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Well, Carlyle is a second-rate Romantic essay writter who hated Britain for not having the philosophical genius of the Germans or a politician of the heroic stature of Napoleon; Dickens, on the other hand, is a Realist novelist typical for the age whose children novels, however, created a trend followed by novelists elsewhere as well (for instance, Cuore by Edmundo de Amicis in Italy, Poil de Carotte by Jules Renard...etc alt the way to Maxim Gorki in Russia/USSR); but John Ruskin - despite his political views - is not so much a great poet, as he is a a great art critic, among the few great British art critics. He was probably the first who managed to tun a sterile and usually, well, parasitic field such as art critique into an art in itself. His "Stones of Venice" is still a fantastic reading.

The main source of Martin's post is the work of Levy and Peart, which I have read a lot of, although not all of it. While Carlyle and Ruskin are major players in their accounts, I do not particularly remember Dickens entering in, at least not into the discussions of racism. He may have been an advocate of British imperialism, but I would appreciate someone providing an example of Dickens supporting racism specifically, before he gets lumped in with this crew.

Adam is pretty darn good writer. Thanks for the plug.


Check with David and Sandra, but Dickens is closely tied to Carlyle in their account. In fact, see David's original essay "How the Dismal Science Got Its Name."

However, I do think it is more guilt by association, rather than guilt by actual statement. though I might be wrong on that. I do think they argue that Dickens was a "traditionalist" and as such his race related argument is tied to the argument of Carlye. They are trying to place Hard Times in its intellectual and historical setting. Which is different from the argument "markets" versus "socialism"? So the question is "who were the critics of the market before socialism, and what was it that they were arguing?"


Chapter 7 of How the Dismal Science Got Its Name is all about Dickens.

Here's a quote from Dickens' Letters (1938, p. 445) on the Governor Eyre controversy:

"That platform--sympathy with the black--or the Native, or the Devil--afar off, and that platform indifference to our countrymen at enormous odds in the midst of bloodshed and savagery, makes me stark wild. [says some bad things about the Jamaica commission] So we are badged about New Zealanders and Hottentots, as if they were identical with men in clean shirts at Camberwell, and were bound by pen and ink accordingly."

OK. Throw Dickens into the pot with the dismal Carlyle et al to be eaten by the headhunters.

While the Peart-Levy project is very interesting the account they provide of the Governor Eyre controversy is inadequately multi-dimensional. The work by Bernard Semmel on Governor Erye and the Jamaica Committee is highly recommended to anyone who wants to read futher.

The authors presumable have normative disagreements with the 19th century Romantics, but I don't recall any "lie" being pointed out.

For a modern defender of Carlyle against Exeter Hall and the "dismal scientists" see the blog of Mencius Moldbug:

I'm not following the intellectual (specifically, the literary) history here.

"The poets: Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, and everyone’s favorite literary critic of capitalism, Charles Dickens."

Perhaps by "poet," Martin means a creative or imaginative rather than an analytical or scientific writer--though it must be said that Mill himself composed more poetry in his youth than either Dickens or Carlyle, and even wrote a (rather bad) treatise on the subject, 'What is Poetry?'. But Martin's characterisation of these three writers as "Romantic poets" simply does not make sense. Even if they were poets, Dickens and Ruskin certainly wrote well outside what one would Harold Bloom calls the "visionary company," the actual circle of practising English Romantic poets (Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats), and Carlyle , though considered a nominal English Romantic, was the last in that line of descent, his thought more amenable historically to the New England Transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau than to the High Romantic mythopoeia of Shelley and Keats et al.

"The Romantic poets argued that inherent differences between individuals justified hierarchical relationships–for the good of the lesser races, of course."

To me this is not even good nonsense. Where is this sentiment in an extant High Romantic text? Blake's early illuminated book Visions of the Daughter's of Albion, one of the firing shots of Romanticism, is among other things an explicit anti-abolitionist parable. Blake's Oothoon is representative of West Indian blacks whose enslavement the "Romantic poets" favour, according to Martin.

Carlyle, Dickens, and Ruskin were neither poets nor Romantics; and the English Romantic poets, whose intellectual heritage is fiercely Protestant, individualist, and even, in the case of Shelley, anarchist, were not supporters of the (re)institution of slavery.


Classically educated folk--including the authors in the debate in question--are aware that "poet" is used in an expansive sense in cross-disciplinary debates, as juxtaposed with "philosopher." This is intellectual history 101 stuff, going back at least as far as Plato. It does not mean only those that write in verse, whatever you might have been taught in your British lit class.

Basic reading comprehension helps as well. Look at the original post. As I point out, Carlyle is being rather explicit in juxtaposing "gay" (=poetry) with "dismal." It ain't subtle. Nor is the picture of Ruskin slaying a student of the dismal science. Ruskin is riding a Pegasus, a classic symbol of--wait for it--poetry!

As for "Romantic," in no way am I trying to loop in Blake & Co. So no, "according to Martin" is just stuff you made up. In the context, its painfully obvious that I'm referring to Carlyle & Friends. I'm not implicating anyone else, because I don't blithely make up "according to's."

By Romantic, I simply mean they look back fondly upon feudalism. There is no question that Carlyle fits this mold. Since a, well, romanticization of bygone days is a distinguishing feature of Romanticism, I'm going to stick by the wording.

Romanticism is a very diverse cultural phenomenon which marked the whole of Europe since the end of the 18th century and, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, it lasted, in a different, usually very bourgeois form until the very end of 19th century, therefore it should not be confused with the "classical Romantic period" in Britain. As it is well known, Romanticism is defined by paradoxical and contradictory ideals, expressions and on. Consequently, it should be noted that, although all Romantics idealise certain aspects of the past, the creativity of the common people and the genius - recognized or unrecognized - of great men, most Romantics are not backward looking, "conservatives" in a sense, but forward looking, bourgeois, liberal, even democratic or socialists. Victor Hugo, for instance, exemplified the pattern of Romantic evolution: from "reactionary conservative" to democratic socialist. As far as the overall political legacy of Romanticism, I personally agree that, in a sense, certain ideas of Romanticism can be considered an inspiration for the messianic dimension of the totalitarian ideologies such as fascism/Nazism or communism (along side the rationalistic-Enlightenment side explored, among others by Hayek). Anyway, a good book, although a little bit too influenced by 20th century Anglo-Saxon conservative ideology I think, on Romanticism, and especially on the late Biedermeier Romanticism of Central Europe is Virgil Nemoianu "Taming of Romanticism : European Literature and the Age of Biedermeier".

I'm going to ignore the vaguery of "classically educated"--this should specifically refer to those schooled in classical languages, and if this is the case, I'm not seeing the relevance to your response.

Again, I did not write that "poet" referred to "those that write in verse." (I will also ignore your gibberish about "intellectual history 101.") My (generous) reading of your usage was influenced by the third definition of "poet" in the Oxford English Dictionary:

"a writer of verse distinguished by particular insight, inspiration, or sensibility, or by remarkable powers of imagination, creativity, or expression; a writer of fine poetry. Also occasionally: a writer of prose marked by these qualities; a prose poet."

As you can see, I juxtaposed the OED's "imaginative" and "creative" against "analytical" and "scientific." This is not a stupid dichotomy--in fact, I think it is reasonably efficient. It certainly makes more sense than your use of "poet" here: yours is at best a rarefied usage, and when you pair it with "Romantic," it is unreasonable to suggest that someone who questions your coupling of the two is a poor student of intellectual history or reader. You were irresponsible and uncareful. Go ahead and search Academic OneFile or JSTOR (or even plain Google) and see what "Romantic poet" refers to any article or discussion of any kind.

It would be like me saying that Cormac McCarthy is a "Baroque painter," "baroque" because his prose style is of course "baroque" (with a lower-case 'b'), and "painter" because a painter, can also be, in a similarly rarefied context, "a person who describes something in a pictorial or graphic style," which he certainly does. And so if in following I made a claim about McCarthy (and let's throw in some modern figures as completely unrelated to him as your trio, say Slavoj Zizek for Carlyle and Roger Kimball for Ruskin) and say that these three "painters" support [insert heinous political position]. To me, this is not a sound premise for an argument--"Romantic poet" has always and will always mean Blake, Shelley, Keats et al, and that meaning will not change because you want an easy title for your blog post.

And so if in following I made a claim about McCarthy (and let's throw in some modern figures as completely unrelated to him as your trio, say Slavoj Zizek for Carlyle and Roger Kimball for Ruskin) and say that these three "painters" support [insert heinous political position].

should be

And so if in following I made a claim about McCarthy (and let's throw in some modern figures as completely unrelated to him as your trio, say Slavoj Zizek for Carlyle and Roger Kimball for Ruskin) and say that these three "painters" support [insert heinous political position], no one would understand what I was talking about. Zizek is a painter? Kimball is "baroque?"

"I'm going to ignore the vaguery of "classically educated"--this should specifically refer to those schooled in classical languages, and if this is the case, I'm not seeing the relevance to your response."

I'm going to assume, charitably, that anyone saying something like this is a troll.

I'm going to abandon this before it gets further out of hand:

Look. You can't call people "trolls" or attack the extent of their education or reading ability when they question your usage of "Romantic poet" to refer to Charles Dickens (or "classically educated" to mean God knows what). Mine was a fair semantic critique, nothing like the sort of "troll" postings to which you refer.

I think you have been ridiculously hostile, and so, as I said, I am going to abandon this discussion.

Oh my, this has gotten snarky, jab jab.

I will simply add that "Romantic" is a very multi-faceted word whose meaning has changed quite substantially over a long period of time. So, originally it referred to "Roman." Well, the Romans were not at all "romantic" in any sort of 19th or 20th century sense, but generally very logically and "classically" (often posed as the opposite of "Romantic") oriented, loving those straight-line highways and everybody keeping in their place under civil law and so on.

I think the original usage of the term that led to its shift in meaning goes back to the medieval troubadors who were chasing after the left-behind wives of knights and lords off in the Crusades, with these guys "inventing romantic love," which is probably the key switching point, throwing in all this emotional stuff, and then in the Renaissance the term "classical" got used for actually reviving the more rationalistic Roman and Greek ideas, with the term romantic off holding on to all the emotional stuff. Of course all this would go underground until it got going in Central Europe, as Bogdan accurately noted, with the opening shot probably being Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther (1776), feeding later into the "classical Romantics" of the Keats-Shelley-Byron gang, and on further, although I am going to stay out of the precise debate between Adam and Matthew.

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