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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
On Carlyle
By Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–1872)
From the ‘Essays’

WE all seek God; but we know that here below we can neither attain unto him, nor comprehend him, nor contemplate him: the absorption into God of some of the Brahminical religions, of Plato, and of some modern ascetics, is an illusion that cannot be realized. Our aim is to approach God: this we can do by our works alone. To incarnate as far as possible his word; to translate, to realize his thought,—is our charge here below. It is not by contemplating his works that we can fulfill our mission upon earth; it is by devoting ourselves to our share in the evolution of his work, without interruption, without end. The earth and man touch at all points on the infinite: this we know well, but is it enough to know this? have we not to march onwards, to advance into this infinite? But can the individual finite creature of a day do this if he relies only upon his own powers? It is precisely from having found themselves for an instant face to face with infinity, without calculating upon other faculties, upon other powers, than their own, that some of the greatest intellects of the day have been led astray into skepticism or misanthropy. Not identifying themselves sufficiently with humanity, and startled at the disproportion between the object and the means, they have ended by seeing naught but death and annihilation on every side, and have no longer had courage for the conflict. The ideal has appeared to them like a tremendous irony.  1
  In truth, human life, regarded from a merely individual point of view, is deeply sad. Glory, power, grandeur, all perish,—playthings of a day, broken at night. The mothers who loved us, whom we love, are snatched away; friendships die, and we survive them. The phantom of death watches by the pillow of those dear to us. The strongest and purest love would be the bitterest irony, were it not a promise for the future; and this promise itself is but imperfectly felt by us, such as we are at the present day. The intellectual adoration of truth without hope of realization is sterile: there is a larger void in our souls, a yearning for more truth than we can realize during our short terrestrial existence….  2
  Sadness, unending sadness, discordance between the will and the power, disenchantment, discouragement—such is human life, when looked at only from the individual point of view. A few rare intellects escape the common law and attain calmness: but it is the calm of inaction, of contemplation; and contemplation here on earth is the selfishness of genius.  3
  I repeat, Mr. Carlyle has instinctively all the presentiments of the new epoch; but following the teachings of his intellect rather than his heart, and rejecting the idea of the collective life, it is absolutely impossible for him to find the means of their realization. A perpetual antagonism prevails throughout all he does; his instincts drive him to action, his theory to contemplation. Faith and discouragement alternate in his works, as they must in his soul. He weaves and unweaves his web, like Penelope; he preaches by turns life and nothingness; he wearies out the powers of his readers by continually carrying them from heaven to hell, from hell to heaven. Ardent, and almost menacing, upon the ground of ideas, he becomes timid and skeptical as soon as he is engaged on that of their application. I may agree with him with respect to the aim, I cannot respecting the means: he rejects them all, but he proposes no others. He desires progress, but shows hostility to all who strive to progress; he foresees, he announces as inevitable, great changes or revolutions in the religious, social, political order, but it is on condition that the revolutionists take no part in them; he has written many admirable pages on Knox and Cromwell, but the chances are that he would have written them as admirably, although less truly, against them had he lived at the commencement of their struggles….  4
  What is meant by “reorganizing labor” but bringing back the dignity of labor? What is a new form but the case or the symbol of a new idea? We perhaps have had a glimpse of the ideal in all its purity; we feel ourselves capable of soaring into the invisible regions of the spirit. But are we, on this account, to isolate ourselves from the movement which is going on among our brethren beneath us? Must we be told, “You profane the sanctity of the idea,” because the men into whom we seek to instill it are flesh and blood, and we are obliged to speak to their senses? Condemn all action, then; for action is only a form given to thought—its application, practice. “The end of man is an action and not a thought.” Mr. Carlyle himself repeats this in his ‘Sartor Resartus’; and yet the spirit which pervades his works seems to me too often of a nature to make his readers forget it.  5
  It has been asked, what is at the present day the duty of which we have spoken so much? A complete reply would require a volume, but I may suggest it in a few words. Duty consists of that love of God and man which renders the life of the individual the representation and expression of all that he believes to be the truth, absolute or relative. Duty is progressive, as the evolution of truth; it is modified and enlarged with the ages; it changes its manifestations according to the requirement of times and circumstances. There are times in which we must be able to die like Socrates; there are others in which we must be able to struggle like Washington: one period claims the pen of the sage, another requires the sword of the hero. But here and everywhere the source of this duty is God and his law; its object, humanity; its guarantee, the mutual responsibility of men; its measure, the intellect of the individual and the demands of the period; its limit, power.  6
  Study the universal tradition of humanity, with all the faculties, with all the disinterestedness, with all the comprehensiveness of which God has made you capable: where you find the general permanent voice of humanity agreeing with the voice of your conscience, be sure that you hold in your grasp something of absolute truth—gained, and forever yours. Study also with interest, attention, and comprehensiveness, the tradition of your epoch and of your nation—the idea, the want, which ferments within them: where you find that your conscience sympathizes with the general aspiration, you are sure of possessing the relative truth. Your life must embody both these truths, must represent and communicate them, according to your intelligence and your means: you must be not only MAN, but a man of your age; you must act as well as speak; you must be able to die without being compelled to acknowledge, “I have known such a fraction of the truth, I could have done such a thing for its triumph, and I have not done it.”  7
  Such is duty in its most general expression. As to its special application to our times, I have said enough on this point in that part of my article which establishes my difference from the views of Mr. Carlyle, to render its deduction easy. The question at the present day is the perfecting of the principle of association, a transformation of the medium in which mankind moves: duty therefore lies in a collective labor. Every one should measure his powers, and see what part of this labor falls to him. The greater the intellect and influence a man enjoys, the greater his responsibility; but assuredly contemplation cannot satisfy duty in any degree.  8
  Mr. Carlyle’s idea of duty is naturally different. Thinking only of individuality, calculating only the powers of the individual, he would rather restrict than enlarge its sphere. The rule which he adopts is that laid down by Goethe,—“Do the duty which lies nearest thee.” And this rule, like all other moral rules, is good in so far as it is susceptible of a wide interpretation; bad so far as, taken literally, and fallen into the hands of men whose tendencies to self-sacrifice are feeble, it may lead to the justification of selfishness, and cause that which at bottom should only be regarded as the wages of duty to be mistaken for duty itself. It is well known what use Goethe, the high priest of the doctrine, made of this maxim: enshrining himself in what he called “Art”; and amidst a world in misery, putting away the question of religion and politics as “a troubled element for Art,” though a vital one for man, and giving himself up to the contemplation of forms and the adoration of self.  9
  There are at the present day but too many who imagine they have perfectly done their duty, because they are kind toward their friends, affectionate in their families, inoffensive toward the rest of the world. The maxim of Goethe and of Mr. Carlyle will always suit and serve such men, by transforming into duties the individual, domestic, or other affections,—in other words, the consolations of life. Mr. Carlyle probably does not carry out his maxim in practice; but his principle leads to this result, and cannot theoretically have any other.  10

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