Sartor Resartus, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter VI. Aprons.

One of the most unsatisfactory Sections in the whole Volume is that on Aprons. What though stout old Gao, the Persian Blacksmith, “whose Apron, now indeed hidden under jewels, because raised in revolt which proved successful, is still the royal standard of that country;” what though John Knox’s Daughter, “who threatened Sovereign Majesty that she would catch her husband’s head in her Apron, rather than he should lie and be a bishop;” what though the Landgravine Elizabeth, with many other Apron worthies, — figure here? An idle wire-drawing spirit, sometimes even a tone of levity, approaching to conventional satire, is too clearly discernible. What, for example, are we to make of such sentences as the following?

“Aprons are Defences; against injury to cleanliness, to safety, to modesty, sometimes to roguery. From the thin slip of notched silk (as it were, the emblem and beatified ghost of an Apron), which some highest-bred housewife, sitting at Nurnberg Work-boxes and Toy-boxes, has gracefully fastened on; to the thick-tanned hide, girt round him with thongs, wherein the Builder builds, and at evening sticks his trowel; or to those jingling sheet-iron Aprons, wherein your otherwise half-naked Vulcans hammer and smelt in their smelt-furnace, — is there not range enough in the fashion and uses of this Vestment? How much has been concealed, how much has been defended in Aprons! Nay, rightly considered, what is your whole Military and Police Establishment, charged at uncalculated millions, but a huge scarlet-colored, iron-fastened Apron, wherein Society works (uneasily enough); guarding itself from some soil and stithy-sparks, in this Devil’s-smithy (Teufels-schmiede) of a world? But of all Aprons the most puzzling to me hitherto has been the Episcopal or Cassock. Wherein consists the usefulness of this Apron? The Overseer (Episcopus) of Souls, I notice, has tucked in the corner of it, as if his day’s work were done: what does he shadow forth thereby?” &c. &c.

Or again, has it often been the lot of our readers to read such stuff as we shall now quote?

“I consider those printed Paper Aprons, worn by the Parisian Cooks, as a new vent, though a slight one, for Typography; therefore as an encouragement to modern Literature, and deserving of approval: nor is it without satisfaction that I hear of a celebrated London Firm having in view to introduce the same fashion, with important extensions, in England.” — We who are on the spot hear of no such thing; and indeed have reason to be thankful that hitherto there are other vents for our Literature, exuberant as it is. — Teufelsdrockh continues: “If such supply of printed Paper should rise so far as to choke up the highways and public thoroughfares, new means must of necessity be had recourse to. In a world existing by Industry, we grudge to employ fire as a destroying element, and not as a creating one. However, Heaven is omnipotent, and will find us an outlet. In the mean while, is it not beautiful to see five million quintals of Rags picked annually from the Laystall; and annually, after being macerated, hot-pressed, printed on, and sold, — returned thither; filling so many hungry mouths by the way? Thus is the Laystall, especially with its Rags or Clothes-rubbish, the grand Electric Battery, and Fountain-of-motion, from which and to which the Social Activities (like vitreous and resinous Electricities) circulate, in larger or smaller circles, through the mighty, billowy, storm-tost chaos of Life, which they keep alive!” — Such passages fill us, who love the man, and partly esteem him, with a very mixed feeling.

Farther down we meet with this: “The Journalists are now the true Kings and Clergy: henceforth Historians, unless they are fools, must write not of Bourbon Dynasties, and Tudors and Hapsburgs; but of Stamped Broad-sheet Dynasties, and quite new successive Names, according as this or the other Able Editor, or Combination of Able Editors, gains the world’s ear. Of the British Newspaper Press, perhaps the most important of all, and wonderful enough in its secret constitution and procedure, a valuable descriptive History already exists, in that language, under the title of Satan’s Invisible World Displayed; which, however, by search in all the Weissnichtwo Libraries, I have not yet succeeded in procuring (vermochte night aufzutreiben).”

Thus does the good Homer not only nod, but snore. Thus does Teufelsdrockh, wandering in regions where he had little business, confound the old authentic Presbyterian Witchfinder with a new, spurious, imaginary Historian of the Brittische Journalistik; and so stumble on perhaps the most egregious blunder in Modern Literature!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/carlyle/thomas/sartor_resartus/book1.6.html

Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30