The Collected Letters, Volume 11


TC TO JOHN S. DWIGHT ; 14 March 1839; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18390314-TC-JSD-01; CL 11: 56-58


Chelsea, London, 14th March, 1839—

My dear Sir,

Your Letter by the Royal William reached me yesterday. The Book it referred to had not then arrived. But strangely enough, Kennett, the dilatory Kennett, inspired by I know not what good genius, had in those same hours bethought himself, and set his messengers in motion; and so, returning from a friend's late last night, I found your Packet lying safe in waiting for me! Mrs Austin and Miss Martineau are both in Town; they shall have their copies, if they have not already got them. Mrs Jameson is gone to Germany and Dresden some days ago; so that hers, I suppose, must lie till her return, which was not expected to to [sic] be very distant. Such a volume would have been a welcome thing to carry round with her to Weimar: however, it will doubtless find its way thither by and by, and be welcome arrive when it may.

For myself I thank you very cordially for this Gift; for the copy specially assigned me, and for the kind Inscription prefixed to all the copies.1 It is good news that any one esteems us; better and better when our favourer is one whom we ourselves can esteem. Of course, I have not yet been able to give your volume such an examination as I well design for it: but I have looked here and there, read largely here and there, read your Notes nearly altogether; and know tolerably whereabouts you are. It seems to me a volume creditable to New England, to yourself and all your coadjuters [sic]; well worthy of the creditable Publication it forms part of. With great pleasure I recognise in you one merit, the rarest of all in Goethe's Translators, yet the first condition, without which every other merit is impossible: that of understanding your original. You seem to me to have actually deciphered for yourself, and got to behold and see the lineaments of this great mind; so that you know what it means, and what its words mean. I have heard from no English writer whatsoever as much truth as you write in these Notes about Goethe; I might say nowhere else at all among English writers any thing but partiality, misapprehension, non-vision, gleams of insight bewildered in a mass of hallucinations; leaving no image for us but at bottom that of a vague large blameable—IMPOSSIBILITY. Interpretation of detached pieces, in such circumstances, is hopeless; in the contrary circumstances there may be hope in it. I like many of these versions very well. Your Songs seem to me the best; far better than one has seen hitherto, than one could have expected to see. The Epigrammatic Aphoristic matter too is sometimes wonderfully successful; at other times, the quaint felicity of the expression is lost (I know nothing in writing more difficult to preserve), but the sense even in these cases is there. Schiller was much easier to do. On the whole, I must congratulate you on getting thro' so handsomely; it was an enterprise wherein failure to a very high degree need not have been dishonourable. Among your helpers I notice my old acquaintance Channing; and greatly approve of his Kennst Du das Land [Know'st thou the Land].2

How the Public will receive your Book is perhaps very doubtful; perhaps not very momentous. One great acquisition you have infallibly made, far beyond what any Public could do for you; the acquisition of a Teacher and Prophet for yourself! Alone of men, very far beyond all other men, Goethe seems to me to have understood his century, to have conquered his century, and made that too for himself a portion of Universal Time, a portion of Eternity. Glory to the strong man, say I; joy over all the race of men! Such a man is as a Prometheus, who in a time of midnight and spectres miraculously brings fire and light out of Heaven itself; and his sacred urn is burning here among us still for long generations,—whereat the rest of us can, according to our need, Kindle lights.3 What all this means I believe you know. It is now long that I have ceased to speak much about such things; but they are not forgotten for all that. There is a time to speak of them; there comes also a time to be silent of them, and if possible do better than speak.

Your scheme of activity pleases me well. Taken up in singleness of heart, with modesty, with cheerful courage to do and to endure, it cannot but lead you towards a good goal. Neither must poverty depress you overmuch. Poverty is no bad companion for a young man; no degree of poverty whatever can permanently hold down a man in wrong courses; nay the best and highest course for a man, where his duty and blessedness do lie, is often enough one of great and greatest poverty. Heed not poverty. Speak to your fellow men what things you have made out by the grace of God. A far fataller enemy than Poverty is one to which not many of us but all of us are liable, in this career: the thrice cursed sin of Self-conceit,—bred oftener by riches than by Poverty! God deliver us all from that; send us whatever of “ill fortune” is needful to deliver us from that!

I write in great haste; but with little prospect of speedy leisure, and therefore today rather than tomorrow. Pray thank Mr Ripley for his valued Book,4 which lay nearly a year hidden somewhere, but did appear in fine.

With best wishes and thanks, / Yours very sincerely,

T. Carlyle—