[This is taken From John Kelman's Among Famous Books.]
We now begin the study of the last of the three stages in the battle between paganism and idealism. Having seen something of its primitive and classical forms, we took a cross section of it in the seventeenth century, and now we shall review one or two of its phases in our own time. The leap from the seventeenth century to the twentieth necessarily omits much that is vital and interesting. The eighteenth century, in its stately and complacent fashion, produced some of the most deliberate and finished types of paganism which the world has seen, and these were opposed by memorable antagonists. We cannot linger there, however, but must pass on to that great book which sounded the loudest bugle-note which the nineteenth century heard calling men to arms in this warfare.
Nothing could be more violent than the sudden transition from Samuel Pepys, that inveterate tumbler in the masque of life, whose absurdities and antics we have been looking at but now, to this solemn and tremendous book. Great in its own right, it is still greater when we remember that it stands at the beginning of the modern conflict between the material and spiritual development of England. Every student of the fourteenth century is familiar with two great figures, typical of the two contrasted features of its life. On the one hand stands Chaucer, with his infinite human interest, his good-humour, and his inexhaustible delight in man's life upon the earth. On the other hand, dark in shadows as Chaucer is bright with sunshine, stands Langland, colossal in his sadness, perplexed as he faces the facts of public life which are still our problems, earnest as death. There is no one figure which corresponds to Chaucer in the modern age, but Carlyle is certainly the counterpart of Langland. Standing in the shadow, he sends forth his great voice to his times, now breaking into sobs of pity, and anon into shrieks of hoarse laughter, terrible to hear. He, too, is bewildered, and he comes among his fellows "determined to pluck out the heart of the mystery"—the mystery alike of his own times and of general human life and destiny.
The book is in a great measure autobiographical, and is drawn from deep wells of experience, thought, and feeling. Inasmuch as its writer was a very typical Scotsman, it also was in a sense a manifesto of the national convictions which had made much of the noblest part of Scottish history, and which have served to stiffen the new races with which Scottish emigrants have blended, and to put iron into their blood. It is a book of incalculable importance, and if it be the case that it finds fewer readers in the rising generation than it did among their fathers, it is time that we returned to it. It is for want of such strong meat as this that the spirit of an age tends to grow feeble.
The object of the present lecture is neither to explain Sartor Resartus nor to summarise it. It certainly requires explanation, and it is no wonder that it puzzled the publishers. Before it was finally accepted by Fraser, its author had "carried it about for some two years from one terrified owl to another." When it appeared, the criticisms passed on it were amusing enough. Among those mentioned by Professor Nichol are, "A heap of clotted nonsense," and "When is that stupid series of articles by the crazy tailor going to end?" A book which could call forth such abuse, even from the dullest of minds, is certainly in need of elucidation. Yet here, more perhaps than in any other volume one could name, the interpretation must come from within. The truth which it has to declare will appeal to each reader in the light of his own experience of life. And the endeavour of the present lecture will simply be to give a clue to its main purpose. Every reader, following up that clue for himself, may find the growing interest and the irresistible fascination which the Victorians found in it. And when we add that without some knowledge of Sartor it is impossible to understand any serious book that has been written since it appeared, we do not exaggerate so much as might be supposed on the first hearing of so extraordinary a statement.
The first and chief difficulty with most readers is a very obvious and elementary one. What is it all about? As you read, you can entertain no doubt about the eloquence, the violent and unrestrained earnestness of purpose, the unmistakable reserves of power behind the detonating words and unforgettable phrases. But, after all, what is it that the man is trying to say? This is certainly an unpromising beginning. Other great prophets have prophesied in the vernacular; but "he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men but unto God; for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries." Yet there are some things which cannot convey their full meaning in the vernacular, thoughts which must coin a language for themselves; and although at first there may be much bewilderment and even irritation, yet in the end we shall confess that the prophecy has found its proper language.
Let us go back to the time in which the book was written. In the late twenties and early thirties of the nineteenth century a quite exceptional group of men and women were writing books. It was one of those galaxies that now and then over-crowd the literary heavens with stars. To mention only a few of the famous names, there were Byron, Scott, Wordsworth, Dickens, Tennyson, and the Brownings. It fills one with envy to think of days when any morning might bring a new volume from any one of these. Emerson was very much alive then, and was already corresponding with Carlyle. Goethe died in 1832, but not before he had found in Carlyle one who "is almost more, at home in our literature than ourselves," and who had penetrated to the innermost core of the German writings of his day.
At that time, too, momentous changes were coming upon the industrial and political life of England. In 1830 the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was opened, and in 1832 the Reform Bill was passed. Men were standing in the backwash of the French Revolution. The shouts of acclamation with which the promise of that dawn was hailed, had been silenced long ago by the bloody spectacle of Paris and the career of Napoleon Buonaparte. The day of Byronism was over, and polite England was already settling down to the conventionalities of the Early Victorian period. The romantic school was passing away, and the new generation was turning from it to seek reality in physical science. But deep below the conventionality and the utilitarianism alike there remained from the Revolution its legacy of lawlessness, and many were more intent on adventure than on obedience.
It was in the midst of this confused mêlée of opinions and impulses that Thomas Carlyle strode into the lists with his strange book. On the one hand it is a Titanic defence of the universe against the stage Titanism of Byron's Cain. On the other hand it is a revolt of reality against the empire of proprieties and appearances and shams. In a generation divided between the red cap of France and the coal-scuttle bonnet of England Carlyle stands bareheaded under the stars. Along with him stand Benjamin Disraeli, combining a genuine sympathy for the poor with a most grotesque delight in the aristocracy; and John Henry Newman, fierce against the Liberals, and yet the author of "Lead, kindly Light."
The book was handicapped more heavily by its own style than perhaps any book that ever fought its way from neglect and vituperation to idolatrous popularity. There is in it an immense amount of gag and patter, much of which is brilliant, but so wayward and fantastic as to give a sense of restlessness and perpetual noise. The very title is provoking, and not less so is the explanation of it—the pretended discovery of a German volume upon "Clothes, their origin and influence," published by Stillschweigen and Co., of Weissnichtwo, and written by Diogenes Teufelsdröckh. The puffs from the local newspaper, and the correspondence with Hofrath "Grasshopper," in no wise lessen the odds against such a work being taken seriously.
Again, as might be expected of a Professor of "Things in General," the book is discursive to the point of bewilderment. The whole progeny of "aerial, aquatic, and terrestrial devils" breaks loose upon us just as we are about to begin such a list of human apparel as never yet was published save in the catalogue of a museum collected by a madman. A dog with a tin kettle at his tail rushes mad and jingling across the street, leaving behind him a new view of the wild tyranny of Ambition. A great personage loses much sawdust through a rent in his unfortunate nether garments. Sirius and the Pleiades look down from above. The book is everywhere, and everywhere at once. The asides seem to occupy more space than the main thesis, whatever that may be. Just when you think you have found the meaning of the author at last, another display of these fireworks distracts your attention. It is not dark enough to see their full splendour, yet they confuse such daylight as you have.
Yet the main thesis cannot long remain in doubt. Through whatever amazement and distraction, it becomes clear enough at last. Clothes, which at once reveal and hide the man who wears them, are an allegory of the infinitely varied aspects and appearances of the world, beneath which lurk ultimate realities. But essential man is a naked animal, not a clothed one, and truth can only be arrived at by the most drastic stripping off of unreal appearances that cover it. The Professor will not linger upon the consideration of the lord's star or the clown's button, which are all that most men care to see: he will get down to the essential lord and the essential clown. And this will be more than an interesting literary occupation to him, or it will not long be that. Truth and God are one, and the devil is the prince of lies. This philosophy of clothes, then, is religion and not belles lettres. The reason for our sojourn on earth, and the only ground of any hope for a further sojourn elsewhere, is that in God's name we do battle with the devil.
The quest of reality must obviously be wide as the universe, but if we are to engage in it to any purpose we must definitely begin it somewhere. A treatise on reality may easily be the most unreal of things—a mere battle in the air. So long as it is a discussion of theories it has this danger, and the first necessity is to bring the search down to the region of experience and rigorously insist on its remaining there. For this end the device of biography is adopted, and we see the meaning of all that apparent byplay of the six paper bags, and of the Weissnichtwo allusions which drop as puzzling fragments into Book I. The second book is wholly biographical. It is in human life and experience that we must fight our way through delusive appearances to reality; and Carlyle constructs a typical and immortal biography.
To the childless old people, Andreas and Gretchen Futteral, leading their sweet orchard life, there comes, in the dusk of evening, a stranger of reverend aspect—comes, and leaves with them the "invaluable Loan" of the baby Teufelsdröckh. Thenceforward, beside the little Kuhbach stream, we watch the opening out of a human life, from infancy to boyhood, and from boyhood to manhood. The story has been told a million times, but never quite in this fashion before. For rough delicacy, for exquisitely tender sternness, the biography is unique.
From the sleep of mere infancy the child is awakened to the consciousness of creatorship by the gift of tools with which to make things. Tales open up for him the long vistas of history; and the stage-coach with its slow rolling blaze of lights teaches him geography, and the far-flung imaginative suggestiveness of the road; while the annual cattle-fair actually gathers the ends of the earth about his wondering eyes, and gives him his first impression of the variety of human life.
Childhood brings with it much that is sweet and gentle, flowing on like the little Kuhbach; and yet suggests far thoughts of Time and Eternity, concerning which we are evidently to hear more before the end. The formal education he receives—that "wood and leather education"—calls forth only protest. But the development of his spirit proceeds in spite of it. So far as the passive side of character goes, he does excellently. On the active side things go not so well. Already he begins to chafe at the restraints of obedience, and the youthful spirit is beating against its bars. The stupidities of an education which only appeals to the one faculty of memory, and to that mainly by means of birch-rods, increase the rebellion, and the sense of restraint is brought to a climax when at last old Andreas dies. Then "the dark bottomless Abyss, that lies under our feet, had yawned open; the pale kingdoms of Death, with all their innumerable silent nations and generations, stood before him; the inexorable word never! now first showed its meaning."
The youth is now ready to enter, as such a one inevitably must, upon the long and losing battle of faith and doubt. He is at the theorising stage as yet, not having learned to make anything, but only to discuss things. And yet the time is not wasted if the mind have been taught to think. For "truly a Thinking Man is the worst enemy the Prince of Darkness can have."
The immediate consequence and employment of this unripe time of half-awakened manhood is, however, unsatisfactory enough. There is much reminiscence of early Edinburgh days, with their law studies, and tutoring, and translating, in Teufelsdröckh's desultory period. The climax of it is in those scornful sentences about Aesthetic Teas, to which the hungry lion was invited, that he might feed on chickweed—well for all concerned if it did not end in his feeding on the chickens instead! It is an unwholesome time with the lad—a time of sullen contempt alternating with loud rebellion, of mingled vanity and self-indulgence, and of much sheer devilishness of temper.
Upon this exaggerated and most disagreeable period, lit by "red streaks of unspeakable grandeur, yet also in the blackness of darkness," there comes suddenly the master passion of romantic love. Had this adventure proved successful, we should have simply had the old story, which ends in "so they lived happily ever after." What the net result of all the former strivings after truth and freedom would have been, we need not inquire. For this is another story, equally old and to the end of time ever newly repeated. There is much of Werther in it, and still more of Jean Paul Richter. Its finest English counterpart is Longfellow's Hyperion—the most beautiful piece of our literature, surely, that has ever been forgotten—in which Richter's story lives again. But never has the tale been more exquisitely told than in Sartor Resartus. For one sweet hour of life the youth has been taken out of himself and pale doubt flees far away. Life, that has been but a blasted heath, blooms suddenly with unheard-of blossoms of hope and of delight. Then comes the end. "Their lips were joined, their two souls, like two dewdrops, rushed into one,—for the first time, and for the last! Thus was Teufelsdröckh made immortal by a Kiss. And then? Why, then—thick curtains of Night rushed over his soul, as rose the immeasurable Crash of Doom; and through the ruins as of a shivered Universe was he falling, falling, towards the Abyss."
The sorrows of Teufelsdröckh are but too well known. Flung back upon his former dishevelment of mind from so great and calm a height, the crash must necessarily be terrible. Yet he will not take up his life where he left it to follow Blumine. Such an hour inevitably changes a man, for better or for worse. There is at least a dignity about him now, even while the "nameless Unrest" urges him forward through his darkened world. The scenes of his childhood in the little Entepfuhl bring no consolation. Nature, even in his wanderings among her mountains, is equally futile, for the wanderer can never escape from his own shadow among her solitudes. Yet is his nature not dissolved, but only "compressed closer," as it were, and we watch the next stage of this development with a sense that some mysteriously great and splendid experience is on the eve of being born.
Thus we come to those three central chapters—chapters so fundamental and so true to human life, that it is safe to prophesy that they will be familiar so long as books are read upon the earth—"The Everlasting No," "Centre of Indifference" and "The Everlasting Yea."
In "The Everlasting No" we watch the work of negation upon the soul of man. His life has capitulated to the Spirit that denies, and the unbelief is as bitter as it is hopeless. "Doubt had darkened into Unbelief; shade after shade goes grimly over your soul, till you have the fixed, starless, Tartarean black." "Is there no God, then; but at best an absentee God, sitting idle, ever since the first Sabbath, at the outside of his Universe, and seeing it go? Has the word Duty no meaning?"
"Thus has the bewildered Wanderer to stand, as so many have done, shouting question after question into the Sibyl-cave of Destiny, and receive no Answer but an Echo." Faith, indeed, lies dormant but alive beneath the doubt. But in the meantime the man's own weakness paralyses action; and, while this paralysis lasts, all faith appears to have departed. He has ceased to believe in himself, and to believe in his friends. "The very Devil has been pulled down, you cannot so much as believe in a Devil. To me the Universe was all void of Life, of Purpose, of Volition, even of Hostility: it was one huge, dead, immeasurable Steam-engine, rolling on, in its dead indifference, to grind men limb from limb. O, the vast, gloomy, solitary Golgotha, and Mill of Death!"
He is saved from suicide simply by the after-shine of Christianity. The religion of his fathers lingers, no longer as a creed, but as a powerful set of associations and emotions. It is a small thing to cling to amid the wrack of a man's universe; yet it holds until the appearance of a new phase in which he is to find escape from the prison-house. He has begun to realise that fear—a nameless fear of he knows not what—has taken hold upon him. "I lived in a continual, indefinite, pining fear; tremulous, pusillanimous." Fear affects men in widely different ways. We have seen how this same vague "sense of enemies" obsessed the youthful spirit of Marius the Epicurean, until it cleared itself eventually into the conscience of a Christian man. But Teufelsdröckh is prouder and more violent of spirit than the sedate and patrician Roman, and he leaps at the throat of fear in a wild defiance. "What art thou afraid of? Wherefore, like a coward, dost thou forever pip and whimper, and go cowering and trembling? Despicable biped! What is the sum-total of the worst that lies before thee? Death? Well, Death: and say the pangs of Tophet too, and all that the Devil and Man may, will or can do against thee! Hast thou not a Heart; canst thou not suffer whatsoever it be; and, as a Child of Freedom, though outcast, trample Tophet itself under thy feet, while it consumes thee? Let it come, then; I will meet it and defy it!"
This is no permanent or stable resting-place, but it is the beginning of much. It is the assertion of self in indignation and wild defiance, instead of the former misery of a man merely haunted by himself. This is that "Baphometic Fire-baptism" or new-birth of spiritual awakening, which is the beginning of true manhood. The Everlasting No had said: "Behold, thou art fatherless, outcast, and the Universe is mine (the Devil's); to which my whole Me now made answer: I am not thine, but Free, and forever hate thee!"
The immediate result of this awakening is told in "Centre of Indifference"—i.e., indifference to oneself, one's own feelings, and even to fate. It is the transition from subjective to objective interests, from eating one's own heart out to a sense of the wide and living world by which one is surrounded. It is the same process which, just about this time, Robert Browning was describing in Paracelsus and Sordello. Once more Teufelsdröckh travels, but this time how differently! Instead of being absorbed by the haunting shadow of himself, he sees the world full of vital interests—cities of men, tilled fields, books, battlefields. The great questions of the world—the true meanings alike of peace and war—claim his interest. The great men, whether Goethe or Napoleon, do their work before his astonished eyes. "Thus can the Professor, at least in lucid intervals, look away from his own sorrows, over the many-coloured world, and pertinently enough note what is passing there." He has reached—strangely enough through self-assertion—the centre of indifference to self, and of interest in other people and things. And the supreme lesson of it all is the value of efficiency. Napoleon "was a Divine Missionary, though unconscious of it; and preached, through the cannon's throat, that great doctrine, La carrière ouverte aux talens (the tools to him that can handle them)."
This bracing doctrine carries us at once into The Everlasting Yea. It is not enough that a man pass from the morbid and self-centered mood to an interest in the outward world that surrounds him. That might transform him simply into a curious but heartless dilettante, a mere tourist of the spirit, whose sole desire is to see and to take notes. But that could never satisfy Carlyle; for that is but self-indulgence in its more refined form of the lust of the eyes. It was not for this that the Everlasting No had set Teufelsdröckh wailing, nor for this that he had risen up in wrath and bidden defiance to fear. From his temptation in the wilderness the Son of Man must come forth, not to wander open-mouthed about the plain, but to work his way "into the higher sunlit slopes of that Mountain which has no summit, or whose summit is in Heaven only."
In other words, a great compassion for his fellow-men has come upon him. "With other eyes, too, could I now look upon my fellow-man: with an infinite Love, an infinite Pity. Poor, wandering, wayward man! Art thou not tried, and beaten with stripes, even as I am? Ever, whether thou bear the royal mantle or the beggar's gabardine, art thou not so weary, so heavy-laden; and thy Bed of Rest is but a Grave. O my Brother, my Brother, why cannot I shelter thee in my bosom, and wipe away all tears from thy eyes!" The words remind us of the famous passage, occurring early in the book, which describes the Professor's Watchtower. It was suggested by the close-packed streets of Edinburgh's poorer quarter, as seen from the slopes of the hills which stand close on her eastern side. Probably no passage ever written has so vividly and suggestively massed together the various and contradictory aspects of the human tragedy.
One more question, however, has yet to be answered before we have solved our problem. What about happiness? We all cry aloud for it, and make its presence or absence the criterion for judging the worth of days. Teufelsdröckh goes to the heart of the matter with his usual directness. It is this search for happiness which is the explanation of all the unwholesomeness that culminated in the Everlasting No. "Because the thou (sweet gentleman) is not sufficiently honoured, nourished, soft-bedded, and lovingly cared-for? Foolish soul! What Act of Legislature was there that thou shouldst be Happy? A little while ago thou hadst no right to be at all. What if thou wert born and predestined not to be Happy, but to be Unhappy! Art thou nothing other than a Vulture, then, that fliest through the Universe seeking after somewhat to eat; and shrieking dolefully because carrion enough is not given thee? Close thy Byron; open thy Goethe." In effect, happiness is a relative term, which we can alter as we please by altering the amount which we demand from life. "Fancy that thou deservest to be hanged (as is most likely), thou wilt feel it happiness to be only shot: fancy that thou deservest to be hanged in a hair-halter, it will be a luxury to die in hemp."
Such teaching is neither sympathetic enough nor positive enough to be of much use to poor mortals wrestling with their deepest problems. Yet in the very negation of happiness he discovers a positive religion—the religion of the Cross, the Worship of Sorrow. Expressed crudely, this seems to endorse the ascetic fallacy of the value of self-denial for its own sake. But from that it is saved by the divine element in sorrow which Christ has brought—"Love not Pleasure; love God. This is the Everlasting Yea, wherein all contradiction is solved: wherein whoso walks and works, it is well with him."
This still leaves us perilously near to morbidness. The Worship of Sorrow might well be but a natural and not less morbid reaction from the former morbidness, the worship of self and happiness. From that, however, it is saved by the word "works," which is spoken with emphasis in this connection. So we pass to the last phase of the Everlasting Yea, in which we return to the thesis upon which we began, viz., that "Doubt of any sort cannot be removed except by action." "Do the Duty which lies nearest thee, which thou knowest to be a Duty! Thy second Duty will already have become clearer.... Yes here, in this poor, miserable, hampered, despicable Actual, wherein thou even now standest, here or nowhere is thy Ideal; work it out therefrom; and working, believe, live, be free.... Produce! Produce! Were it but the pitifullest infinitesimal fraction of a Product, produce it, in God's name! 'Tis the utmost thou hast in thee; out with it, then. Up, up! Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy whole might. Work while it is called Today; for the Night cometh, wherein no man can work."
Thus the goal of human destiny is not any theory, however true; not any happiness, however alluring. It is for practical purposes that the universe is built, and he who would be "in tune with the universe" must first and last be practical. In various forms this doctrine has reappeared and shown itself potent. Ritschl based his system on practical values in religion, and Professor William James has proclaimed the same doctrine in a still wider application in his Pragmatism. The essential element in both systems is that they lay the direct stress of life, not upon abstract theory but upon experience and vital energy. This transference from theorising and emotionalism to the prompt and vigorous exercise of will upon the immediate circumstance, is Carlyle's understanding of the word Conversion.
When it comes to the particular question of what work the Professor is to do, the answer is that he has within him the Word Omnipotent, waiting for a man to speak it forth. And here in this volume upon Clothes, this Sartor Resartus, is his deliberate response to the great demand. At first he seems here to relapse from the high seriousness of the chapters we have just been reading, and to come with too great suddenness to earth again. Yet that is not the case; for, as we shall see, the rest of the volume is the attempt to reconstruct the universe on the principles he has discovered within his own experience. The story to which we have been listening is Teufelsdröckh's way of discovering reality; now we are to have the statement of it on the wider planes of social and other philosophy. This we shall briefly review, but the gist of the book is in what we have already found. To most readers the quotations must have been old and well-remembered friends. Yet they will pardon the reappearance of them here, for they have been amongst the most powerful of all wingéd words spoken in England for centuries. The reason for the popularity of the book is that these biographical chapters are the record of normal and typical human experience. This, or something like this, will repeat itself so long as human nature lasts; and men, grown discouraged with the mystery and bewilderment of life, will find heart from these chapters to start "once more on their adventure, brave and new."
This, then, is Teufelsdröckh's reconstruction of the world; and the world of each one of us requires some such reconstruction. For life is full of deceptive outward appearances, from which it is the task of every man to come back in his own way to the realities within. The shining example of such reconstruction is that of George Fox, who sewed himself a suit of leather and went out to the woods with it—"Every stitch of his needle pricking into the heart of slavery, and world-worship, and the Mammon god." The leather suit is an allegory of the whole. The appearances of men and things are but the fantastic clothes with which they cover their nakedness. They take these clothes of theirs to be themselves, and the first duty and only hope of a man is to divest himself of all such coverings, and discover what manner of man he really is.
This process of divesting, however, may yield either of two results. A man may take, for the reality of himself, either the low view of human nature, in which man is but "a forked straddling animal with bandy legs," or the high view, in which he is a spirit, and unutterable Mystery of Mysteries. It is the latter view which Thomas Carlyle champions, through this and many other volumes, against the materialistic thought of his time.
The chapter on Dandies is a most extraordinary attack on the keeping up of appearances. The Dandy is he who not only keeps up appearances but actually worships them. He is their advocate and special pleader. His very office and function is to wear clothes. Here we have the illusion stripped from much that we have taken for reality. Sectarianism is a prominent example of it, the reading of fashionable novels is another. In the former two are seen the robes of eternity flung over one very vulgar form of self-worship, and in the latter the robe of fashionable society is flung over another. The reality of man's intercourse with Eternity and with his fellow-men has died within these vestures, but the eyes of the public are satisfied, and never guess the corpse within. Sectarianism and Vanity Fair are but common forms of self-worship, in which every one is keeping up appearances, and is so intent upon that exercise that all thought of reality has vanished.
A shallower philosopher would have been content with exposing these and other shams; and consequently his philosophy would have led nowhere. Carlyle is a greater thinker, and one who takes a wider view. He is no enemy of clothes, although fools have put them to wrong uses and made them the instruments of deception. His choice is not between worshipping and abandoning the world and its appearances. He will frankly confess the value of it and of its vesture, and so we have the chapter on Adamitism, in defence of clothes, which acknowledges in great and ingenious detail the many uses of the existing order of institutions. But still, through all such acknowledgment, we are reminded constantly of the main truth. All appearance is for the sake of reality, and all tools for expressing the worker. When the appearance becomes a substitute for the reality, and the tools absorb the attention that should be devoted to the work for whose accomplishment they exist, then we have relapsed into the fundamental human error. The object of the book is to plunge back from appearance to reality, from clothes to him who wears them. "Who am I? What is this me?... some embodied, visualised Idea in the Eternal Mind."
This swift retreat upon reality occurs at intervals throughout the whole book, and in connection with every conceivable department of human life and interest. In many parts there is little attempt at sequence or order. The author has made voluminous notes on men and things, and the whole fantastic structure of Sartor Resartus is a device for introducing these disjointedly. In the remainder of this lecture we shall select and displace freely, in order to present the main teachings of the book in manageable groups.
1. Language and Thought.—Language is the natural garment of thoughts, and while sometimes it performs its function of revealing them, it often conceals them. Many people's whole intellectual life is spent in dealing with words, and they never penetrate to the thoughts at all. Still more commonly, people get lost among words, especially words which have come to be used metaphorically, and again fail to penetrate to the thought. Thus the Name is the first garment wrapped around the essential me; and all speech, whether of science, poetry, or politics, is simply an attempt at right naming. The names by which we call things are apt to become labelled pigeon-holes in which we bury them. Having catalogued and indexed our facts, we lose sight of them thenceforward, and think and speak in terms of the catalogue. If you are a Liberal, it is possible that all you may know or care to know about Conservatism is the name. Nay, having catalogued yourself a Liberal, you may seldom even find it necessary to inquire what the significance of Liberalism really is. If you happen to be a Conservative, the corresponding risks will certainly not be less.
The dangers of these word-garments, and the habit of losing all contact with reality in our constant habit of living among mere words, naturally suggest to Carlyle his favourite theme—a plea for silence. We all talk too much, and the first lesson we have to learn on our way to reality is to be oftener silent. This duty of silence, as has been wittily remarked, Carlyle preaches in thirty-seven volumes of eloquent English speech. "Silence and secrecy! Altars might still be raised to them (were this an altar-building time) for universal worship. Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together; that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of Life, which they are thenceforth to rule.... Nay, in thy own mean perplexities, do thou thyself but hold thy tongue for one day: on the morrow how much clearer are thy purposes and duties." Andreas, in his old camp-sentinel days, once challenged the emperor himself with the demand for the password. "Schweig, Hund!" replied Frederich; and Andreas, telling the tale in after years would add, "There is what I call a King."
Yet silence may be as devoid of reality as words, and most minds require something external to quicken thought and fill up the emptiness of their silences. So we have symbols, whose doctrine is here most eloquently expounded. Man is not ruled by logic but by imagination, and a thousand thoughts will rise at the call of some well-chosen symbol. In itself it may be the poorest of things, with no intrinsic value at all—a clouted shoe, an iron crown, a flag whose market value may be almost nothing. Yet such a thing may so work upon men's silences as to fill them with the glimmer of a divine idea.
Other symbols there are which have intrinsic value—works of art, lives of heroes, death itself, in all of which we may see Eternity working through Time, and become aware of Reality amid the passing shows. Religious symbols are the highest of all, and highest among these stands Jesus of Nazareth. "Higher has the human Thought not yet reached: this is Christianity and Christendom; a symbol of quite perennial, infinite character; whose significance will ever demand to be anew enquired into, and anew made manifest." In other words, Jesus stands for all that is permanently noble and permanently real in human life.
Such symbols as have intrinsic value are indeed perennial. Time at length effaces the others; they lose their associations, and become but meaningless lumber. But these significant works and personalities can never grow effete. They tell their own story to the succeeding generations, blessing them with visions of reality and preserving them from the Babel of meaningless words.
2. Body and Spirit.—Souls are "rendered visible in bodies that took shape and will lose it, melting into air." Thus bodies, and not spirits, are the true apparitions, the souls being the realities which they both reveal and hide. In fact, body is literally a garment of flesh—a garment which the soul has for a time put on, but which it will lay aside again. One of the greatest of all the idolatries of appearance is our constant habit of judging one another by the attractiveness of the bodily vesture. Many of the judgments which we pass upon our fellows would be reversed if we trained ourselves to look through the vestures of flesh to the men themselves—the souls that are hidden within.
The natural expansion of this is in the general doctrine of matter and spirit. Purely material science—science which has lost the faculty of wonder and of spiritual perception—is no true science at all. It is but a pair of spectacles without an eye. For all material things are but emblems of spiritual things—shadows or images of things in the heavens—and apart from these they have no reality at all.
3. Society and Social Problems.—It follows naturally that a change must come upon our ways of regarding the relations of man to man. If every man is indeed a temple of the divine, and therefore to be revered, then much of our accepted estimates and standards of social judgment will have to be abandoned. Society, as it exists, is founded on class distinctions which largely consist in the exaltation of idleness and wealth. Against this we have much eloquent protest. "Venerable to me is the hard hand; crooked, coarse; wherein notwithstanding lies a cunning virtue, indefeasibly royal, as of the Sceptre of this Planet. Venerable too is the rugged face, all weather-tanned, besoiled, with its rude intelligence; for it is the face of a Man living man like." How far away we are from all this with our mammon-worship and our fantastic social unrealities, every student of our times must know, or at least must have often heard. He would not have heard it so often, however, had not Thomas Carlyle cried it out with that harsh voice of his, in this and many others of his books. It was his gunpowder, more than any other explosive of the nineteenth century, that broke up the immense complacency into which half England always tends to relapse.
He is not hopeless of the future of society. Society is the true Phoenix, ever repeating the miracle of its resurrection from the ashes of the former fire. There are indestructible elements in the race of man—"organic filaments" he calls them—which bind society together, and which ensure a future for the race after any past, however lamentable. Those "organic filaments" are Carlyle's idea of Social Reality—the real things which survive all revolution. There are four such realities which ensure the future for society even when it seems extinct.
First, there is the fact of man's brotherhood to man—a fact quite independent of man's willingness to acknowledge that brotherhood. Second, there is the common bond of tradition, and all our debt to the past, which is a fact equally independent of our willingness to acknowledge it. Third, there is the natural and inevitable fact of man's necessity for reverencing some one above him. Obedience and reverence are forthcoming, whenever man is in the presence of what he ought to reverence, and so hero-worship is secure.
These three bonds of social reality are inseparable from one another. The first, the brotherhood of man, has often been used as the watchword of a false independence. It is only possible on the condition of reverence and obedience for that which is higher than oneself, either in the past or the present. "Suspicion of 'Servility,' of reverence for Superiors, the very dog-leech is anxious to disavow. Fools! Were your Superiors worthy to govern, and you worthy to obey, reverence for them were even your only possible freedom." These three, then, are the social realities, and all other social distinctions and conventionalities are but clothes, to be replaced or thrown away at need.
But there is a fourth bond of social reality—the greatest and most powerful of all. That reality is Religion. Here, too, we must distinguish clothes from that which they cover—forms of religion from religion itself. Church-clothes, indeed, are as necessary as any other clothes, and they will harm no one who remembers that they are but clothes, and distinguishes between faith and form. The old forms are already being discarded, yet Religion is so vital that it will always find new forms for itself, suited to the new age. For religion, in one form or in another, is absolutely essential to society; and, being a grand reality, will continue to keep society from collapse.
4. From this we pass naturally to the great and final doctrine in which the philosophy of clothes is expounded. That doctrine, condensed into a single sentence, is that "the whole Universe is the Garment of God." This brings us back to the song of the Erdgeist in Goethe's Faust:—
"In Being's floods, in Action's storm,
I walk and work, above, beneath,
Work and weave in endless motion!
Birth and Death,
An infinite ocean;
A seizing and giving
The fire of Living:
'Tis thus at the roaring Loom of Time I ply,
And weave for God the Garment thou seest Him by."
This is, of course, no novelty invented by Goethe. We find it in Marius the Epicurean, and he found it in ancient wells of Greek philosophy. Carlyle's use of it has often been taken for Pantheism. In so mystic a region it is impossible to expect precise theological definition, and yet it is right to remember that Carlyle does not identify the garment with its Wearer. The whole argument of the book is to distinguish appearance from reality in every instance, and this is no exception. "What is Nature? Ha! why do I not name thee God? Art thou not the 'living garment of God'? O Heavens, is it in very deed He, then, that ever speaks through thee? that lives and loves in thee, that lives and loves in me?... The Universe is not dead and demoniacal, a charnel-house with spectres: but godlike and my Father's." "This fair Universe, were it in the meanest province thereof, is in very deed the star-domed City of God; through every star, through every grass-blade, and most through every Living Soul, the glory of a present God still beams. But Nature, which is the Time-vesture of God, and reveals Him to the wise, hides Him from the foolish."
Such is some very broken sketch of this great book. It will at least serve to recall to the memory of some readers thoughts and words which long ago stirred their blood in youth. No volume could so fitly be chosen as a background against which to view the modern surge of the age-long battle. But the charm of Sartor Resartus is, after all, personal. We go back to the life-story of Teufelsdröckh, out of which such varied and such lofty teachings sprang, and we read it over and over again because we find in it so much that is our own story too.
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