In "Signs of the Times," Carlyle criticizes the intellectually stiffling world in which he is forced to live. He describes the replacement of idea with institutions, and original thought with protocol. This age of mechanization, chronicled by Carlyle in a hyperbolic and livid fashion, is the inspiration for the style in which he writes. The passage below demonstrates the systematic, escalating nature of the mechanized world. With rage and style, Carlyle rips apart industrialized society while keeping one foot firmly planted in a nostalgic, supposedly superior past.

With individuals, in like manner, natural strength avails little. No individual now hopes to accomplish the poorest enterprise single-handed and without mechanical aids; he must make interest with some existing corporation, and till his field with their oxen. In these days, more emphatically than ever, "to live, signifies to unite with a party, or to make one." Philosophy, Science, Art, Literature, all depend on machinery. No Newton, by silent meditation, now discovers the system of the world from the falling of an apple; but some quite other than Newton stands in his Museum, his Scientific Institution, and behind whole batteries of retorts, digesters, and galvanic piles imperatively "interrogates Nature," who however, shows no haste to answer. In defect of Raphaels, and Angelos, and Mozarts, we have Royal Academies of Painting, Sculpture, Music; whereby the languishing spirits of Art may be strengthened, as by the more generous diet of a Public Kitchen. Literature, too, has its Paternoster-row mechanism, its Trade-dinners, its Editorial conclaves, and huge subterranean, puffing bellows; so that books are not only printed, but, in a great measure, written and sold, by machinery. National culture, spiritual benefit of all sorts, is under the same management. No Queen Christina, in these times, needs to send for her Descartes; no King Frederick for his Voltaire, and painfully nourish him with pensions and flattery: any sovereign of taste, who wishes to enlighten his people, has only to impose a new tax, and with the proceeds establish Philosophic Institutes.

Carlyle will repeat sentence phrasing to make specific points, but it also serves to creat a mechanized rhythm within his writing. His argument is nearly as systematic as the society and intellectual world he loathes.


1. Why doesn�t Carlyle care about solutions, only problems?

2. Would a creat discovery coming from one of these dreaded institutes be worthless in Carlyle�s eyes?

3. Does it help or detract from his argument that his writing is so systematic?

4. What, specifically, is Victorian about Carlyle�s writing or his ideas?

Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Leading Questions

Last modified 9 October 2007