Chapter 3, Part 1 of the author's
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When Carlyle began authoring his own works in the 1830s, he made the search for authority in an era of revolution his major theme. His first attempt to resolve the problem, Sartor Resartus, led to the crisis of authority displayed in "The Reminiscence of James Carlyle." In reaction, he reformulated his poetics and produced a work that directly addressed the problem of authority in an era of revolution, The French Revolution. But this masterpiece in turn opened up a new realm of revolutionary discourse, leading him to the conclusion that writing alone would never recover the domestic idyll.
"Sartor Resartus" and the Revolution of 1830
Carlyle watched with interest when, on July 27, 1830, a second French revolution overturned the Bourbon monarchy. Although Carlyle was living in relative isolation in southwestern Scotland, he followed these events closely in the newspapers (see CL, 5:130, 161, 216). In late August, he would have seen Mill's letters on the revolution, which appeared anonymously in the Examiner (Mill, Earlier Letters, 12:59-67). In England, parliamentary elections earlier the same month had begun to raise the issues that led to the passage of the Reform Bill in 1832. Throughout the month of August, almost certainly inspired by his reflections on the sansculottes — "men without trousers" — Carlyle began to develop in his letters and notebooks the clothing metaphor of Sartor Resartus. On August 6, less than two weeks after the revolution began, he was advising his brother that "Men are but poor spindle-shanked wiffling wonners [wonders] when you clutch them thro' the mass of drapery they wear" (CL , 5:130; see 133). By September, he had begun writing the first draft of Sartor Resartus, "Thoughts on Clothes" (see TNB , 176, 177). Carlyle informed his brother on September 18 that he was planning to "write something of [his] own," and, on October 10, he spoke of actually being at work on it (CL, 5: 164, 170
Carlyle completed the long essay that was eventually to become Sartor Resartus on October 28, just two weeks before Wellington resigned [40/41] as prime minister, making way for a Whig ministry and parliamentary reform. The July elections had returned the Tories, but Wellington could not suppress the demand for reform in Parliament. The events in France convinced many that reform was the only alternative to revolution. When Grey succeeded Wellington that autumn, Carlyle shared the general expectation that radical change was imminent: "The Whigs in office, and Baron Brougham Lord Chancellor! Hay-stacks and corn-stacks burning over all the South and Middle of England! Where will it end? Revolution on the back of Revolution for a century yet?" (TNB , 178-79).
If Carlyle had reservations about Whig reform, it was because it did not go far enough, not because, as the Tories argued, it was too revolutionary (Briggs, 237). Carlyle, who considered that the Whigs, like the Tories, were already "done" for, agreed with the radicals that England required a more fundamental, a more truly revolutionary, alteration of its social structure: "All Europe is in a state of disturbance, of Revolution.... Their Part. Reforms, and all that, are of small moment; a beginning ... nothing more. The whole frame of Society is rotten and must go for fuel-wood" (TNB , 186, 183-84). Although he distrusted the utilitarian principles of the philosophic radicals, he shared their desire for radical reform, following the course of events in the Examiner, which he considered the "cleverest of all Radicals" (CL , 5:201; see 249, 270).
In January, Carlyle read the first of a series of articles in the Examiner, entitled "Spirit of the Age," that seemed to support the ideas he had set forth in the first draft of "Thoughts on Clothes." Like Carlyle, its author was concerned with the problem of finding "authority which commands confidence" during an "era of transition" (Newspaper Writings, 244). He also shared Carlyle's sense that they were living in an era of revolution, that "the times are pregnant with change; and that the nineteenth century will be known to posterity as the era of one of the greatest revolutions of which history has preserved the remembrance" (230). He even employed the clothing metaphor to make the point that revolution is the process by which society throws off outmoded institutions and "renovate[s]" itself: "Mankind have outgrown old institutions and old doctrines, and have not yet acquired new ones. When we say outgrown, we intend to prejudge nothing. A man may not be either better or happier at six-and-twenty, than he was at six years of age: but the same jacket which fitted him then, will not fit [41/42] him now" (230). On January 21 (the article appeared on January 9), Carlyle wrote his brother praising "Spirit of the Age"-he discovered in reply that its author was John Stuart Mill-and outlining for the first time his plans for extensively revising his essay on clothes (CL , 5:215-16, 235). Mill's essay seems to have encouraged him to expand "Thoughts on Clothes" and to seek a more serious outlet for it than Fraser's satirical literary magazine, to which he had originally submitted it. In March, while Parliament began considering the reform bill, he began to rework "Thoughts on Clothes," and in late July, while Parliament still sat in a state of indecision, he took the revised manuscript to London.
Like "The Spirit of the Age," Sartor Resartus addresses itself to and analyzes Carlyle's "revolutionary times," its opening chapter alluding directly to the Revolt of Paris and the British agitation for Reform (6). Sartor Resartus inscribes its origins in the Paris Revolt in its fictional frame where the "British Editor," who transcribes and narrates the life and opinions of Diogenes Teufelsdröckh, completes his work just at the moment when the "Parisian Three Days" begins (296). Furthermore, its central figure, the German clothes philosopher, is a "Radical" "Sansculottist" (63, 59) Other details indicate Teufelsdröckh's sympathy with the revolution. The Editor suggests he may be headed for London, where the reform agitation was under way; Teufelsdröckh responds to news of the July revolution with a German version of the revolutionary song, "c'a ira," and we are also told that he has been communicating with the revolutionary St. Simonians. On the relationship between what Carlyle himself said of the St. Simonians and this passage, see CL, 5:136, and TNB, 158-59. Sartor Resartus represents a world in which ideas can "overturn . . . the whole old system of Society," in which a sansculottic philosopher can tailor or author a new suit of social clothing (118).
Carlyle could hardly have chosen a more appropriate figure than clothing to represent an era of revolution. Not only did the metaphor have a long religious and literary history and an association with political revolution through the term sansculotte, but clothing was also the chief product of the industrial revolution. The textile industry was the first to be extensively mechanized and brought under the factory system, and the social disruptions wrought by these changes played a major role in producing the social unrest that led to the movement for reform. Hard hit by the decline in the value of their labor-between 1814 and 1829, the price of a piece of handmade calico dropped from 6s. 6d. to 1s. 1d.-- hand-loom weavers were among the most active participants in the intermittent riots and mob activities of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (Ashton, 81; Logue, 194). Carlyle sympathized with the "poor wretches" who threatened to strike and riot in Glasgow in late 1819 and early 1820 (CL, 1: 242; see also 212, 2 18, 224-25, 252-53, 254; Rem., 212-13, 222). He may even have had firsthand experience of these riots, since one occurred in Edinburgh in August 1812, a summer that he spent mostly there (Logue, 33, 41; Kaplan, 32). Carlyle perceived the fine irony that the glut of cloth produced by the industrial revolution would not serve to clothe the nation but to strip it naked, that weavers of cloth were being pushed toward sansculottism. [42/43]
Carlyle, via his clothes philosopher Teufelsdröckh, uses the weaving of cloth, or the sewing of a suit of clothes, to represent the process of authoring beliefs and institutions. His emphasis on clothing as woven textile plays on the root of the word text — texere, to weave. It also elaborates the familiar notion of the "fabric" of society (see 62). On the general notion of the tissue of society and social interconnectedness, see the chapter "Organic Filaments" and 52, 53, 60, 70, 71, 89, 95, 132, 245. Transcendental authority authors, weaves, or sews together the institutions and beliefs that constitute human society. Clothes are the medium through which the transcendental becomes visible in the finite world of human history: "Church-Clothes are, in our vocabulary, the Forms, the Vestures, under which men have at various periods embodied and represented for themselves the Religious Principle" (214). At the moment of their creation, clothes adequately represent or reveal the transcendental. Insofar as beliefs and institutions possess transcendental authority, they unite the authority to compel belief and to compel obedience, but because clothes, beliefs, and institutions are historical, they gradually lose their ability to manifest or represent transcendental authority. Carlyle represents this aspect of clothing by emphasizing that cloth is an organic material subject to wear and decay. The rags of old customs must be discarded in the "laystall," where they will decompose and become fertilizer for the "organic filaments" from which new cloth can be woven.
The clothing metaphor thus represents the fundamental historicity of cultural institutions and the inevitability of periodic revolution (see Dale, Victorian Critic, 299; Vanden Bossche, "Revolution and Authority," 277). Since nothing can prevent the processes of decay that destroy old clothing, Sartor's pervasive organic imagery suggests that revolution and historical change are natural, noncataclysmic processes. arlyle was aware, however, that many of his contemporaries thought it possible to patch up the old suits of clothing, to revive old beliefs and institutions instead of creating new ones. This patching up, however, would only repress the forces of change that would eventually break out in violent, rather than peaceful, revolution. Carlyle also uses the clothing metaphor to suggest the dangers that arise when clothing becomes customary or habitual. "Custom," Teufelsdröckh writes, persuades us that "the Miraculous, by simple repetition, ceases to be Miraculous . . . thus let but a Rising of the Sun, let but a Creation of the World happen twice, and it ceases to be marvellous, to be noteworthy, or noticeable" (259, 57). Puns on habit and costume appear throughout Sartor (35, 59, 72-73, 171, 223, 260-61, 266; see also the chapter on symbols, esp. 218). While clothing is theoretically transparent to the authority it reveals, it also covers and conceals it. Sartor Resartus suggests that the organic process that wears out clothes increases their opacity. When clothes become impediments to the recognition of authority rather than revelations of it, one is justified in stripping away and destroying them so that they can be replaced with new clothing. Teufelsdröckh does not flinch at the thought of destroying worn-out [43/44] clothing. In fact, he positively delights in the sansculottic vision in which "the Clothes fly off the whole dramatic corps; and Dukes, Grandees, Bishops, Generals, Anointed Presence itself, every mother's son of them, stand straddling there, not a shirt on them" (61).
Yet vision in Sartor Resartus seeks to make the transcendental manifest through new clothes, not just to pierce through and destroy clothing. One might expect that stripping away the clothing that conceals transcendental authority would be the surest way of recovering that authority. This is the position of "Adamites," antinomian sects that seek to recover paradise by living, like Adam, without clothes and without laws. But, for the Carlyle of Sartor Resartus, the fall into history makes the divine inaccessible except through clothing. Consequently, while Teufelsdröckh is a "Sansculottist," he is no "Adamite" (60). The antinomian Adamites of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had argued that human law cannot displace divine law and therefore wanted to discard human law, to go naked; but Teufelsdröckh insists that only through clothing can we produce social order, that "Society is founded upon Cloth," that "without clothes" there would be no "Politeness, Polity, or even Police" (51, 64; see 41, 60). In fact, the sansculottes, modern-day Adamites, have left society naked, stripped of the beliefs and institutions that constitute the social order. Organic clothing, alive with transcendental presence, produces just social relationships in a world otherwise subject to the amoral and purely mechanical laws of raw nature, a universe that is "one huge, dead, immeasurable Steam-engine, rolling on, in its dead indifference, to grind [one] limb from limb. O the vast, gloomy, solitary Golgotha, and Mill of Death" (164; emphasis added). The metaphor of the mill-punning on the name of the leading utilitarian philosopher, James Mill, a "Motive-Millwright"-connects the natural order to the laissez-faire economics espoused by the utilitarians (159, 220-21; see 68, 117, 232). Human beings, without the social order provided by custom, would tear one another to pieces. In The French Revolution, Carlyle will represent this as the sansculottic tendency toward cannibalism, and already in Sartor Resartus he is concerned with the Malthusian anxiety that we will end up "universally eating one another" (SR, 227). He also frequently complains that the utilitarian "Profit-andLoss Philosophy" replaces the soul with the stomach (e.g., 232). When human law no longer manifests transcendental authority, it cannot simply be destroyed: it must be replaced. Voltaire rightly destroys the "Mythus of the Christian Religion" because it is no longer a vital system of belief, but he falls into the Adamite heresy when he fails to "embody the divine Spirit of " Christianity "in a new Mythus, in a new vehicle and vesture" (163, 194).
When it comes to discovering who has authority to make new clothing, however, Sartor Resartus becomes ambiguous, divided between a [44/45] Goethe who would author a new mythus and a Napoleon who preaches his doctrine "through the cannon's throat" (178). The figure of the king, whose "authority from God" enables him to rule by "divine right," combines the authority to compel belief and to compel obedience because he excels in "Ken-ning (Cunning), or which is the same thing, Can-ning" (249). Because Sartor Resartus privileges "kenning," that is, knowledge and belief, from which "canning," social action and law, derives, the king is more likely to be a man of letters like Goethe than a politician like Napoleon. Indeed, in his notebook, Carlyle had claimed that the "only Sovereigns in this world in these days are the Literary men," and when he introduces the idea of "Hero-worship" in Sartor Resartus, he gives as an example of the hero, not a political figure, but Voltaire (TNB , 184; SR , 251)
Yet the figure of Voltaire raises the problem of how the man of letters can act ("can") as well as know ("ken"). Throughout Sartor Resartus, Carlyle expresses the anxiety that Teufelsdröckh's vocation will lead him to emulate, not Goethe, but Voltaire and Byron (192, 194). Employing the metaphor of building to describe the creation of a new social structure, Sartor Resartus articulates an opposition between those writers who create and those who destroy. While England needs a "Rebuilder" or an "Architect," not a "hodman," English utilitarianism is "calculated for destroying ... not for rebuilding" (248, 105, 234). From "The State of German Literature" (1827) forward, Carlyle depicts as mere hodmen authors who do not treat literature as religion (CME, 1: 59; 184; see CL, 4:271, 5:152-53, 6:329; TNB, 144). He also contrasts those who build (e.g., Goethe) with those who burn or destroy (e.g., Voltaire; see WM, 1: 28). The masonry metaphor can be found throughout Sartor Resartus (see especially 54, 250, 263). Similarly, Voltaire fails because he possesses "Only a torch for burning, no hammer for building" (163). This suggests that already in Sartor Resartus, Carlyle was beginning to doubt whether the man of letters could build, could replace the man of religion. To become a man of letters was to participate in the industrial revolution-journalism as the industry of literature-that was undermining rather than establishing authority. About 1830, his insistence that literature will be the new liturgy receives an ironic twist when he begins saying that "journalism," which he always despised, rather than "literature," is the new religion. Teufelsdröckh writes, for example, that "Journalists are now the true Kings and Clergy," for the liturgy of journalism is an ironic one that destroys "ancient idols" rather than producing a new belief (45, 252; see CME, 2:77; TNB, 263; HGL, 5).
Because the man of letters "kens" but cannot "can," Carlyle is attracted to the political hero, the Napoleon, who "can" but does not "ken." Although a sansculotte, Teufelsdröckh is also concerned with social control, with the ability to enforce belief in order to guarantee a just social order. This tendency of hero-worship to slide toward authoritarianism, or at least hierarchy, remains muted in Sartor Resartus because Sartor frames its analysis of the era of revolution in terms of the problem of religious belief, not, as the later works would, in terms of the institution of democracy. Although Teufelsdröckh is a sansculotte interested in social reform, he articulates his concern for [45/46] reform through a religious medium, the problem of the loss and recovery of faith. Although Carlyle became increasingly concerned with discovering heroic leadership rather than establishing religious belief, he would never fully abandon the idea that there could be "no permanent beneficent arrangement of affairs" until "Religion, the cement of Society," was reestablished (TNB , 179). Furthermore, he would always be haunted by the question that arose even as he introduced the idea of hero-worship in Sartor Resartus: "Kings do reign by divine right, or not at all. The King that were God-appointed, would be an emblem of God, and could demand all obedience from us. But where is that King? (TNB , 185; emphasis added in last sentence).
Last modified 10 October 2001