Once Thomas Carlyle outlines the mechanical nature of his society, he writes that it has affected every human interaction. Such mechanism, becoming the goal and aspiration of every man, is implanted in man's minds when they are but boys, toying with the idea. Because of societies attention and pressure to yield to the philosophy of mechanism, men have become appendages of mere machines. The state of the individual, along with the spiritual and cultural gains of society, is to Carlyle's disapproval lost in the new mechanical age.

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. Not for internal perfection, but for external combinations and arrangements, for institutions, constitutions, — for Mechanism of one sort or other, do they hope and struggle. Their whole efforts, attachments, opinions, turn on mechanism, and are of a mechanical character.

We may trace this tendency in all the great manifestations of our time; in its intellectual aspect, the studies it most favours and its manner of conducting them; in its practical aspects, its politics, arts, religion, morals; in the whole sources, and throughout the whole currents, of its spiritual, no less than its material activity. (67)

By calling attention to his comical treatment of the severe nature of mechanism, Carlyle shifts the attention of the reader to its internal affects on man. Mechanism's negative influence on men is stifling to their developmental environment. Only faithless, emotionless men are bread in such a society so controlled by mechanism as Carlyle's. Now necessary to the survival of the men in "Signs of the Times", mechanism is the oxygen of society no matter how polluted or hazardous. Carlyle's certainty throughout this passage cannot be ignored.


1. When Carlyle writes "men are grown mechanical," does he insinuate that men become mechanical because of their environment or that they are inherently that way?

2. Are the men given any ability to resist the adoption of this mechanical character? (See "They have lost faith") How does this differ from the tone of the rest of the piece?

3. Why does Carlyle group a man's opinions into the category of external things affected by mechanism?

4. Why is a tendency given the ability to act in the second paragraph cited above? Why does Carlyle list the aspects that mechanism has affected? Does it change the pace of the section?

Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Leading Questions

Last modified 9 October 2007