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Thomas Carlyle

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Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish essayist, satirist, and historian, known for his belief in "great men" as agents for remedying the human condition and for his idiosyncratically forceful prose style.

The works for which he is best known are Sartor Resartus, The French Revolution: a History, and Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History. He also played an important role in allowing Oliver Cromwell to speak for himself in his Oliver Cromwell's letters and speeches.[1]

Major works

Sartor Resartus appeared in Fraser's Magazine 1833—34, and was published in book form in the USA on Emerson's recommendation. It purports to be a Philosophy of Clothes as expressed in the writings of Professor Teufelsdröckh of Weissnichtwo. It is totally of its kind, part-serious, and part-satirical: "Lives the man that can figure a naked Duke of Windlestraw addressing a naked House of Lords? Imagination, choked as in mephitic air, recoils on itself, and will not forward with the picture." Clothes are said to correspond with symbols and human institutions.

The French Revolution (1837) shows Carlyle's powers of narration, description and phrase-making, for instance describing Robespierre as the "sea-green incorruptible". It starts from the death of Louis XV and ends with Napoleon Bonaparte's "Whiff of Grapeshot" by which "the thing we specifically call French Revolution is blown into space . . . and become a thing that was!" It established Carlyle's reputation.


  1. Drabble, M (ed). Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford University Press. Revised edition 1995