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Common Things to Speak of: The Meaning of Patience and Humility in the Nineteenth-Century British Imagination

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Chapter Summary

Pattison and Carlyle were both historians and they explained the moral component of scholarship in similar terms. Carlyle insisted that a historian "must have patience; must first, with painful perseverance, read himself into the century he studies". Pattison argued that to understand the past one must approach it with "that equilibrium of the reason, the imagination, and the taste, that even temper of philosophical calm, that singleness of purpose, which are required in order that a past time may mirror itself on the mind in true outline and proportions". Pattison and Carlyle reached out for something stable and everlasting amidst a maelstrom of social, economic and intellectual change. The stress on self-denial as an epistemological value was in no way idiosyncratic to either man. They could have been more typical of their age. The virtues of patience and humility dominated the British moral imagination in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Keywords: British moral imagination; Carlyle; humility; patience; Pattison; perseverance



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