Carlyle and Art: Symbol, Emblem and Image

  • Michael Timko


While there are many who would quarrel over Carlyle’s ideas, few would deny his claim as artist; and one significant ‘artistic’ device upon which he relied was the use of emblems or symbols, a device that again reflects his view of the whole. In analysing Teufelsdröckh’s statement that all visible things are symbols of more important invisible ideas or forces, Georg Tennyson writes:

The sentence, with its three independent clauses, states this idea from several vantage points, turns, as it were, the jewel to different lights …. By the conclusion of the sentence Carlyle has moved to a philosophic … vocabulary—Matter, Idea—which lends authority to the statement that began with common language. Moreover, Carlyle, by the end of the sentence, has made a more inclusive statement than the one he began with.1

Carlyle’s method, then, reflects his own religious, philosophic, and aesthetic thought: it straddles two worlds, the common and the philosophic, the real and the ideal. Newton and Goethe were simply two sides of a single concept, each necessary to the other. Newton’s universe was the Word; Goethe’s the Idea: Newton’s the photograph or Emblem; Goethe’s the Reality.


Mountain Passage Early Reading Early Essay Independent Clause External Nature 
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Notes and References

  1. 2.
    Georg Tennyson, ‘The Sacramental Vision’ in Nature and the Victorian Imagination, ed. G. Tennyson and U. Knoepflmacher (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), p. 370.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    G. Tillotson, A View of Victorian Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), p. 82.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael Timko 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Timko
    • 1
  1. 1.City University of New YorkUSA

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