Thomas Carlyle – ‘The Grand Old Man of Victorian Literature’

Posted on September 2, 2008


A Painting of Thomas Carlyle (

Thomas Carlyle, famous for his ‘Sartor Resartus’, ‘The French Revolution, a History’, ‘Heroes and Hero Worship’, was a Scottish essayist, satirist and historian. Born on December 4, 1795, he was highly influential as a writer in the Victorian age.
David Gascoyne, a British poet, analyses in detail the writings of Carlyle in his book ‘Thomas Carlyle’ published in 1952, decades after the death of Carlyle in 1881. Gascoyne has called him as the “grand old man of Victorian literature”.

According to Gascoyne, “Thomas Carlyle was one of the sternest critics of the nineteenth century’s special pride, the rise and progress of Democracy, yet he himself was one of the most striking examples of a kind of triumph which is thought to be one of Democracy’s chief justifications.”
In his book , ‘Chartism’ Carlyle expressed his views strongly on the topic of education in Britain:
“To impart the gift of thinking to those who cannot think, and yet who could in that case think: this, one would imagine, was the first function a government had to set about discharging. Were it not a cruel thing to see, in any province of an empire the inhabitants living all mutilated in their limbs, each strong man with his right arm lamed? How much crueler to find the strong soul, with its eyes still sealed, its eyes extinct so that it sees not! Light has come in to the world, but to this poor peasant it has come in vain. “
As far as his writings are concerned, Gascoyne places Carlyle between Soren Kierkegaard on the one hand and Walt Whitman on the other. He is of the opinion that both Carlyle and Kierkegaard were poets who wrote in prose.
Gascoyne concludes his book by categorically stating that “Carlyle cannot be claimed by the Left or by the Right. He was too faithful to the vision of ‘the Divine Idea of the World’ to be a partisan of any hard-and-fast ideology; more that heroism, he worshipped the Objective. This briefest of introductions to his writings to his writings has not attempted to give any idea of ‘The French Revolution’ or to do justice to Carlyle’s conception of History and the art of the Historian. Social and Literary Historians in general cannot yet be said to have done this fully either.”

For detailed study visit: Thomas Carlyle (Writers and their Works: No. 23)