Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Carlyle, Thomas, the son of James Carlyle, a stonemason, was born at Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire, Dec. 4, 1795. He was the eldest of nine children. His mother's name was Margaret Aitken. He received his early education at Annan grammar school, and about the age of fourteen matriculated at Edinburgh University. His higher studies were intended by his parents as preparatory to the work of the Church, but Carlyle tired before long of this project. The idea of the clerical profession was finally abandoned in 1817. In 1814 he was appointed mathematical teacher in Annan academy, a situation, however, which he calls "flatly contradictory to all ideals or wishes of mine." After acting in this post for two years, he was asked to fill the mastership of a school at Kirkcaldy, in opposition to Edward Irving, who had not given satisfaction as teacher of the principal school there. Carlyle has left pleasing recollections of his sojourn in the town with Irving. Here also he met Margaret Gordon, the "Blumine" of Sartor Resartus. But he took ill to his routine work in Kirkcaldy, and left for Edinburgh in 1818, with no particular occupation in view, but feeling convinced that he "must cease to be a pedagogue." In Edinburgh he earned a livelihood by private tuition, and by translating pamphlets from the French on mineralogy. His first literary employment began with the contribution of various articles to Brewster's Edinburgh Encyclopaedia. These included biographies of Montesquieu, Pitt, and others. From the beginning of 1819 he had begun to study German, and Goethe, Richter, and Fichte affected him distinctly at this period. In 1821 he sent a specimen translation from Schiller's Thirty Years' War to Longmans, and in the following year he wrote an article on "Faust" for the Edinburgh-Review. In 1823 his Life of Schiller began to appear in the London Magazine. This, published in book form in 1825, was, on the whole, not unfavourably reviewed. He brought out his Specimens of German Romance in 1827, as a bit of "honest journey-work." From 1822 to 1824 Carlyle's income was decidedly improved by his engagement as tutor to Charles Buller, afterwards president of the Poor Law Board. From the summer of 1824 to the spring of 1825 he was a good deal in London, where he made the acquaintance of Coleridge and other men of note. At this time he visited Paris, where he introduced himself to Legendre, whose work on geometry he had recently translated. Now he received also a letter from Goethe, acknowledging his translation of Wilhelm Meister, part of which had been included in his book on German romance. In October, 1826, Carlyle was married to Jane Baillie Welsh. He thereupon settled in Edinburgh, hoping to acquire adequate support from his labours as a litterateur. The Edinburgh Review and the Foreign Quarterly Review were the main recipients of his work. His essays on Werner, Goethe, and Burns now saw the light. In 1828 Carlyle and his wife removed from Edinburgh to Craigenputtock, a farm about seven miles from Dumfries; the change suited Carlyle himself perfectly, but entailed considerable sacrifices on the part of his wife. He was unsuccessful about this time in gaining a professorial post at University College, London, and also at St. Andrew's. In 1830 began his connection with Fraser's Magazine, no doubt through the instrumentality of Irving. To Fraser he contributed essays on Madame de Stael, Boswell, and, most important of all, Sartor Resartus. He also continued his articles in the Foreign Review and the Edinburgh. His solitude at Craigenputtock was brightened by a visit from Emerson. In 1832 Carlyle returned to Edinburgh in order to be nearer materials for his Diamond Necklace, a sort of tragi-comedy on the history of Marie Antoinette. Urged by financial difficulties, he applied for the chair of astronomy at Edinburgh in 1834, and his disappointment in this caused an estrangement with Jeffrey. The upshot of this application probably hastened his departure to London, where he took up his abode at Cheyne Row in the summer of the same year.

In London Carlyle immediately set himself to his History of the French Revolution. The first volume of this, lent for perusal to his friend J. S. Mill, was accidentally burnt by the carelessness of a servant, and only rewritten after much effort and toil. In 1835 he met John Sterling, by whose father, the editor of the Times, he was offered employment, which he declined. In 1836 came the beginning of his warm friendship with Leigh Hunt. Now appeared also in America a volume edition of Sartor, with a preface by Emerson. In 1837 the French Revolution was completed. In May of that year Carlyle began a successful course of lectures on German literature. The autumn also saw a second edition of Sartor, which sold well - the first edition, privately printed in 1834, consisted of only 50 copies. In 1838 his article on Scott was published in the Westminster Review. At the close of next year his Chartism appeared in pamphlet form. In 1840 he delivered his lectures on "Hero Worship." The following year he was invited by a body of Edinburgh students to stand for a professorship, but refused. His domestic circumstances about this time were improved through the death of Mrs. Carlyle's mother bringing in an income of £200 a year. Sympathy with democratic movements in England had stirred Carlyle much since the time of his Chartism, and in 1843 he wrote his Past and Present as a development of his opinion in this direction. The public voice notably responded to him. To Mazzini, who visited him at this period, he was also not unsympathetic. At the close of 1845 he published his Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, a second edition of which followed early next year. Personal friendship with Emerson was renewed in 1847, when the American man of letters made a lecture visit to England. Carlyle's interest in the wretchedness of Ireland induced him to make a tour through that country in 1849. What he saw, however, both dissatisfied and depressed him. On his return he set to work on fresh literary endeavours; he wrote on the "Nigger Question" for Fraser, and produced also various Latter Day Pamphlets. So keen was Carlyle's political feeling at this time that he seems to have actually contemplated entering public life. During the next ten years his life was a good deal clouded through want of complete accord with his wife. Various direct explanations of this fact are given, but the root of it was probably much divergency of disposition. His Biography of John Sterling was published in 1851. The success of this book determined him to pursue biography, and in 1852 he set about his Life of Frederick the Great. This, through lack of sufficient admiration for his hero, he found a rather hard task. Investigations on this subject took him twice to Germany. The first two volumes came out in 1858, the last in 1865. They were well received, though there was, at least, one parody of his doctrine of heroism here presented. In November, 1865, Carlyle was elected by the students to the Lord Rectorship of Edinburgh University. The inaugural address implied in this office he delivered in March, 1866. The pleasure of his warm reception on this occasion was immediately chilled by the news of the death of his wife, who expired suddenly while driving in her brougham. After this event he paid a visit to Mentone; his letters and diaries bear the impress of his vivid enjoyment of the scenes he passed through. On his return to England he began the composition of his Reminiscences. This, at the end of five years, he entrusted to Mr. Froude for future publication. In 1867 came Shooting Niagara, another latter-day pamphlet. In 1875 he published a sketch of the early kings of Norway in Fraser. In 1874 Carlyle was awarded the Prussian order Pour le Merite, founded by Frederick; and Mr. Disraeli, as Prime Minister, offered him shortly afterwards the order of the Grand Cross of the Bath. This, however, was declined. His eightieth birthday brought him, among other testimonies of esteem, a medallion portrait in gold from more than a hundred friends and students. In his last days Carlyle was much attended by a favourite niece, Mary Aitken. The end came on February 5, 1881. By his own wish he was buried in his family burying-ground at Ecclefechan. He bequeathed the income of Craigenputtock to found ten "John Welsh" bursaries at Edinburgh University, in memory of his wife and her family.

The work of Carlyle both as man of letters and philosopher will be permanent. His French Revolution gives him a place, in its unique power, with the best English historians, while his Cromwell and Frederick, if displaying less his imaginative qualities, are portraits of great value. In regard to his literary essays, those that are best are of the first order. On Goethe, Voltaire, and Burns he may be said to have enriched English criticism. Though Carlyle concerned himself intimately with some philosophic subjects of only temporary moment, the spirit of his writings here, if not the actual letter, will not lose in effect. In the case of Sartor Resartus, at any rate, he produced a classic that has not unfitly been called The Pilgrim's Progress of the Nineteenth Century. To be added to his power as a thinker is his great, if also perverse, mastery of language. As a literary personage Carlyle stands out in his century. He won by" character almost as much as by genius. He impressed by his ideal as well as by his achievement. Truth, sincerity, and honesty were with him predominant watchwords, and to these the public mind gave ready answer. Of modern writers, only Byron, perhaps, was a greater force in his time.