What is the effect of Carlyle's reference to a potter at his wheel, and how does he use this imagery to evoke a feeling of compassion?
"Hast thou looked on the Potter's wheel, - one of the venerablest objects; old as the Prophet Ezechiel and far older?"
Carlyle is making the case that work is the most noble endeavor, and the most important one, with which humanity can involve itself. He previously suggests that people should not concern themselves with acquiring self-knowledge but should instead focus upon what they are able to do with themselves and their abilities.
Think it not thy business, this of knowing thyself; thou art an unknowable individual: know what thou canst work at; and work at it, like a Hercules! That will be thy better plan.
Carlyle then goes on to make the case that people need to do work in order to develop themselves - that they can not leave it for destiny. The potter's wheel reference goes back to Biblical metaphors of God shaping humans in the same way that a potter shapes a lump of clay into a pot or other item. People cannot, according to Carlyle's belief, shape or save themselves without the saving purpose of work any more than the clay can shape itself into a useful item without the potter's hands and the spinning wheel.
Carlyle is appealing to his readers' desire to have compassion upon those who have undertaken to improve themselves through their work. He is almost suggesting that people can identify with the Creator or can tap into their inner spirituality through the nobility of their labor.
Labour is Life: from the inmost heart of the Worker rises his god-given Force, the sacred celestial Life-essence breathed into him by Almighty God; from his inmost heart awakens him to all nobleness, - to all knowledge, ‘self-knowledge’ and much else, so soon as Work fitly begins.