Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Carlyle on Edward Gibbon Wakefield

Edward Gibbon Wakefield, circa 1850s.

Thomas Carlyle on Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796-1862), best known in New Zealand as a colonial promoter and founder of the New Zealand Company:

"Gibbon Wakefield was there. I had seen Gibbon once before; he is the unlucky Theseus who attempted long since to steal Ariadne Turner, the young Chancery Ward; and, not prospering, had to lie in gaol,—and either rot, or become a political philosopher. He chose the latter; is head of the New Zealand and various other schemes: really a remarkable man.5 Ugly, fat; altogether without eyebrows, and with a pair of small crocodile eyes of sharp blue colour, much overlapped with their fat lids,—the face of him, sitting on its great thick neck, with its dirty snub nose, mouth silent yet half-open, expressive of lazy insolence, lazy violence, coarseness, strength and sensuality, is one of the most unloveable faces! But the man is of polite manners; taciturn-emphatic in speech; a fellow of infinite shift, decision, cunning: a kind of Mirabeau with the animal intellect only. I could heave [sic] learned something from him. But you cannot handle pitch and have your fingers clean! He has great practical sense; yet is of those fools who have said in their heart, There is no God!6 The greatest fools of all."

Thomas Carlyle to John A Carlyle, 1 August 1840 in The Collected Letters, Volume 12 of The Carlyle Letters On-line at Duke University.

That Wakefield aroused powerful emotions in friends & foe alike is not in much doubt. J. E. FitzGerald, a later political opponent in New Zealand, was to say that the only security against Wakefield was to hate him intensely.

One almost feels sorry for Wakefield as the object of such eviscerating dissections. And, then, maybe not.

A biography of Wakefield may be found at that site of great New Zealand public works in the Information Age, The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

In fairness to Wakefield, here are some portraits of Carlyle. Interested readers can write their own descriptions of Carlyle in the comments section to see if they can match his talent for description...

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881).

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