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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 389

Past and Present is a 1834 medieval history novel written by Scottish philosopher, writer, historian, and mathematician Thomas Carlyle. It is, essentially, about nineteenth-century industrial England, and the clash between medieval and contemporary culture. However, it touches upon several other socio-economic themes as well, such as: faith, religion, spirituality, working ethics, organized labor, aristocracy, and the structure of the modern society.

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Carlyle apparently drew inspiration from Chronicles of the Abbey of Saint Edmund's Bury by Jocelyn de Brakelond, and Tomlin's Monastic and Social Life in the Twelfth Century in the Chronicle of Jocelyn de Brakelond (1844), both of which include the English monk Samson of Tottington in their narrative.

Past and Present consists of four parts: “Book I: Proem,” “Book II: The Ancient Monk,” “Book III: The Modern Worker,” and “Book IV: Horoscope.”

In the first part, “Book I: Proem,” Carlyle discusses his opinions about the condition of the working class in England, during the Industrial Revolution. He dubs his analysis the “Condition of England question.” He argues how, despite England’s stable economy, the people form the lower and middle social classes are unable to get jobs; thus, they are forced to live in poverty. He suggests that the higher social class and the elite should lead the country, and provide help and mentorship for the workers and the unemployed.

In “Book II: The Ancient Monk,” Carlyle chronicles the life of Samson of Tottington—a twelfth-century monk who later became Abbot of Bury St....

(The entire section contains 389 words.)

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