I've never read any Carlyle, and I don't even have a sense, as I sometimes do, whether he's fashionable or ridiculous or somewhere in-between. Nevertheless he made it into the Harvard Classics, paired with J.S. Mill (who I have read) in Volume 25, “No-nonsense Brits.” The essays have been slow going for me so far – perhaps prose is the most of-the-time of all the forms – but let’s hope for fire from “Characteristics.”
It doesn't look good:
So long as the several elements of Life, all fitly adjusted, can pour forth their movement like harmonious tuned strings, it is a melody and unison; Life, from its mysterious fountains, flows out as in celestial music and diapason,—which also, like that other music of the spheres, even because it is perennial and complete, without interruption and without imperfection, might be fabled to escape the ear.This reminds me of nothing so much as Rocky Todd in the Bertie Wooster stories:
He had his scheme of life worked out to a fine point. About once a month he would take three days writing a few poems; the other three hundred and twenty-nine days of the year he rested. I didn't know there was enough money in poetry to support a chappie, even in the way in which Rocky lived; but it seems that, if you stick to exhortations to young men to lead the strenuous life and don't shove in any rhymes, American editors fight for the stuff. Rocky showed me one of his things once. It began:Be!
The past is dead.
To-morrow is not born.
Be with every nerve,
With every muscle,
With every drop of your red blood!
Everyone bitches about our distracted, electronic world, but at least we no longer have to gas on about Life, because Turner Classic Movies is re-running “Lover Come Back.”
“Life is not given us for the mere sake of Living, but always with an ulterior external Aim” – Darwin is only three books down from you, sir.
I believe him to be saying that it’s better not to know things, sometimes, than to be fully conscious:
So cunningly does Nature, the mother of all highest Art, which only apes her from afar, ‘body forth the Finite from the Infinite’; and guide man safe on his wondrous path, not more by endowing him with vision, than, at the right place, with blindness!I guess. You will get more accomplished if you’re not thinking, “Gee, this is a wondrous path, isn’t it?”
-- In the next paragraph Carlyle gets off “must needs,” an infallible sign of fusty.
...the truly strong mind, view it as Intellect, as Morality, or under any other aspect, is nowise the mind acquainted with its strength; that here as before the sign of health is Unconsciousness.Plainly untrue, or how would the kid attached to the Mind console himself after being beaten up at school, if not by priding himself on its Strength? I see his point when he goes on to say that Artists do not know what they are doing, in the way that we lower hacks do. Great artists have a feel for things. But don't they also have to know how to make it artful? And how does Carlyle know, as he claims, that Shakespeare didn’t think he was writing anything special?
And then he goes on to say that the problem with your book-smart people is, they don’t have any common sense:
This is he whom business-people call Systematic and Theoriser and Word-monger; his vital intellectual force lies dormant or extinct, his whole force is mechanical, conscious: of such a one it is foreseen that, when once confronted with the infinite complexities of the real world, his little compact theorem of the world will be found wanting; that unless he can throw it overboard and become a new creature, he will necessarily founder.Unless he figures out that there's money to be made teaching in business schools! But, really, this isn't a particularly new thought, and what does it signify? It’s too late if you know that you shouldn’t be knowing. Being intellectual about being anti-intellectual combines the worst of both worlds. I’d like it better if Carlyle were actually fighting against someone, otherwise this seems somewhat commonplace, though excellent wordy. In sum:
These curious relations of the Voluntary and Conscious to the Involuntary and Unconscious, and the small proportion which, in all departments of our life, the former bears of the latter,—might lead us into deep questions of Psychology and Physiology: such, however, belong not to our present object.Good thing, what with all the hating on deep thinking and all.