The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 10. Past and Present
These doctrines were repeated in a more picturesque form in Carlyle’s next contribution to political literature, Past and Present. In the beginning and end of this little work, which, perhaps, is his most inspired, as it was his most spontaneous production—it was written within the space of two months early in 1843—he unrolls once again “The condition of England question,” in its familiar form; he reiterates the old demands for duty and responsibility, for earnestness and just dealing on the part of England’s rulers; and he sets up the strong man as the only remedy for political rottenness. The arguments are the same as before; but they are put even more trenchantly and vividly; the scornful contempt which he heaps on the democratic remedies of his radical friends is more scathing. Encased within these two sections of the book lies the contrasting picture of the past; he takes the chronicle of Jocelyn of Brakelond, which, not long before, had been unearthed by the Camden society, and, with a clearness of delineation and dramatic actuality hardly surpassed by Scott himself, he puts life into the records of the abbot Samson and his monks of St. Edmund’s and transmutes these dry records into a veritable prose idyll. Here, Carlyle stands out emphatically as the poet and the artist, rather than as the politician or economist.