2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

The Year of Carlyle’s Leith Walk Incident: Myth and Fact

Jyh-chyang Fang

Department of History, National Chung-Cheng University

Young Carlyle’s “sorrow and conversion” is essential in explaining his intellectual and moral development. It is due to the proclamation of Carlyle himself that the Leith Walk incident is seen as critical to his conversion, and it has therefore attracted the attention of scholars. They have explored the process of the so-called three stages of Carlyle’s “sorrow and conversion,” focusing on the role of the Leith Walk incident for Carlyle, but not on the event itself. It is not surprising that they have some misunderstandings about the facts of the incident, which are relevant to the problem of the year when the incident occurred. The year of the Leith Walk incident has aroused debate among scholars, and the answer generally accepted by scholars is no longer convincing.

Owing to the controversy and the complexity of the discussion on the year of the Leith Walk incident, we must explore both the problems of the sources and different views. The myths stemming from the formula accepted, either critically or uncritically, of three stages from Sartor Resartus are reviewed here. However, the approach of this essay instead is based on Carlyle’s “physical” problems (especially nervous disorder), which were emphasized in Carlyle’s letters. In the meantime, we also distinguish the nature of the different sources and criticize earlier scholarly discussions of the main issues. This essay analyzes a wide variety of sources, especially Carlyle’s numerous letters, to test the clues abstracted from the records of Carlyle’s Reminiscences and Sartor Resartus, in order to determine the facts of the Leith Walk incident. Thus we are able not only to determine the year of the incident , but also correct scholarly misunderstandings of the incident, and even further reveal the problems of the whole formula in dealing with both sources and different views.


Keywords: Leith Walk incident, sorrow and conversion, process of three stages, nervous disorder