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On Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic in History

On Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic in History

David R. Sorensen
Brent E. Kinser
Sarah Atwood
Owen Dudley Edwards
Christopher Harvie
Brent E. Kinser
Terence James Reed
David R. Sorensen
Beverly Taylor
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    On Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic in History
    Book Description:

    Based on a series of lectures delivered in 1840, Thomas Carlyle'sOn Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in Historyconsiders the creation of heroes and the ways they exert heroic leadership. From the divine and prophetic (Odin and Muhammad) to the poetic (Dante and Shakespeare) to the religious (Luther and Knox) to the political (Cromwell and Napoleon), Carlyle investigates the mysterious qualities that elevate humans to cultural significance.By situating the text in the context of six essays by distinguished scholars that reevaluate both Carlyle's work and his ideas, David Sorensen and Brent Kinser argue that Carlyle's concept of heroism stresses the hero's spiritual dimension. In Carlyle's engagement with various heroic personalities, he dislodges religiosity from religion, myth from history, and truth from "quackery" as he describes the wondrous ways in which these "flowing light-fountains" unlock the heroic potential of ordinary human beings.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14862-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In a striking example of what Thomas Carlyle called a “conflux of two Eternities” (“Signs of the Times” [1829],Works27:59), the fate ofOn Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History(1841) has closely paralleled that of his own reputation in the twenty-first century. Today neither Carlyle nor his book is widely known among students of English literature. However unfairly, both have been tarnished by their association with the authoritarian and totalitarian personality cults that brought European civilization to the brink of destruction in World War II and that left what Michael Burleigh has called a “dystopian stain” (xi)...

  4. A Note on the Text
    (pp. 17-18)
  5. On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History

    • LECTURE I. [TUESDAY, 5TH MAY, 1840.] The Hero as Divinity. Odin. Paganism: Scandinavian Mythology.
      (pp. 21-50)

      We have undertaken to discourse here for a little on Great Men, their manner of appearance in our world’s business, how they have shaped themselves in the world’s history, what ideas men formed of them, what work they did;— on Heroes, namely, and on their reception and performance; what I call Hero-worship and the Heroic in human affairs. Too evidently this is a large topic; deserving quite other treatment than we can expect to give it at present. A large topic; indeed, an illimitable one; wide as Universal History itself. For, as I take it, Universal History, the history of...

    • LECTURE II. [FRIDAY, 8TH MAY, 1840.] The Hero as Prophet. Mahomet: Islam
      (pp. 51-76)

      From the first rude times of Paganism among the Scandinavians in the North, we advance to a very different epoch of religion, among a very different people: Mahometanism among the Arabs. A great change; what a change and progress is indicated here, in the universal condition and thoughts of men!

      The Hero is not now regarded as a God among his fellow-men; but as one God-inspired, as a Prophet. It is the second phasis of Hero-worship: the first or oldest, we may say, has passed away without return; in the history of the world there will not again be any...

    • LECTURE III. [TUESDAY, 12TH MAY, 1840.] The Hero as Poet. Dante; Shakspeare.
      (pp. 77-103)

      The Hero as Divinity, the Hero as Prophet are productions of old ages; not to be repeated in the new. They presuppose a certain rudeness of conception, which the progress of mere scientific knowledge puts an end to. There needs to be, as it were, a world vacant, or almost vacant of scientific forms, if men in their loving wonder are to fancy their fellow man either a god or one speaking with the voice of a god. Divinity and Prophet are past. We are now to see our Hero in the less ambitious, but also less questionable, character of...

    • LECTURE IV. [FRIDAY, 15TH MAY, 1840.] The Hero as Priest. Luther; Reformation: Knox; Puritanism.
      (pp. 104-131)

      Our present discourse is to be of the Great Man as Priest. We have repeatedly endeavoured to explain that all sorts of Heroes are intrinsically of the same material; that given a great soul, open to the Divine Significance of Life, then there is given a man fit to speak of this, to sing of this, to fight and work for this, in a great, victorious, enduring manner; there is given a Hero,—the outward shape of whom will depend on the time and the environment he finds himself in. The Priest too, as I understand it, is a kind...

    • LECTURE V. [TUESDAY, 19TH MAY, 1840.] The Hero as Man of Letters. Johnson, Rousseau, Burns.
      (pp. 132-161)

      Hero-Gods, Prophets, Poets, Priests are forms of Heroism that belong to the old ages, make their appearance in the remotest times; some of them have ceased to be possible long since, and cannot any more shew themselves in this world. The Hero asMan of Letters, again, of which class we are to speak today, is altogether a product of these new ages; and so long as the wondrous art ofWriting, or of Ready-writing which we callPrinting, subsists, he may be expected to continue, as one of the main forms of Heroism for all future ages. He is,...

    • LECTURE VI. [FRIDAY, 22D MAY, 1840.] The Hero as King. Cromwell, Napoleon: Modern Revolutionism.
      (pp. 162-196)

      We come now to the last form of Heroism; that which we call Kingship. The Commander over Men; he to whose will our wills are to be subordinated, and loyally surrender themselves, and find their welfare in doing so, may be reckoned the most important of Great Men. He is practically thesummaryfor us ofallthe various figures of Heroism; Priest, Teacher, whatsoever of earthly or of spiritual dignity we can fancy to reside in a man, embodies itself here, tocommandover us, furnish us with constant practical teaching, tell us for the day and hour what...

  6. Essays

    • “The Tone of the Preacher”: Carlyle as Public Lecturer in On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History
      (pp. 199-208)

      Thomas Carlyle’sOn Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History(1841) holds a unique place among his works, and perhaps in modern literature. The book consolidated his conquest of London, evangelized listeners and readers effectively enough to distance competitors, and thundered literary and historical judgments that won its foremost intellectual responses from the social sciences.Heroes and Hero-Worshippreached a doctrine enshrining schoolboy adulation and elevated it to a British creed. One Carlylean “Fact” needs to be kept in the ascendant here: the book originated in a series of public lectures, delivered from 5 to 22 May 1840, and its...

    • In Defense of “Religiosity”: Carlyle, Mahomet, and the Force of Faith in History
      (pp. 209-221)

      Were he alive today it is safe to assume that Carlyle would have regarded the emergence of radical Islamism as a threat to civilization, both Eastern and Western. But he would also have insisted that the motives of its leaders, however violent and destructive, had to be gauged in relation to larger “affinities with the higher powers and senses of man” (Heroes98). There is a Carlylean familiarity to the pattern of events in the late twentieth century. In the sanguine aftermath of the Cold War, latter-day “Progress of the Species” (106) philosophers such as Francis Fukuyama too confidently assumed...

    • “The First of the Moderns”: Carlyle’s Goethe and the Consequences
      (pp. 222-234)

      Goethe was a revelation for Carlyle, and Carlyle was a fulfillment for Goethe. The warmth of appreciation was mutual, though the substance of the relationship was asymmetrical. A still developing young mind was drawing on the work—above all, as he saw it, the wisdom—of the established central figure in what gradually came to be seen as the richest literary and intellectual culture of contemporary Europe. The old poet was seeing his ideal of communication between cultures realized. The growing recognition of German culture in Britain was in good measure Carlyle’s own doing. His advocacy as essayist and translator...

    • Carlyle, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the Hero as Victorian Poet
      (pp. 235-246)

      On 4 February 1842 Elizabeth Barrett—who had spent a great deal of time composing stanzas while reclining on a sofa—echoed “the philosopher” Carlyle by calling “literature a ‘fire-proof pleasure,’ ” observing that writing had provided her “occupation & distraction” especially valuable during her invalidism (BC5:230). That EBB recalled his metaphor more than a decade after Carlyle had used it in an 1830 review essay on the German philosopher and novelist Jean Paul Richter (seeWorks27:140) suggests both the power of Carlyle’s imaginative expression and the degree to which his thought resonated with her own.¹ It was not...

    • “Leading human souls to what is best”: Carlyle, Ruskin, and Hero-Worship
      (pp. 247-259)

      Writing to his editor W. H. Harrison from Geneva in June 1841, the twenty-two-year-old John Ruskin expressed skepticism about both the subject and the style of Carlyle’sOn Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in Historywith which he was as yet familiar only from reviews:

      We feel excessively hermit-like and innocent with respect to all literary matters here, being only able to get an occasionalAthenæumorAtlasto bring us up. What are these Carlyle lectures? People are making a fuss about them, and from what I see in the reviews, they seem absolute bombast—taking bombast, I suppose,...

    • “Wild Annandale Grapeshot”: Carlyle, Scotland, and the Heroic
      (pp. 260-271)

      In 1948 the Scottish radical and folklorist Hamish Henderson (1919–2002) publishedElegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica, one of the greatest poem sequences on the desert campaign that checked Rommel. Henderson’s Communist friend E. P. Thompson, author of the epicMaking of the English Working Class(1963), reminded the poet in a letter of 10 February 1949 that theElegieshad been written for “the people of Glasgow, of Halifax, of Dublin[,] … for the vanguard of the people, the most thoughtful ones.” Thompson’s claim that Henderson was “an instrument through which thousands of others can become articulate” (qtd....

    • Thomas Carlyle, Social Media, and the Digital Age of Revolution
      (pp. 272-282)

      At the beginning ofOn Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, Carlyle identifies the heroic individual as the very source of all history: “Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here” (22). By the conclusion of his series of lectures, after a considerable struggle with identifying and justifying his conception of these “Great Men,” Carlyle seems to qualify his reliance upon individual, heroic worth in his vision of the future: “I see the blessedest result preparing itself: not abolition of Hero-worship, but...

  7. Glossary
    (pp. 283-320)
  8. Works Cited
    (pp. 321-330)
  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 331-332)
  10. Index
    (pp. 333-348)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 349-350)