Thomas Carlyle

Writer / Historian

Born: 4 December 1795
Died: 4 February 1881
Birthplace: Ecclefechan, Scotland
Best known as: Author of Heroes and Hero-Worship
Thomas Carlyle was most famous in the Victorian era, when he was known for his dense, thoughtful books on history and philosophy. The son of a strict Calvinist, Carlyle became a divinity student at Edinburgh University but eventually left school and turned to writing instead. He developed a stomach ailment -- possibly gastric ulcers -- which stayed with him all his life and helped give him a reputation as a cranky and somewhat disagreeable personality. His prose style, famously quirky and sometimes savage, helped cement that reputation. His made a splash in 1833 with the publication of the semi-autobiographical Sartor Resartus ("The Tailor Re-Tailored"). Other major works included his three-part history The French Revolution (1837), the six-volume History of Frederick the Great (1858-65), and his 1847 collection of Oliver Cromwell's letters and speeches. He also devised a series of public lectures culminating in his book Heroes and Hero-Worship, which still is regarded as a key text on the subject. (His fascination with heroes and strong leaders has given him an reputation as anti-democratic.) In 1827 he married Jane Baille Welsh -- herself brilliant and difficult -- and their 40-year marriage is remembered as a tempestuous affair.
Extra credit: Carlyle was the victim of a famous misfortune after writing the first volume of The French Revolution. He entrusted the manuscript to his friend John Stuart Mill for review; shortly afterwards, Mill's maid mistook the manuscript for trash paper and burned it. Carlyle was forced to rewrite the entire volume from scratch.

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