As a sage, Carlyle writes to an audience. He is aware of his reader, and uses his awareness to steer the reader in the direction he so desires. In "Signs of the Times," he is faced with the task of educating and admonishing his audience without insulting them. To accomplish this, he includes the reader in making an observation, but never ties his audience directly to the more negative aspects of his writing.

These things, which we state lightly enough here, are yet of deep import, and indicate a mighty change in our whole manner of existence. For the same habit regulates not our modes of action alone, but our modes of thought and feeling. Men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand. They have lost faith in individual endeavour, and in natural force, of any kind. Their whole efforts, attachments, opinions, turn on mechanism, and are of a mechanical character.

This paragraph contains many of the techniques of a sage, including his criticism without alienation. When giving examples, Carlyle includes the reader by using the terms "our" and "we," as if he is giving the reader credit for being intelligent enough to come up with the same argument. He also includes himself with the rest of humanity, so that his argument comes from the voice of a fellow man, rather than some lofty persona. When actually accusing mankind of having lost its way, he reverts to third person. He is including the reader in his judgment of the state of humanity, but softens the blow.


Does Carlyle remove himself from the society he is describing, or does his language indicate he believes himself included among the mechanical men?

Where does Carlyle derive his authority? Is it in his clever use of language, his patronizing of the reader? Something else?

Carlyle is similar to Johnson in his use of the language of poetry (head-heart-hand) and rhythmic parallels to reinforce his argument. How does he separate himself from the man who pioneered these techniques?

Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Leading Questions

Last modified: 20 February 2002