My Commonplace Book (a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comments added by the reader.)

By Dorothy Bryant
Thursday September 22, 2011 - 11:49:00 AM

The works of a man, bury them under what guano-mountains and obscene owl-droppings you will, do not perish, cannot perish. What of Heroism, what of Eternal Light was in a man and his Life, is with very great exactness added to the Eternities, remains forever a new divine portion of the Sum of Things.

—Thomas Carlyle (1795—1881), prolific essayist, satirist, historian 

I’ve never read the formidable Carlyle. I know him mainly as the archetypal pain-in-the-neck husband of long-suffering Jane, the intelligent, educated, talented Victorian wife subordinated, but not subdued, as the wife of a “genius.” 

I can’t remember when or why I copied this (some years ago) probably from some essayist or reviewer who’d used it. Maybe I was feeling low: wondering if whatever I was doing was worth anything. 

Today, having outlived a lot of people: close relatives who died too young; old family and friends who worked too hard, alone and unnoticed at humble jobs; well-known, accomplished role models now totally forgotten, I read more into Carlyle’s words. I believe he meant to apply them to all people, great and obscure. Probably that was as close as Carlyle, heralding an atheistic, icon-smashing, secular age, could come to a statement of faith. Not bad. 


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