Carlyle likes to write sentences like: “Drink thou cappuccino while thou’st may, thy slugabed who even as the crack of doom approacheth do dilly-dally on the sandbanks of eternity. Yea! Treat thouself to a blueberry muffin, yet ructions, world-ructions, of Brobdingnagian proportions await ye!”. Translation from Carlylese: “While ordinary people drank cappuccinos and contemplated a blueberry muffin, little did they suspect world war and revolution awaited them.” As Carlyle would be the first to admit, to read his books is to spend time with him—you either like heavily-embroidered Victorian furniture, curlicued doilies on your table, and labyrinthian antimacassars…or you don’t.
I don’t. Neither did Nietzsche and Nietzsche was right about Carlyle—it was all in the digestion. Carlyle is a costive writer; he’s constipated, his stomach is bloated with wind from rotten porridge oats (economically Scottish) in his guts—if given the correct medicine, he would release great gaseous bellows under the duvet (much to his relief). However, he never had said medicine—and Nietzsche would be the first to say (being from a race that developed a porcelain shelf in the toilet to let you examine your “treatise”) that Carlyle’s windy prose reflected the state of his internals.
It was remarked on at the time, hence “Carlylese”—a kind of wind-billowing (make it three volumes, when one would do). Carlyle is always mock-surprised, questioning, sarcastic (like a bitter schoolboy): “What is this that now appears in tatterdemalion fashion? Be it legions of Brutus? Be it Champs de Mars in all its finery? Would only for all the terraqueous globe it were. For it is only…” And so on and so forth. Ponderous and highly moralised (by a man who didn’t believe in God, at least not conventionally, but was afraid to say because it might upset his mum). It’s the great Victorian hypocrisy—care for the poor, as Christ directed ye! That’s his take on the French Revolution—but it’s wrong, France had never been wealthier when the revolution hit.