Heroes and Hero Worship
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The text is taken from the printed "Sterling Edition" of Carlyle's Complete
Works, in 20 volumes, with the following modifications made in the etext
version: Italicized text is delimited by underscores, _thusly_. The
footnote (there is only one) has been embedded directly into text, in
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and spelling of the print version have been retained.
ON HEROES, HERO-WORSHIP, AND THE HEROIC IN HISTORY
By Thomas Carlyle
I. THE HERO AS DIVINITY. ODIN. PAGANISM: SCANDINAVIAN MYTHOLOGY.
II. THE HERO AS PROPHET. MAHOMET: ISLAM.
III. THE HERO AS POET. DANTE: SHAKSPEARE.
IV. THE HERO AS PRIEST. LUTHER; REFORMATION: KNOX; PURITANISM.
V. THE HERO AS MAN OF LETTERS. JOHNSON, ROUSSEAU, BURNS.
VI. THE HERO AS KING. CROMWELL, NAPOLEON: MODERN REVOLUTIONISM.
LECTURES ON HEROES.
[May 5, 1840.]
THE HERO AS DIVINITY. ODIN. PAGANISM: SCANDINAVIAN MYTHOLOGY.
We have undertaken to discourse here for a little on Great Men, their
manner of appearance in our world's business, how they have shaped
themselves in the world's history, what ideas men formed of them, what work
they did;--on Heroes, namely, and on their reception and performance; what
I call Hero-worship and the Heroic in human affairs. Too evidently this is
a large topic; deserving quite other treatment than we can expect to give
it at present. A large topic; indeed, an illimitable one; wide as
Universal History itself. For, as I take it, Universal History, the
history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the
History of the Great Men who have worked here. They were the leaders of
men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense
creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to
attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are
properly the outer material result, the practical realization and
embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world:
the soul of the whole world's history, it may justly be considered, were
the history of these. Too clearly it is a topic we shall do no justice to
in this place!
One comfort is, that Great Men, taken up in any way, are profitable
company. We cannot look, however imperfectly, upon a great man, without
gaining something by him. He is the living light-fountain, which it is
good and pleasant to be near. The light which enlightens, which has
enlightened the darkness of the world; and this not as a kindled lamp only,
but rather as a natural luminary shining by the gift of Heaven; a flowing
light-fountain, as I say, of native original insight, of manhood and heroic
nobleness;--in whose radiance all souls feel that it is well with them. On
any terms whatsoever, you will not grudge to wander in such neighborhood
for a while. These Six classes of Heroes, chosen out of widely distant
countries and epochs, and in mere external figure differing altogether,
ought, if we look faithfully at them, to illustrate several things for us.
Could we see them well, we should get some glimpses into the very marrow of
the world's history. How happy, could I but, in any measure, in such times
as these, make manifest to you the meanings of Heroism; the divine relation
(for I may well call it such) which in all times unites a Great Man to
other men; and thus, as it were, not exhaust my subject, but so much as
break ground on it! At all events, I must make the attempt.
It is well said, in every sense, that a man's religion is the chief fact
with regard to him. A man's, or a nation of men's. By religion I do not
mean here the church-creed which he professes, the articles of faith which
he will sign and, in words or otherwise, assert; not this wholly, in many
cases not this at all. We see men of all kinds of professed creeds attain
to almost all degrees of worth or worthlessness under each or any of them.
This is not what I call religion, this profession and assertion; which is
often only a profession and assertion from the outworks of the man, from
the mere argumentative region of him, if even so deep as that. But the
thing a man does practically believe (and this is often enough _without_
asserting it even to himself, much less to others); the thing a man does
practically lay to heart, and know for certain, concerning his vital
relations to this mysterious Universe, and his duty and destiny there, that
is in all cases the primary thing for him, and creatively determines all
the rest. That is his _religion_; or, it may be, his mere scepticism and
_no-religion_: the manner it is in which he feels himself to be
spiritually related to the Unseen World or No-World; and I say, if you tell
me what that is, you tell me to a very great extent what the man is, what
the kind of things he will do is. Of a man or of a nation we inquire,
therefore, first of all, What religion they had? Was it
Heathenism,--plurality of gods, mere sensuous representation of this
Mystery of Life, and for chief recognized element therein Physical Force?
Was it Christianism; faith in an Invisible, not as real only, but as the
only reality; Time, through every meanest moment of it, resting on
Eternity; Pagan empire of Force displaced by a nobler supremacy, that of
Holiness? Was it Scepticism, uncertainty and inquiry whether there was an
Unseen World, any Mystery of Life except a mad one;--doubt as to all this,
or perhaps unbelief and flat denial? Answering of this question is giving
us the soul of the history of the man or nation. The thoughts they had
were the parents of the actions they did; their feelings were parents of
their thoughts: it was the unseen and spiritual in them that determined
the outward and actual;--their religion, as I say, was the great fact about
them. In these Discourses, limited as we are, it will be good to direct
our survey chiefly to that religious phasis of the matter. That once known
well, all is known. We have chosen as the first Hero in our series Odin
the central figure of Scandinavian Paganism; an emblem to us of a most
extensive province of things. Let us look for a little at the Hero as
Divinity, the oldest primary form of Heroism.