Critical Introduction

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Thomas Carlyle’s Latter-Day Pamphlets

Albert D. Pionke, University of Alabama

The owner of over 1000 miles of track laid during the 1840s railway boom, George Hudson, crowned the “Railway King,” was remembered by his Times obituarist as “a man who united largeness of view with wonderful speculative courage,” who “took away people’s breath at first, but . . . soon succeeded in persuading them that the larger the project and bolder the scheme, the more likely it was to pay” (ODNB). A power broker in York—as local Tory party treasurer, city alderman, county magistrate, and Lord Mayor, the last three times—Hudson was in 1845 elected as Member of Parliament for Sunderland. That same year, in an incident of North-Country Lore and Legend, “a movement was set afloat for the purpose of honouring Mr. Hudson with a public testimonial, and something like £25,000 was subscribed, with the view, it was understood, of erecting a statue” (“George Hudson” 394).

Unfortunately for Hudson, the discovery of his cooked corporate books caused the once-floated statue scheme to sink with him into insolvency. He did, however, receive a public testimonial of sorts, although one motivated less by memorialization than excoriation. I speak, of course, of the seventh of Thomas Carlyle’s famously dyspeptic Latter-Day Pamphlets, Hudson’s Statue, originally published in July 1850 and subsequently reissued with its companion castigations in a single volume later than same year.

This book, according to the exasperated reviewer from the Eclectic Review, aims “to show, that democracy cannot rule, and the nearer we get to the democratic form of government the worse it will be for us” (395). Hudson’s Statue, specifically, argues the unusually approving reviewer for The Examiner, is dedicated to countering

a false shame, to which Englishmen are peculiarly susceptible,—a cowardly fear of being thought enthusiastic in the advocacy of great of generous principles, or the admiration of great men. This nil admirari has spread widely through society; and its baneful tendency in encouraging the obtrusive despotism of the mere money-maker, and the parasitical propensities of the worshippers of conventional rank, are exposed in the latest publication of the series. (405)
More typical is the critic for The Athanaeum, who agrees “with Mr. Carlyle that the question of statueship is one of no mean importance,—but . . . cannot accept his version of either the facts or the morals of that question” (704). (Steam again, in the figurative sense.)

So far as we know, none of the published responses to Hudson’s Statue, or any of the other Latter-Day Pamphlets, was written by John Stuart Mill. Not that Mill was shy about criticizing in print the increasingly vitriolic writings of his former friend. In 1848, Mill had responded to Carlyle’s “Repeal of the Union” with his own essay, “England and Ireland,” within which he assailed the “Ezekiel of England” over his support for Irish colonial rule (CW 4.1096). Even more recently, in early 1850, Mill had, in “The Negro Question” in Fraser’s Magazine, anonymously admonished the author of the “Occasional Discourse” for his sanctioning of slavery (CW 21.85-96). Perhaps Mill had reached his critical quota, or maybe he saw no need to pile on to the in-print lament over these latest Carlylean “effusions of disappointment and despair” (“Carlyle’s Works” 178). 1

That he read the book when it appeared in volume form is certain, since like the majority of the books held in Somerville’s John Stuart Mill Collection, Carlyle’s Latter-Day Pamphlets contains nonverbal marks and verbal annotations written in pencil in Mill’s distinctive handwriting. Unlike nearly all of the marginalia in this collection, Mill’s annotations to Hudson’s Statue have been the subject of prior critical attention, in this case a 1970 article from Edward Alexander in English Language Notes. At three-and-a-half pages, Alexander’s short piece consists almost entirely of transcriptions, some displaying more confidence than I can muster in the face of Mill’s cramped hand, all marshalled to counter others’ too-easy conflation of various Victorian sages’ responses to democratic reform.

There is, however, more that might be said about the marginalia in Latter Day Pamphlets beyond merely that it contributes to “the available evidence bearing on Mill’s reasons for parting with” Carlyle (Alexander 121). Perhaps the first thing to notice about Mill’s copy of Latter-Day Pamphlets is that marginalia appears exclusively in Hudson’s Statue. This essay, then, assumes a disproportionate importance in assessing Mill’s response to Carlyle’s latest book-length publication. A portion of this response remains, unfortunately, unrecoverable as a result of the physical condition of the book. Unintentionally (one hopes) creating material reminders of the epistemological limits of this or any project in historical reconstruction, a subsequent over-eager bookbinder has rather aggressively trimmed the pages, losing some of Mill’s handwritten paratexts literally on the cutting room floor.

Despite this, it is possible to discern within Hudson’s Statue 53 individual examples of marginalia: 26 nonverbal marks and 27 verbal annotations. Only three of the former are disconnected from hand-written text on the same or an adjacent page, and although Mill often marks passages of which he approves in some way, it is difficult to discern what, exactly, he meant when, on p. 43, he inserted a double score next to the divine invocation, “O God, giver of Light, hater of Darkness, of Hypocrisy and Cowardice, how long, how long!” This uncertainty is compounded by the fact that the passage is itself attributed by Carlyle to the fictitious “Crabbe,” whom the Freethinker’s Magazine, at least, felt confident immediately labeling “an assumed name, apparently to mystify the reader” (92). Since Mill left no marks or annotations in Jesuitism, in which Crabbe’s American counterpart, Gathercoal, appears, we cannot compare his reactions to their respective passages to determine whether this mark indicates that Mill knew he was being fooled (I suspect he did) and, if so, whether he considered such fictional speakers examples of “Darkness,” “Hypocrisy,” or “Cowardice.”

With similar exceptionality, only two of the 27 annotations are unambiguously positive. On p. 17, in the context of wishing that “our British railways had gone on with deliberation; that these great works had made themselves not in five years but in fifty and five,” Carlyle imagines Hudson appearing in the underworld before Rhadamanthus to be judged. Rather than being granted £25,000 for a statue, Hudson, by Carlyle’s reckoning, would more justly be “doomed . . . to ride in Express-trains, nowhither, for twenty-five aeons, or to hand in Heaven as a Locomotive Constellation, and be a sign forever.” Mill has judged this Carlylean alternative to the Elysian Fields “rather funny.”2 Four pages later, in the midst of a lopsided comparison between Bobus the sausage-maker and an unnamed Bishop, who, Carlyle asserts, “teaches practically the necessity of ‘burning one’s own smoke,’” Mill has written a brief “good” in the inner margin. 3

The remaining 23 marks and 25 annotations work together to express Mill’s critical skepticism toward Carlyle’s rhetorical and argumentative excesses. Curiously, two pages featuring both verbal and nonverbal forms of marginalia remain unmentioned in Alexander’s otherwise punctilious article. On the bottom of p. 12 of Hudson’s Statue, after a section break indicated by the insertion of a horizontal line between paragraphs, Carlyle shifts into discussing “our first want . . . a new real Aristocracy of fact, instead of the extinct imaginary one of title.” Beside the second, interrogative clause of this extended sentence, which continues on the top of p. 13 and which reads in full “if it is from Popular Suffrage that we are to look for such a blessing, is not this extraordinary populace of British Statues, which now dominates our market-places, one of the saddest omens that ever way?,” Mill has inserted a score. Beneath it, in the bottom margin of p. 12, he has written “No. – the people neither choose know nor care anything about these statues. They are the gentlemen’s doing.” At this moment of empirical skepticism about the implied second premise of Carlyle’s syllogism—that “Popular Suffrage” has erected “this extraordinary populace of British Statues”—which, if it is false, makes Carlyle’s conclusion about “the saddest omens” a non sequitur, Mill aligns himself with the reviewers for both The Athanaeum and the Eclectic Review, both of whom question the logic of condemning an entire nation on the basis of the actions of a few of its citizens.4

Page 31, also omitted from Alexander’s transcriptions, is an exceptionally crowded one, with four pairings of verbal and nonverbal marginalia and an additional annotation unaccompanied by a mark. Beginning at the top of the page, in the outer margin of a passage in which Carlyle asserts that, whatever a man’s ostensible “[t]heologies, doxologies, orthodoxies, heterodoxies,” the “real ‘religion’ that is in him is his practical Hero-worship,” Mill has paraphrased, “In plain words, a man’s cha[racter?] is shown in what he admires. This is a[?] Carlyle.” It is a bit infuriating not to know whether this annotation’s penultimate word is “all” or “about” or something else; nevertheless, it is clear that Mill has recognized the warrant of Carlyle’s argument. His next two marginal annotations similarly seek to recast Carlyle’s matter minus his manner, clarifying the underlined “do their Hero-worship well” and “do it ill” to “i.e. admire the admirable” and “i.e. admire the bad” respectively. The final two pairings of marks and annotations on this page evince greater skepticism. First, the “whom” in Carlyle’s admonition “Know whom to honour and emulate and follow,” is underlined and a presumably interrogative “that is what” written in the margin beside it. More capaciously, the final 12 lines of the page, essentially an amplification of the above “real religion” passage with vague consequences attached, are marked with a score in the inner margin and a comparatively lengthy annotation in the bottom margin: “all the world knows this – except the fools + they don’t count – all his mistake is in counting the fools.” Mill is judging both Carlyle and himself in this final comment: not only is Carlyle substituting the actions of a comparatively wealthy few for the will of the “Popular Suffrage,” he is also confusing these wealthy few “fools” with people whose opinions “count”; Mill presumes here his own ability to discriminate between these two groups. The single upstroke visible at the neatly trimmed bottom edge of this page is the only evidence that remains of any elaboration or qualification that Mill might have made to his summary judgment.

Two further pages feature marks with companion annotations that also refuse to count the opinions of fools. Working backwards to p. 29, we find Carlyle haranguing another fictional character, the “most excellent Fitzsmithytrough,” who seems to be an enthusiastic promoter of the railroad not unlike Hudson. Countering Fitz’s materialist zeal for the speed of the new trains and the resulting decrease in the perceived distance between cities like London, Aberdeen, Ostend, and Vienna, Carlyle asks, “Will you teach me the winged flight through Immensity, up to the Throne dark with excess of bright? You unfortunate, you grin as an ape would at such a question.” Mill has scored this passage in the inner margin, annotating in the outer margin, “Because never ques[tions?] any but fools.” We are left to assume that not merely Novalis, alluded to later in the paragraph, but also others with his combination of artistic expression and intellectual discernment—including Mill, presumably—could help Carlyle to catch the train to “God Freedom, Immortality” for which he waits in vain.

Three pages earlier yet, on p. 26, Carlyle laments that in a society over-determined by the democratic principle, “the man that pretends to have what is angrily called a choice of his own . . . is felt as a kind of interloper and dissocial person, who obstructs the harmony of affairs, and is out of keeping with the universal-suffrage arrangement that has been entered upon.” Mill has commented upon this passage in three ways, inserting “not” before “universal-suffrage,” marking the whole with a marginal score, and then further annotating “True because of his own knowledge not the on dit of fools like most of the tract.” The initial insertion appears to reflect Mill’s concern, dating back to his 1840 review of the second volume of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America at least, over securing the rights of the (intellectual) minority in a democracy; in other words, making sure that those who “count” can be heard over the speech of “fools.” According to Mill’s annotation, Carlyle has a claim to be included among the privileged few, but only when voicing his own “knowledge”; otherwise, he and “most of the tract” that is Hudson’s Statue presumably belong amongst the foolish steam emanating from the “Railway King” and his would-be memorialists.5

Through these three marginal comments on fools, then, Mill implicitly conflates Carlyle with the unfortunate intended audience of Hudson’s Statue. All are equally unwise in their reliance upon questionable assertions of “fact” made by those who should not “count.” Put another way, Carlyle has failed to meet the demand for “Proof? Proof? Proof–” made by Mill on p. 21 of his personal copy, not to mention by the period’s many published reviewers of Latter-Day Pamphlets.


1 This article, somewhat bizarrely dedicated to illustrating the degree to which Carlyle’s works conform to Roman Catholic doctrine, briefly characterizes Hudson’s Statue as treating “with great power and in a spirit of the deadliest sarcasm, of that sordid worship of money, with which England is overridden” (“Carlyle’s Works” 201).

2 Mill’s approbation aligns him with the writer for the North British Review who cites this passage, among others, as evidence for the praiseworthy “literary merits and peculiarities” of Latter-Day Pamphlets as a whole (14).

3 The broader Bobus/Bishop contrast was acknowledged by the otherwise skeptical Athanaeum reviewer as “stated and illustrated amusingly” (705).

4 According to the Athanaeum reviewer, “That the offense against taste exhibited at Hyde Park Corner should be quoted as an argument against representation and constitutional government, is an instance of the peculiar logic to which Mr. Carlyle has devoted himself—suggesting an illustration of his own favorite dogma that chaos is come again” (705). The writer for the Eclectic Review similarly declares, “we cannot see the justice of charging a whole nation with the folly which pertained only to a miserable few who applauded the railway king to the echo, and were willing to cringe before him as his subjects—so long as they thought it possible to ride side by side with him on the road to fortune” (406).

5 Alexander speculates that in this annotation Mill is “perhaps referring sympathetically to Carlyle’s early struggles as an unpopular author” (122). However, Carlyle’s “knowledge” of himself as a “dissocial person” obstructing “the harmony of affairs” surely also extends to the reception he expected, even courted in Latter-Day Pamphlets itself, a possibility not lost on the writer for the North British Review: “Whatever unpopularity has been or may yet be the consequence of these Pamphlets, the author has knowingly, resolutely, and deliberately braved it” (8-9). Carlyle’s letters from January 1850 contain numerous references to Latter-Day Pamphlets and the hostile reception that he anticipates for them (see esp. CLO 25:1-2, 10-11).

Works Cited

“Carlyle’s Latter-Day Pamphlets.” Eclectic Review 28 (October 1850): 385-409.

“Carlyle’s Latter-Day Pamphlets.” North British Review 14.27 (Nov. 1850): 1-40.

“Carlyle’s Works.” Dublin Review 29.57 (September 1850): 169-206.

The Carlyle Letters Online [CLO]. Ed. Bret E. Kinser. Durham: Duke UP, 14 Sept. 2007. Web. 24 June 2016.

“George Hudson.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Accessed 16 June 2016.

“George Hudson, the Railway King.” The Monthly Chronicle of North-Country Lore and Legend 1.9 (November 1887): 392-97.

Mill, John Stuart. The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill. Ed. John Robson, et. al. 33 vols. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963-1991.

Rev. of Latter-Day Pamphlets.—Hudson’s Statue. The Athanaeum 1184 (6 July 1850): 704-05.

Rev. of Latter-Day Pamphlets. By Thomas Carlyle. The Examiner 2213 (29 June 1850): 404-06.

Rev. of Latter-Day Pamphlets. Nos. I. to VII. By Thomas Carlyle. The Freethinker’s Magazine and Review of Theology, Politics, and Literature 3 (1 August 1850): 91-93