A study of greatness in men
What goes into the making of a great man?--Napoleon: a prodigy, without greatness.--Cromwell: imperfect in greatness.--Washington: impressive in greatness.--Lincoln: simplest in greatness
From the introduction:
There is no other writer who charms and irritates, stimulates and disappoints me so often and so equally as Carlyle, in what he has written personally of "Heroman".
Nobody has ever glorified the human spirit by loftier conceptions of God-likeness in it than his. He held with Saint Chrysostom, that " the true Shekinah, or visible revelation of God, is Man." He felt as Novalis expressed his feeling, that " there is but one Temple in the Universe, and that is the body of man." " We," he exclaimed, " are the miracle of miracles — the great inscrutable mystery of God." An overpowering, awe-stricken recognition of sacredness in the Being of Man is manifest in all his contemplation of it, whenever he can abstract the thought; and it was this very sublimity of his conception of Man, as God would have him to be, and as God empowered him to be, that kindled the ceaseless wrath and scorn which flamed out of Carlyle against all defacements and debasements of the sanctified ideal in his mind.
There is something overpowering in the fierceness of his contempt for the falsities, the meannesses, the quackeries, the fripperies, the veneerings, the mammon-worshipings, the servilities and cowardices that honeycomb so much of human character and make so much of human life a sham. In all literature I find no other such tonic for honesty, for sincerity, for simple downrightness and uprightness of doing, thinking, feeling, and being.
There is a wonderful eloquence in the very epithets and expletives into which he packs his anger and his scorn. In all this Carlyle is great, — unapproachable, — the mighty prophet of a religion of sincerity which needs, almost more than any other, to be preached in the world. In this, he gives me nothing but wholesome stimulation and delight.
The things that discontent me in his writings are these two : first, a looseness of definition in his mind for the very qualities in human character that are at bottom of his ideals; which leads, secondarily, to much serious inconsistency in his estimates of individual men. In other words, I cannot reconcile his normal conception of a man with many of the historic characters that he chooses for the exemplification of it, because he seems to entertain a most undefined notion of some qualities that are fundamental in his conception, and to ascribe those qualities upon grounds which I am not able to understand. In his lectures on "Hero -Worship," — which signified, in his use of the expression, a transcendent admiration and deference due to great men from their fellows, —
Carlyle says, again and again, that " sincerity, a deep, great, genuine sincerity, is the first characteristic of all men in any way heroic "; that "hero" is to be "taken to mean genuine"; that "^it is incredible " a great man " should have been other than true." " All the great men I ever heard of," he declares, " have this [sincerity] as the primary material of them."
Now that, if we understand it correctly, is a very great truth; a truth of transcendent im- portance and vitality; and Carlyle did im- measurable service to the world in proclaiming it, from the beginning to the end of his life, with iteration and reiteration, and with all the power of the great eloquence at his command. But the ideas attached to those almost synonymous words sincerity and genuineness are not ideas that stand well alone in our minds.
They are connected necessarily with ideas of something behind them, to which they refer. If we think of a man as being sin- cere, we are thinking of something in his motives of action which we recognize as being in reality what it appears or is professed to be 5 and our valuation of his sincerity, informing our general judgment and estimate of the man, must depend on our valuation of that which we find him to be sincere in.
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