MR. CARLYLE AND HIS CONSTITUENCY. T HE Edinburgh students have conferred
their highest honour what honour their votes could confer,' as Mr. Carlyle might say,—on Mr. Carlyle, and elected him their new Rector by a majority of more than two to one over the "Phantasm Captain" of her Majesty's Opposition, Mr. Disraeli. The Saturday Review, in its able scorn for their not very important proceedings, and its desire to see the youngsters of the University falling into the regular intellectual drill of the session a day or two sooner, instead of wasting, as it thinks, the time intended for lessons in a semi-political mock fight with no consequences, per- haps forgets that, after all, one of the most important parts of a University education is the opportunity for frequent and eager intellectual collision between young minds in nearly the same stage of growth concerning the literary interests which come home most closely to them. The Saturday Review evidently prefers the stricter discipline of the "Hinterschlag Gymnasium"—" Hinder- smite Academy "—at which Professor Teufelsdriickh studied in his youth, to University freedom for men of this age. But though doubtless a good deal of nonsense would be talked in public by very young men on all such occasions, as happens indeed in every college and university debating society, the occasion for such nonsense is probably the occasion also for far the most spon- taneous intellectual efforts which men under University training ever put forth ; and we very much question whether any days of the University session are really more fruitful of those awakening efforts due to eager private reading and discussion on hotly con- tested points which first teach the student something of the nature and limits of his own powers, than those spent in canvass- ing the literary claims of such a man as Mr. Carlyle against those of such a man as Mr. Disraeli. As for the intrinsic utility of the proceeding, what is the intrinsic utility of a blundering Greek exercise beyond a lesson in accuracy ? And is a lesson in intel- lectual accuracy always more important than a lesson in intel- lectual activity? Anything to awaken the intellectual society of a University into real vitality cannot well be a superfluous part of its routine. Young men teach each other in college life at least as much as they are taught by superior knowledge and wis- dom. And on the whole, the Edinburgh students have in this instance done credit to their usage. They have practically declared that Mr. Carlyle's writings have stirred them much more than Mr. Disraeli's, which is a very proper state of mind for University men. Perhaps indeed the Scotch clannishness had as much to do with the votes of the great majority as literary qualities or political principle. But without reference to politics we think an English university would have pronounced the same verdict. For Mr. Carlyle's genius is far better suited to tell with full effect upon the young than that of any other great man of the day. Even his greatest faults have strong fascinations for men just beginning to think of what life means. He makes old truths loom gigantic, vague, and fresh upon the eye, and stimulates the dreamy germinating conceptions of early thought. To a few this may be a dangerous excitement, but to the many, even of the young (since the chief danger of regular education is the danger of mere hum- drum acquisition of classified scraps of information), Mr. Carlyle's writings are certainly likely to do infinitely more good than harm. What has the new. Rector of Edinburgh University effected on the whole for past generations of young men ?
One of the most brilliant preachers of the day commenced a certain sermon—preached, if we remember rightly, on the text, " And their foolish heart was darkened "—by the remark that "Any one who looked at a familiar landscape with his head inverted" would be struek by the extraordinary softness, beauty, and bril- liance of a scene which under its ordinary aspect has ceased to fascinate or strike the attention at all. The preacher ex- plained this effect by the deadening power of custom on all human faculties of perception, not only visual, but moral, —the eye being darkened by habit to natural loveliness or deformity, and the heart by the same narcotic power to moral loveliness or deformity. If we could but break through the moral customs as we can through the physical by applying a topsyturvy retina to the same scenery, he argued that we should see the wonder and bloom' of the world, and also its hideous evils and distortions, as we seldom see them now. This is true philosophy, and it hits better than any other illustration the exact value of Mr. Carlyle to the world he lives in. He has been created, as it seems to us, on purpose to look at the English world "with his head inverted," and no wonder therefore that he turns the heads of those who read him for the first time, for that is his legitimate func- tion. His writings have all the vividness and all the faults oil'. man who, for the purpose of morally couching the eyes of the pre- sent generation, has been sent into the universe with a commission to report upon it for us with his head between his legs. Of course it is not a report on which men with their heads not between their legs can wisely act, but it is one which, once thoroughly studied, sweeps away the all-enveloping mist of cus- tom from the mind's eye, restores meaning and colour and light to human phenomena, and re-awakens that wholesome wonder in the mind of the observer which monotony so rapidly paralyzes. Such a picture as the following, for instance, could only be seen by such a seer as Mr. Carlyle, and whether it is in the narrower sense practically instructive or not, in the wider sense it certainly is, for the painter has the art to brush away the mental films, that is, the worst kind of films, from the mind of his spectators. Teafelsdrockh is talking in his attic at Weissnichtswo :—" Ach mein lieber !"—said he, " it is a true subli- mity to dwell here. Those fringes of lamplight struggling up through smoke and thousandfold exhalations, some fathoms into the ancient reign of Night, what thinks Bootes of them, as he leads his hunting dogs over the zenith in their leash of sidereal fire? . . . . Upwards of five hundred thousand two-legged animals without feathers lie around us in horizontal positions, their heads all in night-caps and full of the foolishest dreams. Riot cries aloud, and staggers and swaggers in his rank dens of shame, and the mother, with streaming hair, kneels over her pallid, dying infant, whose cracked lips only her tears now moisten. All these heaped and huddled together, with nothing but a little carpentry and masonry between them, crammed in, like salted fish in their barrels, or weltering (shall I say ?) like an Egyptian pitcher of tamed vipers, each struggling to get its head above the others ;—such work goes on under the smoke counterpane ! But I, mein werther, sit above it all ; I am alone with the stars." The pictorial character of the physical universe in all its wonder, Mr. Carlyle certainly does restore by his odd inverted glance.
But the inconvenience of the method, as well as its value, is better tested when we come to something beyond the pictorial character of the universe. Mr. Carlyle's sacrifices for the good of his younger fellow-creatures are scarcely appreciated till we get to his topsy-turvy view of human society ;—not, we must remember, by any means a view which turns society topsy- turvy, for the inverted eye sees everything in the same posture as before,—the only change being that as it has dispensed with the numbing influence of habitual experience, it has necessarily dis- pensed also with the aid of that mass of time-honoured rules and influences which experience gradually works into the very act of perception,—just as the sense of distance (in itself originally a mere result of intellectual inference) becomes embodied by the power of habit in the very act of vision itself. And so it is with Mr. Carlyle. He sees the moral universe with a wonderful freshness that seems to show you the life tingling through it as you had never seen it before. But then all the truth which the slow experience of time has gradually embodied with our moral and mental perceptions is cast away in order to obtain this freshness. We see things as nearly as may be as one of Mr. Carlyle's rugged inarticulate chiefs of men might have seen them—" a konig or canning man" with- out any "book on his premises, whose signature was a true sign- manual, the stamp of his iron hand duly inlaid and clapt upon the parchment, and whose speech in Parliament, like the growl of lions, did indeed convey his meaning, but would have torn Lindley Murray's nerves to pieces." By thus blotting out the infer- ences of experience now become ingrained in our moral percep- tions, of coarse Mr. Carlyle's fresh impression of the moral uni- verse becomes tolerably false as well as fresh,—might standing out, as it did to the old buccaneers, before right,—slavery and "Beneficent Whip" acquitted of all wrong,—despotic strength glorified,—the "sciences called pure" decried,—a few imperious personalities, often by no means either called or thought pure, ex- alted,—"M'Crowdy and his dismal science" of economy trampled under took—parliaments or human babblernents condemned, —all prison-humanities vehemently denounced, —tolerance to Jesuits and jibbering phantasms generally, repealed, —and " beaverish" commerce discouraged. Such is Mr. Carlyle's in- terpretation of the " Eternal Verities," and doubtless it has all the merit of obliging us to reconsider how much of that gradually accumulated experience of the ages which is embodied with the ordinary moral vision of ordinary men is defensible or not,—how much of it is mere dull imitative or fashionable opinion, which has nothing to say for itself to any one who has the courage to chal- lenge it boldly, and how much of it will force us to take it back again even after we have attempted to dispense with it. But this latter part of the question Mr. Carlyle gives no aid at all in decid-
ing. Indeed it is a part of his usefulness to young men that he wipes clean out all customary ethics and philosophy, treats. the false and the true elements in them with much the same complete scorn, and obliges his readers to sift for themselves what he has rejected, and to resume what he has rejected on weak grounds. In this way he is, no doubt, one of the most useful teachers of young men, if they have any head to discriminate those rejections of modern habits of thought which are wise, or even sometimes wise, from those which are an attempt to cast away all the surest results of patient experience.
If the new Rector addresses his young constituents as he has thought, or wished to think, for many years past, he will give them a capital exercise in this sort of discrimination. Perhaps he may say something of this kind :—" I am credibly informed, my young brothers and fellow-learners, that a worthy friend of mine, with dia- cernments quite beyond the common, has in these present times un- dertaken to teach you of this University something (among others) that men call rhetoric and letters,—utterances of great men in this common tongue of ours, and the power resulting thence to all true learners among you, with leave of favouring nature, of distinctly articulating such word of God as may be in you :—if such word be already there. If such word be already there ! here is the grand condition of all true utterance, without which Rhetoric Professors, with huge midwife apparatus of various discernmenta, can do nothing for you but deliver you of dark, extensive moon- calves, metaphysic abortions, wide-coiled monstrosities of in- effable foolishness, such as it were better for the world not hitherto to have seen. Rhetoric professors, my young brothers, of how- soever various discernments, can at most help you to articulate such true word as may be in each of you, and if, in your chaotic, yeasty flounderings of blind desire you cannot yet find such word, may instead thereof surely help you to lose such word, beyond hope of ultimate finding, in froth-oceans of logical jargon, dismal science formulas, and sciences called pare.' In which too possible case, not I, but the solemn fact of the universe, must warn you, at peril of drowning for ever in said froth-oceans of logical jargon, to desist from long-eared hallelujahs and laudatory psalmody to middle-class education, sciences called pure,' Uni- versity extension, and the like, and retire into the silences, till you can catch some audible whisper of an everlasting yea announcing, as with clap of thunder, what sort of body-pilgrimage nature and fact have enjoined upon you, under peril of your soul, in this dis- tra,cted universe, to pursue." Even if this be exaggerated, which we doubt, there is a little too much of this sort of humorous and windy dilation on a few favourite and partially true ideas of Mr. Carlyle's to be found in his writings. Nevertheless, he may do, perhaps has already done, a good deal for the young men of &lin- burgh,—such of them at least as are able to winnow the chaff of this sort,—much nearer chaff' in the slang sense of the term than Mr. Carlyle has any idea,—and the latent falsehood with it, out of his discourses.