The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Thomas Carlyle, 1795-1881

Nationality: Scottish
Date of Birth: 1795.12.04
Place of Birth: Ecclefechan
Date of Death: 1881.04.02
Place of Death: London


Thomas Carlyle was born in Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire. He was the eldest child of James Carlyle, a stonemason, and Margaret Carlyle, née Aitken. Carlyle married Jane Baillie Welsh, daughter of the surgeon John Welsh, on 17 October 1826.


Carlyle, best known as an author and philosopher-historian, attended Edinburgh University from 1809 until 1814, intending to enter the church, but leaving without a degree. He taught mathematics at Annan Academy until 1816, when he moved to a school in Kirkcaldy, there meeting his life-long friend, the schoolmaster Edward Irving. In 1818 he returned to the Scottish capital, teaching mathematics to private pupils and reading law.

Carlyle's Life of Schiller, which had been serialised in the London Magazine in 1823-1824, was published as a single volume in 1825, and this was followed by his version of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister and a number of other German translations. Carlyle also made contributions to the Edinburgh Review and the Foreign Review, and in 1833-1834 had Sartor Resartus published in Fraser's Magazine.

Having lived in numerous residences in Scotland and London since leaving University, in January 1834 Carlyle moved to 5 Cheyne Row in Chelsea and began an ambitious history of the French Revolution, which was published in 1837. The following two decades saw friendships with men such as Richard Monckton Milnes Houghton, Robert Peel, James Anthony Froude, Robert Browning and John Ruskin, and publications including Chartism, On Heroes Past and Present, Cromwell, Latter-day Pamphlets and Friedrich II of Prussia: Called Frederick the Great.

During the 1870s he became acquainted with Whistler through Emilie Venturi, a mutual friend and collector. She persuaded him to sit to Whistler having seen Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (YMSM 101) in the artist's studio at 2 Lindsey Row in 1872. Carlyle's portrait Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle (YMSM 137) was painted by Whistler in 1872-73. According to Algernon Graves this portrait was exhibited in the Grosvenor Gallery in 1878 during the Ruskin trial and therefore was not allowed to be used in evidence. Graves was probably mistaken in this, but it was exhibited at the Westminster Palace Hotel at that time. In 1891 Whistler wrote of Carlyle, 'He is a favourite of mine. I like the gentle sadness about him! - perhaps he was even sensitive - and even misunderstood - who knows!' (JW to Elisabeth Lewis, [13 February 1891], #02527).


Carlyle, Alexander (ed.), Letters of Thomas Carlyle to John Stuart Mill, John Sterling and Robert Browning, London, 1923; Carlyle, Alexander (ed.), The Love Letters of Thomas Carlyle to Jane Welsh, London, 1909; Davies, Charles Llewelyn (ed.), From a Victorian Post-Bag: Being Letters Addressed to the Rev. J. Llewelyn Davies, London, 1926; Froude, James Anthony, Reminiscences by Thomas Carlyle, London, 1881; Froude, James Anthony, Thomas Carlyle: A History of his Life in London, 1834-1881, London, 1884; Fielding, K. J. and Ian Campbell (eds.), Reminiscences of Thomas Carlyle, Oxford, 1997; Norton, Charles Eliot, The Early Letters of Thomas Carlyle , London, 1886; Traill, H. D. (ed.), The Works of Thomas Carlyle, 30 vols, London, 1896-99.