Carlyle and Scottish Thought by Ralph Jessop (auth.)

By Ralph Jessop (auth.)

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As a young student, Carlyle himself seems to have perused at least one of Reid's texts. In 1810-11 he borrowed Reid's Inquiry into the Human Mind from Edinburgh University Library. 44 This has usually been seen as irrelevant since Reid was merely required reading for the Logic class. 45 However, in a letter to his friend, Robert Mitchell, the nineteen-year-old Carlyle made an interesting complaint that belies this dismissal of Carlyle's knowledge of Reid. Carlyle complained about a recent article in the Quarterly Review concerning Stewart's Elements (written by William Rowe Lyall), that Stewart's English reviewers, whose opinion Carlyle dismissed as 'of little consequence', were prejudiced and did not believe his principles, 'the "first principles" of Dr Reid' (see, CL, 1: 46).

36 His early reading also included Locke, Reid and Stewart. He read Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding where he would have encountered Locke's distinction between primary and secondary qualities. 37 Carlyle seems to have had an early tussle with Locke's primary I secondary quality distinction in 1816 (see, CL, 1: 84). In Locke's Essay Carlyle would have encountered the theory of Ideas, a ver- A Common Fund of Philosophic Prose 33 sion of which formed the basis of Hume's sceptical metaphysics.

However, as Seigel claims, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 1844 review, with its emphasis on Carlyle's 'artistry rather than the usual concern with his social and political ideas', 'anticipates ... John Holloway's illuminating The Victorian Sage'. 9 It is clear that by 1844 a drift away from regarding Carlyle as a philosopher had begun and would continue well into the twentieth century. Elizabeth Barrett described Carlyle's writing in Past and Present as an interweaving of philosophy and poetry, claiming that he was not: too poetical to be philosophical, but ...

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