Carlyle, Thomas (4 December 1795 - 5 February 1881)
Carlyle, who intended originally to enter the ministry, left the University of Edinburgh because he developed strong religious doubts. In his reading of German literature, he became influenced by Johann Goethe as well as the transcendental philosophers.
Sartor Resartus (1833—1834) details a spiritual autobiography in which he saw the material world as mere clothing for the spiritual one. The God of his beliefs was an immanent and friendly ruler of an orderly universe.
In his portraits of the great leaders of the French Revolution, he extended his view of the divinity of man. What he liked about Voltaire, he once wrote, is that he “gave the death-stab to superstition.”
At the age of fifteen, he had horrified his mother with the question, “Did God Almighty come down and make wheelbarrows in a shop?”
A friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Carlyle conveyed to susceptible readers a non-Christian view of existence, according to J. M. Robertson.
He also knew Henry James Sr., who summed up Carlyle as “the same old sausage, fizzing and sputtering in his own grease."
"It is not possible that educated, honest men can even profess much longer to belief in historical Christianity,” Carlyle declared. Such heresy clearly appears in Life of John Sterling. Although in Sartor Resartus he appears to follow the lines of Goethe’s pantheism, Carlyle confided to the poet William Allingham, who wrote in his diary that Carlyle told him,
- I have for many years strictly avoided going to church or having anything to do with Mumbo Jumbo [a reference to the Christian God]. . . . We know nothing. All is, and must be, utterly incomprehensible.” Once asked if he was a pantheist, Carlyle retorted, “No, never was; nor a pot-theist, either.
In a biography, J. A. Froude wrote,
- We have seen him confessing to Irving that he did not believe as his friend did in the Christian religion,” that “the special miraculous occurrences of sacred history were not credible to him.
His Final Years
Froude shocked many by doing what Carlyle had asked him to do, write a truthful biography. As a result he included details of Carlyle’s impotence and the unhappiness of the Carlyles’ marriage, items that led to accusations that he had been a traitor to his friend.
Before he married Jane Welsh in 1826, Carlyle reportedly had many romantic affairs, including one with Margaret Gordon. Once married, the two quarreled and maybe remained celibate because of their enmity. She had been an invalid, but when she died unexpectedly in 1866 he despaired and was highly self-critical. For the last fifteen years of his life, he partly retired from social activities. He did accept an appointment to be rector of the University of Edinburgh.
According to biographers David A. Wilson and David W. MacArthur, in the last week of his 85th year, after several weeks of pain during which he could barely speak, Carlyle awoke from a sound sleep and to his niece said, “So this is Death–well. . . . ”
Although arrangements had been made for his remains to be interred in Westminster Abbey, his wish to be buried beside his parents in Ecclefechan was respected.