Another member then wrote that he liked Carlyle, and that a copy of Hero Worship stayed on his nightstand for occasional re-reading. So when I felt a hankering to return to some Carlyle reading, this was the book I chose. Yes, Carlyle's premise is that a Great Man, a hero, is a sincere mana man who believes what he is doing is right. In fact, Napoleon comes out worst of all the heroes in the lectures/book, while Oliver Cromwell comes out best. Both of these men are in the final chapter, the Hero as King. Carlyle had been researching Cromwell and planning to write about him for years, and would have that book to market less than five years after he prepared these lectures. And, it is a good read for anyone who wants to know more about the men discussed in the book. The book disappointed me a little, perhaps because of Carlyle's fawning over Cromwell and Mohammed.
Carlyle is, and always has been, a man without a country: An Scotsman at odds with the materialism of his native 19th Century Britain; a idealist nonetheless too British to happily fit among his Prussian cobelievers. Carlyle is a hero to a new generation of reactionaries, but the failings of his thoughtvery clearly on display in On Heroes and Hero Worshipshow the limits of this movement, and stand testament to the fact that admiration of the past is no remedy for the pains of the present and future. The zeitgeist is not metaphorical excess, but the actual working of Gods spirit in the progress of generations; it is Gods own will realizing itself through the ages. History, in this reading, is of course still progressing, and will never be at an end (Young Hegelians notwithstanding); but in a sense all attempts to search for higher Truth are in vain, for what is dictated by this years spirt may be eradicated by the next. Carlyle adopts another measure of heroism: The essential trait, the first condition, of the hero is his sincerity. Many paths could get us to this point, but the central fact is this: Carlyle wants to reconnect with the greatness of the past without subjecting himself to the conditions which made the past, and his men within it, great. Carlyle the reactionary hates the present, and with good reason; but he attempts to love and honor the past without truly knowing what made it lovable or honorable. This is the greatest contradiction of On Heroes: That the great men documented in this book would be revolted by the idea that they and their beliefs were merely a realization of greatness in history. For this was a man who actually was sincere; who wrote great poetry, but which pales in comparison to the art that was his life; who reinvigorated the spirit of his age, but did so in a way that advanced the ancient cause of orthodoxy, and created nothing new. He was great before God, before man, and before the ages. Saints like Francis fit within history because they are all men and women of their times; but they are promoting the advancement of the Eternal, and are not fooled by the fact that mens changing perceptions of the Truth mean that the Truth is changing, or can change at all. For all this inflated language, Carlyles true vision of history is little more nuanced than Herbert Spencers and other sub-Nietzschean hacks who look to strength as the only measure of truth. It has little more spiritual complexity than the epicurean, for fundamentally what Carlyle sees as being right for the age is what is pleasing to the men of that age. Carlyle wrote this book largely because he was dissatisfied with modern mans failure to elect great men. Are those masses the measure, or the great men who rule them? This reduces to the fact that the thinking man must occupy either the real Church, or the meta-church of modern intellectualism. The liberal or radical can put his faith in history and receive some optimism, but the reactionary must watch the former ages beauty die, or be rebuilt in a hollow imitation. This is the sad state of the reactionary, always looking backwards but, in confining himself to the material world, unable to understand or recreate what made the past truly great. And while a Christian can look back at the past with great yearning, at the future with dread, and the present age with tears, he must keep in mind this fact: The spirit of the ages is always the same; the problem is always himself.
the book got a bit boring in the middle and near the end but worth a read for his lectures (the chapters were a series of lectures) on the hero as a prophet as I mentioned and the hero as a priest where he talks about Luther and the revolution he bought in Christianity and the creation of Lutheran Protestantism and his 95 theses.
I swear to god, point Carlye is trying to make is, great people do great things and that why they are remembered as heroes; then he stretches that over 200 pages with little cohesion or some conclusion.
He had begun to learn German in Edinburgh, and had done much independent reading outside the regular curriculum. He remained there two years, was attracted by Margaret Gordon, a lady of good family (whose friends vetoed an engagement), and in October 1818 gave up schoolmastering and went to Edinburgh, where he took mathematical pupils and made some show of reading law. In 1820 and 1821 he visited Irving in Glasgow and made long stays at his father's new farm, Mainhill; and in June 1821, in Leith Walk, Edinburgh, he experienced a striking spiritual rebirth which is related in Sartor Resartus. Put briefly and prosaically, it consisted in a sudden clearing away of doubts as to the beneficent organization of the universe; a semi-mystical conviction that he was free to think and work, and that honest effort and striving would not be thwarted by what he called the "Everlasting No." For about a year, from the spring of 1823, Carlyle was tutor to Charles and Arthur Buller, young men of substance, first in Edinburgh and later at Dunkeld. In 1821 Irving had gone to London, and in June 1821 Carlyle followed, in the train of his employers, the Bullers.