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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Character Sketch of Carlyle
By Margaret Fuller (1810–1850)
 
Letter to R. W. Emerson

From ‘Memoirs’: Paris, ——, 1846

I ENJOYED the time extremely [in London]. I find myself much in my element in European society. It does not indeed come up to my ideal, but so many of the incumbrances are cleared away that used to weary me in America, that I can enjoy a freer play of faculty, and feel, if not like a bird in the air, at least as easy as a fish in water….  1
  Of the people I saw in London, you will wish me to speak first of the Carlyles. Mr. Carlyle came to see me at once, and appointed an evening to be passed at their house. That first time I was delighted with him. He was in a very sweet humor,—full of wit and pathos, without being overbearing or oppressive. I was quite carried away with the rich flow of his discourse; and the hearty, noble earnestness of his personal being brought back the charm which once was upon his writing, before I wearied of it. I admired his Scotch, his way of singing his great full sentences, so that each one was like the stanza of a narrative ballad. He let me talk, now and then, enough to free my lungs and change my position, so that I did not get tired. That evening he talked of the present state of things in England, giving light, witty sketches of the men of the day, fanatics and others, and some sweet, homely stories he told of things he had known of the Scotch peasantry. Of you he spoke with hearty kindness; and he told with beautiful feeling a story of some poor farmer or artisan in the country, who on Sunday lays aside the cark and care of that dirty English world, and sits reading the ‘Essays’ and looking upon the sea….  2
  The second time, Mr. Carlyle had a dinner party, at which was a witty, French, flippant sort of a man, named Lewes, author of a ‘History of Philosophy,’ and now writing a life of Goethe, a task for which he must be as unfit as irreligion and sparkling shallowness can make him. But he told stories admirably, and was allowed sometimes to interrupt Carlyle a little,—of which one was glad, for that night he was in his acrid mood; and though much more brilliant than on the former evening, grew wearisome to me, who disclaimed and rejected almost everything he said….  3
  Accustomed to the infinite wit and exuberant richness of his writings, his talk is still an amazement and a splendor scarcely to be faced with steady eyes. He does not converse, only harangues. It is the usual misfortune of such marked men,—happily not one invariable or inevitable,—that they cannot allow other minds room to breathe and show themselves in their atmosphere, and thus miss the refreshment and instruction which the greatest never cease to need from the experience of the humblest. Carlyle allows no one a chance, but bears down all opposition, not only by his wit and onset of words, resistless in their sharpness as so many bayonets, but by actual physical superiority, raising his voice and rushing on his opponent with a torrent of sound. This is not in the least from unwillingness to allow freedom to others. On the contrary, no man would more enjoy a manly resistance in his thoughts. But it is the impulse of a mind accustomed to follow out its own impulse, as the hawk its prey, and which knows not how to stop in the chase.  4
  Carlyle indeed is arrogant and overbearing; but in his arrogance there is no littleness, no self-love. It is the heroic arrogance of some old Scandinavian conqueror; it is his nature, and the untamable impulse that has given him power to crush the dragons. He sings rather than talks. He pours upon you a kind of satirical, heroical, critical poem, with regular cadences, and generally catching up, near the beginning, some singular epithet which serves as a refrain when his song is full, or with which, as with a knitting-needle, he catches up the stitches, if he has chanced now and then to let fall a row. For the higher kinds of poetry he has no sense, and his talk on that subject is delightfully and gorgeously absurd. He sometimes stops a minute to laugh at it himself, then begins anew with fresh vigor; for all the spirits he is driving before him as Fata Morgana, ugly masks, in fact, if he can but make them turn about; but he laughs that they seem to others such dainty Ariels. His talk, like his books, is full of pictures; his critical strokes masterly. Allow for his point of view, and his survey is admirable. He is a large subject. I cannot speak more or wiselier of him now, nor needs it; his works are true, to blame and praise him,—the Siegfried of England, great and powerful, if not quite invulnerable, and of a might rather to destroy evil than legislate for good.  5
 
 
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