Jointure originally meant "the holding of property to the joint use of a husband and wife for life or in tail, as a provision for the latter, in the event of her widowhood" (OED Online). According to Lawrence Poston's "Millites and Millenarians," Carlyle used "jointure" to mock the claims of an 1829 essay by his old friend Edward Irving — "The Last Days: A Discourse On the Evil Character Of These Our Times, Proving Them To Be the 'Perilous Times.'" Alluding to the Gospel of Luke, Irving had written that "The poor evil-entreated widow, crying for vengeance against her adversary, represents [Christ's] Church now enduring widowhood, and to endure it until her Lord and husband shall come again" (Poston 393). Irving here applies to contemporary Britain the Parable of the Unjust Judge (Luke, 18:1-9), which demonstrates the importance of prayer with the story of a widow who persistently demands justice until she eventually succeeds (Wikipedia).

Irving, a member of the Albury Circle of Millenarian clergymen, described the Church as a widow to emphasize the need to restore faith in Christ since the Apocalypse was at hand (Poston 393). Although Carlyle and Irving agreed that the Church's old place in society was threatened, Carlyle saw the destruction as a necessary evolution rather than a signifier of "the end." For this reason, Carlyle's mockingly rephrases Irving when he aserts that "the Church is a widow, without jointure; public principle is gone; private honesty is going; society, in short, is fast falling in pieces; and a time of unmixed evil is come on us and the ruin of the church and state are out of our control." His preceding description of Leviathan, furthermore, serves to illustrate such delusional Millenarian prophecies.

"Carlyle admired Irving's genuine powers while rejecting his theology and deploring his rhetorical excesses" (Poston 392) and worrying about his friend. In a letter of 22 October 1823 to his future wife Jane Welsh, he had written: "It does me ill to see a strong and generous spirit distorting itself into a thousand foolish shapes; putting wilfully on the fetters of a thousand prejudices, very weak tho' very sanctified; dwindling with its own consent from a true and manly figure into something far too like a canting preacher of powerful sermons" (quoted by Poston 392). After Irving's death Carlyle wrote a brief biography of his fellow Scotsman.

Related material on the Victorian Web


"jointure, n." The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 30 March 2009.

"Parable of the Unjust Judge." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 17 Nov 2008, 30 Mar 2009.

Poston, Lawrence. "Millites and Millenarians: The Context of Carlyle's 'Signs of the Times.'" Victorian Studies 26.4 (1983): 381-406.

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Last modified 30 March 2009