Sartor Resartus "Man's Unhappiness Comes Of His Greatness"

Thomas Carlyle

"Man's Unhappiness Comes Of His Greatness"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: After years of the study of German philosophy and literature, a Scotsman, whose religious doubts turned him from the ministry, produced his first important book, and many believe his greatest, out of his profound disgust with the materialism of his age. Sartor Resartus first appeared in installments in Frazer's Magazine in 1833–1834. It was published in book form in Boston in 1836, and in England in 1838. Carlyle described it to his brother as: "a very singular book, I assure you. It glances from Heaven to Earth, and back again in a strange and satirical frenzy." And the language is even stranger. The author attempted to work into his English sentences, a structure peculiar to German prose. It resulted in un-English inversions, and unusual coined words and combinations of words. The style keeps changing from pedestrian, earthy paragraphs to poetic flights. He confessed he used the abrupt changes to shock the self-complacency of the reader and compel his close attention. Borrowing an idea from Swift's Tale of a Tub, Carlyle named his book Sartor Resartus (The Tailor Reclothed), using the figure that the material world is only clothing for the soul. The author claims to be explaining and commenting on the philosophy of an eccentric German Professor, Diogenes Teufelsdröckh (Born-of-God Devil-Dung) who lectures at the University of Weissnichtwo (No-body-knows-where). He has sent six bags of his papers to an English editor to be turned into a book about his life and philosophic theory. The theme is a contrast between the way things seem to be and really are. Behind its robes of civilization, he believes, the world conceals its soul. To deny God, to lose faith in spiritual values, is to give the "Everlasting No" to life; but to say the"Everlasting Yea" is to face life with spiritual courage and a willingness to work. In one chapter, the professor describes himself in his skyey tent, musing in front of the mountains, looking down at the towns and villages below. He sees the beauty of Nature, which he declares is God. He can look with pity on his fellow men, who are usually involved in some controversy touching on the Origin of Evil or some other problem.

. . . For it is man's nature to change his Dialect from century to century; he cannot help it though he would. The authentic Church-Catechism of our present century had not yet fallen into my hands: meanwhile, for my own private behoof, I attempt to elucidate the matter so. Man's Unhappiness, as I construe, comes of his Greatness; it is because there is an Infinite in him, which with all his cunning he cannot quite bury under the Finite. Will the whole Finance Ministers and Upholsterers and Confectioners of modern Europe undertake, in jointstock company, to make one Shoeblack HAPPY? . . .