The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO GERALDINE E. JEWSBURY ; 26 April 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18400426-TC-GEJ-01; CL 12: 118-121


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, / London, 26 April, 1840—

Dear Miss Jewsbury,

Your good modest, earnest, intelligent Letter1 gives me great pleasure. I predict for you a joyful victory one day over all those spiritual troubles. There is no doubt of it, if you persist with humble fidelity, with honest valour. They are properly a disease of the soul these things; doubt is always a disease; we are not here to doubt and ask, but to see and do. Yet they are a disease, like so many others, of a noble sort; better than many sorts of health! I call them the struggle of the mind to grow; great is the reward of those in whom they issue in new health. All expansion, in all things, animals, trees, everywhere thro' organic Nature, is it not a kind of disease? As I say sometimes, the bird is sick in moulting-time; the Phoenix has to burn herself before she can become new and young again.2 Fear nothing, dear young friend, except your own impatience of heart: one's own poor egoism, hungry love of happiness &c, is the only thing one has to fear. I rejoice to believe that you are not one of those for whom such noble disease is appointed to end not in health, victory, enlargement, but in chronic sickness, in mere hollow truce, or peace by surrender. I think you are not one of these; it is your own blame if you are. I bid you hope and struggle: struggle faithfully, and your hope is sure; no true soul need perish in such conflict. God assist you in it. God will assist you;—why should I not say so in these words? For He is in the heart and inmost life of every one of us: I know no better name yet for what we may all discern to be verily there, if we will look truly.

Having literally no time at all in these days, with special causes of haste and confused labour all heaped round me for some weeks to come,—I rather write you a short word about those German Books, than no word. I will name a work or two. Take my advice not as a nostrum, or medical recipe, for there is none such; but try it, see how it acts with you; follow it so far as it proves to lead you well.

By far the most instructive of German, or indeed of modern European men, the man above all others from whom an ingenuous gifted mind may hope to learn, is Goethe. Like all great men he has his own element, his own dialect every way, and is by no means to be understood at once; nevertheless I would advise you to persevere till you do understand him. His Wilhelm Meister, both the Apprenticeship of Meister and the Travels of Meister I translated long ago; a second improved edition, combining both as one Book, was published here last autumn. I advise you to read that. You will find much to repel you, at first; but be not discouraged; insist on becoming acquainted with the world of this man. The Apprenticeship especially is like to distress you: yet look at it; see how a Sceptic has abolished and got quite rid of his old sceptic entanglements; lives in a new universe, once more green and hopeful;—if you even find it a godless Old-Heathen world, yet rejoice to see how in a true human soul Faith is compatible even with that! I know no Book at all of these generations, in which the workings, maladies, confused strugglings of poor human nature are more significantly set forth. It is true with a deep truth. That great deep mirror-mind is really as a mirror in which other minds may see their own likeness, find some interpretation of themselves. Of the common objections made to the Apprenticeship, that it is “immoral,” unfit for a lady &c &c, I say nothing at all to you;3 an earnest reader will find of himself that there need and should nothing be said about them. You, with your prudence, may avoid speaking of the Book, or intimating your acquaintance with it,—if your circle seem to prescribe that. The Travels again, a Book of still clearer and purer Faith, not godless now or heathen, but Christian we might say (inclusive of Christianity and whatever we have of highest in our modern way of thought) will perhaps please you still more readily.— At all events, I should say, get acquainted with this man; try whether there is in him nothing that will suit you, that will illuminate and direct you.

Jean Paul Friedrich Richter is another great German brother-soul; full of fearless denial, yet of free sure faith;—wide as the world itself, rude, deep, artless magnificent, great as the world! Unfortunately he is very difficult to read; and there is nothing of him in English but a very poor sample, entitled I think “Selections” (published last year by Black and Armstrong here) mostly extravagant sentimental, not worth seeking after; and another rather poor specimen translated by me many years ago, and to be found in the third volume of a Book called German Romance. One Chales attempted to translate his Titan into French;4 but made little of it, stopt short indeed about the middle,—at least there he stood, and with a very imperfect result even up to that point, when I last heard of him.

Tieck is not a man of Religion; but he is a true disciple of Poetry, which one finds, in that sense of it, closely united with Religion. Read what of Tieck you can come at. Something of him is in that same German Romance; the Revd Julius Hare translated some other things of his; and still others, if I mistake not, are extant in English.5

Johannes von Müller has a Universal History6 done into English in three very readable octavo volumes, some fifteen years ago; a Book deserving far more notice than it ever obtained here. He shadows out, with clearness and brevity, some of the best German ideas on the history of religion: who knows but he might throw light on a point or two for you? At all events, read it if you can conveniently fall in with it: one is never wrong, reading the word of an earnest gifted man.

I do not much recommend German Philosophy, still less German Theology; or indeed Theology, Philosophy or Metaphysical logic of any kind or country. The good I got out of much earnest study of German Philosophy was to find that French and Scotch Philosophy (with its Atheisms, Materialisms) was thereby met in the teeth and scientifically neutralised and ended;—that in a word the soul-confusing jargon of Metaphysics, “circulating like a self-creating self-swallowing mahlstrom,”7 was thereby swept out of my mind, and I forever clear of it! In late years I have grown more and more to regard all Metaphysics as a disease,—a fever-fire for burning out of scepticism;8 I find that solid strong men (Goethe, Shakspeare, Johnson, Napoleon, Luther &c) would never meddle much with them;—that to me, at least, the whole thing was as a spasmodic paralysis, one limb strained convulsively against another, and no way at all to be made while that lasted!— —

You do right wisely, dear young Lady, to keep these struggles, these discoveries and miseries of yours altogether a secret from those about you, who cannot help you in them, whom you would but afflict by them. It is altogether just, wise, necessary even. In silence! With lips closed, with eye, mind and heart open! Go[od] Influences will be with you.

If I at any time can help you in any way whatever, write to me frankly as to an elder brother.

Yours with true regard /

T. Carlyle