Chapter 4, Part 4 of the author's
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arlyle continued to seek a literary form through which he could envision and represent the recuperation of authority. Even as the first reviews of Chartism were appearing, he was looking forward to a new series of lectures that would give him the opportunity to formulate a theory of the cyclical rise and fall of social authority. While his previous lectures had for the most part reworked older material, he would for the first time use his lectures to work out an idea that would be worth "promulgat[ing] ... farther " as a book (CL, 12: 184)
With On Heroes and Hero-Worship, Carlyle shifted the locus of authority from the realm of' literature to the realm of politics, a shift manifested in a last-minute change in the order of the lectures. He initially planned to end the series with a lecture on Burns, but sometime between April ii, when he began writing notes for the lectures, and May 5, when the lectures began, he altered his plan and decided to conclude with a lecture on Cromwell and Napoleon (CL, 12:103, 115, 128).9 In addition to demonstrating the importance he would give to the hero as king, this change indicates that, as Carlyle himself admitted, the lectures were "not so much historic as didactic" (CL, 12:94). [97/98] We must read them not as a history of authority, but as a history of Carlyle's own attempt to envision a new form of authority.
Through the figure of the hero, Carlyle attempted to resolve the tension between transcendence and history. The hero is simultaneously transcendental, in that he always embodies the same transcendental authority, and historical, in that the embodiment belongs to a specific time, place, and culture. While all eleven figures discussed in the lectures are heroes — that is, possess transcendental authoritytheir authority takes six different historical forms: the hero as divinity, prophet, poet, priest, man of letters, and king. At times, the dual nature of the hero amounts to a contradiction rather than a resolution of the tension between historical and transcendental authority. When Carlyle argues that all the heroes are "originally of one stuff " and that Mirabeau could have been a poet and Burns a politician, he tends to deprive them of their historical specificity (43, 79). By contrast, the historicity of the individual heroic types puts into question his assertion that, since the hero transcends history, any hero could appear in any era. Carlyle attempts to resolve the tension between transcendence and history through the form of On Heroes. The four heroes following the hero as divinity become enmeshed in their historical era, and, by the time the hero as man of letters appears, transcendental authority has nearly disappeared. The final lecture, on the hero as king, attempts to escape history and recuperate authority by circling back to the first, the hero as divinity.10
The hero as divinity has a privileged position in the sequence of heroes. Whereas the other heroes manifest divinity in human form, Odin represents unmediated transcendental authority itself. The embodiment of both religious and political authority, he can create an aboriginal language through which belief becomes social order. He is, in effect, the God of Genesis creating the Garden of Eden.
Only Odin can be the originary creator; the succeeding heroes belong to the postlapsarian era. The Odin-like qualities that these later heroes possess increasingly become submerged in their historical roles. They must first destroy the remains of the historical mediations through which authority had been transmitted in the preceding era and then recreate society out of the remains of these mediations. But, like the French during the revolution, they have difficulty in shifting from destruction to creation. Mahomet the iconoclast, rather than [98/99] Odin, is the model for the succeeding heroes (120, 132-33, 199-200). (In "The Hero as Poet," Mahomet appears nine times, Odin only once; in "The Hero as Priest," Luther is compared to Odin once but to Mahomet several times.) If Mahomet can still create a theocracy, Knox fails to do so, the hero as priest "revers[ing]" the work of previous heroes who have "buil[t] ... Religions" (151-52, 116). While Carlyle wants to argue that each hero fully recovers the authority of his predecessor, that time and history do not make a difference, he cannot avoid noticing that his lectures represent the steady diminishment of authority: "The Hero taken as Divinity; the Hero taken as Prophet; then next the Hero taken only as Poet: does it not look as if our estimate of the Great Man, epoch after epoch, were continually diminishing? We take him first for a god, then for one god-inspired; and now in the next stage of it, his most miraculous word gains from us only the recognition that he is a Poet, beautiful verse-maker, man of genius, or such like!" (84). The latter heroes inaugurate the revolutionary era of destruction."
By the time we reach the man of letters, the hero is completely enmeshed in history and revolution, his transcendental authority diminished almost to nothing. While the hero as divinity is no longer possible, the man of letters had never been possible before; he belongs to history, not to all times 0 54) - In "The Hero as Man of Letters," we can see Carlyle revising the representation of the literary man that he had borrowed from Fichte twenty years earlier. Although he begins by repeating Fichte's idea that the man of letters manifests a "divine idea," the remainder of the lecture demonstrates that he no longer believes in the authority of the writer.12 Whereas the hero as poet, the Dante or Shakespeare, could create an epic for an era of belief, Johnson, Rousseau, and Burns belong to a century dominated by unbelief. Johnson and Rousseau both produce gospels, but Johnson's "Gospel . . . of Moral Prudence" is so firmly embedded in history that it is already dead by Carlyle's time, and Rousseau's "evangel" has produced unbelief, the opposite of social order (182). Carlyle's original intention to conclude with a lecture on Burns, a figure with whom he closely identified, indicates that he may have been planning a more optimistic representation of the man of letters. But instead of portraying the man of letters as the savior of the modern era, the lecture portrays him as a symptom of its problems. Burns, like Rousseau and Johnson, seeks authority and does not find it; he attempts to shape the world [99/100] but is shaped by it (158). The man ofletters is not a hero in the same sense that his predecessors were; he is a mere "Half-Hero" (171).
If Carlyle had wished to portray the modern man of letters as possessor of transcendental authority, as at least the equivalent of the hero as poet, he could have chosen Goethe as his exemplar. In fact, the choice was so obvious that he felt compelled to explain the exclusion of Goethe at the outset of the lecture. Yet his stated reason, that Goethe was too little known to be understood in England, is odd, to say the least, coming from the man who had done so much to make Goethe known there.13 The exclusion of Goethe suggests that Carlyle had lost faith in Goethe's authority, particularly in his ability to create a new social order through his art. Johnson, Rousseau, and Burns, he seems to say, represent all that the man of letters can really achieve. That Carlyle should discover in the hero as king the figure who recovers the transcendental authority of the hero as divinity is just as surprising as his exclusion of Goethe in "The Hero as Man of Letters." 14 In The French Revolution, he had demonstrated that monarchy, at least feudal monarchy, was dead, but, although both Cromwell and Napoleon ruled nations, neither was, strictly speaking, a "king." Carlyle chose them to represent, not feudal monarchy, but the reinvention of kingship in the era of revolution. In effect, the hero as lawmaker supplants the hero as culture-maker, the wielder of the sword, the wielder of words.
The hero as king is "a kind of God" who recovers the transcendental authority of the hero as divinity and the lost transcendental idyll. But in order to recover this "ideal country," this "perfect state" of theocracy, the king must escape the mediations of history that have encumbered his predecessors (198, 197). Instead of manifesting the transcendental in writing, he must put it directly into action. The sequence of heroes from Odin to the men of letters are all authors whose writing projects manifest their diminishing authority. Odin is literally the first man of letters, creating an alphabet with which to record mythology (27-28). Mahomet writes the Koran, which Carlyle had equated in "On Biography" with foundational cultural myths like the Bible and the Iliad. Dante and Shakespeare record the spiritual and secular epics of their culture, Christianity and chivalry, in The Divine Comedy and the Henriad. But Luther can do no more than translate the Bible, a mythus that is already losing its authority; and, while' Johnson, Rousseau, and Burns produce "letters"-one thinks especially of Johnson's dictionary-they are incapable of creating myth or [100/101] epic. Cromwell and Napoleon break the pattern. With them the hero becomes an actor, not a writer. Neither Cromwell, who puts an end to the parliamentary speech-making that endlessly defers creation of his theocracy, nor Napoleon, who puts an end to the Terror, mediates the transcendental ideal through a finite text; both translate it directly into the social order through action (229-34).
The movement from man of letters or religious leader to king or political leader manifests not only a shift from writing to action, but a shift from the priority of belief that informs social order to the priority of law that enforces social order. The first three lectures portray eras in which belief creates a social order, the eras of paganism, Islam, and Christianity. The last three lectures portray eras in which revolution prevents the creation of social order. Luther and Knox attempt to establish a new theocracy but fail because they have destroyed the authority of the pope (igg-2oo). The medieval theocracy in which the religious authority of the pope took precedence over the secular authority of kings- represented by the submission of' Emperor Henry IV to Pope Hildebrand at Canossa, Henry acknowledging that "the world [i.e., Henry as king] could have no legitimate control in things spiritual"-was no longer viable in an era of revolution (HL, 74; see HHW, 152). In the "Hero as King," royal authority subsumes religious authority; the king with "something of the Pontiff in him," rather than the pope, will put the spiritual into practice as "head of the Church" (19q). Britain needs more than Knox the priest, Carlyle 15 decides; it needs Cromwell the king (CL, 12:150) .
Yet while the people obey the hero as divinity because they believe in what he says, they obey the hero as king because he compels them by "weight and force" (2 3 1) . Carlyle would have it that the king's actions manifest his transcendental authority-that the hero as king is not fundamentally different from the hero as divinity, since all heroes reveal the divine law-yet it turns out that we do not know how to recognize this authority (230, 234)- "It is a fearful business," he concludes, 11 that of having your Able-man to seek, and not knowing in what manner to proceed about it!" (19q). Carlyle calls for hero-worship, but he cannot show us how to find or recognize a hero. On Heroes and Hero-Worship elides these difficulties in its culminating vision of the recovery of authority by the hero as king who recovers the domain of unmediated belief and returns us to the prelapsarian idyll of the hero as divinity. In this regard, at least, On Heroes succeeds where Chartism had,failed, enabling Carlyle to imagine a new class of [101/102] leaders, modern heroes, who would play a central role in his new epic for modern England. At the same time, however, the figure of' the hero as king, which would dominate his writings for the rest of his life, marks the limits and underlies the failure of his social vision.
Last modified 10 October 2001