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Thomas Carlyle (Ecclefechan, Scotland, December 4, 1795-London, February 5, 1881) was a Scottish historian, social critic and essayist.
From a strictly Calvinist family, he studied theology at the University of Edinburgh with the desire to become a pastor, but he lost faith in a crisis that he exposed in part in his later novel Sartor Resartus, and abandoned those studies in 1814, although the values that instilled in him continued to live in him. He then devoted himself to the teaching of mathematics for almost four years. Later it traveled to Edinburgh and began to study laws and to write diverse articles (1819-1821). His character soured deeply since then to be a victim of a stomach ulcer that would accompany him every day of his life. He also became passionate about German language and literature, which he got to know perfectly. In particular he was deeply impressed by German idealism (Fichte); animated by his discoveries he began to disseminate German literature among his compatriots translating works of Goethe, writing a Life of Schiller (1825) and publishing numerous articles on Germany and its culture.
After a trip to Paris and London, he returned to Scotland and helped in the liberal literary review Edinburgh Review. In 1826 he married Jane Baillie Welsh, a writer whom he had met in 1821. From 1828 they lived in Craigenputtock (Scotland), where Carlyle composed the poioumenon or metanovela Sartor Resartus, translatable as The Resized Tailor, originally published between 1833 and 1834 by Fraser’s Magazine. It is, in general, a satire of the utilitarianism and materialism of the English that resorts widely to irony with a rhetorical and academic style of a broad paragraph. For Carlyle, material riches are false because they lead to a personal crisis from which only a spiritual idealism can save. With this work, Carlyle is also emerging as a social critic with a concern for the living conditions of British workers, in which he reveals his deep disenchantment with the ravages caused by the Industrial Revolution. During his days at Craigenputtock he formed a lifelong friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson, the celebrated American essayist. In 1834 he moved to London, where he received the nickname “the Wise of Chelsea” and was part of a literary circle that included the essayists Leigh Hunt and John Stuart Mill.
In London he wrote a successful History of the French Revolution (1837), a historical study based on the oppression of the destitute that inspired Charles Dickens his History of Two Cities. He then published conferences among which highlights the heroes (1841), which argues that the advance of civilization is due to the facts of exceptional individuals and not the masses. This disdain for democracy and its praise of feudal society can be seen in much of his later writings, especially in El cartismo (1839) and Past and Present (1843). He once wrote: “Democracy is the despair of not finding heroes to lead us”. To understand this author, in a great reflection that Ernst Cassirer makes about the myth of the hero in his book “The myth of the State”, he recommends us to pay attention to his devotion to Goethe and Fichte to understand his philosophy of life: ” I am what I do. “
His concept of history is reflected in works such as Letters and Discourses by Oliver Cromwell (1845) and History of Frederick II of Prussia, which consists of 10 volumes written between 1858 and 1865. He also produced an autobiography entitled Memories, which published in 1881. He died in London on February 5, 1881. In works by Ruskin and Dickens we will find great influence of this thinker.
Carlyle’s thought and works renewed Anglo-Saxon writing; it is usually noted among his undoubted merits that he managed to get his compatriots interested in the end by German literature and philosophy, which had reviled so much, and lost part of their prejudices about them.
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