Thomas Carlyle

Thomas Carlyle Biography

Journalist (1795–1881)
Thomas Carlyle was a 19th century Scottish essayist, historian and satirical writer, known for works like Sartor Resartus and The French Revolution.


Born on December 4, 1795, in Galloway, Scotland, Thomas Carlyle studied at the University of Edinburgh and later became an essayist. In the mid-1830s, he published Sartor Resartus, and when he released The French Revolution in 1837, he became a prominent writer of his day. His later works includ a biography of Frederick the Great. Carlyle died on February 5, 1881, in London, England.

Background and Education

Thomas Carlyle was born on December 4, 1795, in Ecclefechan, in the Galloway region of Scotland. His father was a stern Calvinist who would greatly influence Carlyle's later philosophies.

Carlyle entered the University of Edinburgh as a teen in 1809, and though initially planning a career in the ministry, he chose to explore mathematics and teaching, eventually settling into a career as a writer. He particularly took to the works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and in the mid-1820s translated his novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship.

Marriage to Jane Welsh

After a lengthy courtship, Carlyle wed Jane Welsh, a fellow literary aficionado, in 1826. They were married until Welsh's death four decades later. The couple was often not on good terms, with their relationship chronicled in thousands of letters.

Though the two at first lived in a rural area in Scotland, where Carlyle worked on essays for publication, they eventually moved to London in 1834, hosting salons and becoming known for their social gatherings of the intelligentsia.

Fame With 'The French Revolution'

Carlyle published Sartor Resartus in Fraser's Magazine in the mid-1830s. Later released in book format, it was a satirical, spiritual treatise which featured the scholar character of Teufelsdröckh. Then, in 1837, Carlyle put forth The French Revolution, a subjective account of the famous era that was distinctive in its dramatic, multi-perspective style and brought the writer great fame. (A draft of the manuscript had accidentally burned while in the possession of Carlyle's friend John Stuart Mill.)

Carlyle became a top literary figure in Victorian England, with some of his additional books including On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1841) and Past and Present (1843). He also wrote about Oliver Cromwell and Frederick the Great.

His work was defined by a belief in hierarchical order and God-bound duty. Though commended for his dedication to charities and the impoverished, Carlyle was also known to be in a perennially acerbic mood at times and issued violently racist writing, with some of his notable friends later becoming estranged.

Death and Writings on Life

With much of his later years spent mourning Welsh, Carlyle died on February 5, 1881, in London, England, and was buried back in Scotland with his parents' remains. The University of California Press has reissued much of Carlyle's writings, with the multi-volume The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle made available by Duke University Press as well. Rosemary Ashton also wrote Thomas and Jane Carlyle: Portrait of a Marriage (2002).

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