“It is an idle question to ask whether his books will be read a century hence: if they were all burnt as the grandest of Suttees on his funeral-pile, it would only be like cutting down an oak after its acorns have sown a forest. For there is hardly a superior or active mind of this generation that has not been modified by Carlyle’s writings; there has hardly been an English book written for the last ten or twelve years that would not have been different if Carlyle had not lived.” George Eliot, “Thomas Carlyle” (1855)
Several generations read the works of Thomas Carlyle with surprise, awe, inspiration, fervor, excitement, and occasionally anger—and they went on to shape the rest of the 19th century and much of the 20th century with the words and prophecies of Carlyle embedded in their politics, philosophy, art, literature, history, and ideals for a better world.
Some of these impacts would have pleased Carlyle; others would have greatly surprised him, and a few, perhaps, would have dismayed him. But for good and ill, Carlyle left an impact that in some ways is hard to see because it is so deeply pervasive.
A conference aiming to retrieve that hidden Carlyle, and to recognise how he served, and continues to serve, as a bedrock of far-ranging ideals for several generations of readers and admirers was scheduled at Oxford University