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

The Purgatory and the New-birth:
Carlyle’s Illness (1814-1823) and the Leith Walk Incident

Jyh-chyang Fang

Department of History, National Chung-Cheng University

Young Carlyle’s “sorrow and conversion” is essential in explaining the process of his intellectual and moral development. According to Carlyle’s own proclamation, the Leith Walk incident was the crucial change in this process. Scholars have investigated the process of the so-called three stages, which is based on Sartor Resartus, and focused on the role of Leith Walk incident in it. The approach of this article is not based on Carlyle’s intellectual and moral development, but on his “physical” problems (especially nervous disorder), which was emphasized in Carlyle’s letters. It tries to analyze various sources, in particular Carlyle’s abundant contemporary letters in combination with the records of Carlyle’s Notebooks, Reminiscences,and Sartor Resartus, in order to understand the appearance and development of Carlyle’s illness and its relation to the Leith Walk incident.

After discussing the complete development of Carlyle’s illness from both physical and psychological aspects, this article reveals that the basic problem of Carlyle’s illness was hypochondriasis, not dyspepsia, which caused the conditions of “eating my own heart” and nervous disorder, and led Carlyle into the miserable situation of purgatory. It was not until the Leith Walk incident that Carlyle really determined to defy the devil of hypochondriasis and began the process of his new-birth.


Keywords: Leith Walk incident, nervous disorder, hypochondriasis, eating my own heart, dyspepsia, purgatory, new-birth