Page images

THOMAS CARLYLE. Thomas CARLYLE, essayist, biographer and historian, was born in 1795, at Ecclefechan, å small village in Dumfriesshire. After receiving rudimentary instruction at Annan, he entered the University of Edinburgh at the age of 14, where he remained till he was 21-passing through the regular curriculum, with special attention to mathematics, and later in the course to ethical and theological studies-spending his long vacations among the hills and along the rivers of his native district. For two years he devoted himself to teaching mathematics in Fifeshire, and in 1823 commenced his professional work in literature, by preparing articles for Brewster's Edinburgh Encyclopedia, and the New Edinburgh Review. In the same year he translated Legendre's Geometry, to which he prefixed an Essay on Proportion. In the year following, 1824, he published his translation of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, and began a Life of Schiller in the London Magazine. In 1827 he married Miss Welch, and located himself at Craigenputtock, engaged in literary work, the outcoming of which, in part, was articles on Göethe and other Gerinan writers in the Foreign Quarterly Review, Signs of the Times, in Edinburgh Review, and Sarter Resartus in Fraser's Magazine. In 1834 he removed to Cheyne Row, Chelsea (London), where he still (1872) resides. In 1837 appeared The French Revolution ; in 1839, his Chastism ; in 1840, his Hero Worship; in 1843, Past and Present ; in 1845, Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, with Elucidation ; in 1848, the Latter Day Pumphlets ; in 1851, Life of John Sterling ; in 1860-4, the Life of Frederick the Great. In 1865 he was elected Rector of Edinburgh University, and delivered his Inaugural Address April 2, 1866, from which we take the following characteristic suggestions :

DILIGENCE AND HONESTY IN STUDY. There is an advice I must give you—the summary of all advices, and doubtless you have heard it a thousand times; but you must hear it once more, for it is most intensely true, whether you believe it or not. That above all things the interest of your whole life depends on your being diligent and honest, now while it is called to-day, in this place, where you have come to get your education! Diligencel that includes in it all virtues that a student can have: I include in it all those qualities of conduct and attention that lead to the acquirement of real instruction in such a place. This is the seed-time of life-and as you sow, so will you reap; this the fluid condition of your mind, and as it hardens into habits, so will it retain the consistency of rock and of iron to the end. By diligence I mean honesty, not only as to time, but as to your knowledge. Count a thing as known only when it is clearly yours, and is transparent to you, so that you can survey it on all sides with intelligence. Don't flourish about with what you only know the outside, and don't cram with undigested fragments for examinations. Be modest, be humble, or assiduous, and as early as you can find out what kind of work you individually can do in this universe, and qualify yourself for doing it.


The old work of Universities has somewhat changed by the invention of printing, and there are some who think the true University of our days is a Collection of Books.' Men have not now to go in person to where a Professor is actually speaking; because in most cases you can get his doctrine out of him through a book; and can then read it, and read it again and again, and study it. That is an immense change, that one fact of Printed Books. And I am not sure that I know of any University in which the whole of that fact has yet been completely taken in, and the studies molded in complete conforinity with it. What the Universities can mainly do for you, -what I have found the University did for me, is, That it taught me to read, in various languages, in various sciences; so that I could go into the books which treated of these things, and gradually penetrate into any department I wanted to make myself master of, as I found it suit me.


Learn to be discriminative in your reading; to read faithfully, and with your best attention, all kinds of things which you have a real interest in, a real not an imaginary, and which you find to be really tit for what you are engaged in. Of course, at the present time, in a great deal of the reading incumbent on you, you must be guided by the books recommended by your Professors for assistance towards the effect of their prelections. And then, when you leave the University, and go into studies of your own, you will find it very important that you have chosen a field, some province specially suited to you, in which you can study and work. The most unhappy of all men is the man who can not tell what he is going to do, who has got no work cut out for him in the world, and does not go into it. For work is the grand cure of all the maladies and miseries that ever beset mankind,-honest work, which you intend doing.


As applicable to all of you, I will say that it is highly expedient to go into history; to inquire into what has passed before you on this Earth, and in the Family of Man

The history of the Romans and Greeks will first of all concern you; and you will find that the classical knowledge you have got will be extremely applicable to elucidate that. There you have two of the most remarkable races of men in the world set before you, calculated to open innumerable reflections and considerations; a mighty advantage, if you can achieve it;-—to say nothing of what their two languages will yield you, which your Professors can better explain; model languages, which are universally admitted to be the most perfect forms of speech we have yet found to exist among men. And you will find, if you read well, a pair of extremely remarkable nations, shining in the records left by themselves, as a kind of beacon, or solitary mass of illumination, to light up some noble forms of human life for us, in the otherwise utter dark ness of the past ages; and it will be well worth your while if you can get into the understanding of what these people were, and what they did.

I believe, also, you will find one important thing not much noted, That there was a very great deal of deep religion in both nations. This is pointed out by the wiser kind of historians, and particularly by Ferguson, who is particularly well worth reading on Roman history,--and who, I believe, was an alumnus of our own University. His book is a very creditable work. He points out the profoundly religious nature of the Roman people, notwithstanding their ruggedly positive, defiant, and fierce ways. They believed that Jupiter Optimus Maximus was lord of the universe, and that he had appointed the Romans to become the chief of nations, provided they followed his commands, – to brave all danger, all difficulty, and stand up with an invincible front, and be ready to do and die; and also to have the same sacred regard to truth of promise, to thorough veracity, thorough integrity, and all the virtues that accompany that noblest quality of man, valor,- to which latter the Romans gave the name of .virtue' proper (virtus, manhood), as the crown and summary of all that is ennobling for a man. In the literary ages of Rome, this religious feel. ing had very much decayed away; but it still retains its place among the lower classes of the Roman people. Of the deeply religious nature of the Greeks, along with their beautiful and sunny effulgences of art, you have striking proof, if you look for it. In the tragedies of Sophocles, there is a most deeptoned recognition of the eternal justice of Heaven, and the unfailing punishment of crime against the laws of God. I believe you will find in all histories of nations, that this has been at the origin and foundation of them all; and that no nation which did not contemplate this wonderful universe with an awestricken and reverential belief that there was a great unknown, omnipotent, and all-wise and all-just Being, superintending all men in it, --no nation ever came to very much, nor did any man either, who forgot that. If a man did forget that, he forgot the most important part of his mission in this world.

Our own history of England, which you will naturally take a great deal of pains to make yourself acquainted with, you will find beyond all others worthy of your study. For indeed I believe that the British nation,-including in that the Scottish nation,-produced a finer set of men than any you will find it possible to get any where else in the world. (Applause.) I don't know, in any history of Greece or Rome, where you will get so fine a man as Oliver Cromwell, for example. (Applause.) And we, too, have had men worthy of memory, in our little corner of the Island here, as well as others; and our history has had its heroic features all along; and did become great at last in being connected with world-history :—for if you examine well, you will find that John Knox was the author, as it were, of Oliver Cromwell; that the Puritan revolution never would have taken place in England at all, had it not been for that Scotchman. (Applause.) This is an authentic fact, and is not prompted by national vanity on my part, but will stand examining. (Laughter and applause.) ...



I not only found the solution of every thing I expected there (Collins's Peerage), but I began gradually to perceive this immense fact, which I really advise every one of you who read history to look out for, if you have not already found it. It was that the Kings of England, all the way from the Norman Conquest down to the times of Charles I., had actually, in a good degree, so far as they knew, been in the habit of appointing as Peers those who deserved to be appointed. In general, I perceived, those Peers of theirs were all royal men of a sort, with minds full of justice, valor and humanity, and all kinds of qualities that men ought to have who rule over others. And then their genealogy, the kind of sons and descendants they had, this also was remarkable :—for there is a great deal more in genealogy than is generally beHeved at present. I never heard tell of any clever man that came of entirely stupid people. (Laughter.) If you look around, among the families of your acquaintance, you will see such cases in all directions ;-I know that my own ex. perience is steadily that way; I can trace the father, and the son, and the grandson, and the family stamp is quite distinctly legible upon each of them. So that it goes for a great deal, the hereditary principle.-in Government as in other things; and it must be recognized so soon as there is any fixity in things. You will remark, too, in your Collins, that, if at any time the geneal. ogy of a peerage goes awry, if the man that actually bolds the peerage is a fool, -in those earnest practical times, the man soon gets into mischief, gets into treason, probably, --soon gets himself and his peerage extinguished altogether, in short. (Laughter.)

From those old documents of Collins, you learn and ascertain that a peer conducts himself in a pious, high-minded, grave, dignified, and manly kind of way, in his course through life, and when he takes leave of life:-his last will is often a remarkable piece, which one lingers over. And then you perceivo that there was kindness in him as well as rigor, pity for the poor; that he has tine hospitalities, generosities,-in fine, that he is throughout much of a noble, good and valiant man. And that in general the King, with a beautiful approx. imation to accuracy, had nominated this kind of man; saying, " Come you to me, sir. Come out of the common level of the people, where you are liable to be trampled upon, jostled about, and can do in a manner nothing with your fine gift; come here and take a district of country, and make it into your own image more or less; be a king under me, and understand that that is your function.” I say this is the most divine thing that a human being can do to other human beings, and no kind of thing whatever has so much of the char. acter of God Almighty's Divine Government as that thing, which, we see, went on all over England for about six hundred years. This is the grand soul of England's history. (Cheers.) It is bistorically true that, down to the time of James, or even Charles I., it was not understood that any man was made a Peer without having merit in him to constitute him a proper subject for a peerage. In Charles I.'s tiine, it grew to be known or said that, if a man was born a gentleman, and cared to lay out £10,000 judiciously up and down among courtiers, he could be made a Peer. Under Charles II. it went on still faster, and has been going on with ever-increasing velocity, until we see the perfectly breakneck pace at which they are going now (A laugh), so that now a peerage is a paltry kind of thing to what it was in those old times.

WISDOM, AND NOT PARTICULAR KNOWLEDGES. And for the rest, in regard to all your studies and readings here, and to whatever you may learn, you are to remember that the object is not particular knowledges,—not that of getting higher and higher in techuical perfections, and all that sort of thing. There is a higher aim lying at the rear of all that, especially among those who are intended for literary or speaking pursuits, or the sacred profession. You are ever to bear in mind that there lies behind that the acquisition of what may be called wisdom;-namely, sound appreciation and just decision as to all the objects that come round you, and the habit of behaving with justice, candor, clear insight, and loyal adherence to fact. Great is wisdom; infinite is the value of wisdom. It can not be exaggerated; it is the highest achievement of man: ‘Blessed is he that getteth understanding. And that, I believe, on occasion, may be missed very easily; never more easily than now, I sometimes think. Ifihat is a failure, all is a failure!


Scotland should not be slow or slack in coming forward in the way of endowments. Money was never so abundant, and nothing that is good to be done with it. (Hear, hear, and a laugh.) No man knows,—or very few men know,—what benefit to get out of his money. In fact, it too often is secretly a curse to him. Much better for hiin never to have had any. But I do not expect that generally to be believed. (Laughter.) Nevertheless, I should think it would be a beneficent relief to many a rich man who has an honest purpose struggling in him, to bequeath some house of refuge, so to speak, for the gifted poor man who may hereafter be born into the world, to enable him to get on his way a little. To do, in fact, as those old Norman kings whom I have been describing; to raise some noble poor man out of the dirt and mud where he is getting trampled on unworthily, by the unworthy, into some kind of position where he might acquire the power to do a little good in his generation! I hope that as much as possible will be achieved in this direction; and that efforts will not be relaxed till the thing is in a satisfactory state.

I am bound, however, to say that it does not appear as if, of late times, en. dowment were the real soul of the matter. The English, for example, are the richest people in the world for endowments in their Universities; and it is an evident fact that, since the time of Bentley, you can not name any body that has gained a European name in Scholarship, or constituted a point of revolution in the pursuits of men in that way. The man who does so is a man worthy of being remembered ; and he is poor, and not an Englishman. One man that actually did constitute a revolution was the son of a poor weaver in Saxony; who edited his Tibullus, in Dresden, in a poor comrade's garret, with the floor for his bed, and two folios for a pillow; and who, while editing his Tibullus, had to gather pea-shells on the street and boil them for his dinner. That was his endowment. (Laughter.) But be was recognized soon to have done a great thing. His name was Heyne. (Cheers.) I can remember, it was quite a revolution in my mind when I got hold of that man's edition of Virgil. I found that, for the tirst time, I understood Virgil; that Heyne had introduced me, for the first time, into an insight of Roman life and ways of thought: had pointed out the circumstances in which these works were written, and given me their interpretation. And the process has gone on in all manner of developments, and has spread out into other countries.

MORE WISDOM AND LESS SPEECH-MODESTY-HEALTH. There is very great necessity indeed of getting a little more silent than we are. It seems to me as if the finest nations of the world, the English and the American, in chief,—were going all off into wind and tongue. (Applause and laughter.) But it will appear sufficiently tragical by-and-by, long after I am away out of it. There is a time to speak, and a time to be silent. Silence withal is the eternal duty of a man. He won't get to any real understanding of what is complex, and what is more than aught else pertinent to his interests, without keeping silence too. • Watch the tongue,' is a very old precept, and a most true one.

I don't want to discourage any of you from your Demosthenes, and your studies of the niceties of language, and all that. Believe me, I value that as much as any one of you. I consider it a very graceful thing, and a most proper, for every human creature to know what the implement which he uses in communicating his thoughts is, and how to make the very utmost of it. I want you to study Demosthenes, and to know all his excellences. At the same time, I must say that speech, in the case even of Demosthenes, does not seem, on the whole, to have turned to almost any good account. He advised next to nothing that proved practicable; much of the reverse. Why tell me that a man is a fine speaker, if it is not the truth that he is speaking ? Phocion, who mostly did not speak at all, was a great deal nearer hitting the mark than Demosthenes.

I need not hide from you, young gentlemen,—and it is one of the last things I am going to tell you, that you have got into a very troublous epoch of the world; and I don't think you will find your path in it to be smoother than ours has been, though you have many advantages which we had not. Man is be coming more and more the son, not of Cosmos, but of Chaos. He is a disobedient, discontented, reckless, and altogether waste kind of object (the common. place man is, in these epochs); and the wiser kind of man,--the select few, of whom I hope you will be part, --has more and more to see to this, to look vigilantly forward; and will require to move with double wisdom. Will find, in short, that the crooked things he has got to pull straight in his own life all round him, wherever he may go, are manifold, and will task all his strength.

On the whole, avoid what is called ambition; that is not a fine principle to go upon, -and it has in it all degrees of vulgarity, if that is a consideration. * Seekest thou great things, seek them not:' I warmly second that advice of the wisest of men. Don't be ambitious; don't too much need success; be loyal and modest. Cut down the proud towering thoughts that get into you, or see that they be pure as well as high. There is a nobler ambition than the gaining of all California would be, or the getting of all the suffrages that are on the Planet just now. (Loud and prolonged cheers.)

Finally, gentlemen, I have one advice to give you, which is practically of very great importance, though a very humble one. In the midst of your zeal and ardor,-for such, I foresee, will rise high enough, in spite of all the counsels to moderate it that I can give you, -remember the care of health. I have no doubt you bave among you young souls ardently bent to consider life cheap, for the purpose of getting forward in what they are aiming at of high : but you are to consider throughout, much more than is done at present, and what it would have been a very great thing to be attended to continually; that you are to regard that as the very highest of all temporal things for you. (Applause.) There is no kind of achievement you could make in the world that is equal to perfect health. What to it are nuggets and millions ? The French financier said, “Why, is there no sleep to be sold!" Sleep was not in the market at any quotation. (Laughter and applause.)

[MR. CARLYLE in this address, as well as in an article on Goethe in the first volume of his collected Essays, refers to a chapter in Wilhelm Meister's Travels, with this emphatic commendation, that there are some ten pages of that which, if ambition had been my only rule, I would rather have written, been able to write, than all the hooks that have nppeared since I came into the world." See American Journal of Education, Vol. XXIII.-Göethe's Pedagogy.)

« EelmineJätka »