- Carlyle, Thomas
- (1795–1881)A prominent biographer, historian, and activist in nineteenth-century Britain. A Scot, Carlyle was educated at the University of Edinburgh before moving to London to pursue a literary career. His knowledge of Germany, its literature, and culture was comprehensive, and he did much to introduce German literature to the British public. His first major work was The French Revolution , his last a multivolume biography of Frederick the Great. Carlyle was a friend of the young John Stuart Mill, but their relationship cooled somewhat when Mill’s maid threw the almost complete manuscript of the French Revolution into the fire. Carlyle went on to produce an edition of the letters of Oliver Cromwell and large numbers of shorter essays, polemics, and imaginative histories written in a style at once witty, declamatory, and in places almost poetic. Carlyle gave a series of lectures on heroes in 1840, which became a volume celebrating great men. In imperial affairs, Carlyle played a leading role in defending Governor Eyre of Jamaica, accused of committing atrocities in response to an apprehended rising, and he parodied the abolitionist movement with his 1849 suggestion of a “Universal Abolition of Pain Association.” He wrote nothing systematic on imperial topics, but his Past and Present (1843) enthused that England’s epic poem, like that of the ancient Romans, was written on the face of the earth, and called for the misery of urban slums to be relieved by state-organized emigration, a common idea at the time.Carlyle’s main contribution to the Empire, however, was cultural. He celebrated the heroic and the strong, and held that that rule of such men should be unapologetic and not hedged about what he saw as the bad faith of liberal self-justification. Against a background of rationalist, utilitarian liberalism, Carlyle provided a strong defense of authority, tradition, and of the right of conquest, along with, it must be said, a coruscating critique of many individual authorities who failed to live up to his exacting, world-historical standards.See also <
>; < >.FURTHER READING:Carlyle, Thomas. Carlyle ’ s Works. 16 vols. New York: Peter Fenelon, 1897;Kaplan, F. Thomas Carlyle: A Biography. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983.MARK F. PROUDMAN
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.