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On This Date Thomas Carlyle Was Born

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December 4, 2017

On This Date in 1795 Thomas Carlyle Was Born. He died February 5, 1881.


Here is a short clip from Past and Present.

The Irish Widow

A poor Irish Widow, her husband having died in the Lanes of Edinburgh, went forth with her three children, bare of all resource, to solicit help from the Charitable Establishments of that City. At this Charitable Establishment and then at that she was refused; referred from one to the other, helped by none; –till she had exhausted them all; till her strength and heart failed her; she sank down in typhus-fever; died, and infected her Lane with fever, so that “seventeen other persons” died of fever there in consequence. The humane Physician asks thereupon, as with a heart too full for speaking, Would it not have been economy to help this poor Widow? She took typhus-fever, and killed seventeen of you!—Very curious. The forlorn Irish Widow applies to her fellow-creatures, as if saying, “Behold I am sinking, bare of help: ye must help me!” They answer, “No, impossible; thou art no sister of ours.” But she proves her sisterhood; her typhus-fever kills them: they actually were her brothers, though denying it! Had human creature ever to go lower for a proof?

I usually feel Thomas Carlyle to be a windbag—try reading his Sartor Resartus which used to be required reading for English majors. But then you run across snippets of much longer passages such as this one usually given the editorial title above, taken from Past and Present (April 1843).

An Irish widow in Scotland—not a good situation to be in. She begs of everyone, even the appropriate social entities, for help. They ignore her. I mean, really, who is she and what have we to do with her, right? She dies, and her death demonstrates with deadly effect that she is indeed our sister and we are her brothers and sisters.

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Paul Varner


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