Thomas Carlyle was a well-known philosopher, historian, mathematician, satirist, and essayist who was born in Scotland around the end of the eighteenth century. He was born into a strict Calvinistic household and came to Edinburg for his university education at the age of fifteen, with the ultimate goal of entering the church. However, he quickly abandoned his plans to become a mathematics teacher. Later, he dropped out to pursue a legal degree, eventually discovering his true calling as a writer. Meanwhile, he was going through a difficult time both financially and spiritually, and he had a severe stomach ache that would last the remainder of his life. He began his literary career by contributing to numerous publications, and in his late thirties, he wrote his first novel, ‘Sartor Resartus,’ before becoming famous with his second major work, ‘The French Revolution: A History,’ at the age of forty-one. He continued to write after that, often receiving flak for his outspoken opinions. He died at the age of 85, and instead of being buried in Westminster Abbey, he requested to be buried among his parents in Scotland.
Childhood and Adolescence
Thomas Carlyle was born in Ecclefechan, a small village in Dumfriesshire, on December 4, 1795. His father, a stonemason and farmer named James Carlyle, was a firm Calvinist believer. Margaret nee Aitken, his mother, was his father’s second marriage.
Thomas was the eldest of nine children born to his parents, with three younger brothers named Alexander, John Aitken, and James, as well as five sisters named Janet, Margaret, Mary, Jean, and Janet. He also had a half-brother named John from his father’s first marriage.
His parents, despite their lack of education, raised their children according to Calvinist beliefs, urging them to live a basic and disciplined life. Thomas, who adored both of his parents, was particularly inspired by his father’s demeanor and manner of life.
He began his schooling at home, learning basic arithmetic from his father, and was enrolled at the Ecclefechan village school at a young age, where he studied until the age of six. He attended Hoddam parish school for four years while also studying Latin privately with a local pastor.
His secondary schooling began in 1806, when he enrolled at the Annan Academy. Because the school was six miles from home, ten-year-old Thomas Carlyle became a boarder there, spending the week at the boarding and only going home on weekends.
Despite his academic success, he was initially bullied at school, owing to his mother’s instruction that he never use physical force, even if he needed to defend himself. But, eventually, he became fed up with the situation and began fighting back, which improved the situation to some extent.
He enjoyed studying current languages in school, in addition to mathematics, which was always his favorite subject. However, he found the curriculum dull, as it was aimed to prepare students for university education by the age of fourteen. As a result, he read a lot of outside books and learned a lot from them.
Thomas Carlyle moved to Edinburgh in November 1809, having walked three days to get there. He enrolled in the University of Edinburgh, where he studied the general course and excelled in mathematics. He was a bit reclusive in the first year, but by the second, he had made some acquaintances.
He finished his M.A. course in 1813, but instead of receiving a degree, he enrolled in Divinity Hall of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh for theological training. He chose to study full time for one year and then part time for six years because his parents couldn’t afford to support him for another three years.
Early on in your career
Thomas Carlyle finished the one-year full-time degree in June 1814 and returned home to Annan Academy to begin his profession as a mathematics teacher, earning £60 or £70 a year. Sir John Leslie, his mathematics teacher at the University of Edinburgh, recommended him for the position.
He maintained his part-time divinity studies while teaching mathematics at Annan Academy, traveling to Edinburgh to deliver the required sermons. He, on the other hand, did not appear to take his teaching job seriously, preferring instead to read any literature he could get his hands on.
Thomas Carlyle relocated to Kirkcaldy, a town near Edinburgh, in 1816, on the recommendation of Sir Leslie, where he was appointed a mathematics teacher. He was reunited with Edward Irving, a former university co-student who is now the school’s master.
They had previously had some animosity, but Irving embraced him cordially this time, and the two quickly became close friends. “But for Irving, I had never realized what the communion of man with man implies,” Carlyle later wrote.
Carlyle spent a lot of time in Irving’s library, reading French literature as well as English historian Edward Gibbon’s books. He maintained his mathematical studies at the same time, attempting to read Newton’s ‘Principia’ on his own in 1816.
He focussed on Delambre’s ‘Abrégé d’astronomie’ after finding ‘Principia’ challenging. When he went back to ‘Principia,’ he found it easier to understand. In 1817, he attempted to read William Wallace’s works on fluxions. He struggled to comprehend the material again this time.
By the end of 1817, he had realized his own mathematical limits and had begun to lose interest in the subject. He was also dissatisfied with his job as a teacher, so he quit in 1818 and went to Edinburgh.
From December 1819 to December 1821, he stayed in Edinburgh for three years, studying law and supporting himself by giving mathematical lessons and writing articles for the ‘Edinburgh Encyclopaedia,’ which was then edited by David Brewster. He visited home on occasion, gaining assistance from his family, which helped him stay afloat.
He was going through a spiritual crisis at the same time as he was going through a financial crisis. Despite abandoning his faith, he was unable to accept atheism, and thus lived in a state of void until June 1821, when he began to feel a sense of defiance in him, which enabled him to move onward. In 1821, David Brewster commissioned him to translate Adrien-Marie Legendre’s ‘Eléments de géométrie’ for a sum of £50. He had developed a terrible stomach disease by this time, which he would have to live with for the remainder of his life. It could have been caused by irregular meals and sleepless nights.
Getting a Foothold
On the recommendation of his friend Edward Irving, Thomas Carlyle was appointed a tutor to Charles and Arthur Buller in January 1822, earning a £200 annual pay.
This, along with the revenue from his works, was sufficient for him, and he began to utilize his money to help his brothers pay for their schooling.
In 1822, he too chose to drop out of law school and pursue a career in history and literature. Simultaneously, he began to study German, gaining a great command of the language. His favorite writers were Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Gottlieb Fichte.
He began translating German literature some time ago, the most renowned of which is Goethe’s ‘Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre.’ At the same time, he began work on Friedrich von Schiller and authored a series of essays for ‘Fraser’s Magazine.’ More crucially, he learned that it was possible to reject dogmas without being irreligious, thanks to German idealism.
Despite the fact that he was now financially comfortable, he soon began to find his life humiliating because he thought he had to rely on the wealthy and trendy for his livelihood. Finally, in July 1824, he resigned from the Bullers and relocated to London. Meanwhile, he had two works published in the ‘London Magazine,’ ‘The Life of Schiller’ and ‘Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.’
He met several literary figures in London, but he disliked dealing with them. At the same time, he was offered a position as professor of mathematics at the Royal Military College in Surrey. He chose not to apply because his writing career was only getting started.
Thomas Carlyle first settled down in Edinburgh in 1826, after marrying Jane Welsh, and managing the home with his meager finances. At the same time, he tried unsuccessfully to gain teaching posts at other institutions. He relocated to Craigenputtock, an isolated farmhouse owned by his wife’s family, in 1828 and stayed there until 1834, writing several of his well-known pieces during that time. He also wrote his first major novel, ‘Sartor Resartus,’ at Craigenputtock, finishing it in 1831.
Carlyle began looking for a publisher, but was unable to locate one. As a result, he began writing ‘Sartor Resartus’ as articles in October 1831, and the work was serialized in ‘Fraser’s Magazine’ in 1833-34. It was initially published in book form in 1836 in the United States and in 1838 in London.
In the city of London
Thomas Carlyle moved to London in 1834. His friend John Stuart Mill had signed a contract with the publishers to write a full history of the French Revolution some time before that. But, due of a prior commitment, he quickly realized he couldn’t complete it and sent it to Carlyle.
Carlyle got right to work on it, publishing three volumes of ‘The French Revolution: A History.’ It was initially published in 1837, and it immediately made him famous, not only among academics but also among laypeople. He quickly gathered a following of disciples around him.
‘The French Revolution’ made him famous, but it didn’t help him overcome his financial troubles. As a result, he began presenting a series of lectures in 1837, at the request of his friends.
In 1840, he published ‘Chartism,’ a pamphlet criticizing mainstream economic theory and promoting his radical ideas. ‘On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History,’ his next publication, was based on five lectures given in 1840.
‘On Heroes,’ published in 1841, demonstrates his disdain for modern-day democracy, emphasizing that some persons are wiser than others and embracing themes such as God’s will. It was the catalyst for his breakup with Mill.
The following year, Thomas Carlyle began work on his next historical effort, ‘Oliver Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches: With Elucidation,’ which he published in 1845. During the intermission, he also authored ‘Past and Present,’ a treatise that combined medieval history with criticism of contemporaneous British society and was published in April 1843.
His second article, ‘Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question,’ ignited a controversy with Mill when it was first published anonymously in ‘Fraser’s Magazine’ in 1849. He defended the slave trade in it, casting doubt on black people’s intellect. Following that, he wrote ‘Latter-Day Pamphlets’ (1850) and ‘The Life of John Sterling’ (1851). In 1858, he released his final significant work, ‘History of Friedrich II of Prussia.’ It spans twenty-one books and chronicles Friedrich’s life from his birth in 1712 until his death in 1786, highlighting how great leaders can shape a state. Carlyle published very few works after that.
Carlyle was appointed rector of the University of Edinburgh at the end of 1865. ‘Shooting Niagara: and After?’ was published in 1867, followed by ‘The Early Kings of Norway’ in 1875. His autobiography, “Reminiscences of My Irish Journey in 1849,” was published after his death in 1882.
Major Projects of Thomas Carlyle
‘The French Revolution: A History,’ written by Thomas Carlyle in 1837, is his most famous work. The work begins in 1789 with the outbreak of the French Revolution, continues through the Reign of Terror in 1793–94, and concludes in 1795, motivating Dickens to write “A Tale of Two Cities.”
Personal & Family Life
Thomas Carlyle married Jane Welsh, a writer, on October 17, 1826. Despite the fact that they loved each other and exchanged 9,000 letters, their marriage was unhappy and may not have been completed. Carlyle got progressively estranged from her as he grew older. Nonetheless, he was devastated when she died abruptly in 1866.
Carlyle died in London, England, on February 5, 1881. Despite the fact that he was offered a burial at Westminster Abbey, he chose to be buried with his parents in Ecclefechan, Scotland.
London County Council has commemorated his first residence in London (33 Ampton Street) with a plaque. The National Trust has restored his subsequent residence at 24 Cheyne Row into a museum. The National Trust for Scotland has also maintained his birth house as a museum.
In mathematics, the ‘Carlyle Circle’ is a circle in a coordinate plane named after him. Carlyle’s last words are thought to have been, “So, this is death.” Well!”