Friday, October 14, 2011

A Little More on Thomas Carlyle

I haven't written anything about Thomas Carlyle for quite a while. That's mainly because this whirlwind I call life hasn't allowed me to read him for a long time. Every now and then I pull out a volume of his correspondence with Ralph Waldo Emerson and look up some tidbit I half remember, or just read a pair of letters for enjoyment. Sometimes on a Friday afternoon at the office, when taking a break, I'll go to the Carlyle Letters On-line site and pull up one to read. I find it difficult to read these on-line, for some reason, and so rarely finish the letter I pull up unless it's a short one.

At the topic editor for the Great Thinkers topic posted on the forum asking members to write articles for her topic. I thought that Thomas Carlyle would probably qualify as a great thinker, and that maybe I could write an article or two about him, possibly generating a wee bit of revenue with subject matter I like. So about a week ago I pulled up one of Carlyle's letters, not quite at random. However, instead of reading it on-line, I did a quick copy and paste into MS Word and format for tight printing yet easy reading, and printed the letter. I took it home to read in the evening. Alas, way led on to way, and it was just a half hour ago, at work, that I started reading it.

And very quickly I remembered what I like about Carlyle. He is a phrase maker, a wordsmith, a poet when not intending to be. The letter I accessed was one Carlyle wrote Dec 24, 1834 to William Graham. I'm not quite sure who Graham was in relation to Carlyle, but I the letter was addressed to Scotsbrig, where Carlyle lived for a while. Part of the letter involved remembrances on the death of Edward Irving, who was a mentor to Carlyle and some kind of acquaintance to Graham. Here's part of what Carlyle wrote.
I can assure you, the sound of it sent new life thro' me, like a breath from old true Annandale in the middle of these Babylonian fogs. Surely friends should improve, on far better reason than wines, by long keeping! The very enemy that we might have for twenty years would almost become a friend. While death thins our ranks, mows down our stateliest, oh surely, surely let the survivors rank themselves the closer, and await what is appointed them not single but together!
Now that's phraseology, IMHO. The idea expressed in the middle of the quote, that friendship should improve with age, with better reason than wine improves with age, is a great idea. I don't know if that would be considered profound or not. I don't know that elevates Carlyle into the great thinkers category. But it's a great idea excellently expressed.

And that's why I like Carlyle: for his great ideas excellently expressed.

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