The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO GERALDINE E. JEWSBURY ; 12 April 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18400412-TC-GEJ-01; CL 12: 103-107


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London / 12 April, 1840—

“G. E. J.,” whom I will take to be a Lady, of cultivated intellect, of clear conscientious character, between twenty and thirty, describes, with energy sincerity and evident truth to Nature, a spiritual history which is very painful, which to those that understand it cannot be other than interesting.1 She is right in supposing that I have struggled in precisely the same difficulties; and also that now, for a good many years back, I have triumphed over them, and seen them lying conquered, harmless or even beneficial, far enough under me. If G. E. J. persist with humility, with faithfulness, with true silent valour, I will confidently prophecy for her also a like victory. It ought to be some consolation to her that such is everywhere the history of persons possessing a certain force of mind in this generation; and that, on the whole, those only are vanquished at last who did not deserve to vanquish; who fought not for the truth, properly speaking, but for their own selfish interest in the truth.

How gladly would one speak a word that might profit such a combatant! There is unfortunately no word that can be spoken which will assure or even certainly facilitate the victory;—bring back belief into a soul struggling in the dark depths of the fever of scepticism: belief, justly accounted to be itself “the only true, god-announcing miracle.”2 Will my fair unknown Friend accept of a maxim or two, written down in the midst of endless hurry here, but well enough vindicated by experience to myself, and which carry in them the truest wish to be of service to her.

1. Logic is no evidence for or against any truth; the things we believe were not, in any case, brought home to us by argumentation; by meditation rather (which was silent, was beyond words), by practice, by imitation &c &c, by a thousand obscure processes, conscious, and oftener unconscious. The utmost that Logic can do, even Euclid's logic, is to tell us what he the Logician did accurately believe; we then try whether we too (made like unto him, as face answereth to face) cannot believe it. There is an endless abuse of Logic in these days; a universal great overvaluing of it “The Highest cannot be spoken of in words”:3 this is one of the most pregnant truths; never to be lost sight of at all.

2. An Inquirer, especially on such matters, generally profits most by getting to discern not the arguments, but the mood of mind, the general way of thought of those whose belief he wishes to attain. Let the earnest sceptic communicate in this way with the works and words of believers. Does G. E. J. read German? I could almost advise her to learn it, if otherwise; indeed I will advise her. In no other Literature whatever is there any notable promulgation of new belief; nowhere else does one get at all into company of men who have belief. Goethe was the wretchedest of materialists once; it was to me like the risen sun to behold clearly that he nevertheless now did believe. Some of Goethe's works are in English. In an English Book called Sartor Resartus, of my writing, G. E. J. will see shadowed forth under strange emblems a spiritual conflict not unlike her own, even in minute particulars; and discern what wild convulsions others before her have had, which nevertheless ended in victory. It is in this way that teaching of man by man becomes possible.

3. But the great queller of Doubt is above all other things Practice. It is wisely written, “Doubt of any kind can only be removed by Action.”4 The thing one acts upon and finds hold good, that thing is true, independently of all argument, in spite of all argument. “Do the duty which lies nearest hand,” which thou discernest clearly to be a duty;—the next duty will already have become clearer!5

4. It is well said, in this as in other respects, “The beginning of true life is Renunciation.”6 One must learn to understand that his own poor individual love of ease, satisfaction, pleasure, what we call our “happiness” (for this world or for the other world) has nothing to do with the matter; one must learn to give up that altogether. That once altogether given up, it is surprising what films straightway fall from the eyes; how the great questions of Immortality and the like become simplified, become clear,—as clear as is needful for us. Our own paltry interest in them no longer agitating the mind, the small still voice becomes audible to us.

5. Materialism is at bottom spiritualism.7 The highest results of modern Science point out the body, point out matter in general as non-extant, as a mere manifestation of what Faith names soul. Our body is and can be nothing but a “complex of forces,” to us inscrutable, envesturing and rendering visible the divine mystery in us that calls itself “Me”; our body too is “a garment woven in the Loom of Heaven.”8 We are bound to say with the Moslem, in this and so many other cases, “God is Great. Islam; I submit to God.”9

6. In all senses of the word, Speech is small in comparison to Silence. G. E. J. will grow to understand this. A thing, because it does not speak, because it cannot speak, does not for that fail to exist. Our Liturgies, Litanies are unspoken ones; of the Deity himself a wise man has said, “Who dare name Him?” Let us know the virtue of silence; what unspeakable wealth we may possess which refuses to exhibit itself at the street door.— Let us in fine shut our ear against the empty jangle of our own poor sceptical, cackling, barren, utilitarian, logic-chopping, futile, most unfortunate generation; and say to it, “Go thou thy loud way; I go my silent one.”

7. Regard Catholicism as a thing dead three hundred years ago, as having died that day Luther said to it, “Thou canst not pardon sins; thou art not true!10— Shun all “refuges of lies”; let us have nothing to do with them. Follow the truth, like a valiant soldier of truth; the truth will of a surety make you free. There is a just Being above, who looks on the struggles of his children.


This, dear G. E. J., is what I can write you at present. My mind misgives me that it may do no good, that it may even do mischief. It indicates the wish I have to do good!——— Yours with respect and sympathy

T. Carlyle—