[Disponible en español]

[Adapted from Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows: Biblical Typology in Victorian Literature, Art, and Thought, 1980. Full text]

Direct transfer of the arguments, imagery, and manner of proceeding of the typological sermon to art criticism represents one way in which a Victorian sage employed types. Another influence of this form of symbolism upon the writings of the sage appears in those works which interpret contemporary events much as preachers interpret ancient biblical ones.

According to Past and Present (1843), all history, and not just that detailed in the Bible, is informed by divine revelation: "Men believe in Bibles, and disbelieve in them: but of all Bibles the frightfulest to disbelieve in is this "Bible of Universal History" . This is the Eternal Bible and God's-Book, "in which every born man", till once the soul and eyesight are extinguished in him, "can and must, with his own eyes, see the God's-Finger writing"! To discredit this, is an infidelity like no other" (10.240). Two events, in particular, demand that men read them for their bits of divine revelation: the French Revolution and the Peterloo Massacre. Indeed, Past and Present's third chapter reminds his readers that in "all hearts that witnessed Peterloo, stands written, as in fire-characters, or smoke-characters prompt to become fire again, a legible balance-account of grim vengeance; very unjustly balanced, much exaggerated, as is the way with such accounts: but payable readily at sight, in full compound interest! Such things should be avoided as the very pestilence!¾ (10.16-17). The one way a society can avoid having to make such a fearful settlement in blood and suffering, says Carlyle, is to understand what God has written in the book of history before warnings become judgments. As he points out in "Chartism" (1839), the history of revolutionary France contains multiple scripture lessons for the English reader: "France is a pregnant example in all ways. Aristocracies that do not govern, Priesthoods that do not teach; the misery of that, and the misery of altering that, -- are written in Belshazzar fire-letters on the history of France¾ (29.161-2) . The fifth chapter of the Book of Daniel relates that God's finger wrote a judgment upon Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar, in fire-letters on the walls of his palace, and Carlyle, who finds himself cast into the role of Daniel and Jeremiah, tries to warn his contemporaries so that they will not have to suffer for their sins.

Last modified 1998