TC TO JOHN STERLING ; 28 September 1839; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18390928-TC-JOST-01; CL 11: 191-195
TC TO JOHN STERLING
Chelsea, 29  Septr, 1839—
My dear Sterling,
Your good Letter,1 after some detours, found me at my Mother's in Annandale; most languid, vacant, not to say altogether torpid and closed up in melancholy remembrances, sad aspects, sad prospects, and continual deluges of wet weather. Solitude is indispensable to my existence now and then; it is very miserable, yet a kind of blessed misery, with a wholesomeness in it, the beginning of a time more wholesome than the past was. Your Welsh excursion, and child's-idyl with your Brother, came like a sunny place into that dim Hades of mine. You take those matters more wisely than I.
The reason of my not writing answer was mainly a grand scheme I had of soon speaking an answer. It was among our projects that my Wife, who in her sail from Liverpool to Annan nearly gave up the ghost and altogether declared she would never go to sea again, should proceed homeward by Carlisle and the Preston Railway herself: leaving me to come at a week's distance, round by Dublin, Bristol, Clifton, and so see Sterling, and find the dilapidated Chelsea establishment somewhat set up again first. But the poor dame gave in, when it came to the point; would like so much better if &c: whereupon we got together into the huge Steam Mystery, and it snorted off with us (under cloud of night) like an enormous diabolic fire-dragon as it is, and in the most unintelligible yet unerring way, set us down at Chelsea next morning, without any sight of Sterling. I have waited since then a fortnight or more now, till the Suspicious Sterling Article should appear, that I might see whether I was to excommunicate the man, or what I was to do with him. Mill, the day before yesterday, gave me unexpectedly a copy, which I have read, which I have even sent off into Scotland; and now I write—the excommunication that is needed.2
Mill says this is the best thing you ever wrote;3 and truly so should I, if you had not shut my mouth. It is a thing all glowing and boiling, like a furnace of molten metal. A brave thing, nay a rash and headlong; full of generosity, passionate insight, lightning, extravagance and Sterlingism: such an “article” as we have not read for some time past! It will be talked of, it will be admired, condemned, and create astonishment and give offence far and near. My friend, what a notion you have got of me! I discern certain natural features, the general outline of shape, but it is as one would in the Air-giant of the Harz, huge as Ophiuchus;4 painted there, as one finds, by sunrise and early vapour, that is, by Sterling's heart impinging on you between himself and the Westminster Review! I do not thank you; for I know not whether such things are good, nay whether they are not bad and a poison to one: but I will say there has no man in these Islands been so reviewed in my time; it is the most magnanimous eulogy I ever knew one man utter of another man whom he knew face to face, and saw go grumbling about there, in coat and breeches, as a poor concrete reality—very offensive now and then. And so we will let it lie there, incredible to all men, incrediblest of all to me; yet sweet in the highest degree, for very obvious reasons, notwithstanding.
I admire the ingenuity which which this Reviewer contrives withal to introduce the quarrels he has against me. Not a crow we have ever had to pluck together but he plucks it here, and scatters the limbs of it triumphantly to the winds. I swear honestly I like him all the better. “Consciousness,” “Silence” &c &c I tell you, my dear fellow, you are right; and yet I myself am perfectly right too, and know not well yet how I could find terms to express myself in, less liable to contradiction. It is the fault, as Shandy said, of “the auxiliary verbs.”5 Goethe's saying comes often in my mind: “We begin to err, the first word we utter.”6 For Nature is solid, with six sides; Language is superficial, nay linear. I believe you have me, however, in regard to Mother Cagliostro and the gold ounces; I had read that passage wrong, and yet as I remember, not without some misgiving as to the truth.7 With regard to September Massacring, again, you are wrong, and I will prove it—by silence at present. Wrong indeed! Where are you right, if one come to that?8 God help you, my man, with such a huge Brocken-Spectre “Chimera” and lot of “cub chimeras” sucking at her!9 I would not be in your shoes for something.
Mill, whom I had not seen till that day at the India House, was looking but indifferently; he professed not to be sensibly better at all by his last-year's journeying. Mrs Taylor, he farther volunteered to tell me, is living not at the old abode in the Regent's Park, but in Wilton Place, a street where as I conjecture there are mainly wont to be Lodgings. Can it be possible? Or if so, what does it betoken?10 I am truly sorry for Mill: he has been a most luckless man since I came hither, seeming to himself all the way to be a lucky one rather. He seems to fear that the Review will have to cease; a thing I regret but do not wonder at. Did ever man choose such a flathoofed jackass, under the name of lapdog and dog-of-knowledge, as Robertson to help him forward in such an enterprise? He has no skill in “concrete realities,” or less than I ever saw in a man so skilful about abstractions.11 Nature and Fact, as you remark, first tell a man the truth about his philosophy. Sow real wheat on the honest earth, you reap real wheat; sow chaff never so like wheat, the earth receives it, but says nothing about it next year.
As for me I have been busy daily, revising Wilhelm Meister which they are reprinting (Apprenticeship and Travels together) as rapidly as they can. I dissent greatly from much that I find; yet everywhere there is truth, real truth even in what you hate, and it is good for you to see it; there is real talent, to me the infallible symptoms of all other sorts of reality, sorts of worth, for no real thing is not worthy—you know! Fraser has got to hand the American Miscellanies, and sold 100 of them; regrets immensely that he has got so few still to sell. I sent your Mother a copy, not you one; I intend for you a better English copy, such as seems possible and probable by and by. What I am to do for the winter is all uncertain. This Meister business will keep me busy for three weeks yet. I am far from ready to write on anything. My Brother, in Scotland at present, is coming soon; unbestimmt [uncertain] he too. We see your people as often and gladly as ever; that is to say, therefore more gladly, so precious is continuance, in a world like ours. Your father had bad news from you yesterday: nothing serious we will hope. Take care of yourself, do not wear yourself to pieces. You are too vehement; mind that always. My wife is charmed, as the female character may well be, with your review. She salutes you a hundred times; you, and your better half and household, good be always with you all!
I have heard twice from Emerson, mainly about books and shipments, the good Emerson. He is getting forward with something of his own to be published soon. In one of his Letters he says: “I have only time to say that I love Sterling's poetry, that I admire his prose with reservations here and there. What he knows he writes manfully and well. All our readers here take Blackwood for his sake, and latterly seek him in vain.”12— This you see was not designed for you, but I cabbage [pilfer] it.