One of the foremost writers and intellectuals of his era, Carlyle
wrote influential works on The French Revolution, Cromwell and
Frederick the Great, emphasising the cult of a great man as national
was born in Ecclefechan, Dumfries and Galloway, as the son of
a stonemason and small farmer. He was brought up in a strict Calvinist
household. At the age of 15 he went to University of Edinburgh,
receiving his B.A. in 1813. From 1813 to 1818 he studied for the
ministry of the Church of Scotland, but abandoned this course
and studied law for a while.
taught at Annan Academy (1814-16), at Kircaldy Grammar School
(1816-18), and privately in Edinburg (1818-22). During this time
he worked at his Life of Schiller, which was first published by
the London Magazine in 1823-24. He wrote contributions for Brewter's
Edinburgh Encyclopedia, also contributing to such journals as
Edinburgh Review and Fraser's Magazine. From 1824 he was a full-time
writer and undertook thorough study of German literature, especially
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Carlyle's essays on German philosophy
introduced many new ideas to the British public. He also produced
a translation of a work by Goethe, which was highly acclaimed.
1826 Carlyle married Jane Baillie Welsh, whose wit made her an
exellent letterwriter - her circle of correspondents included
many eminent Victorians. Oppressed by financial difficulties the
Carlyles returned to Jane's farm at Craigenputtock and concentrated
on writing. While staying in London in 1831, Carlyle became acquainted
with J.S. Mill, who later introduced him to Emerson, the American
philosopher and essayist. In 1834 he moved with his wife to London.
Carlyle's breakthrough work, Sartor Resartus, was published in
1833-34. Part autobiography, part philosophy, it was written using
an energetic, complex language that came to be called 'Carlylese'.
Another major work, a three volume history of the French Revolution,
appared in 1837, and a biography of Fredrick the Great in 1858-65.
From 1837 to 1840 Carlyle undertook several series of lectures,
of which the most significant was On Heroes, Hero-Worship and
the Heroic in History (1841).
his wife's death in 1866, from which he never completely recovered,
Carlyle retired from public life, and wrote little. He gave her
papers and letters in 1871 to his friend J.A. Froude, who published
them after Carlyles death. Froude also published Carlyle's Reminiscenes
(1881) and a four-volume biography (1882-84). Carlyle was appointed
Rector of the University of Edinburgh in 1866, and in 1874 he
received Prussian Order of Merit. However, Carlyle declined baronecy
from Disraeli. Carlyle died on February 5, 1881 in London. His
grave is in Ecclefechan.
was Carlyle the storehouse of 'heroes', and in this intuitive
spirit he wrote such works as The French Revolution (1837), On
Heroes and Hero Worship, Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches
(1845), Frederick II of Prussia (1858-65). He opposed analytic
reasoning and quasi-scientific treatment of social questions by
the rationalist political economists, and advocated the more emotional
and intuitive approach of the 18th and 19th century German thinkers
like Richter and Goethe. Carlyle's Sartor Resartus was a disguised
spiritual autobiography, in which he faces the tendencies to intellectual
scepticism and dedicates himself to a life of spiritual affirmation.
The first half of the book is about the ideas of a self-made philosopher
who believes everything can be explained in terms of clothes.
The French Revolution was written in dramatic language bringing
the history of the revolution alive in a way that few historians
have ever done. However, the manuscript was first accidentally
burned by a domestic servant and Carlyle rewrote the book, which
was published when he was 42.
an essayist Carlyle's career began with two pieces in the Edinburgh
Review in 1827. He expressed sympathy for the condition of the
working class in the long essay Chartism (1839). In 'The Negro
Question' (1850) he addressed the subject of West Indian slavery
in intemperate and for the modern day reader doubtly repugnant
terms. Carlyle's cynicism with English society was evident in
the Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850). As in his historical studies,
Carlyle insisted the importance of the individual, and raised
serious questions about democracy, mass persuasion, and politics.
This also isolated him from the liberal and democratic tendencies
of his age. In the 20th-century his reputation waned, partly
because his trust in authority and admiration of strong leaders,
which were interpreted as foreshadowing of Fascism.