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Thomas Carlyle
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Thomas Carlyle and Dumfries & Galloway

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Scottish essayist and historian, who was an influential social critic.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)Born in Ecclefechan on December 4, 1795, Carlyle was educated as a divinity student at the University of Edinburgh. After five years of study he abandoned the clergy in 1814 and spent the next four years teaching mathematics. Dissatisfied with teaching, Carlyle moved to Edinburgh in 1818, where, after studying law briefly, he became a tutor and wrote articles for the Edinburgh Encyclopedia. He also made an intensive study of German literature, publishing Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1824), a translation of the novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1796) by the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Carlyle also wrote Life of Schiller (1825), which appeared first in serial form in 1823 and 1824 in the London Magazine.

After a trip to Paris and London, he returned to Scotland and wrote for the Edinburgh Review, a literary periodical.

In 1826 Carlyle married Jane Baillie Welsh, a writer, whom he had met in 1821. After 1828 the Carlyles lived on a farm in Craigenputtock, Scotland, where Carlyle wrote a philosophical satire, Sartor Resartus (The Tailor Retailored). The work, first published between 1833 and 1834 in Fraser's Magazine, is partly autobiographical. In the guise of a "philosophy of clothes," Carlyle comments on the falseness of material wealth; and in the form of a philosophical romance, he details the crises in his life and affirms his spiritual idealism. In the satire, Carlyle emerged as a social critic deeply concerned with the living conditions of British workers.

At the farm he also wrote some of his most distinguished essays, and he established a lifelong friendship with the American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1834 Carlyle moved to the Chelsea section of London, where he soon became known as the Sage of Chelsea and was a member of a literary circle that included the essayists Leigh Hunt and John Stuart Mill.

In London Carlyle wrote The French Revolution, A History (2 vol., 1837), a historical study concentrating on the oppression of the poor, which was immediately successful. This was followed by a series of lectures, in one of which, published as On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1841), he contended that world civilization had developed because of the activities of heroes. His hatred and fear of democracy and praise of feudal society were reflected in much of his subsequent writing, especially in Chartism (1839) and Past and Present (1843). His concept of history appeared in a number of his later works, notably in Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, with Elucidations (1845) and History of Frederick II of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great (10 vol., 1858-65), his most extensive work.

After the death of his wife, he edited her letters; his autobiography, Reminiscences, was published in 1881. He died in London on February 5, 1881