"Close Thy Byron; Open Thy Goethe"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In an involved work with the subtitle "The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdröckh," and written at his wife's farm where they had moved to economize, Carlyle continued his censorship of the highly praised Victorian Era. The title of the work, Sartor Resartus (The Tailor Reclothed) was taken from a figure used by Swift in a Tale of a Tub (1704). As the father, in Swift's satire, gave garments to his three sons, representing three branches of religion with stipulations that they should not alter the garments, only to have each son change the clothing to suit his ideals, so Carlyle expounded that the material world was merely clothing for the spiritual world. Swift had asked: "What is man himself but a microcoat," living amid surroundings that are like a "large suit of clothes which invests everything?" Carlyle put into the work his own social criticism and transcendental philosophy. And, of course, he worked into it his basic ideas on duty, work, and silence that appear in almost everything he wrote. At the age of 24, Carlyle had begun to study German at a time when few of his countrymen were interested in its philosophy or literature. He translated a number of works not previously available for English readers, such as his 1824 translation of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and Travels. He also wrote a biography of Goethe and essays on his works. Not blinded by Romanticism like so many of his contemporaries, he believed that Byron's poetic works were frothy in comparison with the writing of Goethe. In his book, he quotes the imaginary professor and philosophic author Teufelsdröckh, as he utters his "Everlasting No," his bitter and sweeping denunciation of the structure of society. Two chapters later, one entitled "The Everlasting Yea," voices what he does believe: that clothes, and human institutions, and religions of the past should be considered only as an expression of the continuing life of the Soul. Man has the power to design the clothes that he will wear. In urging Englishmen to stop living in the exotic, rebellious world of Byron and Romanticism, and to turn against the love intrigues and irreverent frivolities of Don Juan and Childe Harold, Carlyle quotes the Professor's stern command: "Love not pleasure; love God. This is the EVERLASTING YEA, wherein all contradiction is solved."

"I asked myself: What is this that, ever since earliest years, thou hast been fretting and fuming, and lamenting and self-tormenting, on account of? Say it in a word: is it not because thou art not HAPPY? Because the THOU (sweet gentleman) is not sufficiently honored, nourished, soft-bedded, and lovingly cared for? Foolish soul! What Act of Legislature was there that thou shouldst be Happy? . . . Art thou nothing other than a Vulture, then, that fliest through the Universe seeking after somewhat to eat; and shrieking dolefully because carrion enough is not given thee? Close thy Byron; open thy Goethe."