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man master, indeed, that Carlyle's career as a man of letters began. His education had been planned with a view to the clerical office in the Scotch church. But he recoiled from what seemed to him the narrowing duties of that office, when he had once drunk at the stream of free thought, then bursting forth so boldly on the continent. The draught intoxicated him. He felt that he had found the door to a new world; a fresh and living world, where intellectual freedom was the only law, not that stale and conventional world to which he had been used. He resolved to explore this foreign literature, beside which the standard literature at home seemed to him so dead. And he threw himself into the undertaking with great spirit; too full of enthusiasm to consider whether it was all truth which he followed, or perhaps judging that that could not be false which so exhilarated and emboldened him.
Such were the impulse and first joyous experience, which led Carlyle, yet a young man, to yield himself up to the influence of Goethe. The decisive step was taken. His mind came into communication with the pantheism of the day, and, in all its future workings, embodied more or less of the spirit of that error. Not that he lost his individuality. His genius was too original and persistent for that. He is always himself, though freely appropriating other men's thoughts, and though his style was greatly affected by his German studies. His philosophizing, if such it may be called, reminds us of the crystals we sometimes see in nature, cast in the mould which their inhe. rent laws make for them, but stained or clouded by the infusion of foreign matter. If the genius of Goethe was mainly æsthetic, that of Carlyle inclined to be ethical.
One is as true to the Scotch bias as the other to the
German. By instinct Carlyle was a moralist; and therefore, to whatever matter he applied
himself, instead of treating it simply as an artist, he handled it in the spirit of a critic and reformer. If Goethe held that it was the whole function of literature to paint life, Carlyle even more stoutly held that literature should concern itself with the relations of life, and their adjustment between man and man. It was with this reformatory bent of mind that he set out in his literary
And we are now to see whither it carried him after he had broken loose from his early moorings; when he no more turned to the Father of his spirit for guidance into all truth, but committed himself to the stream of his own reasonings and intuitions.
Though fundamentally at one with Goethe, and making Goethe's works his main study for years, he yet chose an entirely different sphere in wbich to labor. The German was devoted to poetry, science, and fiction, and to society; the Scotchman gave himself mainly to politics, - the term “politics” being used in its highest and broadest sense, inclusive of all that enters into questions of statesmanship and government. Nor has this political reformer, so far as appears, fallen into those more vicious habits which Goethe contracted while yielding to the æsthetic bent of his genius. That Carlyle regarded political reform as the
field in which his life-work was cast, is clear from A political the very titles of his chief works : 'the French
Revolution, Past, Present, and Chartism, Cromwell, Frederick the Great, and New Essays in which he discusses Model Prisons, Downing Street, the Stump-Ora
tor, Parliaments, and kindred subjects. The Heroes and Hero-worship, though a course of lectures ostensibly literary, yet betrays the fact all along, that he subordinated literature to questions of government. The only works in which this aim does not stand prominent are Sartor Resartus, and some of his earlier essays, written before he had fairly settled himself to his more especial purpose. His Life of John Sterling may also be an exception; but this was written not of choice so much as from a regard for the wishes of his lost friend. His criticisms of the American war under Lincoln, and of the measures for national reconstruction which followed it; his interest in General Eyre while trampling on the rights of England's West India subjects; and his utterances respecting the extension of the franchise among his own countrymen, show, however much to his discredit, that his ruling passion is political. As the opinions and sympathies of an old man, they also confirm the proverb, that the ruling passion is strong in death.
Let us go back a little now, and look at the foundation on which Carlyle built up the temple of his thought. I have not found in his writings any explicit avowal of pantheism as the philosophical and religious basis of his speculations. He has, indeed, so late as the year 1870, denied the charge of pantheism, so often brought against him. Yet his way of doing it shows
pantheist ? that he cares little about the matter, in any case; nor does he even define what he means by pantheism ? Very likely he could in truth repel many of the charges of his critics; yet he leaves the question so inde
Was he a
terminate, and his opponents are so numerous and persistent, that the case must be settled by a careful study of his writings, rather than by any single denials or avowals. Categorical answers are not to be trusted, where the questioner and the person questioned have different notions of the subject-matter between them. The intelligent student knows pantheism by its looks, wherever found, and whether falsely named or nameless: it need not be labelled for his information, any more than a plant in order to be known by the botanist. Carlyle was totally indifferent to names, which he looked on as only the changing clothes," and no part of the permanent essence of philosophy. That he was perfectly content to be known as a pantheist is clear from the fact that he has never seriously, but only now and then satirically resented the charge. It is a point · which he always managed to, evade when urged by his friends, favoring them with replies too flippant, or too scornfully brief, to be at all satisfactory. It should be said, however, that his ambiguity here, as in many other places, may have been due to a certain grim humor, which he loved to indulge on all occasions. He rather enjoyed the impression of his friends that he was a sort of reckless and impious Titan, — holding theories utterly subversive of the present order of society, though angrily refusing to tell just what they were. But pure philosophy was not his province. It does not appear that he had any imme
diate knowledge of Spinozism, or of the leading dogmatic
thinkers who revived the doctrines of Spinoza
in Germany. He imbibed the essence of that philosophy rather, as it was filtered through the works of a more popular class of authors. He drank it in espe
Not in the
Proofs of a
cially from the works of Goethe; nor was its influence upon him weakened, but rather strengthened, by his familiarity with the writings of Heyne, Werner, Richter, Novalis, Lessing. He is not a champion of pantheism, nor even a teacher of it, except incidentally. His distinctive work is in the field of political reform. Yet everywhere we may detect, and that quite easily, the pantheistic infiltration.
Take, for instance, the following view of the history of the human race in Sartor Resartus: “Generation after generation takes to itself the form of a body; and forth-issuing from Cimmerian night, on pantheistic heaven's mission, APPEARS.
What force and fire are in each he expends: one grinding in the mill of industry; one, hunter-like, climbing the giddy Alpine heights of science; one madly dashed in pieces on the rocks of strife, in war with his fellow : - and then the heaven-sent is recalled; his earthly vesture falls away, and soon even to sense becomes a vanished shadow. Thus, like some wild-flaming, wild-thundering train of heaven's artillery does this mysterious MANKIND thunder and flame, in long-drawn, quick-succeeding grandeur. through the unknown deep. Thus, like a God-created, fire-breathing spirit-host, we emerge from the inane; haste stormfully across the astonished earth; then plunge again into the inane. But whence ? O Heaven, whither? Sense knows not; faith knows not; only that it is through mystery to mystery, from God and to God.” 1
history. Now, this is a most vivid description of the collective life of man, it must be owned, whether correct or
His idea of
1 Sartor Resartus (Harpers, New York, 1858), pp. 208, 209.