5th February 1881

Historian and writer Thomas Carlyle dies

Ecclefechan-born Carlyle was a versatile writer whose work encompassed satire, philosophy, maths, and history. Educated at the University of Edinburgh, he became a maths teacher and had established himself as an essay writer by the time he and his wife moved to London in the 1830s.

Later that decade, he wrote a history of the French Revolution, which is said to have inspired Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, which is set partly in Paris during and in the run-up to that period.

Illness and death

Carlyle fell ill shortly before his death and, according to the Yorkshire Gazette of 12 February 1881, died at half past eight in the morning. “His medical advisor reported that at midnight his patient’s condition was very low indeed, and at the hour above-mentioned the venerable author passed away quietly.”

Although writing brought him fame during his lifetime, Carlyle’s burial at Ecclefechan, close to his birthplace, was a private affair, carried out in silence and without ceremony. He had died in London and his body was brought to Scotland by train. On 17 February 1881, the Witney Express wrote, “it was a dully day and the snow lay on the ground in the churchyard. The mourners made their way among the irregular mounds to the north-east corner of the enclosure, where the burying-place of the Carlyles, surrounded by iron railings, is situated. There a grave had been dug and in a few moments the body was lowered into its last resting place.”

Even so soon after his death, three biographies were already being prepared.



Other events that occured in February

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.