Thomas Carlyle – Heroes and Hero Worship (1840-41)

The theme of this lecture series is: “Universal History, the history of what man  has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here.” Only a hero can resolve the tangled contradictions that belief in utilitarianism has led to.

The Hero is her who lives in the inward sphere of things, in the True, Divine and Eternal, which exists always, unseen to most, under the Temporary, Trivial: his being is in that; he declares that abroad, by act or speech as it may be, in declaring himself abroad. (236)

There is an expressive rather than communicative aspect to these men of letters., that can nevertheless tip over into the didactic:

Men of Letters are a perpetual Priesthood, from age to age, teaching all men that a God is still present in their life; that all ‘Appearance,’ whatsoever we see in the world, is but as a vesture for the ‘Divine Idea of the World,’ for ‘that which lies at the bottom of Appearance.’ (237)

Men of letters are not “the momentous one,” but they are individuals, “an infinitesimal fraction of the great body; they can struggle on, and live or else die, as they have been wont. But it deeply concerns the whole society, whether it will set its light on high places, to walk thereby; or trample it under foot, and scatter it in all the ways of wild waste (not without conflagration), as heretofore. Not only societal disuse poses a threat to men of letters, but the whole culture of skepticism that claims mechanism as the secret of the universe. Men of letters fight against this claim…this is their mission.



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