September 6: Carlyle: Yes, We Do Need Another Hero

With indignities like this you can see why cats are of two minds about domestication.

I think I put more effort into going through the Daily Reading Guide than the anonymous author of it did compiling it. Case in point: today's reading. It's supposed to be Carlyle on Sir Walter Scott, but it's a book review, and, as is the fashion of the book review, there's ten pages of throat-clearing before Sir Walter Scott even starts showing up; and that's what's excerpted. I imagine the anonymous compiler, sitting at his office at Collier's in 1908, choosing the first ten pages of this just by looking at the table of contents, before going out to the bar for some oysters and hussies.

It's okay, though, because Carlyle is an ace book reviewer. Views? Panoramic. Pronouncements? Sweeping. Check it:
Understand it well, this of ‘hero-worship’ was the primary creed, and has intrinsically been the secondary and ternary, and will be the ultimate and final creed of mankind; indestructible, changing in shape, but in essence unchangeable; whereon polities, religions, loyalties, and all highest human interests have been and can be built, as on a rock that will endure while man endures.
My favorite thing here is "Understand it well" -- the written equivalent of Carlyle knocking his fist against your all-too-likely wooden skull. If "Ya heard!" had been around in 1831 he would have used it here. He wouldn't have needed to, of course, but that wouldn't have stopped him, because already that sentence has more redundancies than Wernham Hogg. Hero-worship is the primary and the secondary and the ternary as well as the ultimate and final creed; on which polities, religions and other highest human interests (such as lunch, I guess) depend.

The question arises, then: bug or feature? Is hero-worship a kind of vile abasement, a self-sellout, an unnecessary and perhaps dangerous cessation of your soul's power of attorney? Or is it loveable? Carlyle thinks the latter, and if people are going to worship villains and mountebanks, so much the better:
In favour of which unspeakable benefits of the reality, what can we do but cheerfully pardon the multiplex ineptitudes of the semblance... Let hero-worship flourish, say we; and the more and more assiduous chase after gilt farthings while guineas are not yet forthcoming. Herein, at lowest, is proof that guineas exist, that they are believed to exist, and valued.
Note "unspeakable benefits". To my mind that means, "Asserted but not proven." Also, believing in the existence of something is not proof of its existence. To me this whole sentence is like saying, it's okay that you got shot in the head in Napoleon's army so that you come home and your poor wife has to feed you rice pudding with a spoon for the next forty years, because if you'd gotten shot in a good cause, that would have been great. It's funny that this essay is in the same volume as J.S. Mill; I suspect this theory couldn't be farther from Mill's way of thinking.

Personally, I think we get better heroes when we are fighting against the notion of heroes. Consider Washington, who had to define himself as not-a-King, and became more heroic for that. But when you're looking for a hero, anyone will do; it's that 2 a.m. at the bar thing.

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