The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO JOHN STERLING ; 6 January 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18400106-TC-JOST-01; CL 12: 5-8


Chelsea 6 Jany 1840—

My dear Sterling,

It is but three or four days since I became fully aware that this Madeira business was to be more than a theory; that it was actually to take effect, and carry you away across the seas from me again! I grieve heartily at this result. It seemed to me the days were growing long, the spring and summer coming; that Sterling would run over hither, and I over thither; that we should gallop together, and argue together; that we should &c &c. Alas, my dear fellow, we cannot make head against these things; Boreas and the climate of England are stronger than we! However, Calvert1 tells me he has no reason to think your health in any fundamental danger; he expects to bring you back triumphant in three months: and then! It seems to me you must come to Knightsbridge; you must get a horse; I shall have a horse; there will be such a series of equestrian and palaestric exercises gone thro' as the English summer has seldom witnessed! Ask Calvert if galloping on horseback is not the method of getting to be at rest—for a character like you! I will cheer myself with these dreams; knowing well enough that much which is possible cannot be, any more than if it were impossible; knowing it on all sides too well. We will hope nevertheless; my wishes and prayers shall go with you over the waste sea-flood; nothing can prevent them from going at any rate.

Your Volume of Poems2 was duly delivered here the other day; along with the copy for Emerson, which latter I straightway despatched by Covent Garden Kennet the Bookseller. Your Letter, which was also despatched long months ago, has had no answer yet?3 I too have heard nothing from E. these four months; Miss Martineau wrote some time ago that he was “fallen into a very strange state in regard to External Nature”; taking it upon him, as I understood, to deny that poor old External Nature existed at all, “otherwise than relatively”;—a most questionable state in these times in those latitudes! Mylnes is about reviewing him, I understand, in the next London & Westminster; we shall see what comes of that.

As to our own Volume, which my Wife vehemently claims as hers, I find that the Titlepage without any “Revd” upon it is much to my mind; the pieces I think are all known to me before; and detestable as all rhyme or most rhyme is to me, I mean to read several of them a second time. You know my notions about singing of thought, how heterodox, one-sided, contracted-emphatic &c &c they are; and yet on the whole they stand rigid only as practical precepts for my own self, not rigid at all on thyself or on his self. I fancy there are many men who will like emotions of that sort set forth in a vehicle of that sort; so accordingly let them be set forth. Surely if all the Volumes of British Literature printed in 1839 were ranked in a long row, as long as Piccadilly, and ordered peremptorily to give account of themselves, Why they existed? Why they should not instantly be made into bandboxes?—there are few or none of them that could tell a better story for themselves than this same Volume by Moxon.4 Nay farther I have read the Hymns in the last Blackwood,5 and like them better than any verses I have seen of yours,—or I may say of any other body's for a long while! Is not this fair play on my part? Go on and prosper, till you either get into free Infinitude, or find yourself, as Goethe says, zurückgeprallt [rebounding back]! Either way it will be for real and indispensable profit to you.

As for myself my flight at present is very low; or rather I should say my roost, for I do not try flying at all. To be let alone is the utmost ambition of my soul in these times and circumstances. The speech of men for most part is a jargon and platitude to me; with which why should I quarrel? The far easier way were to keep well out of the road of it, which by the blessing of Heaven one can in a tolerable measure do. I still mourn for the want of Books; wish I had you here to institute a Library for me. I read Eichhorn's Alte Testament;6 endeavour to glean an image of some thing here and there from that goodly heap of shadows of things. Neal's Puritans I have from Maurice;7 a very considerably stupider book: ach Gott, it is a sin for men to write stupid books, and afflict their fellow creatures with half-centuries after they are dead! Really this is true: a man ought to separate chaff from wheat, were it with never such pain to himself, that so thousands of other persons may not have the pain,—may not at last find it too hard a pain, and fling the whole concern into the chaff-heap!

There was a copy of my pamphlet on Chartism left for you; in patient expectation of the Sterlingian censure. Your Father will take it, I suppose. Fox and the Radicals give tongue, vituperative-astonished;8 yesterday I read on some Newspaper Placard in big letters “Carlyle's Cant on Chartism”; my Brother was for stepping in to buy the Newspaper, but I decisively said NO. I have had too much bother with the miserable rag of a thing already; correcting proofs, higgling and arranging. It is as bad as you like but it utters in some way a thing that has been burning in the stomach of me these ten years, parts of it these twenty years: behold it is out; what more have I to do with it? To sweep it altogether out of my memory too: schlag' es mir aus dem Sinne [beat it out of my senses]! The Devil and the World have now to play their part or no-part with it; mine is played.

At this point the Postman with fateful double-knock delivers your Letter from Clifton!9 Thousand thanks my kind friend; I did not expect you to take such trouble with me, and meant to say you need not in the pressure of so many other troubles. Your illness seems to have been far more grievous than I had interpreted from so many confused accounts. Get well, and come back with Calvert: this is what you will and shall do in spite of all hypochondria. “Verfehltes Leben [Unsuccessful Life]”! Foolish youth; your Life is not verfehlt, not a bit of it! It is not yet so much as started, either for failure or success: there have hitherto been only preliminary flourishes of trumpets (very promising in their kind) before the true heroic poem could commence[. Its] many variations do but announce that much is in the man to utter, that he [knows] not well at once how to utter it. Courage, my brother! There is nothing at all lost yet; and there is the whole world still to win. I speak this advisedly. If I could persuade the man to sit quiet and silent (silent, I say, you—!) for a twelvemonth or so, and do nothing at all but let the aeriform become liquid and solid, I would back him against the British Empire! That too will come; I never doubt it.

And so go in good hope, and return to us well and joyful. The clay is a dolorous prison many ways to all of us; ah me! But you do learn what the limits of it are; and can then walk about a little without breaking your head on the walls. My Brother sends his wishes with you: he is still here; but on terms for a new place somewhat like his old one. My Wife salutes you as a Sister taking leave. Good winds go with you, and bring you back soon. God bless you always dear John!


Your affectionate

T. Carlyle


I have written three times as much as I meant; or should, considering the hurry we are both in. Hence these scraps