The Philosophy of Thomas Carlyle

WHILE, during 1833-4, Sartor Resartus was appearing in Fraser's Magazine, the publisher declared that it was meeting with unqualified disapproval. Later generations have more justly gauged its worth, and it is now the most popular of Carlyle's works. It is largely autobiographical, and was begun just after the author's marriage to Jane Baillie Welsh, while the two great spirits were fighting poverty at Craigenputtock. There is much here that proves why Carlyle became one of the most influential writers of his century.


CONSIDERING our present advanced state of culture, and how the torch of science has now been brandished and borne about, with more or less effect, for five thousand years and upwards, it is surprising that hitherto little or nothing of a fundamental character, whether in the way of philosophy or history, has been written on the subject of clothes. Every other tissue has been dissected, but the vestural tissue of woollen or other cloth, which man's soul wears as its outmost wrappage, has been overlooked. All speculation has tacitly figured man as a clothed animal, whereas he is by nature a naked animal and only in certain circumstances, by purpose and device, masks himself in clothes.

But here, as in so many other cases, learned, indefatigable, deep-thinking Germany comes to our aid. The editor of these sheets has lately received a new book from Professor Teufelsdrockh, of Weissnichtwo, treating expressly of Clothes, their Origin and Influence (1831). This extensive volume, a very sea of thought, discloses to us not only a new branch of philosophy, but also the strange personal character of Professor Teufelsdrockh.

When we knew him at Weissnichtwo, Professor Teufelsdrockh lived a still and self-contained life, devoted to the higher philosophies and to a certain speculative radicalism. The last words that he spoke in our hearing were to propose a toast in the coffee-house--' The cause of the poor, in heaven's name and the devil's.' But we looked for nothing moral from him, still less anything didactico-religious.

Brave Teufelsdrockh, who could tell what lurked in thee? In thine eyes, deep under thy shaggy brows, and looking out so still and dreamy, have we not noticed gleams of an ethereal or else a diabolic fire? Our friend's title was that of Professor of Things in General, but he never delivered any course. We used to sit with him in his attic, overlooking the town; he would contemplate that wasp-nest or bee-hive spread out below him, and utter the strangest thoughts. 'That living flood, pouring through these streets, is coming from eternity, going onward to eternity. These are apparitions. What else?' Thus he lived and meditated, with Heuschrecke for his Boswell.

'As Montesquieu wrote a Spirit of Laws,' observes our professor, 'so could I write a Spirit of Clothes, for neither in tailoring nor in legislating does man proceed by mere accident, but the hand is ever guided by the mysterious operations of the mind.' And so he deals with Paradise and fig-leaves, and proceeds to view the costumes of all mankind, in all countries, in all times.

The first purpose of clothes, he imagines, was not warmth or decency, but ornament.

'Yet what have they not become? Increased security and pleasurable heat soon followed; divine shame or modesty, as yet a stranger to the anthropophagous bosom, arose there mysteriously under clothes, a mystic shrine for the holy in man. Clothes gave us individuality, distinctions, social polity; clothes have made men of us; they are threatening to make clothes-screens of us.'

Teufelsdrockh dwells chiefly on the seams, tatters and unsightly wrong-side of clothes, but he has also a superlative transcendentalism. To him, man is a soul, a spirit and divine apparition, whose flesh and senses are but a garment. He deals much in the feeling of wonder, insisting that wonder is the only reasonable temper for the denizen of our planet. 'Wonder,' he says, 'is the basis of worship,' and that progress of science, which is to destroy wonder and substitute mensuration and numeration, finds small favour with him. 'Clothes, despicable as we think them, are unspeakably significant.'


SO far as we can gather from the disordered papers which have been placed in our hands, the genesis of Diogenes Teufelsdrockh is obscure. We see nothing but an exodus out of invisibility into visibility. In the village of Entepfuhl we find a childless couple, verging on old age. Andreas Futteral, who has been a grenadier sergeant under Frederick the Great, is now cultivating a little orchard.

To him and Gretchen his wife there entered one evening a stranger of reverend aspect, who deposited a silk-covered basket, saying, "Good people, here is an invaluable loan; take all heed thereof; with high recompense, or else with heavy penalty, will it one day be required back."

Therein they found, as soon as he had departed, a little infant in the softest sleep. Our philosopher tells us that this story, told him in his twelfth year, produced a quite indelible impression. Who was his unknown father, whom he was never able to meet?

We receive glimpses of his childhood, schooldays and university life, and then meet with him in that difficulty, common to young men, of 'getting under way.'

'Not what I have,' he says, 'but what I do, is my kingdom; and we should grope throughout our lives from one expectation and disappointment to another were we not saved by one thing--our hunger.'

HE had thrown up his legal profession, and found himself without landmark of outward guidance; whereby his previous want of decided belief, or inward guidance, is frightfully aggravated. So he sets out over an unknown sea; but a certain Calypso Island at the very outset falsifies his whole reckoning.

'Nowhere,' he says, 'does Heaven so immediately reveal itself to the young man as in the young maiden.' The feeling of our young forlorn towards the queens of this earth was, and indeed is, altogether unspeakable. A visible divinity dwelt in them; to our young friend all women were holy, were heavenly. And if, on a soul so circumstanced, some actual air-maiden should cast kind eyes, saying thereby, "Thou, too, mayest love and be loved,"--good Heaven, what an all-consuming fire were probably kindled!

Such a fire of romance did actually burst forth in Herr Diogenes. We know not who 'Blumine' was, nor how they met. She was young, hazel-eyed, beautiful, high-born and of high spirit, but unhappily dependent and insolvent, living perhaps on the bounty of moneyed relatives.

To our friend the hours seemed moments; holy was he and happy; the words from those sweetest lips came over him like dew on thirsty grass. At parting, the Blumine's hand was in his; in the balmy twilight, with the kind stars above them, he spoke something of meeting again, which was not contradicted; he pressed gently those soft, small fingers, and it seemed as if they were not hastily, not angrily withdrawn.

Poor Teufelsdrockh, it is clear to demonstration thou art smit! Flame-clad, thou art scaling the upper Heaven, and verging towards insanity, for prize of a high-souled brunette, as if the earth held but one and not several of these!

One morning, he found his morning-star all dimmed and dusky-red; doomsday had dawned; they were to meet no more ! Their lips were joined for the first time and the last, and Teufelsdrockh was made immortal by a kiss. And then--thick curtains of night rushed over his soul, and he fell, through the ruins as of a shivered universe, towards the abyss.

He quietly lifts his pilgrim-staff, and begins a perambulation and circumambulation of the terraqueous globe. We find him in Paris, in Vienna, in Tartary, in the Sahara, flying with hunger always parallel to him and a whole infernal chase in his rear. He traverses mountains and valleys with aimless speed, writing with footprints his sorrows, that his spirit may free herself, and he become a man. Vain truly is the hope of your swiftest runner to escape from his own shadow! We behold him, through these dim years, in a state of crisis, of transition; his aimless pilgrimings are but a mad fermentation, wherefrom, the fiercer it is, the clearer product will one day evolve itself.

MAN has no other possession but hope; this world of his is emphatically the 'Place of Hope'; yet our professor, for the present, is quite shut out from hope. As he wanders wearisomely through this world he has now lost all tidings of another and higher.

'Doubt,' says he, 'had darkened into unbelief.' It is all a grim desert, this once fair world of his; and no pillar of cloud by day, and no pillar of fire by night, any longer guides the pilgrim.

'Invisible yet impenetrable walls, as of enchantment, divided me from all living; was there, in the wide world, any true bosom I could press trustfully to mine? O Heaven, no, there was none! To me the universe was all void of life, of purpose, of volition, even of hostility; it was one huge, dead, immeasurable steam-engine, rolling on, in its dead indifference, to grind me limb from limb. O, the vast, gloomy, solitary Golgotha, and mill of death!

'Full of such humour, and perhaps the miserablest man in the whole French capital or suburbs, was I, one sultry dog-day, after much perambulation, toiling along the dirty little Rue Saint Thomas de l'Enfer, among civic rubbish enough, in a close atmosphere and over pavements hot as Nebuchadnezar's furnace; whereby doubtless my spirits were a little cheered; when all at once, there rose a thought in me, and I asked myself, "What art thou afraid of? Wherefore, like a coward, dost thou forever pip and whimper, and go cowering and trembling? Despicable biped! what is the sum-total of the worst that lies before thee? Death? Well, death; and say the pangs of Tophet, too, and all that the devil and man may, will, or can do against thee! Hast thou not a heart; canst thou not suffer whatever it be; and, as a child of freedom, though outcast, trample Tophet itself under thy feet, while it consumes thee? Let it come, then; I will meet it and defy it!" And, as I so thought, there rushed like a stream of fire over my whole soul; and I shook base fear away from me for ever. Ever from that time, the temper of my misery was changed; not fear or whining sorrow was it, but indignation and grim fire-eyed defiance.

'Thus had the Everlasting No pealed authoritatively through all the recesses of my being, of my Me; and then was it that my whole Me stood up, in native God-created majesty, and recorded its protest. The Everlasting No had said, "Behold, thou are fatherless, outcast, and the universe is mine, the devil's;" to which my whole Me now made answer, "I am not thine, but free, and for ever hate thee!"

'It is from this hour that I incline to date my spiritual new-birth, or Baphometic Fire-baptism; perhaps I directly thereupon began to be a man.'

OUR wanderer's unrest was for a time but increased. 'Indignation and defiance are not the most peaceable inmates;' yet it was no longer a quite hopeless unrest. He looked away from his own sorrows, over the many-coloured world, and few periods of his life were richer in spiritual culture than this. He had reached the Centre of Indifference wherein he had accepted his own nothingness.

'I renounced utterly; I would hope no more and fear no more. To die or to live was to me alike insignificant. Here, then, as I lay in that Centre of Indifference, cast by benignant upper influence into a healing sleep, the heavy dreams rolled gradually away, and I awoke to a new heaven and a new earth. I saw that man can do without happiness and instead thereof find blessedness. Love not pleasure; love God. This is the Everlasting Yea wherein all contradiction is solved; wherein whoso walks and works, it is well with him. In this poor, miserable, hampered, despicable Actual, wherein thou even now standest, here or nowhere is thy Ideal; work it out therefrom; and working, believe, live, be free! Produce! produce! Work while it is called to-day.'

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