The Significance of Carlyle in the Victorian Era

Thomas Carlyle, born in Ecclefechan, Dumfries and Galloway [1], was a Scottish essayist whose work was very significant in the Victorian era [1]. Carlyle was brought up in a strictly Calvinist family, following a version of Protestant Christianity. But in a time of rapid scientific and technological advancements and discoveries, he soon lost his faith in religion. He went to the University of Edinburgh for higher education. One of Thomas Carlyle’s most famous works includes Sartor Resartus (The tailor re-tailored). Many consider it to one of the earliest ‘existentialist’ books [1].

The concept of transcendentalism too is evident in many of his works like Frederick the Great, in which he envisioned a spiritually liberated nation, following a new modern culture. His work Signs of the Times and Characteristics contains essays commenting on the victorian society and culture. His work The French Revolution, A History in 1837 has been thought to be one of the major motivating factors behind the French Revolution. Carlyle also follwed the theme of dehumanization with as much passion as the one about a counter culture.

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In his work the Past and Present Carlyle talks about the growing mechanisation and technological advancements; the spiritual values he advocated were giving way to ‘rights and laws [1].’

With the business and economic gaining gretaer strength, he called the changing thought the “‘dismal science’ of economics [1].” He was also belived in a the concept of a single, strong, enlightened leader. In his work On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, he compares different heroes.

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Carlyle was also a great believer of ‘Silence’ and its divinity. "thought has silently matured itself, …to hold one's tongue till some meaning lie behind to set it wagging [1].”

But from all of Carylyle’s works, it is evident that though he was progressive, he was equally idealistic. He pictured a world where there would be religious freedom, progress, and advancement. But he pictured a world free of materialism. The culture and social set-up of England at that time was regularly under criticism. Authors like Johnathan Swift too had commented on it.

But the issue makes its way into almost all of Carlyle’s works. He was also a great believer in what we call existentialism. His view on faith was both passionate and philosophical, ‘transeding’ the boundries of religion and religious rituals. But there is absolutely no doubt that he was one of the greatest reformists of his time. His work was often satirical, but it found its way into the hearts and minds of the public, who too were “grappling with scientific and political changes that threatened the traditional social order [1].”

Works Cited:

  1. Wikipedia, Thomas Carlyle, retrived from (Accessed Sept. 28, 2007)
Updated: Apr 29, 2023
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The Significance of Carlyle in the Victorian Era. (2017, Mar 14). Retrieved from

The Significance of Carlyle in the Victorian Era essay
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