Thomas Carlyle genius

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)

Thomas Carlyle Signature

Thomas Carlyle  (1795-1881)
Thomas Carlyle Signature

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Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland
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London, England
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Philosophy, mathematics and literature
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What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books.

Thomas Carlyle was a British historian, satirical writer, essayist, translator, philosopher, mathematician, and teacher. In his book On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History 1841, he argued that the actions of the "Great Man" play a key role in history, claiming that "the history of the world is but the biography of great men". Other major works include The French Revolution: A History, 3 vols 1837 and The History of Friedrich II of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great, 6 vols 1858–65.

His 1837 history of The French Revolution was the inspiration for Charles Dickens' 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities, and remains popular today. Carlyle's 1836 Sartor Resartus is a notable philosophical novel.

A noted polemicist, Carlyle coined the term "the dismal science" for economics, in his essay "Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question", which advocated for the reintroduction of slavery to the West Indies. He also wrote articles for the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia.

Once a Christian, Carlyle lost his faith while attending the University of Edinburgh, later adopting a form of deism.

In mathematics, he is known for the Carlyle circle, a method used in quadratic equations and for developing ruler-and-compass constructions of regular polygons.

Early life and influences

Carlyle was born in 1795 in Ecclefechan in Dumfriesshire. His parents determinedly afforded him an education at Annan Academy, Annan, where he was bullied and tormented so much that he left after three years. His father was a member of the Burgher secession Presbyterian church. In early life, his family's and nation's strong Calvinist beliefs powerfully influenced the young man.

After attending the University of Edinburgh, Carlyle became a mathematics teacher, first in Annan and then in Kirkcaldy, where he became close friends with the mystic Edward Irving. Confusingly, there is another Scottish Thomas Carlyle, born a few years later, connected to Irving via work with the Catholic Apostolic Church.

In 1819–21, Carlyle returned to the University of Edinburgh, where he suffered an intense crisis of faith and conversion, which provided the material for Sartor Resartus "The Tailor Re-tailored", which first brought him to the public's notice.

Birthplace of Thomas Carlyle, Ecclefechan

Carlyle developed a painful stomach ailment, possibly gastric ulcers, that remained throughout his life and likely contributed to his reputation as a crotchety, argumentative, somewhat disagreeable personality. His prose style, famously cranky and occasionally savage, helped cement an air of irascibility.

Carlyle's thinking became heavily influenced by German idealism, in particular, the work of Johann Gottlieb Fichte. He established himself as an expert on German literature in a series of essays for Fraser's Magazine, and by translating German works, notably Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. He also wrote a Life of Schiller 1825.

In 1826, Thomas Carlyle married fellow intellectual Jane Baillie Welsh, whom he had met through Edward Irving during his period of German studies. In 1827, he applied for the Chair of Moral Philosophy at St Andrews University but was not appointed. They moved to the main house of Jane's modest agricultural estate at Craigenputtock, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. He often wrote about his life at Craigenputtock – in particular: "It is certain that for living and thinking in I have never since found in the world a place so favourable." Here Carlyle wrote some of his most distinguished essays and began a lifelong friendship with the American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Carlyle's home at 4 (now 33) Ampton Street, London, marked with a plaque by the London County Council

In 1831, the Carlyles moved to London, settling initially in lodgings at 4 now 33 Ampton Street, Kings Cross. In 1834, they moved to 5 now 24 Cheyne Row, Chelsea, which has since been preserved as a museum to Carlyle's memory. He became known as the "Sage of Chelsea", and a member of a literary circle which included the essayists Leigh Hunt and John Stuart Mill.

Here Carlyle wrote The French Revolution: A History 2 volumes, 1837, a historical study concentrating both on the oppression of the poor of France and on the horrors of the mob unleashed. The book was immediately successful.

Writing career

Early writings

By 1821, Carlyle abandoned the clergy as a career and focused on making a living as a writer. His first fiction, Cruthers and Jonson, was one of several abortive attempts at writing a novel. Following his work on a translation of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, he came to distrust the form of the realistic novel and so worked on developing a new form of fiction. In addition to his essays on German literature, he branched out into wider-ranging commentary on modern culture in his influential essays Signs of the Times and Characteristics. In the latter, he laid down his abiding preference for the natural over the artificial: "Thus, as we have an artificial Poetry, and prize only the natural; so likewise we have an artificial Morality, an artificial Wisdom, an artificial Society".

Moreover, at this time he penned articles appraising the life and works of various poets and men of letters, including Goethe, Voltaire and Diderot.

Sartor Resartus

His first major work, Sartor Resartus lit. 'The Tailor Re-tailored' was begun as a satirical article on "the philosophy of clothes" and surprised him by growing into a full-length book. He wrote it in 1831 at the house on his wife Jane's estate, Craigenputtock, and it was intended to be a new kind of book: simultaneously factual and fictional, serious and satirical, speculative and historical. Ironically, it commented on its own formal structure while forcing the reader to confront the problem of where "truth" is to be found. Sartor Resartus was first published in instalments in Fraser's Magazine from 1833 to 1834. The text presents itself as an unnamed editor's attempt to introduce the British public to Diogenes Teufelsdröckh, a German philosopher of clothes, who is, in fact, a fictional creation of Carlyle's. The Editor is struck with admiration, but for the most part is confounded by Teufelsdröckh's outlandish philosophy, of which the Editor translates choice selections. To try to make sense of Teufelsdröckh's philosophy, the Editor tries to piece together a biography, but with limited success. Underneath the German philosopher's seemingly ridiculous statements, there are mordant attacks on Utilitarianism and the commercialization of British society. The fragmentary biography of Teufelsdröckh that the Editor recovers from a chaotic mass of documents reveals the philosopher's spiritual journey. He develops a contempt for the corrupt condition of modern life. He contemplates the "Everlasting No" of refusal, comes to the "Centre of Indifference", and eventually embraces the "Everlasting Yea". This voyage from denial to disengagement to volition would later be described as part of the existentialist awakening.

Craigenputtock House, by George Moir, 1829

Given the genre-breaking nature of Sartor Resartus, it is not surprising that it at first achieved little attention. Its popularity developed over the next few years, and it was published as a single volume in Boston 1836, with a preface by Ralph Waldo Emerson, influencing the development of New England Transcendentalism. The first British book edition followed in 1838.

The Everlasting No and Yea

"The Everlasting No" is Carlyle's name for the spirit of unbelief in God, as embodied in the Mephistopheles of Goethe, which is forever denying the reality of the divine in the thoughts, the character, and the life of humanity, and has a malicious pleasure in scoffing at everything high and noble as hollow and void.

"The Everlasting Yea" is Carlyle's name in the book for the spirit of faith in God in an attitude of clear, resolute, steady, and uncompromising antagonism to the "Everlasting No", and the principle that there is no such thing as faith in God except in such antagonism to the spirit opposed to God.

Watercolour sketch of Thomas Carlyle, age 46, by Samuel Laurence

In Sartor Resartus, the narrator moves from the "Everlasting No" to the "Everlasting Yea," but only through "The Centre of Indifference," a position of agnosticism and detachment. Only after reducing desires and certainty, aiming at a Buddha-like "indifference", can the narrator realize affirmation. In some ways, this is similar to the contemporary philosopher Søren Kierkegaard's "leap of faith" in Concluding Unscientific Postscript.

Worship of Silence and Sorrow

Following Goethe's description of Christianity as the "Worship of Sorrow", and "our highest religion, for the Son of Man", Carlyle interprets this as "there is no noble crown, well worn or even ill worn, but is a crown of thorns".

"The "Worship of Silence" is Carlyle's name for the sacred respect for restraint in speech till "thought has silently matured itself, ... to hold one's tongue till some meaning lie behind to set it wagging," a doctrine which many misunderstand, almost wilfully, it would seem; silence being to him the very womb out of which all great things are born."

The French Revolution

In 1834, Carlyle and his wife left Craigenputtock for London and began to network in intellectual circles within the United Kingdom, establishing his own reputation with the publication of his three-volume work The French Revolution: A History in 1837. After the completed manuscript of the first volume was accidentally burned by a maid of the philosopher John Stuart Mill, Carlyle wrote the second and third volumes before rewriting the first from scratch.

The work had a passion surprising in historical writing of that period. In a politically charged Europe, filled with fears and hopes of revolution, Carlyle's account of the motivations and urges that inspired the events in France seemed powerfully relevant. Carlyle stressed the immediacy of action – often using the present tense – and incorporated different perspectives on the events he described.

Japanese print depicting Carlyle's horror at the burning of his manuscript of The French Revolution: A History

For Carlyle, chaotic events demanded what he called "heroes" to take control over the competing forces erupting within society. While not denying the importance of economic and practical explanations for events, he saw these forces as "spiritual" – the hopes and aspirations of people that took the form of ideas, and were often ossified into ideologies "formulas" or "isms", as he called them. In Carlyle's view, only dynamic individuals could master events and direct these spiritual energies effectively: as soon as ideological "formulas" replaced heroic human action, society became dehumanized. Like the opinions of many thinkers of the time, these ideas were influential on the development and rise of both socialism and fascism.

Charles Dickens used Carlyle's work as a secondary source for the events of the French Revolution in his novel A Tale of Two Cities.

Heroes and Hero Worship

Carlyle moved towards his later thinking during the 1840s, leading to a break with many old friends and allies, such as Mill and, to a lesser extent, Emerson. His belief in the importance of heroic leadership found form in the book On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History, in which he was seen to compare a wide range of different types of heroes, including Odin, Muhammad, Oliver Cromwell, Napoleon, William Shakespeare, Dante, Samuel Johnson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Robert Burns, John Knox, and Martin Luther. These lectures of Carlyle's are regarded as an early and powerful formulation of the Great Man theory of historical development.

Thomas Carlyle in 1854

For Carlyle, the hero was somewhat similar to Aristotle's "magnanimous" man – a person who flourished in the fullest sense. However, for Carlyle, unlike Aristotle, the world was filled with contradictions with which the hero had to deal. All heroes will be flawed. Their heroism lay in their creative energy in the face of these difficulties, not in their moral perfection. To sneer at such a person for their failings is the philosophy of those who seek comfort in the conventional. Carlyle called this "valetism", from the expression "no man is a hero to his valet."

Past and Present

In 1843, he published his anti-democratic Past and Present, with its doctrine of ordered work. In it, he influentially called attention to what he termed the "Condition of England" saying "England is full of for human want in every kind; yet England is dying of inanition". Past and Present combines medieval history with criticism of 19th-century British society. Carlyle wrote it in seven weeks as a respite from the harassing labor of writing Cromwell. He was inspired by the recently published Chronicles of the Abbey of Saint Edmund's Bury, which had been written by Jocelin of Brakelond at the close of the 12th century. This account of a medieval monastery had taken Carlyle's fancy, and he drew upon it in order to contrast the monks' reverence for work and heroism with the sham leadership of his own day.

Later work

All these books were influential in their day, especially on writers such as Charles Dickens and John Ruskin. However, after the Revolutions of 1848 and political agitations in the United Kingdom, Carlyle published a collection of essays entitled Latter-Day Pamphlets, in 1850, in which he attacked democracy as an absurd social ideal, mocking the idea that objective truth could be discovered by weighing up the votes for it, while equally condemning hereditary aristocratic leadership as a "deadening." The government should come from those ablest to lead, Carlyle asserted. Two of these essays, No. I: "The Present Times" and No. II: "Model Prisons" was reviewed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in April 1850. Marx and Engels state their approval of Carlyle's criticisms against hereditary aristocracy; however, they harshly criticize Carlyle's views as "a thinly disguised acceptance of existing class rule" and an unjust exoneration of statism. Anthony Trollope for his part considered that in the Pamphlets "the grain of sense is so smothered in a sack of the sheerest trash.... He has one idea – a hatred of spoken and acted falsehood; and on this, he harps through the whole eight pamphlets". A century later, Northrop Frye would similarly speak of the work as "tantrum prose" and "rhetorical ectoplasm."

In later writings, Carlyle sought to examine instances of heroic leadership in history. The Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell 1845 presented a positive image of Cromwell: someone who attempted to weld order from the conflicting forces of reform in his own day. Carlyle sought to make Cromwell's words live in their own terms by quoting him directly and then commenting on the significance of these words in the troubled context of the time. Again this was intended to make the past "present" to his readers: "he is epic, still living".

Helen Allingham's 1879 painting of Carlyle

His essay "Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question" 1849 suggested that slavery should never have been abolished, or else replaced with serfdom. It had kept order, he argued, and forced work from people who would otherwise have been lazy and feckless: "West Indian blacks are emancipated and, it appears, refuse to work". This, and Carlyle's support for the repressive measures of Governor Edward Eyre in Jamaica during the Morant Bay rebellion, further alienated him from his old liberal allies. As Governor of the Colony, Eyre, fearful of an island-wide uprising, forcibly suppressed the rebellion and had many black peasants killed. Hundreds were flogged. He also authorized the execution of George William Gordon, a mixed-race colonial assemblyman who was suspected of involvement in the rebellion. These events created great controversy in Britain, resulting in demands for Eyre to be arrested and tried for murdering Gordon. John Stuart Mill organised the Jamaica Committee, which demanded his prosecution and included some well-known British liberal intellectuals such as John Bright, Charles Darwin, Frederic Harrison, Thomas Hughes, Thomas Henry Huxley, and Herbert Spencer.

Carlyle set up rival Governor Eyre Defence and Aid Committee for the defence, arguing that Eyre had acted decisively to restore order. His supporters included John Ruskin, Charles Kingsley, Charles Dickens, Alfred Tennyson and John Tyndall. Eyre was twice charged with murder, but the cases never proceeded.

Caricature by Ape published in Vanity Fair in 1870

Similar hard-line views were expressed in Shooting Niagara, and After?, written after the passing of the Electoral Reform Act of 1867 in which he "reaffirmed his belief in wise leadership and wise followership, his disbelief in democracy and his hatred of all workmanship – from brickmaking to diplomacy – that was not genuine."

Frederick the Great

His last major work was History of Friedrich II of Prussia, an epic life of Frederick the Great 1858–1865. In this Carlyle tried to show how a heroic leader can forge a state, and help create a new moral culture for a nation. For Carlyle, Frederick epitomized the transition from the liberal Enlightenment ideals of the eighteenth century to a new modern culture of spiritual dynamism embodied by Germany, its thought and its polity. The book is most famous for its vivid, arguably very biased,

Carlyle struggled to write the book, calling it his "Thirteen Years War" with Frederick. Some of the nicknames he came up with for the work included "the Nightmare," "the Minotaur," and "the Unutterable book". In 1852, he made his first trip to Germany to gather material, visiting the scenes of Frederick's battles and noting their topography. He made another trip to Germany to study battlefields in 1858. The work comprised six volumes; the first two volumes appeared in 1858, the third in 1862, the fourth in 1864 and the last two in 1865. Emerson considered it "Infinitely the wittiest book that was ever written." James Russell Lowell pointed out some faults, but wrote: "The figures of most historians seem like dolls stuffed with bran, whose whole substance runs out through any hole that criticism may tear in them; but Carlyle's are so real in comparison, that, if you prick them, they bleed." The work was studied as a textbook in the military academies of Germany. David Daiches, however, later concluded that "since his 'idea' of Frederick is not really borne out by the evidence, his mythopoeic effort partially fails".

Carlyle (left) depicted with Frederick Maurice in Ford Madox Brown's painting Work (1865)

The effort involved in the writing of the book took its toll on Carlyle, who became increasingly depressed, and subject to various probably psychosomatic ailments. In 1853 he wrote a letter to his sister describing the construction of a small penthouse room over his home in Chelsea, intended as a soundproof writer's room. Unfortunately, the skylight made it "the noisiest room in the house". The mixed reception to the book also contributed to Carlyle's decreased literary output.

Last works

Later writings were generally short essays, notably the unsuccessful The Early Kings of Norway, a series on early-medieval Norwegian warlords. Also An Essay on the Portraits of John Knox appeared in 1875, attempting to prove that the best-known portrait of John Knox did not depict the Scottish prelate. This was linked to Carlyle's long interest in historical portraiture, which had earlier fuelled his project to found a gallery of national portraits, fulfilled by the creation of the National Portrait Gallery, London and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1878.

London Library

Carlyle was the chief instigator in the foundation of the London Library in 1841. He had become frustrated by the facilities available at the British Museum Library, where he was often unable to find a seat obliging him to perch on ladders, where he complained that the enforced close confinement with his fellow readers gave him a "museum headache", where the books were unavailable for loan, and where he found the library's collections of pamphlets and other material relating to the French Revolution and English Civil Wars inadequately catalogued. In particular, he developed an antipathy to the Keeper of Printed Books, Anthony Panizzi despite the fact that Panizzi had allowed him many privileges not granted to other readers, and criticised him, as the "respectable Sub-Librarian", in a footnote to an article published in the Westminster Review. Carlyle's eventual solution, with the support of a number of influential friends, was to call for the establishment of a private subscription library from which books could be borrowed.

Personal life

Carlyle had a number of would-be romances before he married Jane Welsh, important as a literary figure in her own right. The most notable were with Margaret Gordon, a pupil of his friend Edward Irving. Even after he met Jane, he became enamoured of Kitty Kirkpatrick, the daughter of a British officer and a Mughal princess. William Dalrymple, author of White Mughals, suggests that feelings were mutual, but social circumstances made the marriage impossible, as Carlyle was then poor. Both Margaret and Kitty have been suggested as the original of "Blumine", Teufelsdröckh's beloved, in Sartor Resartus.

Portrait of Carlyle in his garden at Chelsea

Thomas also had a friendship with the writer Geraldine Jewsbury starting in 1840. During that year Jewsbury was going through a depressive state and also experiencing religious doubt. She wrote to Carlyle for guidance and also thanked him for his well-written essays. Eventually, Carlyle invited Jewsbury out to Cheyne Row, where Carlyle and Jane resided. Jewsbury and Jane from then on had a close friendship and Carlyle also helped Jewsbury get on to the English literary scene.


Carlyle married Jane Welsh in 1826. He met Welsh through his friend and her tutor Edward Irving, with whom she came to have a mutual romantic although not intimate attraction. Welsh was the subject of Leigh Hunt's poem, "Jenny kiss'd Me".

Their marriage proved to be one of the most famous, well documented, and unhappy of literary unions.

It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs Carlyle marry one another, and so make only two people miserable and not four.

Carlyle became increasingly alienated from his wife. Carlyle's biographer James Anthony Froude published posthumously his opinion that the marriage remained unconsummated due to impotence. Frank Harris also suspected Carlyle of impotence.

Although she had been an invalid for some time, his wife's sudden death in 1866 was unexpected and it greatly distressed Carlyle who was moved to write his highly self-critical "Reminiscences of Jane Welsh Carlyle", published posthumously.

Later life

Carlyle was named Lord Rector of Edinburgh University. Three weeks after his inaugural address there, Jane died, and he partly retired from active society. His last years were spent at 24 Cheyne Row then numbered 5, Chelsea, London SW3 which is now a National Trust property commemorating his life and works but he hankered after a return to Craigenputtock.


Upon Carlyle's death on 5 February 1881, it is a measure of his standing that interment in Westminster Abbey was offered; this was rejected by his executors due to Carlyle's expressed wish to be buried beside his parents in Ecclefechan. His final words were, "So, this is death. Well!"


Carlyle would have preferred that no biography of him was written, but when he heard that his wishes would not be respected and several people were waiting for him to die before they published, he relented and supplied his friend James Anthony Froude with many of his and his wife's papers. Carlyle's essay about his wife was included in Reminiscences, published shortly after his death by Froude, who also published the Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle annotated by Carlyle himself. Froude's Life of Carlyle was published over 1882–84. The frankness of this book was unheard of by the usually respectful standards of 19th-century biographies of the period. Froude's work was attacked by Carlyle's family, especially his nephew, Alexander Carlyle and his niece, Margaret Aitken Carlyle. However, the biography in question was consistent with Carlyle's own conviction that the flaws of heroes should be openly discussed, without diminishing their achievements. Froude, who had been designated by Carlyle himself as his biographer-to-be, was acutely aware of this belief. Froude's defence of his decision, My Relations With Carlyle, was published posthumously in 1903, including a reprint of Carlyle's 1873 will, in which Carlyle equivocated: "Express biography of me I had really rather that there should be none." Nevertheless, Carlyle in the will simultaneously and completely deferred to Froude's judgment on the matter, whose "decision is to be taken as mine."



Described as one of the "most adamant protagonists" of Anglo-Saxonism, Carlyle considered the Anglo-Saxon race as superior to all others. In his lifetime, his shared Anglo-Saxonism with Ralph Waldo Emerson was described as a defining trait of their friendship. Sometimes critical of the United States, describing it as a "formless" Saxon tribal order, he suggested that the Normans had provided Anglo-Saxons with a superior sense of order for national structure in England.


Carlyle held staunchly anti-Jewish views. Invited by Baron Rothschild in 1848 to support a Bill in Parliament to allow voting rights for Jews in the United Kingdom, Carlyle declined to offer his support to what he named the "Jew Bill". In a correspondence with Richard Monckton Milnes he insisted that Jews were hypocritical to want admission into the British Parliament, suggesting that a "real Jew" could only be a representative or citizen of "his own wretched Palestine", and in this context, declared that all Jews should be expelled to Palestine. He was publicly criticized by Charles Dickens for his "well-known aversion to the Jews". Playing into deeply anti-semitic stereotypes, Carlyle identified Jews with materialism and archaic forms of religion, attacking both the East London communities of Jewish orthodoxy and "West End" Jewish wealth, which he perceived as material corruption.


Thomas Carlyle is notable both for his continuation of older traditions of the Tory satirists of the 18th century in England and for forging a new tradition of Victorian era criticism of progress known as sage writing. Sartor Resartus can be seen both as an extension of the chaotic, sceptical satires of Jonathan Swift and Laurence Sterne and as an enunciation of a new point of view on values.

Carlyle is also important for helping to introduce German Romantic literature to Britain. Although Samuel Taylor Coleridge had also been a proponent of Schiller, Carlyle's efforts on behalf of Schiller and Goethe would bear fruit.

The reputation of Carlyle's early work remained high during the 19th century but declined in the 20th century. George Orwell called him "a master of belittlement. Even at his emptiest sneer as when he said that Whitman thought he was a big man because he lived in a big country the victim does seem to shrink a little. That is the power of the orator, the man of phrases and adjectives, turned to a base use." However, Whitman himself described Carlyle as lighting "up our Nineteenth Century with the light of a powerful, penetrating and perfectly honest intellect of the first-class" and "Never had political progressivism a foe it could more heartily respect".

Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle. James McNeill Whistler, 1872–73. Oil on canvas, 171 × 143.5 cm.

Carlyle's attacks on the ills of industrialisation and on classical economics were an important inspiration for U.S. progressives. In particular, Carlyle criticised JS Mill's economic ideas for supporting Black Emancipation by arguing that Blacks' socio-economic status depended on economic opportunities rather than heredity. Carlyle's racist justification for economic statism evolved into the elitist and eugenicist "intelligent social engineering" promoted early on by the progressive American Economic Association.

His reputation in Germany was always high, because of his promotion of German thought and his biography of Frederick the Great. Friedrich Nietzsche, whose ideas are comparable to Carlyle's in some respects, was dismissive of his moralism, calling him an "absurd muddlehead" in Beyond Good and Evil and regarded him as a thinker who failed to free himself from the very petty-mindedness he professed to condemn. Carlyle's distaste for democracy and his belief in charismatic leadership was appealing to Joseph Goebbels, who frequently referenced Carlyle's work in his journal, and read his biography of Frederick the Great to Hitler during his last days in 1945. Many critics in the 20th century identified Carlyle as an influence on fascism and Nazism. Ernst Cassirer argued in The Myth of the State that Carlyle's hero-worship contributed to 20th-century ideas of political leadership that became part of fascist political ideology. Further evidence for this argument can be found in letters sent by Carlyle to Paul de Lagarde, one of the early proponents of the Fuehrer principle.

Sartor Resartus has recently been recognized once more as a remarkable and significant work, arguably anticipating many major philosophical and cultural developments, from Existentialism to Postmodernism. It has been argued that his critique of ideological formulas in The French Revolution provides a good account of the ways in which revolutionary cultures turn into repressive dogmatism.

Carlyle painted by John Everett Millais

Essentially a Romantic, Carlyle attempted to reconcile Romantic affirmations of feeling and freedom with respect for historical and political fact. Many believe that he was always more attracted to the idea of heroic struggle itself than to any specific goal for which the struggle was being made. However, Carlyle's belief in the continued use to humanity of the Hero, or Great Man, is stated succinctly at the end of his essay on Muhammad in On Heroes, Hero-Worship & the Heroic in History, in which he concludes that: "the Great Man was always as lightning out of Heaven; the rest of men waited for him like fuel, and then they too would flame."

A bust of Carlyle is in the Hall of Heroes of the National Wallace Monument in Stirling.

The name of ONE, Inc. was derived from an aphorism by Carlyle: "A mystic bond of brotherhood makes all men one".


  • 1829 Signs of the Times. The Victorian Web
  • 1833–34 Sartor Resartus. Project Gutenberg
  • 1837 The French Revolution: A History. Project Gutenberg
  • 1840 Chartism. Google Books
  • 1841 On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History. Project Gutenberg
  • 1843 Past and Present. Project Gutenberg
  • 1845 Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, with Elucidations, ed. Thomas Carlyle, 3 vol. often reprinted. Online version. Another online version.
  • 1849 "Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question", Fraser's Magazine anonymous, Online text
  • 1850 Latter-Day Pamphlets. Project Gutenberg
  • 1851 The Life of John Sterling. Project Gutenberg
  • 1858 History of Friedrich II of Prussia. Index to Project Gutenberg texts
  • 1867 Shooting Niagara: and After. Online Text
  • 1875 The Early Kings of Norway. Project Gutenberg
  • 1882 Reminiscences of my Irish Journey in 1849. Online text
  • 1892 Lectures on the History of Literature

There are several published "Collected Works" of Carlyle:

Unauthorized lifetime editions:

  • "Thomas' Carlyle's Ausgewählte Schriften", 1855–56, Leipzig. Translations by A. Kretzschmar. Abandoned after 6 vols.

Authorised lifetime editions:

  • Uniform edition, Chapman and Hall, 16 vols, 1857–58.
  • Library edition, Chapman and Hall, 34 vols 30 vols 1869–71, 3 additional vols added 1871 and one more 1875. The most lavish lifetime edition, it sold for 6 to 9 shillings per volume or £15 the set
  • People's edition, Chapman and Hall, 39 vols 37 vols 1871–74, with 2 extra volumes added in 1874 and 1878. Carlyle insisted the price be kept to 2 shillings per volume.
  • Cabinet edition, Chapman and Hall, 37 vols in 18, 1874 printed from the plates of the People's Edition

Posthumous editions:

  • Centennial edition, Chapman and Hall, 30 vol, 1896–99 with reprints to at least 1907. Introductions by Henry Duff Traill. The text is based on the People's edition, and it is used by many scholars as the standard edition of Carlyle's works.
  • Norman and Charlotte Strouse edition originally the California Carlyle edition, University of California Press, 1993–2006. Only 4 volumes were issued: On Heroes 1993, Sartor Resartus 2000, Historical Essays 2003 and Past and Present 2006. Despite being incomplete, it is the only critical edition of some of Carlyle's works.


Carlyle had quite a few unusual definitions at hand, which were collected by the Nuttall Encyclopedia. Some include:

More facts

Gender: Male
Best Known For: Sartor Resartus
The French Revolution: A History
On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History
Fulfilled his Potential: Yes
Number of spouses: 1
First Marriage To: Jane Baillie Welsh
Citizen Of: United Kingdom
Autodidact: Annan Academy, Annan
University of Edinburgh
Museums: Thomas Carlyle's House
Thomas Carlyle
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