[From Landow, Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows]
The satiric potential in Carlyle's use of the brazen serpent image in The French Revolution becomes fully realized in "Hudson's Statue" (1850). In this Latter-Day Pamphlet he follows his usual satiric procedure and takes a contemporary phenomenon as an emblem of the nation's mind and soul. Like the typhus-ridden Irish widow, "that great Hat seven-feet high, which now perambulates London Streets," and the "amphibious Pope" and his "Scenic Theory of Worship" from Past and Present (1843), the affair of Hudson's statue provides Carlyle with a grotesque satiric emblem of what is wrong with the age. He begins by drawing attention to the fact that whereas the people of England had not been able to make up their minds whether to build a statue of Oliver Cromwell, whom Carlyle takes to be one of the nation's greatest heroes, they readily subscribed £25,00.0 to erect one to the railway magnate and stock swindler, George Hudson (1800-71). After he was accused of having dishonestly recorded accounts and of having paid dividends out of capital invested by others, Hudson quickly lost his great wealth. He was not an entirely ruined man, for, although the public did not erect a monument to him after all, Sunderland continued to retum him to Parliament until 1859.
Claiming that "there was more of real worship in the affair of Hudson than is usual in such" monuments, Carlyle discovers that the people of England, who languish for better men to emulate, have chosen Hudson as one of their "Pattern Men," — a member of "as strange a Pantheon of brass gods as was ever got together in this world." According to Carlyle,
Hudson the railway king, if Popular Election be the rule, seems to me by far the most authentic kind extant in this world. Hudson has been åelected by the people' so as almost none other is or was. Hudson solicited no vote; his votes were silent voluntary ones, not liable to be false: he did a thing which men found, in their inarticulate hearts, to be worthy of paying money for; and they paid it. What the desire of every heart was, Hudson had or seemed to have produced: Script out of which profit could be made. They 'voted' for him by purchasing his script with a profit to him. Every vote was the spontaneous product of those men's deepest insights and most practical convictions, about Hudson and themselves and this Universe. (20.264 5)
George Hudson, whom many Victorians thought to be the new Saviour, tums out to be an incamation of Mammon. Unlike Ruskin, who was later to charge that England worshipped the Goddess-of-Getting-On, Carlyle does not here importantly concem himself with the fact that his contemporaries worship such false divinities. Rather he finds in the entire affair an indictment of the nation's capacity to choose for itself. He therefore asks:
After all, why was not the Hudson Testimonial completed? As Moses lifted up the Brazen Serpent in the wildemess, why was not Hudson's Statue lifted up? Once more I say, it might have done us good. Thither too, in a sense, poor poison-stricken mortals might have looked, and found some healing! For many reasons, this alarming populace of British Statues wanted to have its chief. The liveliest type of Choice by Suffrage ever given. The consummate flower of universal Anarchy in the Commonwealth, and in the hearts of men: was not this Statue such a flower . . . ?" (20.275)
Landow, George. Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows: Biblical Typology in Victorian Literature, Art, and Thought (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980). Follow for complete on-line version].
Last modified 23 October 2002