Thomas Carlyle: Past and Present

(1996 words)
  • Nathan Uglow (Trinity All Saints, Leeds)

The opening pages of Past and Present describe a moment of sudden insight. A “picturesque Tourist”, out to admire “this bounteous realm of England”, finds only the St. Ives Union Workhouse, surrounded by workhands, ready and willing to work, but for all that unable to do so. What, he demands, is the “Enchantment” that can compel such work-ready men to languish, reducing potentially productive bodies to such a state of needy dependency? The answer, of course, was “the invisible hand” of . The first law of Laissez-faire economics, or what Carlyle here renames the “cash-nexus”, has it that if it is not immediately profitable to have work done, then no work shall be done until sufficient demand for the relevant …

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Uglow, Nathan. "Past and Present". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 10 March 2001
[, accessed 30 June 2015.]