Authors: Thomas Carlyle

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Scottish essayist and historian

Author Works


Essay on Goethe’s Faust, 1822

Life of Schiller, 1823-1824 (serial), 1825 (book)

Essay on Richter, 1827

State of German Literature, 1827

Life and Writings of Werner, 1828

Essay on Burns, 1828

Voltaire, 1829

Characteristics, 1831

Sartor Resartus, 1833- 1834 (serial), 1836 (book)

The French Revolution, 1837 (history)

Sir Walter Scott, 1838

Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, 1838 (4 volumes), 1840 (5 volumes), 1847 (4 volumes)

Chartism, 1839

On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, 1841

Past and Present, 1843

Oliver Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches, with Elucidations, 1845

Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question, 1849 (serial), 1853 (book)

Latter-Day Pamphlets, 1850

Life of John Sterling, 1851

History of Frederick II of Prussia, 1858-1865 (6 volumes)

Shooting Niagara: And After, 1867

The Early Kings of Norway: Also an Essay on the Portraits of John Knox, 1875

Reminiscences, 1881 (autobiography; James Anthony Froude, editor)

Reminiscences of My Irish Journey in 1849, 1882 (travel)

Last Words of Thomas Carlyle, 1882

Long Fiction:

German Romance: Specimens, 1827


Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, 1824 (of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel)


The childhood of Thomas Carlyle was spent in the village of Ecclefechan, in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, where his father, James Carlyle, was a stonemason. From the age of ten, Thomas Carlyle attended the grammar school at Annan, and at fourteen he was sent, on foot, to enroll in the University of Edinburgh. There he remained until 1814, when he left without a degree and became a teacher of mathematics at his old school. Subsequently, he held the mastership of a school at Kirkcaldy. His parents, who were devout Calvinists, had wanted him to study divinity and become a minister, but in 1817 he rejected this course of life. For a time, he lived in Edinburgh and desultorily read law, but he was unable to interest himself in any profession. Weakened by digestive problems and much troubled in mind by his inability to achieve philosophical or religious certitude, he underwent a period of acute strain, which culminated during the summer of 1822 in a spiritual crisis that he recorded in Sartor Resartus. By now greatly under the influence of the German philosophers, especially Johann Gottlieb Fichte, he was beginning to devise a set of beliefs acceptable to himself and was coming to realize that his vocation was literature and philosophy. Carlyle became absorbed in the poetry of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, with whom he corresponded after the publication of his English translation of Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.{$I[AN]9810000581}{$I[A]Carlyle, Thomas}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Carlyle, Thomas}{$I[geo]SCOTLAND;Carlyle, Thomas}{$I[tim]1795;Carlyle, Thomas}

In 1826, Carlyle married Jane Welsh, an exceptionally brilliant young woman, who had been a pupil of his friend Edward Irving. Their life together seems to have been tempestuous. They lived in Edinburgh for two years and then moved to Craigenputtoch, an isolated farm in Dumfriesshire. There Carlyle worked painstakingly on the “clothes philosophy” of Sartor Resartus and consolidated his system of thought; his six years at Craigenputtoch were his time of intellectual self-discovery. A few journeys to London sufficed to win him a number of literary friends, including John Stuart Mill. In 1834, after another brief sojourn in Edinburgh, the Carlyles moved to Chelsea, London, so that he might have access to the London libraries to assemble material for The French Revolution. This historical study he finally completed early in 1837, after the terrible experience of having to rewrite the whole first volume; he had lent the manuscript to Mill, and Mill had left it with his friend Mrs. Taylor, whose servant heedlessly used it to light fires. Carlyle had no other copy and had preserved no notes. With the appearance of The French Revolution, his reputation was established. The most important of his later works were Chartism; On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History; Past and Present; and a six-volume history of Frederick the Great. Surviving his wife by almost fifteen years, Carlyle died in London on February 5, 1881. His highly indiscreet Reminiscences, edited by his official biographer, James Anthony Froude, aroused much indignation when it appeared shortly after his death.

Carlyle was a bitter enemy of conformity. He extolled government by an aristocracy of talent, despised democracy and popular political institutions, and damned the French Revolution. He admired the interdependence of classes under feudalism, preached the sacredness of work in opposition to the cult of riches, and scorned mass production as the bane of fine craftsmanship. He expressed his ideas in an intense, and often somewhat raucous, literary style.

BibliographyAshton, Rosemary. Thomas and Jane Carlyle: Portrait of a Marriage. London: Chatto & Windus, 2002. Provides an insightful look not only at the events of the Carlyle’s marriage but also of the society in which they lived.Campbell, Ian. Thomas Carlyle. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974. Fair-minded, and despite its brevity, illuminating on many issues concerning both the man and his thought.Carlyle, Thomas. A Carlyle Reader: Selections from the Writings of Thomas Carlyle. Edited by G. B. Tennyson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984. The best one-volume selection from Carlyle’s voluminous works. Representative texts from all periods and types of his writing, including his letters and journal, and the complete text of Sartor Resartus.Collis, John Stewart. The Carlyles: A Biography of Thomas and Jane Carlyle. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1971. Centers on the Carlyles’ marriage.Cumming, Mark, ed. The Carlyle Encyclopedia. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2004. A compendium of scholarly entries focusing on Carlyle’s circle of acquaintance, his social environment, and his works.Froude, James Anthony. Froude’s Life of Carlyle. Abridged and edited by John Clubbe. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1979. Condensation (largely through the omission of Carlyle’s letters) of Froude’s superb four-volume biography. Thomas Carlyle (1882-1884), which created a furious controversy when first published. Froude was Carlyle’s close friend and appointed biographer. His biography contained revelations of Carlyle’s stormy relations with his wife, which did not show Carlyle in the best of lights.Heffer, Simon. Moral Desperado: A Life of Thomas Carlyle. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995. Highlights the contrast and interplay between Carlyle’s personality and his writings.Jessop, Ralph. Carlyle and Scottish Thought. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. An overview of how Carlyle was influenced by and influenced his intellectual environment.Kaplan, Fred. Thomas Carlyle: A Biography. 1983. Reprint. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. A meticulous biography, drawing heavily on Carlyle’s own letters.Rosenberg, Philip. The Seventh Hero: Thomas Carlyle and the Theory of Radical Activism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974. Deals with Carlyle’s writings during the fifteen productive years that ended with Past and Present. Shows Carlyle struggling with problems that still confront political and social thinkers today.Siegel, Jules Paul, ed. Thomas Carlyle: The Critical Heritage. New York: Routledge, 1996. Collects critical responses from Carlyle’s own time, illuminating his influence.Trela, D. J., and Rodger L. Tarr, eds. The Critical Response to Thomas Carlyle’s Major Works. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. Summarizes the critical reception of Carlyle’s writings from their initial appearance to the present day, including many previously inaccessible essays.Waring, Walter W. Thomas Carlyle. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978. Concise and straightforward introduction to Carlyle’s thought.
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