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Thomas Carlyle and Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Giants of the North
John Goth


UNTIL ABOUT FIFTY YEARS ago, nineteenth-century authors and thinkers Thomas Carlyle and Edward Bulwer-Lytton were required reading for anyone in the Anglo-Saxon world who could rightly call himself educated. Today, they are nearly forgotten. Their crimes? It seems they spoke too frankly and too fondly of their own racial kin (gasp). Moreover, they preached the Liberal doctrines of community of race and fair play to all members -- regardless of rank.

Somehow after the second World War, Liberalism was twisted to mean selling all to the non-White and granting privileges to the alien. Now that a hundred million or so (is anyone truly counting?) have invaded the United States at the behest of the Jew, Liberalism is all but phased out. It is no longer needed. Which Protocol prophesied that?

Fifty years after WWII, it is the erstwhile Conservative -- the freshly hatched "Neo-Con" -- that calls north the swarthy hordes. This should well remind us that we should be neither Liberal nor Conservative, neither bond nor free, but White. Carlyle and Lord Lytton, saw this in their own time, and although contemporaries associated them most often with the Whigs (the Left), they would rather resist any such labels as "Liberal" or "Conservative." They were thinking men. Political positions may have their own merits or liabilities, but politics is played at the price of integrity.

In case anyone has forgotten, it was the blond Scotsman Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) that formulated the Great Man Theory, which inspired so many White heroes to vigor and on to victory (see his lecture, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History of 1841). His writings were suppressed in 1945, when J. Salwyn Schapiro published his hateful diatribe "Thomas Carlyle, Prophet of Fascism" in the Journal of Modern History.

The sandy blond Englishman Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873, full title: 1st Baron Lytton [of Knebworth], Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton) may be remembered for his historical novel Rienzi which inspired Richard Wagner to compose his third opera and first smashing success of the same name. The Austrian August Kubizek claimed that Hitler’s hearing the opera as a young man was when "it all began." Complete recordings of the opera are today nowhere to be found, and Bulwer-Lytton is little known but for the opening line in Paul Clifford often quoted in Peanuts, the comic strip: "It was a dark and stormy night…"

Although almost forgotten, each of Carlyle’s and Bulwer-Lytton’s works may be found in any library, and many are now online.

Opening one such work, the historical novel Harold, Bulwer-Lytton addressed a "Dedicatory Epistle" to C. T. D’Eyncourt (a Member of Parliament) in 1880:

I have attempted, somewhat and slightly, to shadow out the ideal of the pure Saxon character, such as it was then, with its large qualities undeveloped, but marked already by patient endurance, love of justice and freedom — the manly sense of duty … and that indestructible element of purpose and courage and will, which defying all conquest, and steadfast in all peril, was ordained to achieve so vast an influence over the destinies of the world.[1]

For more than a hundred years, English society was riven by the effects of industrialization and the new commercialism. Late Romantic writers of great stature, such as Lord Lytton and the elder Carlyle, sought models whereby to mold reforms for injustice and disunity in the modern English society. By looking in the past to primal archetypes which — Anglo-Saxon, Dane, and Norman — they hoped better to shed light on the nature of the English people and on ways to remedy the contemporary society to a form truer to its essential nature. The result was what would seem to an observer today a yoking together of two unlikely companions: reform Whiggery with traditional nationalism.

In earlier centuries, this synthesis did not always seem so unlikely. On the continent, liberal reformers among the revolutionaries of 1848 sought the reunification of the sundry German states under one closed crown. Clearing a theoretical groundwork for the concept of nation was Johann Gottfried von Herder, a student of Kant, an associate of Goethe, and himself a pioneer of the philos-ophy of history in the late eighteenth century. His groundbreaking on the theory of the nation provides the groundwork on which to stand the conceptions of Englishness which writers built in the late nineteenth century. In his article published in the Encyclo-pædia of Nationalism, Steven Grosby writes that Herder’s abstract ideas of nationhood are "brought forth with such forcefulness and compelling suggestiveness that they quickly become and today remain central features of our cultural discourse and indispensable for understanding human cognition and action." Herder sought "’heart, warmth, blood, humanity, life’ in the face of the spiritual enervation of a putatively skeptical, mechanical age," and his theory posits that each nation has a unique center of happiness, its own "standard of perfection" apart from all other nations, which unfolds itself in its language, ethnography, and history as a whole — as a mystical "monad." To understand it, the student of the nation must intuitively sympathize with the core and its characteristics, which Herder dubbed the "national spirit" or "reason;" it is an end unto itself and a "manifestation of God."

Herder’s theoretical work on the conception of the nation provides a basis for understanding the writers which came after him, such as Thomas Carlyle and Lord Lytton. His work helps draw attention to the themes underlying many of their writings and the theory which they explain in more historical detail. It was during this last stay at the University of Edinburgh that Carlyle became a student of German Romantic thought, particularly of Goethe and Schiller, who thereby shaped the rest of his life. He believed both in idealism and practical applications of his ideals. As Sorensen writes,

Goethe’s philosophy answered to Carlyle’s deepest yearnings. The German sage united empirical and intuitive modes of perception in one comprehensive poetic vision. He sought to convey an impression of the glorious "Ideal" that was dormant in the "Actual" world."[2]

These ideas would prove critical in understanding Carlyle’s world view in his corpus. Herder’s theories appear just as clearly and critically in his writings as do other Romantics such as Goethe in his histories’ structures. Carlyle writes to address a nation that is more than simply a collective, but is rather, in the Herderian sense, a mystical whole — whether of the French in his French Revolution, of the Prussian Germans in Frederick the Great, or of the English in the short work Chartism. It is this work which most notably combines the seeming opposite poles of Whiggish reform and conservative nationalism. Not that Herder’s theory of a nation’s spirit or reason denigrated other nations or even implicitly favored the interests of one nation over another’s. To Herder, each nation was an end unto itself, a "manifestation of God" and independent of other nations. It is in this affirmative light that Carlyle writes.

Carlyle’s Chartism is a book dedicated foremost to notions of freedom — freedom for a nation to fulfill its own destiny as Nature ordains, and freedom for the individual national to fulfill his unique fate without control of predatory classes overruling the state. The state’s service was to help keep the nation in its happy center. Carlyle wrote Chartism to discuss the theoretical justification for the movement surrounding the People’s Charter, a bill which Parliamentary radical William Lovett drafted in 1838 seeking more rights for the working class. The movement sought to remedy many abuses of the new industrial and commercial order over the Great Britain. In Chartism, Carlyle describes MP’s as "speakers for that dumb toiling class which cannot speak or they are nothing that one can well specify."[3] But Carlyle goes on further to lament the state’s straying from its mission: "Parliaments extant there for the British nation’s sake, find that they are extant withal for their own sake."[3] To him this is misguided, and leads the nation away from its center of happiness and on to ruin. It was to right the state back on its course and bring happiness to the whole and to the many that Carlyle made his famous call for the "strongman" whose strength would be unlike Samson’s in his long hair, but in character and thorough-going integrity. The strongman was to be an "original, clear-sighted, great-hearted, patient and valiant man."[4]

Carlyle’s strongman is not the tyrant of conventional belief. Carlyle did not propose the need for a mere dictator that would set things right at the expense of individual freedom and rights, but rather sought a strongman who could by his strength overthrow those powers which limited both individual and individual freedom. In Chartism, he sets forth the example of the free Teuton of the Westphalian forests who most memorably held back the Roman Empire and dealt it a decisive blow at Teutoburg through primitive guerilla tactics. Saxons kindred to the English on the continent maintained their freedom long after Rome’s fall, so that centuries thereafter, when Charlemagne extended Frankish control eastward, Saxons violently withstood his new overlordship. Even after Charlemagne’s grand assembly in Paderborn in 777, the Westphalian forests erupted into widespread conflagration, most famously under the leadership of the noble Widukind. "Up and down the Rhine they raged, burning, plundering, and looting."[5]

Widukind was one example of the strongman, although Widukind himself ultimately failed, after it became clear that he could no longer lead the Saxon nobles who had been seduced for personal gain into the Carolingian court with offers of great material wealth and power. Widukind’s failure led to the antithesis of Saxon freedom under the imperial state; worse, the nobility grew distant from the people whom they were to serve. The nobility ceased to be accountable to their nation, and the people descended into feudal peasantry and degrees of poverty as the nobility waxed wealthy and ever more powerful. Perhaps had Widukind been more "clear-sighted," he may have succeeded withstanding Charlemagne’s expansion of imperial control over the smallish Teutonic tribal communities.[6]

Even so, the Westphalian forests remain to Carlyle a powerful symbol of primal freedom which requires "not loyal loving obedience to those placed over them."[7] As for Britain, Carlyle bemoans the "fate of the Saxons fallen under that fierce-hearted" William the Conqueror, particularly since it began the never ending expansion of state and commercial hegemony over Britain, and, eventually, the world.[8] Already at the end of the nineteenth century, Carlyle saw the social and psychological misery which the empire of money, wrought over on man. This he nicely calls the "world steam-engine."[9] He writes:

English commerce stretches its fibres over the whole earth… The huge demon of Mechanism smokes and plunders… oversetting whole multitudes of workmen… With an Ireland pouring daily in on us…; deluging us down to its own waste with confusion, outward and inward, it seems a cruel mockery to tell poor drudges that their condition is improving.[10]

In true Whiggish spirit, Carlyle rues the plight of the workingman in industrialized commercial society. Even after the reform Bill, the working classes’ rights were in practice ignored as the machinery of Parliament and the state rolled along. Parliaments that "are extant withal for their own sake" produce a state indifferent to the governed. Thus, although Carlyle preaches the need for a strongman to reform a state, he rejects statism as a prisoner of its own powerful inertia.[11] While the state is so imprisoned, it is easy for the commercial classes to dominate it with their unfettered financial resources, and the working man is seen merely as a human resource which is employed to earn the commercial classes their money and their power. No matter how well remunerated for his labor, the workingman lives to work. Thus the workingman’s horizon is limited to more labor, his labor becomes an end unto itself, and he has little opportunity for anything else but labor. Carlyle writes that the poor man seeks work just to live and eat, that "he might be put on a level with the four-footed workers."[12] His humanity lost, the two-footed worker has no time to lead a life of his own. Thus is Carlyle’s fearsome "world steam-engine" freedom’s foe.

The steam-engine makes interchangeable parts out of men. The steam-engine reduces man’s humanity. It is this reduction of humanity that Carlyle laments in his infamous criticism of the immigration of lower class Irish laborers into Great Britain, spreading poverty in its wake. He writes:

…The uncivilized Irishman, not by his strength, but by the opposite of strength, drives out the Saxon native, takes possession in his room. There abides he, in his squalor and unreason, in his falsity and drunken violence, as the ready-made nucleus of degradation and disorder. Whosoever struggles, swimming with difficulty, may now find an example how the human can exist not swimming, but sunk.[13]

Further on, Carlyle states his most quoted lines on what to do about the Irish question: "The time has come when the Irish population must either be improved a little, or else exterminated." Carlyle thus laments the dilution of British commonality, as well as the expansion of poverty in Britain. His word "extermination" is misleading unless one recall that writers in the nineteenth century still used the word in its strict sense of "sending beyond the boundaries," that is repatriation ex termine. This solution became more widely known when Friedrich Engels himself quoted it and endorsed it in Condition of the Working Class in England, to deplore Irish immigration’s impact on "English laborers’ pay and conditions."[14] Such nationalistic opinion was consistent with Whiggish reform which hoped to raise the voiceless status of English and Irish workingmen alike.

After painting a grim picture of man’s plight as fuel to the world steam engine, Carlyle adds brighter colors to show how men might be if freed from labor and allowed to be what Nature intended them. In contrast to a body enslaved to work was a man freed by his soul. Is working more worthy than being?

Nay, strangest of all, the English had acquired the faculty and habit of thinking, — even of believing: individual conscience had unfolded itself among them; Conscience, and Intelligence its handmaid. Ideas of innumerable kinds were circulating among these men: witness one Shakespeare, a wool-comber, poacher, or whatever else at Stratford in Warwickshire, who happened to write books! The finest human figure, as I apprehend, that Nature has hitherto seen fit to make of our widely diffused Teutonic clay. Saxon, Norman, Celt, or Sarmat, I find no human soul so beautiful, these fifteen hundred known years; — our supreme modern man. Him England had contrived to realize: were there not ideas?[15]

Beautiful words, these. Carlyle stakes his ground as a good European. The soul is saved by looking within and finding itself. The soul is saved by coming into existence. In this passage from Chartism, Conscience is foremost and the master of the other personalities of soul and mind. Conscience demands internally focused men, who can do right because it is right, and not because someone tells him what to do, either through fiat or more subtly through convention. Coinscience is compassion. On the other hand, a mere labor ethic, forces the individual to be externally motivated and find self-definition through following orders and material emolument.

Conscience demands fair play: that is, seeking rights for oneself and proper treatment for others. Conscience is the golden rule. In the new commercial age, fair play demands opportunity for the poor and the workingmen; fair play guides the actions of states and the interactions of the state with its people, if indeed there should be separation at all. Recall that the primal Teutonic noble lived closely among the people he ruled, a member of their same nation and immediate community. Accountability was proximal.

However, in

England long ago, the old Saxon Nobles, disunited among themselves, and in power too nearly equal, could not have governed the country well; Harold being slain, their last chance of governing, except in anarchy and civil war, was over: a new class of Norman Nobles entering with a strongman, with a succession of strong men at the head of them, and not disunited, but united by many ties, by their very community of language and interest, had there been no other, were in a position to govern it; and did govern it, we believe, in some tolerable manner, or they would not have continued there. They acted, little conscious of such function on their part, as an immense volunteer Police Force, stationed everywhere, united, disciplined, feudally regimented, ready for action; strong Teutonic men; who, on the whole, proved effective men, and drilled this wild Teutonic people into unity and peaceable cooperation than others could have done! How can-do, if we will interpret it, unites itself with shall-do among mortals; how strength acts ever as the right-arm of justice; how might and right so frightfully discrepant at first, are ever in the long run, one and the same, — is a cheering consideration, which always in the black tempestuous vortices of this world’s history, will shine out on us, like an everlasting polestar.[16]

The above long-running paragraph summarizes Carlyle’s views of the contributions of Saxon and Norman to the modern Anglo-Saxon state. The Saxon brought his freedom through the barons at Runnymede in the great Charter.[17] The Norman brought his order. Wed together, a strong and sound English nation is born. Might maintained right. And it is this marriage of the two which can lead to resistance, reform, or revolution of the modern commercial monster so hostile to the quick and the human.

Carlyle lauds one favored example of what greatness the Anglo-Norman essence could achieve — the United States — which won her independence against the parasitic mercantilism of the British Empire on the eve of the Industrial Revolution.

Hail to thee poor little Mayflower, of Delft-Haven… The life-spark of the largest Nation on our Earth — So we may already name the transatlantic Saxon Nation.[18]

"Largeness" here may refer not only to the great geographic expanse, but also the greatness of heart, the largesse of a nation dedicated to freedom. He acknowledges these far-flung Englishmen for that they sought freedom — "fire from Heaven."[19]

Carlyle’s call for freedom seems readily consistent with the spirit of Whiggery, but his respect for the strongman and the strong Norman state could lead to misunderstanding and justification for authoritarian abuse. Yet, Carlyle, over and over, calls for the rights of man, of the weak and the powerless. His eagerness for "shall-do" is to reverse the irresponsible policies of government called laissez-faire, which he deemed an "abdication" of government in the face of the commercial dragon brooding over its gold.[20]

A government doing right and respecting the rights of the many may avoid such catastrophes as the French Revolution. "Where the great mass of men is tolerably right, all is right; where they are not right, all is wrong," writes Carlyle, adding, "the great dumb, deep-buried class lies like an Enceladus[21], who in his pain, if he will complain of it, has to produce earthquakes!"[22] So, then, right is the child of might.

So, in sum, Carlyle expresses his views in Chartism of Saxon and Norman, not merely as a romantic longing for a simpler past lost in the fogs of time. Rather, he upholds them not only for the literal, historical contributions which they made to the essence of Englishness, but also for the models of virtue they embody — waiting to be emulated in a modern commercial society. The virtues of faithfulness and valor can bring freedom and nobility even to the modern state overshadowed by the "world steam-engine." Carlyle goes beyond the pragmatic goals of Whiggish reform, but sees in Saxon and Norman the mystical essence of national identity, of commonality that brings equality and freedom for all in the nation. More specifically, ethnic homogeneity and cultural unity together are one solution to social inequality and economic woe, Carlyle thinks. Thus, this mystical concept, high-minded and airy as well it may be, itself holds earthy, pragmatic returns. To Carlyle, the nation was not only a sterile abstraction, but a living, breathing entity which seemed, even in the Herderian sense, to be a manifestation of God. As a writer and self-styled artist, his works were hoped to be religious icons. "Carlyle felt deeply embodied in his own mission: in the modern world the artist is the new priest, the vehicle of the divine force of the universe."[23]

Carlyle’s more radical aspirations for political reform may not have been shared by all Englishmen, but his more nationalistic views of Englishmen as Teutons were. Owen Pike noted in 1866,

There are probably few educated Englishmen living who have not in their infancy been taught that the English nation is a nation of almost pure Teutonic blood, that its political constitution, its social custom, its internal prosperity, the success of its arms, and the number of its colonies have all followed necessarily upon the arrival of Hengest and Horsa.[24]

To the reader of the twentieth century, this may seem heretical, but in the nineteenth, "Teutonic" was understood, in the broad, historical sense. The educated reader knew that terms such as "Teutonic" and "Germanic" referred not to the nation-state of recent partial unification, but to names of tribes on the continent which dated since before Tacitus wrote his Germania.

One of the most influential British writers of the nineteenth century also wrote to advocate reform, nationalism and belief in Teutonic essentialism. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Lord Lytton, was "one of England’s greatest writers" who has maintained a "general literary distinction and lasting influence."[25] Bulwer-Lytton was born in 1803, eight years after Carlyle, many of whose works influenced his thinking.[26] Like Carlyle, he was known for perhaps overwrought prose set in long, intricate sentences. Unlike Carlyle, he has a prize for bad fiction named for him at San José State University in California.[27] From his novel Paul Clifford is often quoted the opening phrase "It was a dark and stormy night…," not so much that those words are badly written, but because they have been too often copied in one form or another by unoriginal authors. Thus, the infamous prize is more in tribute to Bulwer-Lytton’s lasting influence and less to the dramatic atmosphere of his novels.

Bulwer-Lytton originally entered Parliament as a radical politician (1831-1841), but later returned as a Conservative (1852-1866).[28] Despite the partisan change, his essential political philosophy seemed to stay the same.[29] His grandson said that his overall ethos was

to stand against the selfishness of the new commercial school, which cared nothing for the sufferings of the working population that produced their wealth, and which opposed all attempts of the State to intervene for their protection.[30]

In 1848, Bulwer-Lytton coined the aphorism about them, the "wretched money spiders, who sell all England for 1s. 6d."[31] Bulwer-Lytton also believed that it was that the English nobility was making itself irrelevant since it had replaced the old nobility that was loyal to land and people and allied itself to the new commercial class which now ruled in fact.[32]

Like Carlyle, Bulwer-Lytton was a prolific writer and published more than thirty books. His philosophy seems to be much the same as Carlyle’s, but his characters seem to be expansions of Carlyle’s theory of the strongman and the hero, with particular emphasis on the well-born traits of his heroes. One early book was Rienzi, the Last of the Roman Tribunes, wherein he tells of the rise of the hero who almost succeeds in reviving Roman power in early medieval times until betrayed by those whom he most trusted.

Like Carlyle, Bulwer-Lytton interested himself in the conspicuous cast of a hero and with the intertwined physical and psychic characteristics of a nation. Already in Rienzi, the features of the ideal northern European noblemen are already clear. Rienzi acquired fame throughout Europe, and became the basis for Richard Wagner’s first successful[33] opera of the same name. The ideas in the novel readily fit his incipient political ideology; Catholic Wagner lost his sinecure as Director of the Court Chapel[34] for the Protestant Saxon Elector because of his socialist activism during the Revolutions of 1848.

In Bulwer-Lytton’s Rienzi, one description of a French knight visiting one of the two main Roman families typifies Bulwer-Lytton’s ideal hero in the prime of his life.

Seated at the same table with Stephen Colonna was a man of noble presence of about three or four and thirty years of age, in whom Adrian [who later betrays Rienzi] instantly recognized Walter de Montreal. This celebrated knight was scarcely of the personal appearance which might have corresponded with the terror his name generally excited. His face was handsome, almost to the extreme of womanish effeminacy. His fair hair waved long and freely over a white and unwrinkled forehead; the life of camp and the suns of Italy had but little embrowned his clear and healthful complexion which retained much of the bloom of youth. His features were aquiline and regular: his eyes of a light hazel were large, bright, and penetrating.[35]

On the following page, he is identified as being of Norman descent, one of the three founding sub-races of modern England.[36] Indeed, the description is clearly one of Bulwer-Lytton’s own kind — frontispieces show him with high forehead, long face, and light colored eyes; perhaps he is putting himself into his novel.

In Bulwer-Lytton’s Harold, the Last Saxon King, Bulwer-Lytton puts forth his conception of good government (in the Whiggish sense) and national identity. Harold the King, is a model monarch, a "Carlylean hero in step with the age."[37] This historical novel covers the reign of Harold which saw the final defeat of Dane by Saxon, and Saxon by Norman, leading to the "imperfect fusion of the races in Saxon England."[38] The novel predicts that

England will eventually absorb its Norman conquerors as it did its earlier Danish and Norwegian invaders, so that 800 years later, Saxon notions of freedom and liberty will become the signal features of monarchy in nineteenth century England.[39]

In Harold, Bulwer-Lytton first describes the cultures of each of the two races that invaded Saxon England: the Danes (Scandinavians) and the Normans (Scandinavians from France). The Danes[40], he depicts as "Those giants of the sea, like all who pass from great vicissitudes of toil and repose, from the tempest of the haven snatched with full hands every pleasure in their reach."[41] If the Danes are a wild, spontaneous lot, the Normans are their temperamental opposites, known for

their abstemious sobriety, and the ceremonial religion which distinguished those sons of the Scandinavian from all other kindred tribes.

The Norman position in France, indeed in much resembled that of the Spartan in Greece. He had forced a settlement with scanty numbers in the midst of a subjugated and sullen population, surrounded by jealous and formidable foes… Like the Spartan, every Norman of pure race was free and noble.[42]


These two sub-races, Dane and Norman, were built upon a more numerous Saxon[43] base. In Harold, the Saxons are consistently described as freedom-loving, and governed by a turbulent aristocracy with close links to the general population. Much is made of the mobility from "ceorl to earl;" the commoner could rise to the very top of Saxon society by establishing his independence from others in buying land, and by proving his worthiness through sundry great deeds.[44] Bulwer-Lytton seems to compare the bureaucracy of the Medieval church that controlled the nobles with the bureaucracy of commercial corporations that control contemporary government. He describes the resentment of Saxon farmers who work hard only for the Church to take away the fruits of their labors. The Saxon says, "I love not the lazy who devour my substance."[45] Compare this quotation with Bulwer-Lytton’s grandson’s, noted above, on the "selfishness of the new commercial school, which cared nothing for the sufferings of the working population that produced their wealth," Good government demands compassion.

Saxon freedom is an important underpinning theme running through the work. Democracy already works in the Witangemot. Old northern heathenism, revived by the Danes is always shown as an unorganized, individual affair. Carlyle had given lectures on Odin ("Woden" in Old English) as the perfect hero, and Bulwer-Lytton incorporates this to typify indigenous Saxon independence and resistance to the weakening affects of monastic Christianity.

Not so, Ethelred, son of Woden, the last of the descendants of Penda should live not to glide a ghost amidst cloisters, but to rock children for war in their father’s shield. Few men are there yet like the men of old; and while the foot of the foreigner is on Saxon soil, no branch of the stem of Woden should be nipped in the leaf.[46]

Much of Harold is filled with sentimental allusions to heathen practice and lore, such as references to the fylgja, or tutelary spirit, runes, scin-læca, or ethereal body, vala, or prophetess.[47] The Saxon, is "self-dependent:" Harold proudly claims "I leave my fortunes to the chance of mine own cool brain and strong arm."[48] Harold’s inner qualities are reflected in his ideal countenance.

For the countenance of the last described was, though sorrowful at the moment, and indeed habitually not without a certain melancholy, wonderfully imposing from its calm and its sweetness. There, no devouring passions had left the cloud or ploughed the line; but all the smooth loveliness of youth took dignity from the conscious resolve of the man. The long hair, of a fair brown, with a slight tinge of gold, as the last sunbeams shot through its luxuriance, was parted from the temples, and fell in large waves half way to the shoulder. The eyebrows, darker in hue, arched and finely traced; the straight features, not less manly than the Norman, but less strongly marked: the cheek, hardy with exercise and exposure, yet still retaining somewhat of youthful bloom under the pale bronze of its sunburnt surface: the form tall, not gigantic, and vigorous rather from perfect proportion and athletic habits than from breadth and bulk — were all singularly characteristic of the Saxon beauty in its highest and purest type. But what chiefly distinguished this personage, was that peculiar dignity, so simple, so sedate, which no pomp seems to dazzle, no danger to disturb; and which perhaps arises from a self-dependence, and is connected with self-respect.[49]

Thus was King Harold: at once handsome and down to earth.

Naturally, such men who looked so good would likewise behave well. And so it was, according to Bulwer-Bulwer-Lytton.

All our records of the customs of the Saxons prove the ample sustenance given to the poor, and a general care for their lives and rights, which, compared with the Frank laws, may be called enlightened and humane. And above all, the lowest serf ever had the great hope of freedom and of promotion; but the beast of the field was holier in the eyes of the Norman, than the wretched villein [sic].[50]

Bulwer-Lytton here gives footnote to a respected Victorian historian, and takes pains to relate that Anglo-Saxon "positive" slavery allowed personal freedom for the few while they yet remained thralls. Hence the Saxons had a kind of welfare society. This, Bulwer-Lytton immediately contrasts to the false haughtiness of the Norman, the foreigner, who allied himself with the "circle of the Duke’s commercial policy. Beyond it, on the outskirts of humanity, lay the mass of the people."[51] Thus he casts the origins of the dying British class system quite outside Britain.

Bulwer-Lytton defines the character of the ideal Saxon in glowing terms: the "love of country," the "sense of justice," "gentle and affable," and "above all, he was fair-dealing and just, not because it was politic to seem, but his nature to be so."[52] He adds that these all "became very portions of his very mind."[53] The good king’s compassion was sincere.

To explain why Saxon Harold lost to Norman William, Bulwer-Lytton attributes it to the Normans’ greater organization, which Harold nonetheless almost defeated after his long march from Stamford Bridge far to the north. Bulwer-Lytton still avers that great strength lies in the demi-god, in whose blood veins flows Woden’s blood, and "one man could fight off the crowd;" this is incomprehensible to the Norman, who cries "sorcery!"[54] In sum, Bulwer-Lytton explains Harold’s inexperience with cold and calculating men who betrayed him to William. But in his naïveté lay his greatness, and of his nephew Edgar who betrayed him, Harold asks, "Wilt thou not be proud to live for this fair country, and these noble men, and to speak the language of Alfred the Great?"[55] Sadly, the boy who was raised by William is unable to confess as great men do that he would live for others. Instead he remains shamelessly as one of the small-minded and would live only for petty personal gain.

In Harold, Bulwer-Lytton puts forth his conception of the great man who lives for others. Bulwer-Lytton does not believe in a class structure as existed in Britain at the time, although he clearly believes in some kind of nobility of the soul. Those who are born to rule may come from sundry births, but the nobility is nonetheless organic and inborn. Those truly well born cannot by nature live for themselves, but will genuinely seek public service. Of the different sub-races which contributed psychic attributes leading to the rise of England, he has much to say. The Anglo-Saxons are, by and large, the most numerous, the most important, and thankfully for England, are the most virtuous. The Anglo-Saxon brought Britain freedom, democracy (of sorts), and a kind of social equality (but by no means full egalitarianism). The Dane brought renewed vigor to counter the sleepiness induced by monkish religion.

The Norman was important, too, although in Harold he is the antagonist. Bulwer-Lytton agrees with Carlyle in that the Norman brought those skills which most led to England’s imperial grandeur. It was the Norman who formed the English nation-state. Their unique contributions were unity and order, and also the lesser aspects of ceremony, and organization. The Danes naturally combined with the Anglo-Saxons so that they were easily treated as one by Normans. Despite their greatness of virtue, their sometimes haughtiness, and their ever present naïveté could not survive in the face of the Normans’ calculating restraint and organized assault. The cost was the loss of simple native freedom through the formation of rigid class boundaries. Bulwer-Lytton does discuss the Nordic Celt, but only as an afterthought, as a great nation which had seen better days and gave way to others still more vigorous. When Bulwer-Lytton wrote Harold, historians considered the Celt to have been completely removed to the highlands of Wales and over the sound to Brittany, so Celtic contribution to England was deemed nil.

Taken together, Thomas Carlyle and Edward Bulwer-Lytton share many of the same values. Indeed, Bulwer-Lytton clearly was influenced by the slightly more senior Carlyle. They both show a belief in treating all members of a nation with compassion. They both show a belief that the powerful must be kept from abusing and exploiting the many for their own small-minded and materialistic benefit. They both show a belief in the nation as an organic reality, and as a beautiful work of Nature. Even so, there are some subtle differences apparent when comparing how similar conceptions are treated in Carlyle’s Chartism and Bulwer-Lytton’s Harold. Carlyle is much more abstract and theoretical in his treatment; Bulwer-Lytton is more concrete, if only due to the nature of a historical novel. Carlyle takes on a more radical tone while more directly advocating his political views. He also appears less reticent in advocating for a strong state, which concept could easily turn into an authoritarian system absent compassion. Bulwer-Lytton, on the other hand, although taking on many of the same positions, does so out of an compassionate noblesse oblige. He is less radical, and more focused on the virtues of the people, and on the noble national traits of England. Taken together Carlyle and Bulwer-Lytton defy the usual rules of a two-party system. Their very similar points of view strongly suggest that national political consensus is possible, and polarized opinion may in fact be unnatural.

Carlyle and Bulwer-Lytton each unite polarities in their political thought. They each defy labels of "liberal" or "conservative." They each combine the values of compassion for the individual’s rights, prosperity and, freedom with the values of a noble nation. To each, the primordial Englishman is to be held up as a model for good British government of their day, a government that keeps Anglo-Saxon freedom, and a government that respects the intrinsic nobility of the Anglo-Saxon nation. In both Chartism and Harold, the early kindred peoples of England — Anglo-Saxon, Dane, and Norman — come together with their unique contributions to form a whole, a single nation of the free and noble and are together giants of the north.


Bulwer-Lytton, Edward (Lord Lytton). Harold, the Last of the Saxon Kings. New York: George Routledge and Sons, 1880.
____. Rienzi, the Last of the Roman Tribunes. Philadelphia: J.P. Lipincott, 1881.

Campbell, James L., Sr. Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.

Carlyle, Thomas. Chartism, in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, Collected and Republished, vol. IV, in Carlyle’s Works, vol. XVI. Edition de Luxe. Boston: Dana Estes and Charles E. Lauriat, 1884.

Clive, John L. Not by Fact Alone: Essays on the Writing and Reading of History. New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1989.

Grosby, Steven. "Herder’s Theory of the Nation," in Encyclopædia of Nationalism, Edited by Athena Leoussi. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2001.

Kaplan, Fred. Thomas Carlyle: A Biography. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983.

Lehman, B. Carlyle’s Theory of the Hero: Its Sources, Development, History, and Influence on Carlyle’s Work; A Study of a Nineteenth Century Idea. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1928.

Lundgreen-Nielsen. "Grundtvig’s Norse Mythological Imagery — An Experiment that Failed," in Northern Antiquity: The Post-Medieval Reception of Edda and Saga. Edited by Andrew Wawn. Enfield Lock, England: Hisarlik Press, 1994.

Robinson, Orrin W. Old English and Its Closest Relatives: A Survey of the Oldest Germanic Languages. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992.

Sanders, Andrew. The Victorian Historical Novel 1840-1880. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979.

Smiles, Sam. The Image of Antiquity; Ancient Britain and Romantic Imagination. New Haven: Yale University Press for The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 1994.

Sturluson, Snorri. Edda: prologue and Gylfaginning. Edited by Anthony Faulkes. New York: Clarendon Press of Oxford University Press, 1982.

Wawn, Andrew. The Vikings and the Victorians; Inventing the Old North in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Cambridge, England: D.S. Brewer, 2000.

____. "The Cult of ‘Stalwart Frith-thiof’ in Victorian Britain," in Northern Antiquity: The Post-Medieval Reception of Edda and Saga. Edited by Andrew Wawn. Enfield Lock, England: Hisarlik Press, 1994.


[1] Edward Bulwer-Lytton (Lord Lytton), Harold, the Last of the Saxon Kings (NY: Geo. Routledge and Sons, 1880) pp. viii-ix.
[2] Steven Grosby, "Herder’s Theory of the Nation," in Encyclopædia of Nationalism, Edited by Athena Leoussi (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2001) p. 121.

[3] Ibid., p. 122.

[4] Ibid., pp. 121-122. "Reason" translates German Verstand.

[5] John L. Clive, Not by Fact Alone: Essays on the Writing and Reading of History (NY: Knopf: Distributed by Random House, 1989) p.82.

[6] Thomas Carlyle, Chartism, in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, Collected and Republished, vol. IV, in Carlyle’s Works, vol. XVI, Edition de Luxe (Boston: Dana Estes and Charles E. Lauriat, 1884) p. 39.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Orrin W. Robinson, Old English and Its Closest Relatives: A Survey of the Oldest Germanic Languages (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992) p. 107.

[10] Ibid., pp. 100-135.

[11] Carlyle, p. 65.

[12] Ibid., p. 88 and 58.

[13] Ibid., p. 62.

[14] Ibid., p. 58.

[15] Ibid., p. 42.

[16] Ibid., p. 52.

[17] Ibid., p. 56.

[18] Sam [sic] Smiles, The Image of Antiquity; Ancient Britain and Romantic Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press for The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 1994) p. 231.

[19] Carlyle, p. 92.

[20] Ibid., p. 63.

[21] Ibid., p. 93.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., p. 72.

[25] Not one of Saturn’s inner moons, but one of the hundred-armed titans which Zeus struck down and chained under Mt. Etna. When he moans, Etna quakes.

[26] Ibid., p. 99.

[27] Fred Kaplan, Thomas Carlyle: A Biography (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983) p. 264.

[28] Luke Owen Pike, The English and Their Origin, (London: 1866), quoted in Sam Smiles, p. 125.

[29] James L. Campbell, Sr., Edward Bulwer-Lytton (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.) pp. 1-21.

[30] Ibid., pp. 77, 117, 131.

[31] It is the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

[32] Ibid., pp. 11, 16.

[33] Ibid., p. 16.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid. p. 83.

[37] Wagner wrote two less known works, The Fairies and The Ban on Love, before tackling Lord Lytton’s bolder and longer Rienzi. It was this opera’s success that launched Wagner’s fame and his complete dominance of operatic composition to the later chagrin of French nationalists and avant-gardistes.

[38] Hofkapellmeister, a triplet; literally, "Court-Chapel-Master."

[39] Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Lord Lytton, Rienzi, the Last of the Roman Tribunes (Philadelphia: J.P. Lipincott, 1881) p. 153.

[40] Ibid., p. 154.

[41] Ibid., p. 85.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid., p. 86.

[44] Mind that the Viking was strictly a Scandinavian pirate; Dane was what the contemporary called the Scandinavian invader of England — whether Danish or Norwegian — most of whom were farmers, not pirates.

[45] Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Lord Lytton, Harold, the Last of the Saxon Kings (NY: George Routledge and Sons, 1880) p. 59.

[46] Ibid.

[47] There is some confusion over just what "Saxon" and "Anglo-Saxon" mean. A Saxon was a member of a large tribal confederation on the continent. It is usually maintained that an "Angle" was just another Germanic tribe, although no convincing origin for the name is generally put forth, or why it would come to designated all the English. At the same time, there were other Germanic tribes from the littoral of the North Sea that conquered and created England, including Jutes (Geats), Frisians, and Danes.
If Tacitus’s old three-way division of the southwestern Germanic tribal groups is retained, and if current linguistic findings that English belongs with Frisian in its own genetic group — North Sea Germanic, distinct from German and Dutch — then perhaps "Angle" can be understand in a new way. Perhaps "Angle" is a modern retention of Tacitus’s "Ingvaeones." If so, then "Angle" would be the natural term for all the tribes whence England was born. "Angle" is in fact a normal Medieval term for the English and "Anglo-Saxon" is a modern invention. If Angles are Ingvaeones (which is linguistically valid), then the word "Angles" would mean the "people whose patron god is Ing," the god of the sea, the west, and bountiful prosperity.

[48] Bulwer-Lytton, Harold, p. 232.

[49] Ibid., p. 230.

[50] Ibid., p. 33.

[51] Ibid., p. 120.

[52] Ibid., p. 122.

[53] Ibid., p. 119.

[54] Ibid., p. 346.

[55] Ibid., p. 347.