Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Against performing Shakespeare

I feel I'm in small minority of Shakespeare-lovers when I say that I can rarely stand performances. I was largely unmoved by King Lear the other night at the Young Vic, with some undoubtedly good actors, including Pete Postlethwaite. I was happy to leave after the second interval. What a philistine! But Lear is a play that works for me when I read it – at least until the last act.

There’s a video of a rehearsal of a rehearsal of the earlier Liverpool version here.

There were some good scenes, fine drama that nearly got me engaged. The set was good and the modern dress ok. But here are some things that were either irritating or unwatchable (quite apart from some inadequate actors):

(1) Regional accents that had no point but brought irrelevant and distracting associations, even when they were genuine (as Kent’s Yorkshire or whatever it was wasn’t); there was a Welsh accent so strong, whether fake or real, that it prevented one attending to what the man was saying. No reason, of course, why Edmund shouldn’t have a Northern Irish accent, but it seemed to get in the way of doing justice to some of the speeches (‘Thou, Nature, art my goddess…’, for a start).

(2) The Fool. Fools are impossible to put on stage, partly because so many of their sayings make no sense to anyone who hasn’t digested the notes in a learned edition, and even then often not. I've seen worse than this Fool, but it was still excruciating, like watching the Krankies. His idea of being funny with movements, voice and gesture was like nothing that makes anyone laugh in a real person, nor did his pathetic moments bring him sympathy. Every line had to be accompanied hyperactively by a gesture – phallic, cowering, crowing, cavorting -- mimicking the meaning. Who carries on like that? How are we to read such antics? This is third-rate school play stuff. Such contorsions relate to nothing that people actually do. No one with a normal sense of humour in the face of funny people could be anything but embarrassed and uncomfortable. You can tell the people in the audience who laugh either are very young or don’t get out much.

This is a problem with low life characters generally in classic theatre– they never seem to get staged in a way that accords them any respect – they’re always stage idiots, stage cheery villains, stage plucky young cards or whatever -- offensive depictions drained of all dignity. If that’s how Shakespeare wanted them, tough – I can’t take it. (You get the same problem with characters in opera performances – in The Marriage of Figaro, for instance. The sort of people who dominate opera audiences laugh away. Perhaps that’s what they think the working classes are really like.)

(3) Staging. Edgar runs laps in his tracksuit while Gloucester (with whistle) talks to Edmund – what’s that supposed to be about? Characters in hunting kit with rifles… Albany wheeling a pram. ‘A modern interpretation’ etc… I can do without these gratuitous extras that simply get in the way. I don’t want tights but I don’t want the dress and settings of a particular historical period or social milieu either.

What I want is Shakespeare, but what I get is some director. If it’s the case that there’s no way of doing Shakespeare on stage without putting it in a particular setting or staging, giving it some ‘interpretation’ – in other words, if there’s no way of doing more or less straight Shakespeare without the intrusion of a director’s ego -- then I'd rather Shakespeare wasn’t staged at all. I admit that if Shakespeare is to be staged his characters have to be represented somehow. But since I know of no way in which especially fools and low life types can be shown credibly and non-demeaningly, then we should give the job up as impossible, and agree that unsatisfactory attempts do nothing but harm to the playwright’s reputation.

Behind this opinion is a view of performances. It’s frequently argued that the plays were written to be performed and in a sense only exist in their performances, just as musical scores do. I disagree. That view assumes that there are only two things involved: on the one hand the inert, lifeless text or score and on the other the enacted performance . The former is just indications of possibilities, with no reality until given flesh; the latter, in its multiple versions, is the real thing. (Compare, in architecture, the drawings (‘blueprints’) and the building -- though each plan, being site-specific, is usually realised in only one ‘performance’ (unlike the technical drawings for a Ford Escort – but that’s another story).)

My view is that there’s a third thing, the play. It’s brought into being by the text: the words, sentences, speeches, exchanges. It’s created by the playwright, but has to be created afresh in the theatre of the mind of whoever attends to the text, through reading or some other means of reception. The reader of Shakespeare, providing he or she knows enough to understand it, doesn’t inevitably mess it up in the way that its performers invariably do. Performers can’t do any other than put flesh on the play, and more often than not it’s the wrong flesh for me, out of key with my own sense of the play.

But – this is the crucial point – the performers’ realisation of the play isn’t out of key with my play simply because I have one picture in my head and they stage a different one. It’s also because they have no option but to present a picture whereas I don’t have to. The play doesn’t include what it doesn’t tell us. Some of the things it doesn’t tell us I have, as reader, to supply from imagination, simply to make the play work– but not to the extent of supplying details of costume, historical settings, this or that accent, even particular ways of speaking the lines. In my reading I can supply more or less flesh, as appropriate; where no cubic inch of the stage can be without matter or air to fill it, my mental stage need have nothing except where it’s strictly called for. In creating the play as I read it, I don’t, beyond a certain minimum, have to imagine it pictorially, vocally, gesturally; the amount of such imagining I do will be sometimes more, sometimes less.

I have in my head less a picture than a concept of Lear. The Russian psychologist Vygotsky observed that though concepts have their origin in childhood as vivid visual images, by adolescence their visual content has largely drained away; they are greyed out, so they can serve their purpose as ideas, abstractions. So it is with Shakespeare’s characters in my mind, with my concept of King Lear: they are ‘realised’ in visual terms only to the extent that they need to be, while fully charged with the essential meanings: for Lear, for instance, kingly dignity, petulance, frustration…. The only way I can made fools and clowns tolerable is by reducing them to simply however much of a minimal persona there needs to be for language to be language, not noise. So, my mental fools are neutral disembodied voicers, gnomic utterers of strange sayings, their beings little more than whatever speech intention the words themselves imply, the characters mere enunciators of lines. Stupid trousers and ridiculous posturings with bums sticking out are the last thing I need.

I admit it’s complicated. My reading of a play is undoubtedly influenced by performances I've seen or heard, not just of it but of other plays. My knowledge of how a play can be realised in the flesh and the voice enriches the possibilities I bring to the reading. But I still maintain that the play, like the design or the music, is something that is created and has its own existence – that it isn’t the same as the text, score or drawing -- whether or not it gets performed or constructed. And I think my experience of the play as reader isn’t reduced to one specific incarnation. Where the play doesn’t specify Rupert trousers, I don’t have to either – or any particular trousers.

And I think it’s possible to read a Shakespeare play as lines, speeches, poems that already have force before they are imagined as being spoken – as layings-out of rhetorical moves, expressions, thematic volte-faces, activations of imagery, generators of associations and semantic reverberations, potential embodiments of anger or pity. They don’t need to be performed; the utterances don’t need to happen: it’s enough that they be potential speeches for me to appreciate them. I don’t have to put a particular voice into them. The speakers don’t need to be given flesh, any more than the speaker of a poem: we create the speaker as we read; the speaker is no more than he or she who would be saying those things in the context of the other things said and done in the situation.

Perhaps performances based on such an idea have been attempted; if so, I'd like to see one. I'd like Shakespeare done more as oratorio: the players still, in positions, speaking their lines rather than acting. This actor isn’t being the Fool; he’s speaking the Fool’s lines, without necessarily ‘putting himself into them’ at full throttle. I'd like to see a Brecht Shakespeare in which the actors don’t pretend to be the characters but in which Shakespeare’s language on its own, in the mouths of the actors/speakers, brings them into being.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Oliver Rackham on Woodlands

What a lovely book. It’s number 100 in Collins New Naturalist series. Lovely cover, lovely paper, lovely illustrations and lovely printing (done in Britain, too, by Butler and Tanner of Frome).

And a text that’s sheer pleasure. Oliver Rackham writes beautifully and draws on his knowledge as scientist, historian, teacher, traveller and observer. He seems to have been to most of the world’s environments, poking about wherever there are trees. (Australia comes out as a case on its own: it ‘might as well be another planet’.)

The science appears to be bang up to date, with theories and hypotheses and evidence presented, as well as his own views. He tells us what his students have suggested as explanations of this, that and the other. He gives us a history of woodland in the British Isles (wildwood, wood, wood-pasture, forest and Forest are all distinguished). It never seems to have been dense forest; woodland was often more like savannah – grass with sporadic trees. Everything changes over time – the type of tree, the health of trees (see the Oak Change of c.1900 when oak lost the ability to propagate in existing woodland.) There was probably little more woodland in Roman times than until quite recently. He includes lots of maps and lots of quotations from charters and surveys. He has a good go at the misapprehensions of many conservationists. He’s great on coppicing and pollarding, fire, cattle and deer and royal hunting.

It’s a nature book that gives huge intellectual pleasure. Here’s a sample couple of double pages spreads.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

The wreckers of culture

In today's Independent on Sunday, Paul Moore, whistleblower from the bank HBOS [Halifax Bank of Scotland], is reporting as saying, "Look, I love the Halifax, I love the people, and most of the business was good. But there was a terrible culture…" that pushed people to take reckless risks.

Cultures is the key concept here, in the sense that organizations and institutions as well as communities have cultures.

Our targets for public exposure in this crisis ought not to be just bankers (and 'bankers') but the wreckers of cultures. We see their work all around us. Think of the cultures that have been destroyed: the old BBC in which people were left to themselves to get on and make fine programmes, the government as run by Clement Attlee, the self-respecting workforce of the former railways, those successful teams in any number of different fields in the war, the long-gone culture that enabled a scholar to take twenty years of research to produce a great work and some distinguished scholars to publish nothing at all and yet found schools of study – of historical studies, for instance -- through their PhD teaching. The basis of these cultures was a belief that people could be trusted to get with their jobs without interference – to ‘be professional’, as it’s called -- and reliance on motivation by pride in work.

Think of all those people in the public sector who used to love their jobs and now, because the culture of their organisation has been wantonly wrecked, have come to hate working in them – or have taken early retirement. I know such individuals across a range of sectors from universities and schools to social services to the National Railway Museum in York. (For many examples, see Simon Caulkins’ columns in The Observer.)

It takes many years to create a culture, the briefest time to destroy it. We've learned to be sensitive to the fragility of natural ecologies; we need a parallel intolerance of vandalism in cultures.

Maybe we need a campaign to identify and label the culture destroyer as a menace to society, Public Enemy No. 1. He/she needs to be put to shame for arrogance and ignorance, with documentation of crimes committed. We need appearances before beefed up parliamentary committees. We need descriptions of what such wreckers do, guides to identifying them, outfits to whistleblow them to --- and counter-examples of what it is to manage and foster a culture in such a way that it doesn't get complacent and stays creative without sacrificing trust and pride in work.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Message for Chatty Kathy

Kathy, thanks for your latest, which you said wasn't for this blog. Very useful for our research and I'd like to reply to you but don't have your email. Could you please send me a message to ?

Monday, 9 February 2009

LATE, writing: more thoughts

I got the impression at Saturday’s LATE meeting (see yesterday’s posting), as I have done consistently since I started teaching in the 60s, that few English teachers, let alone other teachers, have a coherent model of writing: what it is, what it’s for, how it’s done and how it’s learned. (That’s the title of the course all teachers should take – but who knows enough to teach it?)

Yet when I think about it I can see every reason for our confusion: it’s such a complex business that it’s no wonder we find it difficult to get a theory clear enough and subtle enough to base a sound pedagogy on. (There are clear theories; it’s just that they’re wrong – or rather, usually, over-simple.) Writing seems always to be in an indeterminate zone, never one thing or the other. It typically involves a tension and a complex interaction between two states.

These are what strike me as some of the theoretical issues:

Is writing a sort of saying or a sort of making? Is that essay I've written me speaking? Yes and no. Could you take the sentences as my assertions? I suppose on the whole, yes; unless I've actively dissembled in my writing, the text more or less represents the sort of thing I would say and mean. But at the same time the text isn’t me speaking. Suppose I drop the essay in the street and someone picks it up hours later and reads it: what she reads is what the text says; whatever I may have intended, the text makes its points -- its points -- advances its argument, gets its logic right or wrong. When I was writing it I was doing a sort of speaking; but I was also making something that was going to speak for itself.

Is writing thinking or making? From one point of view it’s thinking/speaking that leaves a visible trace , a graphical realisation of those abstract entities, words and sentences. At another level I work on my writing as maker, not speaker, rearranging the words and phrases, inserting, deleting, rewording or radically reshaping – things I could never do in unaided thought or if in speech out loud.

But it’s not a simple business of first get it down (generate the trace), then shape it as an artefact. That’s where the two-stage model, ‘Draft – Revise’ , fails to capture what goes on, because already, while we’re still in the middle of getting it down, what we’ve written talks back to us and suggests what we might say/write/mean next; or it seems wrong and induces a rethink and fresh try – at the last word or phrase or at the structure of a whole chunk or the whole piece. Our output constantly re-enters the process as input in a constant feedback loop. We oscillate – sometimes every few seconds, sometimes at longer intervals -- between being writers and readers, generators and tinkerers, thinkers and critics.

Another complexity is in the thinking aspect – the coming up with the ideas. We tell kids, ‘Think!’ – but it isn’t a straightforwardly deliberate process that you can will. An aspect of writing that makes it particularly hard to handle, for the student and the teacher, is that it’s not to be delivered simply by effort (‘Try harder!’) but is dependent on having thoughts come to you. Either they come or they don’t is often our experience.

Thoughts come to me and words come to me (when they do). I'm writing a sentence and a phrase suggests itself. It doesn’t occur as the answer to my prayer for words that will express an idea I have, but as words that bring their own ideas with them, ones I hadn’t thought of. I write the phrase down, provisionally. Is this that I've written down something I'm prepared to say? It’s a phrase that ‘works’ within the context, but do I want to buy into it, stamp it with my imprimatur (whatever that is)? Typically, I think, I don’t decide one way or the other – I'm not sure -- but I let it stand: I like it, I like the idea it brings with it, I like the way it goes so I leave it to do the talking. And if someone were to ask me, ‘But do you mean what you’ve put down there?’ I wouldn’t be sure how to answer. 'I don't know -- I'd never thought of it.' Or perhaps, 'Before I didn’t, before I came up with it, because it had never entered my head, but now I think I do. Now it’s come up, yes, I suppose I do think it.'

I.e. there's a sense in which the writing does itself, or perhaps that when we write we're in a partnership with something else that's got its own ideas.

It’s not a matter of either waiting passively for thought to happen (inspiration) or by an act of will thinking, making thoughts. As we get better at writing we get better at having thoughts come. It’s as if our general intention for the piece, a broad sense of direction, clears a path or indicates a runway on which thoughts can come in. We exploit associations and our familiarity with the sort of thoughts that go with a topic. (Genre comes in here, but that's another story.)

So part of writing is not having our intentions too set and, rather, being prepared to abandon – provisionally at least – the direction we started out in, so as to allow free play to associations and triggerings; and then being prepared to strike out in the unanticipated direction that’s offered itself and that promises to be more fruitful than the one we’d planned.

As for that ‘provisionally’, it’s a skill we learn, keeping an original intention on hold in the background without losing it while we attend to something different that’s arisen that may possibly be relevant but we won’t know until we’ve given it a run.

Working to a tight plan or a ‘scaffold’ or outline or genre frame would seem to preclude experience of that sort of coaxed inspiration and of the fluidity of writing in the course of shaping. Learning to write probably depends on being in charge of the whole piece on your own. Some ‘help’ can close off options. It may enable a product of some sort to be produced, a page of writing in an approved shape, but at the price of shutting out that aspect of the writing process that’s potentially most powerful – that its provisional crystallisation as text allows the mind to do things it couldn’t without this technology; to shape thoughts into structures that are more complex and more tightly organised than unaided cogitation could manage. Writing enables the mind to take off, to be liberated, to take its time, to make thought hang together, to bring in more stuff, to ring more bells. The pay-off is that we're able to produce chunks of continuous discourse more crafted, more coherent, more varied, more interesting, more remarkable than anything we could normally produce in unscripted speech. Our written voice can make people sit up in a way that our ordinary speech can’t – as Steve Martin eloquently pointed out in his keynote on Saturday.

The sort of writing know-how I've been referring to must come for the most part through practice – by which I mean experience of the real thing, copious practice at extended continuous writing in which the writer is in sole charge.

Steve Martin was right about this, as about much else. A large part of English lessons – a third, a half? (this is me, not him) – should be devoted to this (I know: ok, not starting tomorrow -- but some day, when sanity is restored). The amount that students are able and willing to do at home can obviously modify that: it will vary with circumstances. In a 1985 report on writing at three age-levels across schools in one Canadian school board, Pringle and Freedman concluded that by age 10 or 11 pupils should be producing ‘many pages’ of extended continuous writing each week. At the LATE meeting people were saying that writing was dominated by very short bits with very little experience of longer pieces. This had always been the case with chemistry but it’s shocking to find it so in English.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Yesterday’s LATE meeting

For reasons that are not greatly to my credit it’s many years since I went to a meeting of the London Association for the Teaching of English (LATE), but I turned up yesterday morning. In the old days LATE used to have the run of rooms in the Institute of Education for their Saturday meetings, or one or other poly. Now the institutions charge for rooms so LATE is dependent on the goodwill of school heads – which can actually be to the good: the school we were in yesterday, Netley Primary, was not just comfortable, with good rooms for workshops; it was also an uplifting example of education working well: the profusion of kids’ work on the walls and stairs, particularly art work, was inspiring. The main building was classic School Board for London, 1888 (I hope I've remembered it rightly), a type that in the original state could be scarily institutional, particularly the staircases (stone stairs, walls tiled below and painted above); but in Netley the stairs had been coated with a friendly reddish paint and the walls were white or cream and clean– and plentifully decorated.

It was a good meeting, I'd say 70 there. The theme was writing. Lots of good things in the opening and closing talks by S. I. Martin and Richard Andrews, but I want to comment here on some of the discussion in Sally Mitchell’s workshop. Sally was arguing for a view of writing as a way not just of showing understanding but of arriving at it: it should be generative, not just presentational. People in the group were sympathetic to that, but their interpretation of it seemed to be in terms of ‘thinking’ in essays -- understandably perhaps since Sally's examples were from university courses (Obviously, I'm just going by things that were said – I've no idea what most of us were thinking that never got said.) For instance, reading an essay one should have the feeling that by the end the writer was saying things that he or she hadn’t fully known on setting out on the essay.

Fair enough: I'd agree with that, of course, but I'd want to go much further and extend the notion of ‘thinking’ (or ‘learning’) through writing to include a wider range of mental processes such as making a memory sharper, imagining something more fully and getting a perspective on something. The sorts of writing from which we can emerge a bit changed include autobiographical narrative and description, stories and poetry, as well as essays. James Britton used to talk about writing and talking to ‘come to terms with experience’, which has an unfortunate suggestion of accepting some hard reality or compromising. Something like that, though, or ‘getting the measure’ of an incident or situation or state of affairs, really is what writing can do. Just getting something right, precise, ‘caught’ in words is of course also, because it’s so demanding, an effective way of getting more skilled in handling language.

In yesterday’s Guardian Review section Peter Porter, speaking of writing poems about his own life, said it was ‘a means [for the mind] of presenting the material to itself’. Just ‘getting it down’ right is ‘learning’ in itself; whatever the 'material' is has been brought into some sort of order, made to reveal its extent and shape. And this by no means applies only to distressing material – far from it: it can be getting the measure of how good something is and why. A lot of the best children’s writing of the 1960s (e.g. from the West Riding of Yorkshire – see Alec Clegg’s The Excitement of Writing) celebrated the pleasures of locality, family, friends, pets; or, with older children, worked out in imagination what it would have been like to be on a ship of the navy in 1805. (Cf Steve Martin’s exercises yesterday in looking at archives and imagining what it would have been like to be a South Asian sailor in the 19th century laid up in some God-forsaken London barracks.)

The essential thing that I'd want children to learn about writing is that it’s a means of exploration. And I'd like English teachers to be more aware that it’s in many sorts of writing and at all ages (or ‘Key Stages’ – hah! jargon! as opposed to Off-key ones?) that they can have a sense of discovery, realisation, having things get sharper.

I'd like to see a continuity, as well as the obvious leaps that have to be made, between the narrating and describing the kids do in Year 7 and the thinking and arguing they should be doing in their work on literature five and six years later.

Walworth/Mina Road School – more memories

Someone has just added a ‘comment’ to my earlier posting. ‘Chatty Kathy’ remembers some of the teachers in a quite different way from other people who’ve written to us or been interviewed. See my comment on her comment. (Postings of 4th and 10th January 2009, or click on the ‘labels’ down the right hand margin: *Walworth, *Mina Road)

Her best English teacher was Mr Hall. We’d dearly like to know more about him – he sounds kind and humane.

And does anyone have class photographs? There don’t seem to have been any school photos, as far as I can tell.

Carlyle: we’re not done yet

Last year I did a number of postings that presented extracts from Carlyle’s The French Revolution. Other matters overtook me, the project was incomplete and I asked if anyone was actually reading the stuff and wanted to see the rest of my selections.

I take the ensuing silence as a resounding Yes and now propose (slowly) to resume. The point is mainly for myself, to see if I can produce a set of passages from a difficult book, well outside the range of what normally gets studied in English, that might actually be enjoyed by some school students. If someone else enjoys the extracts, good.

Since the last posting on Carlyle I read a review of a new book that was pronounced to have a good section on his history:

Burrow, J. (2007) A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the 20th Century. London: Allen Lane.

I got it out and indeed it does. The sections are about many different histories and types of history, a series of them dealing with histories of the French Revolution, as a result of which I want (some time in the next 30 or 40 years) to look also at Michelet and Taine, who take opposite positions: for Michelet the People was the hero of the tale, for Taine it was smitten with madness. (Taine wrote a book on crowd psychology and anticipated what in the 20th century became known as totalitarianism.)

It occurs to be that although I did history at school for O Level, we read not a single word by any historian. All they gave us was the textbook. But it would be a great thing in school to read passages on the same episode by Carlyle, Michelet and Taine, either in History (I don’t really know what they do there now) or English (and why not? In the 19th century writings by historians were considered part of Literature.)

(Burrow also describes earlier English and Scottish histories of England/Britain: Clarendon on the Civil War period (he was a close associate of Charles I), Hume (better known as an 18th century Scottish Enlightenment philosopher), and Macaulay (Victorian: celebrating the achievement of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, that gave us, he says, a century and a half of internal peace, in contrast with two periods of violent disorder in France, from 1789 and 1848). Of those I’d like most to read Macaulay, who, like Carlyle, was greatly influenced by Sir Walter Scott and writes colourfully and pictorially.)

Burrow indicates some of the passages that might be read together. For instance, on Carlyle and Michelet. This is nice because the bit of Carlyle he refers to is one I've reproduced in this blog (21 September 2008; click on Carlyle in the labels down the right hand margin. I haven't discovered how to link to a previous posting.). Burrow writes:

“The differences appear most sharply, however, in Michelet's treatment of the first 'Festival of the Federation', on the anniversary of the
fall of the Bastille, 14 July 1790. Carlyle's version is above all ironic:
the professions of universal goodwill are shortly to give way to massacre and the guillotine. But, in any case, humankind cannot sustain
very much fraternity. Though he acknowledges that the Federation
movement began spontaneously in the provinces and aroused popular enthusiasm all over France, he treats it as a kind of contagious intoxication and the greatest of the festivals, on the Champs de Mars in
Paris, as manifestly artificial and stage-managed, which of course it
was. To Carlyle its gospel was merely sentimental: he had, as we have
seen, a Presbyterian sourness towards ritual, though he could be
indulgent to spontaneous violence (as in the Scottish Reformation).
But for Michelet the Federation is the high point of his history and in
French national consciousness, pointing the way to a better future.
He said that writing about it marked one of the great moments of
his life. His description has an ominous element: at the sacramental
moment, the swearing of the oath of fraternity, the surly demeanour
of the royal family strikes a jarring note. But irony is almost absent,
though he goes on to mourn over the contrasting future. The moment
of the Federation was 'the holy epoch in which the entire nation
marched under one fraternal banner'. He compares the marches to
Paris by the participants from all over France to the Crusades: 'What
Jerusalem attracts thus a whole nation? ... the Jerusalem of hearts,
the holy unity of Fraternity, the great living city made of men . . .'; its
name is patrie. At the oath-swearing in the Champs de Mars

The plain is suddenly shaken by the report of forty pieces of cannon. At that clap of thunder, all rise and stretch forth their hands to heaven ... 0 King! 0 People! pause ... Heaven is listening and the sun is breaking expressly through the cloud ... Attend to your oaths! Oh! how heartily the people swear! How credulous they still are! ... But why does the King not grant them the happiness of seeing him swear at the altar? Why does he swear under cover, in the shade, and half-concealed from the people? ... For God's sake, sire, raise your hand so that all may see it. (III.xii)”
(pp 395-6)

Burrow sums up as well as anyone Carlyle’s approach and style:

“One has to accept Carlyle as a historian, if at all, for what he is; it
is no use expecting what he did not attempt to be, a lucid purveyor
of linear narrative and careful analyses of cause and effect. These
things can be found in the midst of Carlyle's accounts, but his stranger
effects were entirely deliberate, made largely out of epic precedent,
an Old Testament style of vision, a fierce pulpit manner, and an
idiosyncratic cosmic view: a metaphysics made concrete through
symbolism. The effect on narrative is a rapid cutting from individuals, often humble and seen only momentarily, and highly particular situations, rendered in full concrete circumstantiality, to cosmic
and world-historical perspectives, with many intermediary points

Carlyle's devices for bringing this about are essentially two: the
selection of certain events, characters and actions as symbolic of larger
realities, and extraordinarily innovative experiments in what may
be called multi-voiced narrative, where the authorial voice, so often
peremptory, intrusive and bullying, sometimes seems temporarily suspended in favour of a cacophony of other voices, of which he is the
impresario, making a babble of catchphrases out of quotations from
the newspapers, pamphlets, placards and memoirs he has consulted.
This imagined babble in the midst of the revolutionary crowd, where
Carlyle alms to place the reader - always, of course, in the present
tense - is, to use his own term, combustible. A particular word or
incident can ignite it into action and almost randomly determine its
direction: to the Bastille, to Versailles, to the palace of the Tuileries,
and hence to some of the central events of the Revolution. The combustibility is made up of hunger and hatred, suspicion and rumour.
Suspicion, for example, of a royalist military coup, which leads to the
storming of the Bastille.”

Burrow himself is worth reading as a writer.