Thomas Carlyle, 1795 - 1881

portrait of Thomas Carlyle
Photo by Eliott & Fry (ca. 1860-1870)

Born: 4 December 1795, Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, UK
Died: 5 February 1881, London, England, UK

Thomas Carlyle was born at Ecclefechan, Scotland on this day in 1795 and raised in a stern Calvinist family which expected him to enter the ministry. He boarded for three years at Annan Academy at Annan where he was bullied relentlessly and left after three years. He studied at the University of Edinburgh and then taught mathematics but found it not to his liking, then returned to the university in 1819 where he had a crisis of faith, losing his Christian faith but not his Calvinist values. This turn led him to write Sartor Resartus (The Tailor Retailored) which brought him to public attention as a writer. It may also have led to gastric ulcers, he suffered some painful stomach ailment for the rest of his life. He read a great deal of German literature at this point and established himself as an expert in the field; writing a series of published essays, a biography of Schiller, and translated a number of German works. He married Jane Baillie Welsh in 1826, it was a notably stormy relationship although there was enough affection to keep them together until her death in 1866, one biographer believed the marriage was never consummated. From 1828 until 1834 the Carlyles lived at Craigenputtock (the historic 800-acre estate of Jane's family, which Carlyle later bequeathed to the University of Edinburgh), then moved to the Chelsea area of London. Other than a period as rector of the University of Edinburgh, he remained at Chelsea for the rest of his life. His powerful and satirical writing was appealing in Victorian-era England and his work was influential in New England transcendentalism.

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