Millites: Carlyle uses this term to criticize overly "excited" non-religious prophets such as John Stuart Mill (1806-73), an English utilitarian philosopher and political theorist (OED Online). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Millite (also written as Millian) as an adjective means "Of, relating to, or characteristic of Mill or his theories," and as a noun, it means "A follower, supporter, or student of Mill or his theories."

As with his friend Edward Irving (1792-1834), a Millenarian Presbyterian minister (see "jointure" annotation), Carlyle questions the beliefs of another personal friend, John Stuart Mill, an advocate of Utilitarian. Carlyle views both groups as "harking after false portents and harboring false prophets, their activities are symptoms of deeply rooted illness in society at large," as noted by Lawrence Poston in "Millites and Millenarians: The Context of Carlyle's 'Signs of the Times'" (398). Both are absurdities not to be bought into though they are nothing to be worried about. Carlyle dismisses their significance, facetiously stating, "Left to themselves, they will the sooner dissipate, and die away in space."

Interestingly, the word "Mill" in Millite strengthens Carlyle's rhetoric with its double meaning: "the pun on 'mill' as a symbol of mechanism as well as the name of the chief utilitarian of his day is applied" and furthermore draws a destructive connection between the opposing Millite and Millenarian parties (Poston 401). Carlyle used "Mill" in an earlier 1829 essay on Voltaire in describing the Enlightenment as an age with a "monotonous clatter of a boundless Mill, which, turned by the steam of Chance, and swimming thereon, was a Mill of itself, without Architect and Miller, properly a genuine perpetuum mobile, a real self-grinding Mill" (Poston 384). This mill, which would "grind meal for society" parallels the "meal" (nonsensical religious claims) spun out by both mills of the Millites and Millenarians ("one announces that the last of the seals is to be opened, positively, in the year 1860; and the other assures us that "the greatest-happiness principle").

Related Material on the Victorian Web


"Millian, adj. and n." Oxford English Dictionary Online. June 2008. Oxford University Press. 30 March 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 12 April 2009