In "Signs of the Times," Carlyle argues against the utilitarian values that he believes have taken over much of modern society, to the great detriment of all involved. While he agrees that this "Age of Machinery," as he calls it, has provided for some improvements, he questions the true value of such alleged progress. In attempting to interpret current conditions through comparison, he writes the following:

Now it is certain, that in former times the wise men, the enlightened lovers of their kind, who appeared generally as Moralists, Poets or Priests, did, without neglecting the Mechanical province, deal chiefly with the Dynamical; applying themselves chiefly to regulate, increase and purify the inward primary powers of man; and fancying that herein lay the main difficulty, and the best service they could undertake. But a wide difference is manifest in our age. For the wise men, who now appear as Political Philosophers, deal exclusively with the Mechanical province; and occupying themselves in counting-up and estimating men's motives, strive by curious checking and balancing, and other adjustments of Profit and Loss, to guide them to their true advantage: while, unfortunately, those same 'motives' are so innumerable, and so variable in every individual, that no really useful conclusion can ever be drawn for their enumeration.


How does Carlyle construct this passage to illustrate his point?

What effect does his complex sentence construction have on the reader?

Is it useful or effective in this passage? How does it reflect (or not) the larger scope of the entire "Signs of the Times" piece?

Finally, this passage seemed to me quite similar in construction to some of the writing of Johnson. Can we see any similarities in Carlye's mechanics to the mechanics of other writers we've studied so far?

Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Leading Questions

Last modified 22 February 2002