Thomas Carlyle

On this date in 1795, historian Thomas Carlyle was born in Ecclefechan, Dumfries, Scotland, the son of a Calvinist stonemason. He entered Edinburgh University at age 15 and earned his B.A. in 1813. "Intended" for the Church, he prepared to become a Church of Scotland minister for 5 years until rejecting Christianity after reading Edward Gibbon. He taught at schools and tutored, and helped to popularize German philosophy in England, translating one work by Goethe and writing Life of Schiller (1822). His pantheistic, semi-autobiographical Sartor Resartus (1834) was his first successful book. Carlyle married Jane Welsh, the vivacious and well-informed daughter of a physician, who corresponded with many eminents of her era. Carlyle met John Stuart Mill, who introduced him and his wife to Emerson, who became a longtime correspondent. Among the 30 volumes by Carlyle were: French Revolution, Frederick the Great, Life of Sterling and Life of Tennyson. He became Rector of Edinburgh University in 1865 and refused the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. Carlyle said of Voltaire: "He gave the death-stab to modern superstition. That horrid incubus, which dwelt in darkness, shunning the light, is passing away. . . . It was a most weighty service" (cited in 2,000 Years of Disbelief by James Haught). D. 1881.

“I have for many years strictly avoided going to church or having anything to do with Mumbo-Jumbo.

We know nothing. All is, and must be, utterly incomprehensible.”

—Thomas Carlyle's remarks to poet William Allingham, Allingham's Diary (p. 217, ii, 410), 1907. Cited by Joseph McCabe, in A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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