an Angel of Death, hangs over France, noyading, fusillading, fighting, gun-boring, tanning human skins


“It is a wild savage Book, itself a kind of French Revolution; – which perhaps, if Providence have so ordered it, the world had better not accept when offered it? With all my heart! What I do know of it is that it has come hot out of my own soul; born in blackness whirlwind and sorrow; that no man, for a long while, has stood speaking so completely alone under the Eternal Azure, in the character of man only; or is likely for a long while so to stand:– finally that it has gone as near to choking the life out of me as any task I should like to undertake for some years to come; which also is an immense comfort, indeed the greatest of all.” The term exhaustion scarcely covered the state he was in: he wanted to weep and pray when he put down his pen, but did not do either “at least not visibly or audibly”. He was poor, he had a sick wife to support and his own health was fragile. He was forty-two and had long hoped to live by writing, but his only substantial work so far, Sartor Resartus, (an experimental narrative serialized in Fraser’s Magazine between 1833 and 1834) had met with general bafflement. For his book on the French Revolution, Carlyle had a “half- profits” contract with his publisher James Fraser, which would give him no income from the finished text until the production and printing costs had been recouped. Only then would he be entitled to half of any money it might make.

more from Ruth Scurr at the TLS here.