The English have had a penchant for the most unlikely heros, heros they've honored more—in the classical meaning of that much abused phrase—in the breach than in the observance. Carlyle was one such hero. The names of his admirers are a roll call of the Victorian greats. Yet he was the least representative thinker of his time, the most heretical, the most outrageous and outlandish. Damning all the “mud-gods” of his age-liberalism, rationalism, utilitarianism, materialism, individualism, laissez-fairism—he was read and revered by those who made that age what it was. Emerson said of Past and Present that it was “as full of treason as an egg is full of meat.” Even its style was treasonable. The era of Macaulay, Hazlitt, Mill, and Dickens, of writers distinguished for their lucidity, urbanity, and wit, lavished praise upon a critic whose prose was tortuous and turgid, full of neologisms and solecisms,...


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