Thomas Carlyle

Visions of Science: Thomas Carlyle

Scottish doctor and chemist Andrew Ure (1778-1857), in his The Philosophy of Manufactures (1835), proclaimed his era as “distinguished from every preceding age by an universal ardour of enterprise in arts and manufactures.” And of all the nations, “Great Britain may certainly continue to uphold her envied supremacy, sustained by her coal, iron, capital, and skill, if, acting on the Baconian axiom, ‘Knowledge is Power,’ she shall diligently promote moral and professional culture among all the ranks of her productive population.” He praised the “physico-mechanical” philosophy for all the blessings it has bestowed on society, “ameliorating the lot of mankind.” The manufacturer, through his factory of machines, and through the manipulation of nature, has produced “articles of necessity, convenience, or luxury, by the most economical and unerring means.” Ure compared the factory “to the muscular, the nervous, and the sanguiferous systems of an animal.” The machine has replaced the human. “Machinery, with little or no aid of the human hand,” he writes, “dispenses entirely with manual labour.”

Ure’s enthusiasm for the “Iron Man,” the great industrial and manufacturing revolution of the early decades of the nineteenth century, was shared by many. But there is another side to the story, of course. The factory was also the “dark Satanic mills” of William Blake’s 1808 poem. Hell had risen, with fog, mud, nightmare, darkness, and squalor, and engulfed the earth. Michael Thomas Sadler (1780-1835), British Tory MP and evangelical Anglican, decried the sorry lot of the factory worker, especially children. He put together a committee to investigate the poor conditions of the factories. He was awarded with much resistance from Whig politicians, who put together their own committee to investigate the findings of Sadler’s committee! The plight of the poor was no match for ideas of progress.

Thomas Carlyle

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)

In his last chapter, James Secord explores the work of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), who, in his well-known Sartor Resartus, serialized in Fraser’s Magazine from 1833-34, and published in a single volume in 1838, satirized men of science and their ideas and hopes of progress. Carlyle appears to be an odd selection in a book that discusses the work of science popularizers such as Davy, Babbage, Herschel, Somerville, Lyell, and Combe. But it is a fitting end, for Carlyle’s writings influenced—perhaps unexpectedly—the next generation of the men of science, the scientific naturalists.

Sartor begins by asking why, in a “our present advanced state of culture, and how the Torch of Science has now been brandished and borne about,” why has “little or nothing of the fundamental character, whether in the way of Philosophy or History, has been written on the subject of Clothes” (my emphasis). This was, of course, ironical. The author digresses into the great advances of science, declaring that “to many Royal Society, the Creation of a World is little more mysterious than the cooking of a dumpling.” Indeed, he goes on, “Man’s whole life and environment have been laid open and elucidated; scarcely a fragment or fibre of his Soul, Body, and Possessions, but has been probed, dissected, distilled, dessicated, and scientifically decomposed: our spiritual Faculties, of which it appears there are not a few, have their Stewarts, Cousins, Royer Collards: every cellular, vascular, muscular Tissue glories in its Lawrences, Majendies, Bichats.” All this deep and glorious scientific work, and yet no science of clothes!

But there is hope, for “Germany, learned, indefatigable, deep-thinking Germany comes to our aid.” While the Philosophy of Clothes languishes among the English, there is a man in Germany, a Professor Diogenes Teufelsdröckh (“god-born devil-dung”) of Weissnichtwo (“know-not-where”), who has published a treatise expressly on the subject, Die Kleider, ihr Werden un Wirken (“Clothes, their Origin and Influence). Kindly, Teufelsdröckh has sent a copy of this work to the present editor and narrator of Sartor. The rest of Sartor discusses the “difficulties,” “reminiscences,” and “characteristics” of Die Kleider.

According to Secord, Sartor is a parody, an ironic “inversion of the reflective scientific treatises that flourished around 1830,” an ad absurdam extension of mechanical philosophy as another author puts it. Many commentators have pointed out the similarities between Carlyle’s Sartor and Jonathan Swift’s (1667-1745) Tale of a Tub (1704) or Gulliver’s Travels (1726). But as Secord notes, although Carlyle indeed drew from these genres, he only did so “to undermine them, to demonstrate the impossibility of drawing sharp lines between different literary forms.” But of all literary forms, Carlyle unremittingly mocks the literature of scientific reflection. As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, in the American edition of Sartor (Boston, 1837):  “the manifest design of the work…is, a Criticism upon the Spirit of the Age,—we had almost said, of the hour, in which we live; exhibiting, in the most just and novel light, the present aspects of Religion, Politics, Literature, Arts, and Social Life.” It is a work, he continues, which will find its “way to the heart of every lover of virtue.”

Most contemporary readers, however, were confused by the work. At times prolix, paradoxical, and personal, many readers were puzzled and even angered by Carlyle’s mockery of Whiggism, with its talk of “Progress of the Species, Dark Ages, Prejudice, and the like.” Indeed, talk of the progress of science “finds small favour with Teufelsdröckh.”

In a chapter entitled “Natural Supernaturalism,” Carlyle calls for the “birth of a spiritually vital science that would release the human potential for action.” Here the “editor” discusses how Teufelsdröckh’s Philosophy of Clothes has attained “transcendentalism.” Teufelsdröckh asks whether a miracle is simply a violation of the Laws of Nature? But what, exactly, are the Laws of Nature? They are the fixed, unalterable rule of the Universe. But Sartor asks, “What those same unalterable rules, forming the complete Statute-Book of Nature, may be possibly be?

They stand written in our Works of Science, say you; in the accumulated records of Man’s Experience?—Was Man with his Experience present at the Creation, then, to see how it all went on? Have any deepest scientific individuals yet dived down to the foundations of the Universe, and gauged everything there? Did the Maker take them into His counsel; that they read His ground-plan of the incomprehensible All; and can say, This stands marked therein, and no more than this? Alas, not in anywise! These scientific individuals have been nowhere but where we also are; have seen some hand breadths deeper than we see into the Deep that is infinite, without bottom as without shore.

Laplace’s Book on the Stars, wherein he exhibits that certain Planets, with their Satellites, gyrate round our worthy Sun, at a rate and in a course, which, by greatest good fortune, he and the like of him have succeeded in detecting,—is to me as precious as to another. But is this what thou namest ‘Mechanism of the Heavens,’ and ‘System of the World’; this, wherein Sirius and the Pleiades, and all Herschel’s Fifteen thousand Suns per minute, being left out, some paltry handful of Moons, and inert Balls, had been—looked at, nick-named, and marked in the Zodiacal Way-bill; so that we can now prate of their Whereabout; their How, their Why, their What, being hid from us, as in the signless Inane?

System of Nature! To the wisest man, wide as is his vision, Nature remains of quite infinite depth, of quite infinite expansion; and all Experience thereof limits itself to some few computed centuries and measured square-miles. The course of Nature’s phases, on this our little fraction of a Planet, is partially known to us: but who knows what deeper courses these depend on; what infinitely larger Cycle (of causes) our little Epicycle revolves on? To the Minnow every cranny and pebble, and quality and accident, of its little native Creek may have become familiar: but does the Minnow understand the Ocean Tides and periodic Currents, the Trade-winds, and Monsoons, and Moon’s Eclipses; by all which the condition of its little Creek is regulated, and may, from time to time (unmiraculously enough), be quite overset and reversed? Such a minnow is Man; his Creek this Planet Earth; his Ocean the immeasurable All; his Monsoons and periodic Currents the mysterious Course of Providence through AEons of AEons.

We speak of the Volume of Nature: and truly a Volume it is,—whose Author and Writer is God. To read it! Dost thou, does man, so much as well know the Alphabet thereof? With its Words, Sentences, and grand descriptive Pages, poetical and philosophical, spread out through Solar Systems, and Thousands of Years, we shall not try thee. It is a Volume written in celestial hieroglyphs, in the true Sacred-writing; of which even Prophets are happy that they can read here a line and there a line. As for your Institutes, and Academies of Science, they strive bravely; and, from amid the thick-crowded, inextricably intertwisted hieroglyphic writing, pick out, by dexterous combination, some Letters in the vulgar Character, and therefrom put together this and the other economic Recipe, of high avail in Practice. That Nature is more than some boundless Volume of such Recipes, or huge, well-nigh inexhaustible Domestic-Cookery Book, of which the whole secret will in this manner one day evolve itself, the fewest dream.

There is an obvious and quite deliberate echo of God’s response to Job in the Hebrew Bible: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38.4-7).

Lest we think Carlyle a Luddite or anti-scientific, we should recall, as Secord reminds us, that he excelled in mathematics while at the University of Edinburgh; indeed his first job was teaching mathematics at Annan Academy, a preparatory school for boys in Scotland. He was also a paid assistant of David Brewster (1781-1868), one of the founding members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. “Carlyle’s ability to mock the developing traditions of scientific writing,” Secord writes, “drew on long experience of teaching, translating, and reviewing.”

Carlyle had become disillusioned from with contemporary science at a young age. In an 1822 article he had written for Brewster’s Edinburgh Encyclopedia on the French mathematician, physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal, Carlyle ridiculed Pascal’s famous calculator as “a wonderful but useless proof of its author’s ingenuity.” When he began pursuing studies in mineralogy, Carlyle was introduced to the work of Goethe, Schelling, and other writers of German Romanticism. Against the utilitarian philosophies of British thinkers, Carlyle was enraptured dynamic Naturphilosophie.  He came to see mechanics as limited, “focused on applications, and based on experiment and observation; dynamics was primary, vital, and grounded in intuition.” Carlyle saw a need to reform natural philosophy once again, for contemporary philosophers and mathematicians were “turning so-called ‘useful knowledge’ into a Pascal-like engine for the mechanical transformation of every area of life.” This “mechanization” was the “Signs of the Times,” and it will drastically and poisonously alter every aspect of society.

Secord transitions from Sartor to the wider context to help us better grasp Carlyle’s denigration of the “Age of Machinery.” At the urging of Lord Brougham, the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK) was founded in 1826 with the concerted goal of communicating every piece of “useful” information available to the working classes. But according to Carlyle, the “world of bookselling and publishing was as completely corrupted by mechanism as the rest of British society.” He mocked the SDUK in an 1833 article in Fraser’s Magazine. Fraser’s was known its satirical bite, for railing “against the utopian impracticality of schemes for universal education.” According to Secord, every “issue had articles mocking radicals and the reforming Whigs, especially their support for utilitarian political economy.” The new learning would only distract the worker. Ultimately, these aspirations were impractical. Worse yet, the new learning would endanger traditional values, “the schoolmaster peddling reason could be succeeded by the demagogue preaching irreligion and democracy.” In short, a periodical like Fraser’s was an ideal place for Carlyle to publish his Sartor.

In his call to reform science, Carlyle’s Sartor “became a spiritual guide for thousands of readers in Europe and America, especially [Secord tells us] young men in search of a creed to replace traditional Christianity.” The high calling of the man of science appealed, for example, to readers like Thomas Henry Huxley and John Tyndall. Both Huxley and Tyndall rejected materialism as a philosophy of life: “The evolution of matter and of life need not lead to a world devoid of spirit and governed solely by material processes.” As Sartor declares, the new men of science could “stand peaceful on his scientific watch-tower,” a truly “spiritual observatory.”

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Signs of the Times

Thomas CarlyleThomas Carlyle’s (1795-1881) review essay, “Signs of the Times,” first appeared in the Edinburgh Review in 1829. Rather than reviewing the books listed—namely, William Alexander MacKinnon’s On the Rise, Progress, and Present State of Public Opinion (1829), Edward Iriving’s The Last Days: A Discourse on the Evil Character of These Our Times (1829), and the anonymous Anticipation; or, an Hundred Years Hence (1829)—Carlyle takes the opportunity to deliver some rather interesting cultural commentary.

He begins by criticizing the contemporary histrionics of “danger” and “crisis.” It is obvious, he says, that the present faces a crisis. This crisis has called forth a plethora of vaticinations, both from the religious and irreligious. “The one announce” he writes, “that the last of the seals is to be opened, positively, in the year 1860; and the other assure us, that ‘the greatest happiness principle’ is to make a heaven of earth, in a still shorter time” (441). But rather than getting into a frenzy, Carlyle calls for a calmer, more serious inspection and reading of “the signs of our own time.”

In brief, Carlyle characterized his age not as a “Heroical, Devotional, Philosophical, or Moral Age, but, above all others, the Mechanical Age” (442).

It is the Age of Machinery, in every outward and inward sense of that word; the age which, with its whole undivided might, forwards, teaches and practises the great art of adapting means to ends. Nothing is now done directly, or by hand; all is by rule and calculated contrivance. For the simplest operation, some helps and accompaniments, some cunning abbreviating process is in readiness. Our old modes of exertion are all discredited, and thrown aside. On every hand, the living artisan is driven from his workshop, to make room for a speedier, inanimate one. The shuttle drops from the fingers of the weaver, and falls into iron fingers that ply it faster. The sailor furls his sail, and lays down his oar; and bids a strong, unwearied servant, on vaporous wings, bear him through the waters. Men have crossed oceans by steam; the Birmingham Fire-king has visited the fabulous East; and the genius of the Cape were there any Camoens now to sing it, has again been alarmed, and with far stranger thunders than Gama’s. There is no end to machinery. Even the horse is stripped of his harness, and finds a fleet fire-horse invoked in his stead. Nay, we have an artist that hatches chickens by steam; the very brood-hen is to be superseded! For all earthly, and for some unearthly purposes, we have machines and mechanic furtherances; for mincing our cabbages; for casting us into magnetic sleep. We remove mountains, and make seas our smooth highways; nothing can resist us. We war with rude Nature; and, by our resistless engines, come off always victorious, and loaded with spoils (ibid).

Thanks to industry and technology, mankind is better fed, clothed, lodged, and accommodated than in any time in history. At the same time, the Mechanical Age has dramatically altered social systems. The rise of the periodical press is partly one consequence of the Mechanical Age. We have machines for education. We also have religious machines. Indeed “every little sect among us, Unitarians, Utilitarians, Anabaptists, Phrenologists, must each have its periodical, its monthly or quarterly magazine—hanging out, like its windmill, into the popularis aura, to grind meal for the society” (443).

Society then, as now, revolved around new technologies. Another consequence of the Mechanical Age is the building of institutions and societies. “No Queen Christina,” Carlyle observes, “needs to send for her Descartes; no King Frederick for his Voltaire.” We now have recourse to Royal and Imperial Societies and Institutions, Bible Societies, Religious Tract Societies, and, soon after Carlyle published this essay, the British Association for the Advancement of Science. “Men are [now] grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand” (444). Our whole manner of existence has fundamentally and dramatically changed.

The Mechanical philosophy, as Carlyle understood it, has altered the state of science. Metaphysical and Moral Sciences are now in disrepute. Instead, “the science of the age,” he says, “is physical, chemical, physiological, and, in all shapes, mechanical” (445).

Mechanical principles have become so pervasive that they have also affected politics. Society is now seen as a machine and “mere political arrangements” have also been mechanized. “It is no longer the moral, religious, spiritual condition of the people that is our concern, but their physical, practical, economical conditions, as regulated by public laws” (448). This “body-politic” has now become an idol of worship.

But while the domain of Mechanism was once considered embracing, it is by no means the most important. Carlyle makes a distinction between man’s dynamical and mechanical nature. In the dynamical springs the mystery of love, fear, wonder, enthusiasm, poetry, religion, “all which” he says, “have a truly vital and infinite character” (449). In this sense, according to Carlyle, our mechanical side can never led us to happiness. Moreover, both “Science and Art have, from first to last, been the free gift of Nature; an unsolicited, unexpected gift—often even a fatal one” (ibid.).

Because both grow spontaneously, it is dangerous to institutionalize either science or art. Christianity, for example, the “crowning glory, or rather the life and soul, of our whole modern culture,” has increasingly declined and decayed under the burden of institutionalization (450). Was it by institutions and establishments, Carlyle asks, that Christianity first arose and spread among men?

Not so; on the contrary, in all past and existing institutions for those ends, its divine spirit has invariably been found to languish and decay. [Rather] It arose in the mystic deeps of man’s soul; and was spread abroad by the ‘preaching of the ‘word,’ by simple, altogether natural and individual efforts; and flew, like hallowed fire, from heart to heart, till all were purified and illuminated by it; and its heavenly light shone, as it still shines, and as sun or star will ever shine, through the whole dark destinies of man (ibid).

This tacit, anti-Catholic rhetoric is made even clearer when Carlyle maintains that “the Reformation had an invisible, mystic, and ideal aim: the result was indeed to be embodied in external things; but its spirit, its worth, was internal, invisible, infinite” (ibid).

Although man has both a mechanical and a dynamical nature, he is undoubtedly “not a creature and product of Mechanism.” Rather, he is “its creator and producer.” This observation should be obvious, but Carlyle claims that many in the Mechanical Age have forgotten this all-important distinction. However, we must not deny the dynamical nor the mechanical aspects of human nature. Indeed, both, says Carlyle, need to be cultivated.

Undue cultivation of the inward or Dynamical province leads to idle, visionary, impracticable courses, and, especially in rude eras, to Superstition and Fanaticism, with their long train of baleful and well-known evils. Undue cultivation of the outward, again, though less immediately prejudicial, and even for the time productive of many palpable benefits, must, in the long-run, by destroying Moral Force, which is the parent of all other Force, prove not less certainly, and perhaps still more hopelessly, pernicious (452).

It is this, unbalanced understanding of the dynamical and mechanical that characterizes the Mechanical Age. The truth, writes Carlyle, is that “men have lost their belief in the Invisible, and believe, and hope, and work only in the Visible” (ibid). God, in short, has become the machine.

With the mechanization of God, religion has dramatically changed. Indeed, it has been lost.

Religion in most countries, more or less in every country, is no longer what it was, and should be, — a thousand-voiced psalm from the heart of Man to his invisible Father, the fountain of all Goodness, Beauty, Truth, and revealed in every revelation of these; but for the most part, a wise prudential feeling grounded on mere calculation; a matter, as all others now are, of Expediency and Utility; whereby some smaller quantum of earthly enjoyment may be exchanged for a far larger quantum of celestial enjoyment. Thus Religion too is Profit, a working for wages; not Reverence, but vulgar Hope or Fear (455).

With religion, literature and morality have also lost its way, says Carlyle. Poetry has lost its beauty. It has been replaced with brute strength. Self-denial, the parent of all virtue, has given way to instant self-gratification. “Virtue is Pleasure, is Profit; no celestial, but an earthly thing” (456). In the end, “we worship and follow after Power”; we shun truth and seek ambition, honor, and popularity (457).

In a powerful conclusion, Carlyle writes:

Thus, while civil liberty is more and more secured to us, our moral liberty is all but lost. Practically considered, our creed is Fatalism; and, free in hand and foot, we are shackled in heart and soul with far straiter than feudal chains. Truly may we say, with the Philosopher, “the deep meaning of the Laws of Mechanism lies heavy on us”; and in the closet, in the Marketplace, in the temple, by the social hearth, encumbers the whole movements of our mind, and over our noblest faculties is spreading a nightmare sleep (ibid.)

But Carlyle remains optimistic. Technology is not the problem. It is how we use it. Indeed, it is still possible to recover the wisdom of our forefathers. Although “the time is sick and out of joint,” these two hostile influences in man, the dynamical and the mechanical, the old and the new, have always existed. What we need is balance and “constant intercommunion.” What we need is another “majestic reformation,” another “majestic Luther.” But in order to reform a nation, we must, says Carlyle, begin with ourselves (459).

 

The Romanticism of the Victorian Scientific Naturalists

The scientific naturalists were, according to Frank M. Turner, “successors to the eighteenth-century philosophes.” “Combing research, polemical wit, and literary eloquence,” Turner writes,  “they defended and propagated a scientific world view based on atomism, conservation of energy, and evolution.” Turner, however, in his “Victorian Scientific Naturalism and Thomas Carlyle” (1975), urges caution in showing the connection between nineteenth-century and eighteenth-century intellectuals. There is “considerable room for qualification in accepting contemporary or self-espoused views of the intellectual background of the scientific writers or in establishing a uniformitarian apostolic succession within naturalistic thought.”

These Victorian popularizers of science were all reared in a Christian home and attended clerically dominated universities, where scientific education was infused with metaphysics, idealism, and natural religion. Put succinctly, Turner reminds us that “Huxely as a boy would go off to the woods to deliver sermons from tree stumps. Tyndall had grown up amid the rigors of Irish Orange protestantism; Leslie Stephen, in a strict evangelical household. The latter had also taken holy orders. [And] Herbert Spencer’s childhood had been passed among liberal nonconformists in the provinces.”

There was, indeed, a gradual, transitional process to their more “naturalistic frame of mind.” Here Turner emphasizes the “rather unexpected influence of Thomas Carlyle on the naturalistic coterie.” Carlyle introduced German romanticism and idealism to the British, most well-known for his Sartor Resartus, published in 1836, but appearing in serial form from 1833-34 in Fraser’s Magazine. According to Turner, “Huxley, Tyndall, Morley, Galton, and even Spencer drew upon Carlyle’s wisdom in their early manhood.” Morley claimed that Carlyle “has done more than anybody else to fire men’s hearts with a feeling for right and an eager desire for social activity.” Huxley recalled “the bracing wholesome influence of his writings when, as a young man, I was essaying without rudder or compass to strike out a course for myself.” But highest praise came from Tyndall, writing: “I must ever gratefully remember that through three long cold German winters Carlyle placed me in my tub, even when ice was on its surface, at five o’clock every morning—not slavishly, but cheerfully, meeting each day’s studies with a resolute will, determined whether victor or vanquished not to shrink from difficulty.”

But Carlyle’s influence on the scientific naturalists went beyond mere temperament.  “Contemporaries of a rationlistic and naturalistic bent of mind,” Turner argues, “discovered the foundation for a view of nature, religion, and society that allowed them to regard themselves as thoroughly scientific and naturalistic without becoming either materialistic or atheistic and to accept secular society with good conscience and a finite universe without spiritual regret.”

The link between Carlyle and the scientific naturalists, Turner tells us, is social critique and the call for a new social and intellectual elite. “Carlyle believed the problems of Britain’s social and physical well-being should be addressed by leaders whose authority and legitimacy stemmed from talent, veracity, and knowledge of facts.” This appeal to a meritorious society characterized the “young guard’s” ambitious attempt to remove all aristocratic influence from the scientific societies. But this was not egalitarian enterprise. Like Carlyle, they “believed the new elite itself should formulate and direct policy. In Huxley’s words, “I should be very sorry to find myself on board a ship in which the voices of the cook and loblolly boys counted for as much as those of the officers, upon questions of steering, or reefing topsails.” In short, the naturalistic movement was a new elitist’s movement.

This is most clearly demonstrated in the thought and career of Galton. Indeed, Galton had nothing but contempt for democracy and equality. “I have no patience with the hypothesis,” he once wrote, “that babies are born pretty much alike…it is in the most unqualified manner that I object to pretension of natural equality.” In Turner’s estimation, “a direct line of intellectual descent connects Carlyle’s demand for heroes and his devotion to great men with Galton’s eugenics.”

The scientist was the new hero, often represented in messianic imagery. This image of scientist as savor came, of course, with invectives against the current priesthood and clerical-scientist. In his Heroes and Hero Worship (1841), Past and Present (1843), and Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850), Carlyle declared that the reigning “sham” priesthood should (and will) be replaced with a more industrious, honest, courageous, effective, and active intellectual leadership. By the mid-nineteenth century, the new scientific elite asserted themselves as this new intellectual leadership. In a letter to Charles Kingsley, for example, Huxley claimed that the “caste of priests must give way to a new order of prophets”: “Understand that this new school of prophets [he writes] is the only one that can work miracles, the only one that can constantly appeal to nature for evidence that it is right, and you will comprehend that it is no use to try to barricade us with shovel hats and aprons, or to talk about our doctrines being ‘shocking.'” The scientists thus were the new teachers of truth.

This Carlylean influence, Turner says, solves an apparent paradox. Although the scientific naturalists attacked the clergy and Christian doctrine, they remained men of deep moral and religious sensitivity. Carlyle had separated religion from spirituality. Religion was “wonder, humility, and work amidst the eternities and silences.” True religion was the “inner man.” Huxley likewise declared that “a deep sense of religion was compatible with the entire absence of theology.” Other members of the naturalistic coterie would concur. Carlyle had been a religious and philosophical agnostic long before Huxley coined the term. In a letter to Scottish author John Sterling, Carlyle proclaimed:

Assure yourself,  I am neither Pagan nor Turk, not circumcised Jew, but an unfortunate Christian individual resident at Chelsea in this year of Grace; neither Pantheist nor Pottheist, nor any Theist or ist whatsoever, having the most decided contempt for all manner of System-builders  and Sectfounders—so far as contempt may be compatible with so mild a nature; feeling well beforehand (taught by experience) that all such are and even must be wrong. By God’s blessing, one has got two eyes to look with; and also a mind capable of knowing, of believing: that is all the creed I will at this time insist on.

According to Turner, Carlyle statement “stood as a statement of Huxley’s, Tyndall’s, Spencer’s, or Stephen’s religious and metaphysical position.” The Victorian scientific naturalists’ philosophical skepticism, optimism, work ethic, and conceptions of force and matter, all belong to this Carlylean intellectual heritage. “Carlyle’s impetus provided the foundation for their moral commitment,” Turner concludes, “for the scientific publicists approached their age in the guise of the man of letters confident with Carlyle that ‘What he teaches, the whole world will do and make.'”