The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 4. Carlyles marriage
The beginnings of Carlyle’s career as man of letters, all things considered, had been auspicious; perhaps, indeed, more auspicious than was justified by subsequent developments. But, at least, all thought of the bar as a profession was given up. Through Edward Irving, who, in the meantime, had settled in London, Carlyle became tutor to Charles Buller in 1822, and had the opportunity of getting to know something of a social world much above his own and of seeing London and even Paris. Before this, however, a new chapter in his life had begun with his introduction, in the early summer of 1821, to Jane Welsh of Haddington. Again, it was Irving whom he had to thank for this introduction, which formed a momentous turning-point in his life. Irving had himself been attracted by Miss Welsh, and she by him; but he was under other obligations; and the friendship between her and Carlyle was free to drift, in spite of many points of friction, into love. In 1826, the many difficulties and scruples which had arisen were successfully overcome, and she became Carlyle’s wife. After a short spell in Edinburgh, the young couple took up their abode amid the solitudes of the Dumfriesshire moors, at Craigenputtock, “the dreariest spot in all the British dominions,” where Mrs. Carlyle, born, if ever woman was, to grace a salon, spent six of her best years in oppressive solitude added to household work. With these years, which produced the essays on German literature, as well as Sartor Resartus, Carlyle’s apprenticeship to literature may be said to have come to a close.
It will be convenient, at this stage, to consider what these literary beginnings under German influence meant for Carlyle. He was by no means, as has been often asserted, a pioneer of German studies in this country; he rather took advantage of an already existing interest in, and curiosity about, things German, to which many translations and magazine articles—Blackwood’s Magazine, for instance, had, since its inception in 1817, manifested a strong interest in German poetry—bear witness. Carlyle, however, had an advantage over other writers and translators of his day, in so far as his work is free from the taint of dilettantism, the besetting sin of all who, in those days, wrote on German literature in English magazines; he spoke with the authority of one who knew, whose study had been deep and fundamental, even although his practical knowledge of German at no time reached a very high degree of proficiency.