Sartor Resartus: Thomas Carlyle


IN so capricious a work as this of the professor's, our course cannot be straightforward, but only leap by leap, noting significant indications here and there.

Thus, 'perhaps the most remarkable incident in modern history,' he says, 'is George Fox's making to himself a suit of leather, when, desiring meditation and devout prayer to God, he took to the woods, chose the hollow of a tree for his lodging and wild berries for his food, and for clothes stitched himself one perennial suit of leather. Then was there in broad Europe one free man, and Fox was he!'

Under the title Church-Clothes, by which Teufelsdrockh signifies the forms, the vestures, under which men have at various periods embodied and represented for themselves the religious principle, he says, 'These are unspeakably the most important of all the vestures and garnitures of human existence. Church-clothes are first spun and woven by society; outward religion originates by society; society becomes possible by religion.

Of 'symbols,' as means of concealment and yet of revelation, thus uniting in themselves the efficacies at once of speech and of silence, our professor writes: 'In the symbol proper there is ever, more or less distinctly and directly, some embodiment and revelation of the Infinite; the Infinite is made to blend itself with the finite; to stand visible and, as it were, attainable there. Of this sort are all true works of art; in them, if thou know a work of art from a daub of artifice, wilt thou discern eternity looking through time; the God-like rendered visible. But nobler than all in this kind are the lives of heroic God-inspired men, for what other work of art is so divine?'

As for Helotage, or that lot of the poor wherein no ray of heavenly nor even of earthly knowledge visits him, Teufelsdrockh says, 'That there should one man die ignorant who had capacity for knowledge, this I call a tragedy, were it to happen more than twenty times in the minute."

Of mankind in general the professor says: 'In vain thou deniest it, thou art my brother. Wondrous truly are the bonds that unite us one and all; whether by the soft binding of love, or the iron chaining of necessity, as we would like to choose it. Yes truly, if nature is one and a living indivisible whole, much more is mankind, the image that reflects and creates nature, without which nature were not. As palpable life streams in that wondrous individual mankind, among so many life-streams that are not palpable flow on those main currents of what we call opinion, as preserved in institutions, polities, churches, above all in books. Beautiful it is to understand and know that a thought did never yet die; that as thou, the originator thereof, hast gathered it and created it from the whole past, so thou wilt transmit it to the whole future. It is thus that the heroic past, the seeing eye of the first times, still feels and sees in us of the latest; that the wise man stands ever encompassed and spiritually embraced by a cloud of witnesses and brothers; and there is a living, literal communion of saints, wide as the world itself and as the history of the world.'

In another place, our professor meditates upon the awful procession of mankind. 'Like a God-created, fire-breathing spirit-host, we emerge from the inane; haste stormfully across the astonished earth; then plunge again into the inane. But whence?--O Heaven, whither? Sense knows not; Faith knows not: only that it is through mystery to mystery; from God to God.

'We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep!'

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