Page:Cartoon portraits and biographical sketches of men of the day.djvu/202

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THOMAS CARLYLE.


Thomas Carlyle, the 'Philosopher of Chelsea,' and one of the most prominent and original writers of his time, was born almost in the last lustrum of the last century. At Ecclefechan, in Dumfriesshire, he first saw the light, on the 4th of December 1795. All we can attempt will be to jot down some of the more noteworthy incidents in his life. To try to criticise the writings, to make a correct estimate of the genius of Carlyle, and endeavour to indicate his future place among the writers of his age, would take a volume, if the work were fairly done. Most writers who have had him under notice have said this, and in their next paragraph have fallen into vulgar abuse or more vulgar panegyric. Another trick we have seen nearly every writer of an essay on Carlyle fall into is imitation of his uncouth style and unwarrantable words. Some of the reviewers have gone farther than this: they have tried an imitation of his ideas. This last effort has been a signal failure. He is original. But every reader of his works who has the slightest respect for the language which was sufficient for the needs of a Milton, a Shakespsare, or a Burke, will heartily regret that the Chelsea philosopher ever went to live in Germany, or, at least, that he ever departed from the simple and flowing style of his earliest works; as, for instance, 'The Life of Schiller,' published in 1824. However, it is too late now for criticisms on his style to be of any use. His works are written; and, as they are full of great thoughts, the ugliness of their diction will always be forgotten in the originality, truth, and power of their matter.

Thomas Carlyle is the son of a Scotch farmer, by whom he was educated as thoroughly as possible. From the parish school at Ecclefechan he went to a school at Annan, and thence, when he was fourteen years old, to the University of Edinburgh. Like most sons of Scotch farmers who have had a good education, Carlyle's first notion was to be made a 'meenester.' But he gave up the ministry for a mathematical tutorship in a school.