UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Carlyle's idea of God and man's destiny Farquharson, Robert Howard


Among critics there has been considerable divergence of opinion on almost all aspects of Carlyle's writings. This contradiction and confusion can be traced in part to the fact that Carlyle's stand has an emotional and personal basis which makes an objective assessment of the man difficult, and in part to the fact that most critics have taken Carlyle's theories singly with no understanding of the one central theory upon which all others depend. This thesis is an attempt to draw together the scattered parts of this central theory and to show that Carlyle had a unified and consistent philosophy with it as a core. Basic to Carlyle's philosophy is the concept of a God (or Divine Idea) who has infused the physical universe with moral force. The physical universe is therefore a complex of forces, moral force originating with God, and immoral or amoral forces arising from the material nature of the universe. The tendency in the resultant struggle of these forces is always towards good and God since only acts which agree with the divine Laws of Nature can survive. Man, too, is a physical being imbued with a divine soul. It is the nature of the soul to worship God in all his manifestations and to seek truth and justice. A Selbst-todtung, that is, a partial annihilation of self, is required to free man from his material desires and to turn his energies to the service of his spiritual self and of God. Because all men are joined by a common brotherhood in God, intercourse between them is marked by a sense of justice and affectionate loyalty. And in society man finds scope for the full development of himself. The core of a society is a hierarchy on which all men are ranked, their position on the hierarchy being determined by the extent to which they understand God's plan for the universe and work to further that plan. Those who see the plan most clearly and work most effectively are the Heroes. Work here means acting according to the Divine Plan to bring order out of chaos, and is, in this sense, a form of worship. In our universe the struggle of the ideal to manifest itself in the actual results in constant change, but throughout the change, whatever of good has been discovered by one generation is preserved and passed on to the next because the soul of man prefers good and abhors evil. Thus man is the agent of historical change, but God, acting through the soul of man, is the first cause. The study of history must therefore begin with the study of the men involved, but final explanation of history lies with God. It is the office of the artist-historian to show how order has been created out of chaos and how ideals have gradually got themselves recognized. Some critics have changed that in later life Carlyle made judgements and held opinions completely contradictory to his earlier opinions. Particularly, it is charged that he took an illiberal political stand, that he became an admirer of successful power, and that he turned against the common man. Whether these charges are true or not, the opinions upon which they are based are derived from the same philosophy which Carlyle delineated in Sartor Resartus. It is the claim of this thesis that Harrold was right when he said that, "By the autumn of 1834, the struggling, self-torturing young man of 1819 had fashioned for himself a fairly consistent philosophy of life,"¹ and, furthermore, that Carlyle persisted in this philosophy to the end.

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