Date of Award
Thomas Carlyle has been the recipient of much praise for the contribution he made to the great body of English literature of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the volume of adverse criticism of his writings is also very large. Without discussing the reasons for the unfavorable comment one may note that very little of it takes the form of patient analysis of what Carlyle actually said on a given topic through a series of discussions. Most of the comment takes the form either of reference to individual expressions in Carlyle's writings or of sweeping generalizations in regard to his works as a whole. It seems that either method opens opportunity for judgments as faulty as those of Carlyle on which critics comment so freely. It appears worth while, therefore, to sift Carlyle's writings in order to sort out end catalogue, so to speak, his many thoughts on the various topics that appealed especially to his interest. Under the circumstances such a herculean task would be impossible for this writer; however, to examine a body of Carlyle's works in order to select a group of representative thoughts along one specific line has seemed to be within the range of possibility and promises to be of no small value to those who would judge Carlyle not by hearsay nor by general impressions but by just such a group of expressions taken from his writings and sufficiently comprehensive to be accepted by the average critic as truly characteristic of Carlyle and therefore fairly representative of his convictions and attitude on a specific subject. For this particular study the field of thought selected is Carlyle's ideas on government. The aim has not been to collect here all that Carlyle ever said about government; the effort has been, rather, to present enough to gain a clear understanding of what was his actual opinion. Aside from the attempt to define democracy in the first few pages of Chapter III, no effort has been made to study political conditions in England except through Carlyle's eyes. No other work has been discovered by the writer which attempts to sift Carlyle's writings in this manner in order to reassemble in a few pages a group of representative thoughts so concentrated on a specific idea as to give an authentic impression of Carlyle's whole opinion on that point. Similar studies of Carlyle's thoughts in other fields would, when brought together, simplify greatly the means of approaching his opinion in toto by eliminating the long search now necessary through numerous volumes. With no intention of passing final judgment the writer has offered an occasional analytical or interpretive comment; such is intended to be merely incidental. At the close, a few opinions crystallized from the study of this collection of Carlyle's ideas suggest the writer's point of view. It is to be hoped that they will not interferer with the reader's enjoyment of the right to form his own conclusions. As far as possible, quotations from Carlyle's writings are taken from The Centenary Edition, The Works of Thomas Carlyle, H.D. Traill, editor, London, Chapman and Hall, Ltd. Notes on citations of material not found in The Centenary Edition are self-explanatory.
Coleman, Henry Freeman, "Thomas Carlyle's ideas on government" (1937). ETD Collection for Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center. Paper EP17361.