Leigh Hunt And Thomas Carlyle
The following characteristic story of these two "intellectual
gladiators" is related in "A New Spirit of the Age."
Leigh Hunt and Carlyle were once present among a small party of equally
well known men. It chanced that the conversation rested with these two,
both first-rate talkers, and the others sat well pleased to listen.
Leigh Hunt had said something about the islands of the Blest, or El
Dorado, or th
Millennium, and was flowing on in his bright and hopeful
way, when Carlyle dropt some heavy tree-trunk across Hunt's pleasant
stream, and banked it up with philosophical doubts and objections at
every interval of the speaker's joyous progress. But the unmitigated
Hunt never ceased his overflowing anticipations, nor the saturnine
Carlyle his infinite demurs to those finite flourishings. The listeners
laughed and applauded by turns; and had now fairly pitted them against
each other, as the philosopher of Hopefulness and of the Unhopeful. The
contest continued with all that ready wit and philosophy, that mixture
of pleasantry and profundity, that extensive knowledge of books and
character, with their ready application in argument or illustration,
and that perfect ease and good-nature, which distinguish each of these
men. The opponents were so well matched, that it was quite clear the
contest would never come to an end. But the night was far advanced, and
the party broke up. They all sallied forth; and leaving the close room,
the candles and the arguments behind them, suddenly found themselves in
presence of a most brilliant star-light night. They all looked up.
"Now," thought Hunt, "Carlyle's done for!--he can have no answer to
that!" "There!" shouted Hunt, "look up there! look at that glorious
harmony, that sings with infinite voices an eternal song of hope in the
soul of man." Carlyle looked up. They all remained silent to hear what
he would say. They began to think he was silenced at last--he was a
mortal man. But out of that silence came a few low-toned words, in a
broad Scotch accent. And who, on earth, could have anticipated what the
voice said? "Eh! it's a sad sight!"----Hunt sat down on a stone step.
They all laughed--then looked very thoughtful. Had the finite measured
itself with infinity, instead of surrendering itself up to the influence?
Again they laughed--then bade each other good night, and betook
themselves homeward with slow and serious pace. There might be some
reason for sadness, too. That brilliant firmament probably contained
infinite worlds, each full of struggling and suffering beings--of beings
who had to die--for life in the stars implies that those bright worlds
should also be full of graves; but all that life, like ours, knowing not
whence it came, nor whither it goeth, and the brilliant Universe in its
great Movement having, perhaps, no more certain knowledge of itself,
nor of its ultimate destination, than hath one of the suffering specks
that compose this small spot we inherit.
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