Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle

Sartor Resartus cover

Stefanie at So Many Books got me thinking that I should read this book.
This is the first thing that I’ve ever read by Thomas Carlyle, which is a bit shameful really considering he lived and taught a stone’s throw from where I live. I had always thought that his writing would be very dry and boring, he sounded like one of those old Scots curmudgeons to me, but I was pleasantly surprised. There’s a lot of humour in Sartor Resartus which is apparently his protest against Materialism, and it only occasionally descends into thou-ing and thee-ing, which I can’t really be doing with. The title means ‘the tailor patched or remade’ and although it’s written about Professor Diogenes Teufelsdrockh (which translates as god-made devil-dung) a German from the University of Weisnichtwo who has written a Philosophy on Clothes with Carlyle as his editor or patcher, introducing Teufelsdrockh’s work to the British public. In reality Teufelsdrockh’s experiences are Carlyle’s.

Carlyle was born in the very small village of Ecclefechan in the south of Scotland and having been there to see his birthplace I can see why he wanted to leave, there’s just nothing there and in fact the name of the place sounds strange even to Scots. I can imagine that when he told people where he came from, nobody actually knew where it was, which is why he gave Teufelsdrockh’s town the name of Weissnichtwo, which translates as Know not where. That’s my theory anyway but Wikipedia doesn’t agree with me.

Although this book was written in 1832 it’s amazing, and sometimes quite depressing how little some things have changed. On page 93 he writes: His first Law-Examination he has come through triumphantly; and can even boast that the Examen Rigorosum need not have frightened him: but though he is hereby an Auscultator of respectability, what avails it? There is next to no employment to be had.

This was obviously Carlyle’s experience and the reason why he ended up teaching in Kirkcaldy which he managed to stick out for just a few years, which isn’t surprising as he wrote this:
Among eleven-hundred Christian youths, there will not be wanting some eleven eager to learn. Which is presumably why, like many a Scot before him, he left Scotland to find fame and fortune in London.

Okay, so I admit it, I haven’t quoted any funny bits, but they are there, honestly. One thing that really annoyed me about the book is the use of the word English, which is often used when the word should be British or even Scottish. This must have been an editor re-writing Carlyle as no Scotsman would have done it. The author Smollet is even described as English! Or was it Carlyle posing as an English editor? Who knows. The structure of the book is multi-layered, but if Carlyle did mean to write English when it should have been British or Scottish – then he took it too far.

Apparently Dwight Eisenhower kept a copy of this book with him from 1942-1945 while commander of AEF and noted ‘It is a wise man who has read this masterpiece and acts upon its call.’ Adolf Hitler was reading Carlyle’s biography of Frederick the Great in 1945. Carlyle’s distaste of democracy and his belief in charismatic leadership obviously appealed to Hitler. Well nobody’s perfect!

The powers that be in the shape of ‘the toon cooncil’ demolished the building which was the school that Carlyle taught in, and replaced it with a 1970s horror. So the only thing which I could photograph is the other side of the street, which they daren’t pull down as it is The Old Kirk and this is the street which Carlyle would have walked down every day on his way to work, and the view which he would have had from his classroom window.

3 thoughts on “Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle

    • Stefanie,
      I thought I would be able to read Sartor and something a bit lighter at the same time, but I gave that up. I have to just concentrate on one at a time. I think I get through them quicker that way.
      The street is just a short walk from our house.

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