suppressed spirituality, the electric reverberations of which continued to be felt worldwide. He refused to accept the Burkean Tory view that Jacobin ideology was a ‘‘drunken delirium’’ (Burke 142) or the Benthamite Liberal estimate that the Revolution itself was an unfortunate phase in a necessary Introduction 5 transition to democracy, individualism, and laissez-faire. The defining element of the French ‘‘Political Evangel’’ was its appeal to a purified future, which was celebrated and sanctified in popular public rituals, symbols, and liturgies. In his 1906 edition of Carlyle’s history, John Holland Rose cogently defined Carlyle’s achievement: ‘‘[He] asserted that no visible and finite object had ever spurred men on to truly great and far-reaching movements. Only the invisible and the infinite could do that’’ (1:xiv). The Revolution brought a new abstraction to the stage of history—‘‘the masses’’—an inchoate and unknown entity. In his history Carlyle had striven to re-create them as flesh-and-blood realities, endowed with individual as well as collective aspirations. For him they were the true heroes of the Revolution, and it was their predicament that had compelled him to fathom the meaning and purport of the cataclysm. Nonetheless, Carlyle was profoundly disturbed by the violent and chaotic direction that the Revolution eventually took, with its bloody ‘‘self-devourment’’ in Thermidor and the protracted violence and warfare of the Napoleonic period. The fiery ‘‘Consummation of Sansculottism’’ (Works 4:243) had revealed the terrible discrepancy between the popular demand for leadership and the paucity of worthy candidates. One after another the leaders of the Revolution—Mirabeau, Danton, Marat, and Robespierre—were first Pantheonized as heroes and then de-Pantheonized as traitors by the volatile populace. It was symptomatic of this frenzied epoch that the leader who emerged as the savior of France—one whom Carlyle classified in Heroes and HeroWorship as ‘‘our last Great Man’’ (195)—eventually crowned himself emperor. Napoleon’s destiny was intimately linked to that of France. Remarks Carlyle, ‘‘He believed too much in the Dupeability of men; saw no fact deeper in man than Hunger and this! He was mistaken.’’ Yet the nation that he misled continued to follow him until his defeat. To a degree, his cult of invincibility mirrored their own fantasies of power: ‘‘Alas, in all of us this charlatan-element exists; and might be developed, were the temptation strong enough’’ (194). Ironically, in the same month that Carlyle delivered his lectures, May 1840, Louis Philippe’s government had requested the exhumation and return of Bonaparte’s body to France. In an extravagant ceremony in Paris on 15 December 1840—memorably satirized by Carlyle’s friend William Makepeace Thackeray in ‘‘The Second Funeral of Napoleon’’ (1841)—Napoleon’s corpse was reinterred at Les Invalides in Paris. The event provided a vital backdrop to Carlyle’s lectures, confirming his view that hero-worship was now synonymous with theatricality and chimeras. Surveying the ‘‘Condition of England’’ on the eve of the ‘‘hungry for- 6 David R. Sorensen ties,’’ Carlyle was convinced that the country would suffer its own French Revolution, and that in its reincarnation this cataclysm might prove to be even more destructive and catastrophic than its predecessor. In Chartism (1839) he delivered a withering indictment of the country’s ‘‘Laissez-faire’’ culture as a response to Liberal reformers who argued that a greater distribution of wealth through the operation of a free market would enlarge the domain of personal choice, enrich opportunity, and achieve the Benthamite dictum by securing the ‘‘greatest happiness of the greatest number.’’ On the contrary, Carlyle declared, the triumph of this doctrine had ensured that all social bonds other than those dictated by ‘‘Cash Payment . . . the universal sole nexus of man to man’’ (Works 29:162) were disregarded. The vast majority of the population lived without guidance or inspiration, sullenly surviving while political economists trumpeted the social and economic advantages of obeying the ineluctable laws of supply and demand. Either a new type of hero would arise to restore the human relations that had created Britain, Carlyle predicted, or the society itself would disintegrate in a violent bloodbath. Carlyle had concluded that the ruthlessly incontrovertible logic of the marketplace had shrunk people’s faith in themselves and their peers. Everywhere, Carlyle asserted, a ‘‘sense for the true and false’’ was absent. Victorian Britain marked ‘‘the heyday of Imposture; of Semblance recognising itself, and getting itself recognised, for Substances’’ (Works 29:151). In reaction to the crisis, radicals championed the panacea of Democracy, but from Carlyle’s vantage point, this weak if noisy attempt at egalitarianism represented ‘‘the consummation of No-government and Laissez-faire,’’ and though necessary ‘‘and natural for our Europe at present,’’ it was hardly a substitute for ‘‘government by the wisest’’ (29:159). He was determined to consider his topic from a vantage point beyond the political and philosophical orthodoxies of his time. Political debate in England was shackled by sloganeering. Himself under the pressure of monetary necessity, Carlyle began to plan a series of lectures on heroes. From the beginning he was determined to counter the propensity to reduce all human interaction to a calculus of pleasure, and he was equally keen to eschew any labels that his audience may have been tempted to attach either to him or to his ideas. The syllabus for his six lectures, to be delivered at 17 Edward Street, Portman Square, between 5 and 27 May 1840, specified that he would explore heroes and hero-worship in relation to history. The title, ‘‘On Heroes, HeroWorship, and the Heroic in Human History’’ (Tarr, Bibliography 90), which he maintained with the exception of the word ‘‘Human’’ for the book version in 1841, was meant to emphasize the variability of his subject, ‘‘a thing Introd...
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