Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Carlyle, Thomas
CARLYLE, THOMAS, an English author, born in Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, Dec. 4, 1795. He was the eldest son of James Carlyle, a mason, afterward a farmer, and was intended for the Church, with which object he was carefully educated at the parish school and afterward at the burgh school of Annan. In his 15th year he was sent to the University of Edinburgh, where he developed a strong taste for mathematics. Having renounced the idea of becoming a minister, after finishing his curriculum (in 1814) he became a teacher for about four years, first at Annan, afterward at Kirkcaldy. In 1818 he removed to Edinburgh, where he supported himself by literary work, devoted much time to the study of German, and went through a varied and extensive course of reading in history, poetry, romance, and other fields.
His first literary productions were short biographies and other articles for the “Edinburgh Encyclopædia.” His career as an author may be said to have begun with the issue in monthly portions of his “Life of Schiller” in the London Magazine, in 1823, this work being enlarged and published separately in 1825. In 1824 he published a translation of Legendre's “Geometry,” with an essay on proportion by himself prefixed. The same year appeared his translation of Goethe's “Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship.” He was next engaged in translating specimens of the German romance writers, published in four volumes in 1827. In 1827 he married Miss Jane Bailie Welsh, daughter of a doctor at Haddington, and a lineal descendant of John Knox. After his marriage he resided for a time in Edinburgh, and then withdrew to Craigenputtock, a farm in Dumfriesshire belonging to his wife. Here he wrote a number of critical and biographical articles for various periodicals, and here was written “Sartor Resartus,” the most original of his works. The writing of “Sartor Resartus” seems to have been finished in 1831, but the publishers were shy of it, and it was not given to the public till 1833-1834, through the medium of “Fraser's Magazine.”
The publication of “Sartor” soon made Carlyle famous, and on his removal to London early in 1834 he became a prominent member of a brilliant literary circle embracing John Stuart Mill, Leigh Hunt, John Sterling, Julius Charles and Augustus William Hare, F. D. Maurice, etc. He fixed his abode at Cheyne Row, Chelsea, where his life henceforth was mainly spent. His next work of importance was on the “French Revolution,” published in 1837. About this time and in one or two subsequent years, he delivered several series of lectures, the most important of these, “On Heroes and Hero-worship,” being published in 1840. “Chartism,” published in 1839, and “Past and Present,” in 1843, were small works bearing more or less on the affairs of the time. In 1845 appeared his “Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, with Elucidations,” a work of great research, and brilliantly successful in vindicating the character of the great Protector. In 1850 came out his “Latter-day Pamphlets.” This work was very repulsive to many from the exaggeration of its language, and its advocacy of harsh and coercive measures. He next wrote a life of his friend, John Sterling, published in 1851, and regarded as a finished and artistic performance.
The largest and most laborious work of his life, “The History of Friedrich II. of Prussia, called Frederick the Great,” next appeared, the first two volumes in 1858, the second two in 1862, and the last two in 1865, and after this time little came from his pen. In 1866, having been elected Lord Rector of Edinburgh University, he delivered an installation address to the students “On the Choice of Books.” While still in Scotland the sad news reached him that his wife had died suddenly in London. This was a severe blow to Carlyle. Mrs. Carlyle, besides being a woman of exceptional intellect, was a most devoted and affectionate wife. From this time his productions were mostly articles or letters on topics of the day. Toward the end of his life he was offered a government pension and a baronetcy, but declined both.
He left the estate of Craigenputtock to the University of Edinburgh, settling that the income from it should form ten bursaries to be annually competed for — five for proficiency in mathematics and five for classics (including English). He had appointed James Anthony Froude his literary executor, who, in conformity with his trust, published “Reminiscences of Thomas Carlyle” (1881); “Thomas Carlyle: the First Forty Years of His Life” (1882); “Letters of Jane Welsh Carlyle” (1883); and “Thomas Carlyle: Life in London” (1884). Carlyle died in Chelsea, Feb. 5, 1881.