The French Revolution "Aristocracy Of The Moneybag"

Thomas Carlyle

"Aristocracy Of The Moneybag"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Carlyle was determined to be a historian. Frustrated in his purpose to enter the clergy according to the wishes of his parents, and by a revulsion against eighteenth century rationalism, he shifted to the study of law. However, he found it dull reading in the office of an Edinburgh lawyer. Frustration brought on illness and a breakdown which he cured with a new interest. He learned German and began delving into German philosophy and literature that gradually introduced him to the idea of an orderly universe and an immanent and friendly God, postulated by Fichte and Goethe. He capitalized on his experiences in his spiritual autobiography, Sartor Resartus, appearing first in a magazine in 1835, as an attack on the materialization of his era. Carlyle's knowledge of German led to assignments as book reviewer for several magazines. Generally each book served as text for a biographical essay on its subject. The success of Sartor Resartus permitted him and his wife to move to London, where they found a house near the British Museum, and he began reading and note-taking for his most ambitious work, The French Revolution: A History. His tragedy with the first draft is literary history. Having completed his Volume I, he took his only copy to get the opinion of his friend, John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) philosopher and economist, with special interest in France. A stupid maid, seeing a pile of scribbled papers in her employer's study, burned them. However, Carlyle started his task again and by 1837 had completed the two volumes. In his essays and lectures, Carlyle frequently expressed the opinion that great men were the causes of great movements and human progress. He saw the French Revolution as evidence of man's divinity exemplified by the deeds of its great leaders. And so his history is actually a series of portraits of those involved. But added to them, to give brilliancy to his story, are graphic recreations of great scenes of the Revolution, the assassination of Marat by Charlotte Corday, the execution of Marie Antoinette, the capture of the Bastille, so exciting that occasional distortions of history pass unnoticed. For the writing of Sartor Resartus, Carlyle devised a Teutonic sort of English; for his French Revolution, his style is more vivacious French-English, with exclamations, questions, comments to the reader, quotations in French, and an abundance of footnotes that show the extent of his preparatory reading. His thesis that the aristocracy of blood and documents was wiped out by an aristocracy of money appears early in his history. In Chapter 7 of Book VII, the author declares: ". . . (Demoiselle) Thèroigne had bags of money, which she distributed over Flandre:–furnished by whom? Alas, with money-bags, one seldom sits on insurrectionary cannon. Calumnious Royalism!" In the last book of his second volume, Carlyle reverts to this idea:

. . . Confused wreck of a Republic of Poverties, which ended in Reign of Terror, is arranging itself into such composure as it can. Evangel of Jean-Jacques, and most other Evangels, become incredible, what is there for it but to return to the old Evangel of Mammon? Contrat-Social is true or untrue. Brotherhood is Brotherhood or Death, but money always will buy money's worth; in the wreck of human dubitations, this remains indubitable, that Pleasure is pleasant. Aristocracy of Feudal Parchment has passed away with a mighty rushing; and now, by a natural course, we arrive at Aristocracy of the Moneybag. . . . Apparently a still baser sort of Aristocracy? An infinitely baser; the basest yet known.