Excerpts from Thomas Carlyle's On Great Men (1840)
We have undertaken to discourse here for a little on Great Men, their manner of appearance in our world's business, how they have shaped themselves in our world's history, what ideas men formed of them, what work they did; -- on Heroes, namely, and on their reception and performance; what I call Hero-worship and the Heroic in human affairs. To evidently this is a large topic; deserving quite other treatment than we can expect to give it at present. A large topic; indeed an illimitable one; wide as Universal History itself. For, as I take it, Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here.
The Hero as Divinity, the Hero as Prophet, are productions of old ages; not to be repeated in the new. They presuppose a certain rudeness of conception, which progress of mere scientific knowledge puts an end to. There needs to be, as it were, a world vacant, or almost vacant of scientific forms, if men in their loving wonder are to fancy their fellow-man either a god or one speaking with the voice of a god. Divinity and Prophet are past. We are now to see our Hero in the less ambitious, but also less questionable, character of Poet; a character which does not pass. The Poet is a heroic figure belonging to all ages; whom all ages possess, when once he is produced, whom the newest age as the oldest may produce; -- and will produce always when Nature pleases. Let Nature send a hero-soul; in no age is it other than possible that he may be shaped into a Poet.