Vernon Lushington

General Description

Date: 1856
Genre: Prose essay


◦ Georgiana Burne–Jones, Memorials.

◦ “Vernon Lushington”. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Scholarly Commentary

Guest Editor: PC Fleming


At 96 pages, this five-part essay by Vernon Lushington (1832-1912) is the longest of any of the works in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, making up about an eighth of its total length. At the outset, Lushington worries that he will not be able to fit all he wants to say into “a little casket like this of Magazine article, or into two such” (193). This statement implies that Lushington intended this to be a shorter essay than it turned out to be, and circumstances of the article’s publication confirm this. The first three chapters appeared sequentially from April through June, but the fourth chapter was not published until November, and in the final line of the third chapter, Lushington refers to his now-completed essay as “a thing of the Past” (352). Possibly Fulford, who by August was struggling to fill the pages of the Magazine, encouraged Lushington to continue this essay.

Vernon Lushington, whose twin brother Godfrey also published an essay in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, was one of the few contributors who attended Cambridge; he took a degree in civil law from Trinity College in 1854-5. He knew the Morris brotherhood through Wilfred Heeley, whom he had met at Cambridge and who described Lushington as “one of the jolliest men I know” (Memorials 124). Though the first chapter of this essay was his first contribution to the Magazine, he had planned to contribute as early as 1855. Heeley must have spoken highly of Lushington to his friends, for Burne-Jones, in a letter to his cousin that year, wrote that Henry MacDonald would soon be replaced by “a great Cambridge man named Lushington, to whom I have not yet been introduced. He is already an author and I hear a very very fine fellow” (Memorials 123). These lines must refer to Vernon, as Godfrey Lushington attended Balliol College, at Oxford. The year before, Vernon had published political articles about the Crimean War, factory workers, and trade unions (Dictionary of National Biography).

All of the Morris brotherhood admired Carlyle and Tennyson. To each is devoted a multi-part essay in the Magazine, and medallions of these men, by Thomas Woolner, were advertised in April and November. They sold for a shilling and were intended to be bound with the Magazine. Like Fulford in his essay on Tennyson, Lushington begins by explaining that he has carefully read all of Carlyle’s writings, and so is at least somewhat qualified to write about them. But this is one of few similarities between the two articles. Fulford organizes his essay around Tennyson’s works, treating first the miscellaneous poems, then “In Memoriam”, then Maud. Lushington organizes his essay thematically. He discusses a remarkable range of Carlyle’s writings, and explores themes common to all of them, rather than the argument of any particular one.

In the first chapter, Lushington investigates Carlyle’s religion, defending him from charges of Deism and Pantheism. Lushington argues that Carlyle’s writings tend toward a theory of “Order, Subordination, above all of Unity" (196), and are directly explained by his religious faith. He goes on to examine Carlyle’s principles of “Might is Right” and “Hero-Worship.” For the former, Lushington stresses that Might does not mean brute force, but the Might of the Intellect, of “truth, wisdom, and valour (208). He extends this idea to the idea of Hero-Worship. Beginning with the precept that man must be governed by man, Lushington defends Carlyle’s belief in service and duty against the “modern dislike and contempt for authority” (210).

The second and third chapters examine Carlyle’s views of history, and his use of historical events and personalities to understand the present. Lushington discusses Carlyle’s writings on Goëthe and Cromwell, and praises his ability to “show us the men and the spirit that was in them” (302). Throughout these chapters, Lushington continually returns to the principle of “Might is Right” he discussed in the first chapter. His argument (or rather, his interpretation of Carlyle’s argument) is that history tends toward the Good, and it is the great historical personalities, the Mighty, who move history in that direction. History provides a perspective on the actions of these men, and judges them differently than their contemporaries did.

Lushington’s fourth chapter discusses Carlyle as a writer. In a metaphor almost certainly suggested by Sartor Resartus, Lushington writes, “the dress which his thoughts wear is very curious, and in many little particulars has been cut out and stitched together by himself” (698). These particulars include Carlyle’s tendency to coin new phrases, and his use of odd syntax and punctuation (706-707). Lushington praises Carlyle’s authoritative, commanding tone, his simple language, and his use of facts rather than abstractions to prove his points. Unlike in the first three chapters, however, Lushington here is also somewhat critical of Carlyle, especially of his later writings. Lushington accuses him of “coarse and unworthy banter” (703) and, in the Latter Day Pamphlets, of “far too much bawling, gesticulation, and execration” (712). The overall tone is still reverent, but these criticism do show a marked contrast from the earlier chapters.

In the final chapter, the longest of the five, Lushington examines Carlyle’s writings on contemporary issues, such as poverty, idleness, foreign affairs, the colonies, and overpopulation. Lushington sees Carlyle as a teacher, “A Great Man born in these years in Britain to be a Guide to British Men” (743). Most of the passages Lushington quotes exemplify Carlyle’s insistence that men must work, and he reiterates the concepts of “Might is Right” and “Hero-Worship” that he brought up in the first chapter, showing how Carlyle applies these concepts to contemporary society. The tone of this final chapter returns to the reverence and admiration that characterized the first three.

Printing History

First printed in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine , 1856. The essay appeared in five parts: the first part in April, the second part in May, third part in June, fourth part in November, and the final part in December.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1