TC TO JOHN STERLING ; 25 November 1839; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18391125-TC-JOST-01; CL 11: 216-219
TC TO JOHN STERLING
Chelsea, 25 Novr, 1839—
My dear Sterling,
We hear bad accounts of you last week; how you have had Bronchitis, are meditating the possibility of Italy again &c. I called next day at your Father's, for farther news; but none had then come. I will continue to hope that it is but a false alarm; a necessary alarm, to keep you from excess of confidence, excess of work and movement, to which I know you at all times too prone. Keep snug within doors mostly, till the dry weather return; working with extreme moderation, reading light stuff, oftener than writing either light or weighty; then in the brisk dry months, on that western coast, get yourself a horse, and go galloping about: that is my prescription! I cannot afford you in Italy any more; you have work to do in England, I hope,—and will do it, if you can only remember that golden maxim, Festina lente [Hasten slowly]. The Annandale Farmer exclaimed to a man he saw riding a certain Rosinante of measurable vigour: “Take time, my lad, ride at leisure! Thou may'st depend on't, the slower thou ride'st, the sooner thou'lt get to thy journey's end!”1 A precept I have applied a thousand times to myself; and have too often forgotten, never without penalty.
We see your lucubrations in Blackwood; always with pleasure. I rejoice in the omen of their accepting your Dichtung und Wahrheit. Let us hope they will find their interest to lie in going on with it. Would not a few Notes here and there be of use to the uninitiated? I find the Translation good in itself, exquisite as compared with the generality of our Translations: a page or two of it I was at the pains to hold in close contact with the original proved to be grammatically exact almost to the last fibre; good flowing English too: but the Goethe tune, the last perfection of Translation, was not fully in it; that will come by degrees. I translated Goethe some two years before I could discover that he had a tune; what indeed all mortals have. There is nothing of it, or next to nothing, in my Meister's Apprenticeship; in the other Meister I did get hold of it, not to lose it any more. For the rest, I will heartily congratulate you on being laid hold of by that man; he will not let you quit of him again till you have made out his wondrous secret, and learned from him what none else can teach you. A translator is properly a perfect reader; one never reads honestly till one tries translation: Goethe deserves much reading in a sense no other man of these ages can pretend to do.— Theophilus was a beautiful portrait; such as the original deserved. Good Mr Dunn!2 One will hardly ever see a face like his again in this world. But indeed the man's Life was a kind of Picture; not a solid angular Reality, with its contradictions, with its self-assertion, as other men's lives are and ought mostly to be.
Compare him, for example, with Sinner Saved! Many thanks you [sic] for these two books; which I read with many thoughts. A most notable Antinomian savage this “S. S.” Poor brother mortal, deep sunk in poverty, coal-dust and every degradation and defacement; struggling withal to be a man, not the simulacrum of a man! I know few things that have more of a savage greatness in them than that last victorious vision of his on the pear-tree, and his running into the tool-house, covering his head with his blue apron, to pray, weeping as if tears of blood, God be merciful to me a sinner! We could not do without such men. Yet the man is a savage too, a gross base greedy-hearted plebian coalheaver to the end of him. Never was a struggling sunbeam imprisoned in a stranger element, and bidden struggle there. Requiescat [Let him rest], the monster! By the bye, having a sudden opportunity, I sent off these two little books to my Mother, tho' I know them to have been only lent me; if you need them before they return of their own will, let me know, and we will fly to Aldersgate the cheap fountain-head.3
Emerson's Letter was straightway despatched (“Concord, Massachusetts, U.S.”): there is not time yet, I apprehend, for an answer?4 I have heard nothing of him; indeed it was mine to write; and I have been too busy for writing to any one. Only last week I finished an astonishing piece of work, a long review article, thick pamphlet or little volume, entitled “Chartism.” Lockhart has it, for it was partly promised to him, at least the refusal of it was; and that, I conjecture, will be all he enjoy of it. Such an Article, equally astonishing to Girondin Radicals, Donothing Aristocrat Conservatives, and Unbelieving Dilettante Whigs, can hope for no harbour in any review. Lockhart refusing it, I mean to print it at my own expence; so in any case you will see it, and have the pleasure of crying shame over it. The thing has lain in my head and heart these ten, some of it these twenty years: one is right glad to be delivered of such a thing on any terms. The Meisters are coming out, two in one, in a few days.— By the bye, you understand the “Article” to be entirely a secret even to yourself?
I have seen almost nobody; I could call for literally nobody. The calling hours of every day not a day of deluging rain I have spent on horseback, in the Streatham lanes, in the Willesden region, in our old Hampstead courses—do you remember that day?5 Till this bout of riding, I never knew what a most lovely country of its sort this London region is. Green, frondent, fertile, entirely subdued to man; whatsoever all this in its utmost perfection can offer, without running water, rock or mountain, is there. The hectic dying beauty of some of these sun-glimpses I have come upon in my solitude are things to be enjoyed—in profound silence, you Knave! I am also greatly delighted with the country people, working on the roads &c, down to the very children; and rejoice to call such people my kindred. Unhappily the day after tomorrow I part with my horse; the mud having grown too intense for me. It was a present from a certain worthy wealthy Mr Marshall of Leeds last summer, this horse: his son now pretends to “borrow” it from me, half-guessing, I believe that I would fain be rid of it till spring again. Kindness is frequent in this world, if we reckon upwards from zero (as were fair) not downwards from infinity; and always very precious, the more so the rarer. If I had Sterling now to gallop about with me in the warm weather! Why not, one way or other? It is among possible things!——— Mill was not at home, one night when I called; I see or hear nothing of him these four weeks. I believe he is about selling his review-trade to some similarly trading individual.6 No sect in our day has made a wretcheder figure in practice than the Bentham-Radical sect. Nature abhors a vacuum: worthy old girl, she will not make a wretched, unsympathetic, scraggy Atheism and Egoism fruitful in her world; but answers to it: Enough, thou scraggy Atheism; go thy ways, wilt thou!
My paper alas is done! There will be penny postages soon; then I will write oftener; a word almost daily. Ever yours, mein Lieber [my dear].
My Wife has got an ugly cold, chiefly by undue audacity (in the theatrical way!)— We hope to see it go, one of these days. My brother is still here: they call him John;—a more restless man than a certain other John I wot of; which is saying something! Miss Martineau is in Newcastle, ill for the winter. Miss Wilson borrowed the Review Article; returned it in solemn silence towards me, as was fit,—in zealous approval towards others, as I hear. Basta [Enough]!