Thomas Carlyle

Thomas Carlyle, the son of a stonemason, was born in Ecclefechan in Scotland, in 1795. Brought up as a strict Calvinist, he was educated at the village school, Annan Academy and Edinburgh University, where he studied mathematics. After graduating with distinction in 1813 he spent a years studying to join the strictly Calvinist Secessionist Church. His parents had hoped he would become a minister but eventually his religious doubts would not let him continue; he became a teacher at Annan and then at Kirkcaldy.

Carlyle moved to Edinburgh in 1818 where, after an unsuccesful attempt at studying law he became a private tutor and later was commissioned to write several articles for the Edinburgh Encyclopedia and for the Edinburgh Review. Carlyle also began translating German writers such as Goethe and Schiller and writing original work such as The Life of Schiller (1825).

After marrying Jane Baillie Welsh in 1826, Carlyle moved to London where he became a close friend of the philosopher, John Stuart Mill. As well as contributing articles for Mill’s Westminster Review, Sartor Resartus appeared in Fraser’s Magazine (1833-34). Carlyle also published several books including The French Revolution (1837), On Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History (1841) and Past and Present (1843).

Carlyle’s books and articles inspired social reformers such as John Ruskin, Charles Dickens, John Burns, Tom Mann and William Morris. However, although he had originally held progressive political views, Carlyle became increasingly conservative in the late 1840s. This is reflected in the right-wing, anti-democratic attitudes expressed in his collected essays Latter Day Pamphlets (1850) and his admiration for strong leaders illustrated by his six volume History of Frederick the Great (1858-1865) and The Early Kings of Norway (1875). In the last few years of his life, his writing was confined to letters to The Times. Thomas Carlyle died in 1881.