PAST AND PRESENT - 1912 - INTRODUCTION - Being an appreciation from
The Dial 1 BY RALPH WALDO EMERSON HERB is Carlyles new poem, his
Iliad of English woes, to follow his poem on France, entitled the
History of Us French Revolution. In its first aspect it is a
political tract, and since Burke, since Milton, we have had nothing
to compare with it. It grapples honestly with the facts lying
before all men, groups and disposes them with a masters mind, and,
with a heart full of manly tenderness, offers hls best counsel to
his brothers. Obviously it is the book of a powerful and
accomplished thinker, who has looked with naked eyes at the
dreadful political signs in England for the last few years, has
conversed much on these topics with such wisemen of all ranks and
parties as are drawn to a scholars house, until such daily and
nightly meditation has grown into a great connection, if not a
system of thoughts and the topic of English politics becomes the
best vehicle for the expression of his recent thinking, recommended
to him by the desire to give some timely counsels, and to strip the
worst mischiefs of their plausibility. It is a brave and just book,
and not a semblance. No new truth, say the critics on all sides. Is
it so Truth is very old, but the merit of seers is not to invent
but to dispose objects in their right places, and he is the
commander who is always in the mount, whose eye not only sees
details, but throws crowds of details into their right arrangement
and a larger and juster totality than any other. The book makes
great approaches to true contemporary history, a very rare success,
and firmly Past and Present holds up to daylight the absurdities
still tolerated in the Englishand European system. It is such an
appeal to the conscience and honour of England as cannot be
forgotten, or be feigned to be forgotten. It has the merit which
belongs to every honest book, that it was self-examining before it
was eloquent, and so hits all other men, and, as the country people
say of good preaching, comes bounce down into every pew. Every
reader shall carry away something. The scholar shall read and
write, the farmer and mechanic shall toil, with new resolution, nor
forget the book when they resume their labour. Though no theocrat,
and more than most philosophers a believer in political systems,
Mr. Carlyle very fairly finds the calamity of the times, not in bad
bills of Parliament, nor the remedy in good bills, but the vice in
false and superiicial aims of the people, and the remedy in honesty
and insight. Like every work of genius, its great value is in
telling such simple truths...
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