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Gold out of Straw

Peter Mandler: Samuel Smiles, 19 February 2004

Self-Help: With Illustrations of Character, Conduct and Perseverance 
by Samuel Smiles, edited by Peter Sinnema.
Oxford, 387 pp., £7.99, October 2002, 0 19 280176 7
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... the view of the self offered by literature was still fairly oblique. It was that moral desperado Thomas Carlyle who first put the question squarely, in Sartor Resartus: ‘Who am I; the thing that can say "I” . . . Whence? How? Whereto?’ Taken up by countless young clerks and artisans, Carlyle nevertheless had ...

Departure and Arrival Times

Sheldon Rothblatt, 18 August 1983

The History Men: The Historical Profession in England since the Renaissance 
by John Kenyon.
Weidenfeld, 322 pp., £16.50, March 1983, 0 297 78081 6
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... of Romanticism, the neglect of Lecky and new-wave social science, the scatological treatment of Thomas Carlyle. Other omissions may be added. Frederic Maitland is not very well realised, which is strange given the historians (Kenyon among them) who believe in his greatness. Maitland’s relationship with Leslie Stephen and avid interest in Meredith’s ...

At King’s Cross

Richard Taws: Amalia Pica’s ‘Semaphores’, 24 October 2019

... the world, as well as for the ‘dark terror’ induced by its inscrutable transmissions. Later, Thomas Carlyle described the telegraph’s wooden elbows ‘jerking and fugling in the air’: ‘On the whole, is it not, O Reader, one of the strangest Flame-Pictures that ever painted itself; flaming off there, on its ground of Guillotine-black?’ Yes ...

It has burned my heart

Anna Della Subin: Lives of Muhammad, 22 October 2015

The Lives of Muhammad 
by Kecia Ali.
Harvard, 342 pp., £22.95, October 2014, 978 0 674 05060 0
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... edition of the Quran in Latin, and wrote the preface when it appeared. But for Catholics like Thomas More, it was Luther who was Muhammad, in his iconoclasm and his lust, a priest who took a wife and bid Protestant clergymen to do the same. Or it was Calvin: a Catholic almanac depicted Satan with one claw on the turbaned prophet’s shoulder, the other ...

Petty Grotesques

Mark Ford: Whitman, 17 March 2011

Democratic Vistas 
by Walt Whitman, edited by Ed Folsom.
Iowa, 143 pp., $24.95, April 2010, 978 1 58729 870 7
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... In August 1867, Thomas Carlyle published one of his most virulent diatribes against ‘swarmery’, by which he meant the trend towards democracy. The immediate inspiration for ‘Shooting Niagara: and After?’ was the threat of Disraeli’s Reform Act, which would double the number of adult males entitled to vote, and thus, as Carlyle saw it, unleash untold ‘new supplies of blockheadism, gullibility, bribability, [and] amenability to beer and balderdash’: look at America, the beleaguered Sage of Chelsea argued, and its absurd Civil War, prompted by what he derisively called ‘the Nigger Question’: Essentially the Nigger Question was one of the smallest; and in itself did not much concern mankind in the present time of struggles and hurries ...

Adulation or Eggs

Susan Eilenberg: At home with the Carlyles, 7 October 2004

Thomas and Jane CarlylePortrait of a Marriage 
by Rosemary Ashton.
Pimlico, 560 pp., £15, February 2003, 0 7126 6634 6
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... It’s a century and a quarter since J.A. Froude’s Life of Carlyle and his edition of Carlyle’s Reminiscences, a hundred years since Alexander Carlyle’s New Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle, Froude’s posthumous My Relations with Carlyle, and Alexander Carlyle and Sir James Crichton-Browne’s The Nemesis of Froude ...

Like Cooking a Dumpling

Mike Jay: Victorian Science Writing, 20 November 2014

Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age 
by James Secord.
Oxford, 306 pp., £18.99, March 2014, 978 0 19 967526 5
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... and eventually he fled to exile in America. Davy’s previous employer, the chemist and physician Thomas Beddoes, had also been confined to the margins of his profession because of his support for the French Revolution. Davy’s address to the Royal Institution relaunched science for the new century with an assurance to the English hierarchy that, under his ...


Alasdair MacIntyre, 16 April 1981

Modern French Philosophy 
by Vincent Descombes, translated by Lorna Scott Fox.
Cambridge, 192 pp., £14.50, January 1981, 0 521 22837 9
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... of literature who have presented their doctrines with that kind of cloudy enthusiasm which led Thomas Carlyle to call literature ‘a great foam-froth’. On both groups of authors Descombes is excellent. His account of structuralism with its emphasis on the debt to the mathematics of Bourbaki and to the practice of such anthropologists as Dumézil is ...


Michael Neve, 3 September 1981

The Opium-Eater: A Life of Thomas de Quincey 
by Grevel Lindop.
Dent, 433 pp., £12, July 1981, 0 460 04358 7
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... Hogg, the ‘Ettrick Shepherd’, in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1823, soon after the appearance of Thomas de Quincey’s celebrated Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Hogg delivers what might be called the Scottish verdict on this awesome substance, a substance full of Eastern promise, but also one which, having been invited to the banquet of the ...


John Sutherland, 23 March 1995

Huxley: The Devil’s Disciple 
by Adrian Desmond.
Joseph, 474 pp., £20, November 1994, 0 7181 3641 1
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... presents for the would-be popular biographer is evident in his entry in the Concise DNB: Huxley, Thomas Henry (1825-1895), man of science; studied at Charing Cross Hospital; announced, 1845, discovery of the layer of cells in root sheath of hair which now bears his name; MB London, 1845; made assistant surgeon on HMS Rattlesnake 1846-50, investigations ...

The Chase

Inigo Thomas: ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’, 20 October 2016

... of every danger, and attentive to every alarm, the hare is continually upon the watch,’ Thomas Bewick said in his History of Quadrupeds (1790). A hare was ‘a great delicacy among the Romans’, but it was a sacred animal for the British, ‘who religiously abstained from eating it’ – a ‘hare-lipped’ child was said to be the consequence of ...

Bouvard and Pécuchet

C.H. Sisson, 6 December 1984

The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters: Correspondence of George Lyttelton and Rupert Hart-Davis. 
edited by Rupert Hart-Davis.
Murray, 193 pp., £13.50, April 1984, 0 7195 4108 5
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... tone. Lyttleton even evokes the names of other letter-writers already enshrined in volume form – Carlyle, whom Lytton Strachey said was ‘too long’, and Swift, whom the same authority qualified, with characteristic wrong-headedness one may think, or indeed impertinence, as ‘too dry’. These two are going to be amusing. It is hard to avoid the ...

The Sound of Thunder

Tom Nairn: The Miners’ Strike, 8 October 2009

Marching to the Fault Line: The 1984 Miners’ Strike and the Death of Industrial Britain 
by Francis Beckett and David Hencke.
Constable, 303 pp., £18.99, February 2009, 978 1 84901 025 2
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Shafted: The Media, the Miners’ Strike and the Aftermath 
edited by Granville Williams.
Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, 176 pp., £9.99, March 2009, 978 1 898240 05 1
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... Stalin. He is an unswerving member of the British Stalin Society. In Heroes and Hero-Worship, Thomas Carlyle pointed out that modern leader-figures must give voice to emerging currents of social passion and aspiration: they need to feed souls in need of faith and identity. Scargill’s powers of leadership and inspiration were never in doubt. But as ...

Adrenaline Junkie

Jonathan Parry: John Tyndall’s Ascent, 21 March 2019

The Ascent of John Tyndall: Victorian Scientist, Mountaineer and Public Intellectual 
by Roland Jackson.
Oxford, 556 pp., £25, March 2018, 978 0 19 878895 9
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... order was therefore an individual and a societal imperative. Tyndall’s main inspiration was Thomas Carlyle, along with transcendental idealist philosophers such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Ralph Waldo Emerson. (Carlyle was Tyndall’s supporter at his wedding in 1876, Tyndall a pallbearer at ...

The Fug o’Fame

David Goldie: Hugh MacDiarmid’s letters, 6 June 2002

New Selected Letters 
by Hugh MacDiarmid, edited by Dorian Grieve.
Carcanet, 572 pp., £39.95, August 2001, 1 85754 273 8
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... the Scottish borders called Christopher Murray Grieve walked to Ecclefechan, the birthplace of Thomas Carlyle. It wasn’t a long way, but his trek was a gesture of hero-worship to one of the greatest Scotsmen and largest egos of the previous century. He toured Carlyle’s house and, as some visitors did, tried on ...

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