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Past and Present by Thomas Carlyle

Past and Present (1843)

by Thomas Carlyle

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In "Past and Present", Carlyle takes the propaedeutic steps toward his later passionate histories and criticisms of English society, religion, and politics. He does indignation well. He was sickened by the vision of thousands of starving workers while "the governors of the land all busy shooting partidges and passing Corn Laws the while". Several million skilled workers were sitting idle in prisons and "workhouses", unable to do anything, "pent up, as in a kind of horrid enchantment; glad to be imprisoned and enchanted, that they may not perish starved."

Carlyle contends with the great Utilitarian movement prevailing in the Kingdom. He criticized the traditions and pointed out abuses in courts, church, and government, using satire and "facts". There is no need for a Church, for it has ceased to perform any function. Bentham's formulation of a laissez-faire theory of government is revealed to be a deceit--the world is not a great market, and economic laws are not clear, consistent or automatic. Carlyle sees the children laboring in factories with amazed horror, and refuses to be silent in identifying the cause of suffering in the heartlessness, hypocrisy, and idiocy of the powerful. He proposes solutions--education, suffrage, effective government, and even emigration. He decries the tendency of the rich to evade responsibility for what they do.

Carlyle contrasts modern life with medieval life in the character of a fictitious monk. He recognizes the modern takeover by powerful Captains of Industry. He indicts them for the millions of poor starving families in England. Many have read this book as a description of the evil without the cures. I found that he lays emphasis on individual liberty with suffrage and education to enable the government to function to insure safety, and be an aggressive organizing force defending against the organized private monopolies. Much of the studies Carlyle provided here are prophetic.
  keylawk | Dec 23, 2012 |
dated 1918
  kyrilex | Nov 19, 2009 |
Carlyle contrasts modernity to an idealised middle ages. This is an important work, marking the turning point between the younger, more radical Carlyle, and the older, increasingly grouchy, reactionary Carlyle.
  Fledgist | Nov 26, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Thomas Carlyleprimary authorall editionscalculated
Altick, Richard D.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Altick, Richard D.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jerrold, DouglasIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mims, Edwinsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vanden Bossche, Chris R.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0814705626, Paperback)

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(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:31 -0400)

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