TC TO JOHN STERLING ; 19 September 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18400919-TC-JOST-01; CL 12: 262-265
TC TO JOHN STERLING
Chelsea, 19 Septr, 1840
Here are half-a-dozen Prospectuses, which I beg of you to distribute, as you purpose, with all imaginable zeal.1 You shall have more, readily, on demand. It really seems to me that of our innumerable English evils there is no remediable worse one whatever than our condition as to Books in such a country as ours. Worse than Iceland, literally so! I met the new Bishop Thirlwall the other week; who warmly participated in my lamentations, and had engaged to himself (he said) that now in his new sphere he might perhaps succeed in helping to remedy such a state of things. It is positively shameful; worthier of Dahomey2 than of England. I, for one instance, have to bear this mournful testimony that I never in my whole life had, for one month, complete access to Books,—such access as I should have had in Germany, in France, anywhere in the civilized Earth except in England! Books are written by martyr-men, not for rich men alone but for all men. If we consider it, every human being has, by the nature of the case, a right to hear what other wise human beings have spoken to him. It is one of the Rights of Men; a very cruel injustice if you deny it to a man!
As to this “voluntary-principle” scheme of ours, I by no means expect that it will supply the deficiency: but it will do something towards that, it will begin doing it: a beginning must be made. An actual commencement of a Library, it seems, will get into existence this winter, and do what it can to wax towards completeness: the Clerk already counts 400 and odd; 500 once there, we start, with invocation of the gods!3 Help us, what is in you! Could I but persuade you to write a fiery essay on the subject, to kindle the whole Island about it, that were something.
You are a lucky man to see the work of your hands lie on paper, hopeful if not “satisfactory.” Let it lie till it cool; then, To it with the file and the rasp, and fancy yourself a very Smelfungus that preferred p[r]ose to verse! He that spareth the rasp hateth the Book.4
Thanks anew for your love of the poor Miscellanies. No man ever yet “said” braver words than you about such a thing. It stands in print against you. To me it is inexplicable, inextricable all that affair, now lying ten good years beneath me; the chief joy is that it is all over, off my hands, and may go its road,—godward or devilward, I have no charge of it more.5
My Reviewer, of whom you spoke, is not Macaulay, as was at first told me, but one Merivale whom I think you know about. He is a slightly impertinent man, with good Furnival's Inn faculty,6 with several Dictionaries and other succedanea about him,—small knowledge of God's Universe as yet, and small hope now of getting much. Three things struck me somewhat: first, the man's notion of Dumouriez' Campaign,—platitude absolue [absolute platitudes]: second, the idea that Robespierre had a religion in that Etre Supreme of his,—O Heaven, what then is Cant?—third, that the end of liberal government was not to remedy “Hunger” but to keep down the complaint of it; pigs must die, but their squealing shall be suppressed!7 Aus dem wird Nichts [From this nothing will come]. There is no heart of understanding in an intellect that can believe such things; a heart paralytic, dead as a pound of logwood! I was heartily glad to hear this heart was not Macaulay's; of whom I have still considerable hopes.
My Lectures are written out, in a way; but I do not yet decide for printing them. They are not worth a rush to me;—in fact I had said the whole thing already, tho' the people did not seem to have understood it there.— I am reading Puritan Histories Scotch and English; thrice and four times in my life have I tried that before, with inconsiderable effect. Baxter's Life8 was the theme this day; not so unreadable as the most. A kindly, clear-hearted, clear-headed man; terribly dyspeptical too. It seems to me there is no great epoch known at all so buried under rubbish as this of Cromwell and his Puritans. I fancy I have got to see into Cromwell, for the first time very lately, as one [of] the greatest amorphous souls we ever had in this land. The stupidities and curses of the world lie heaped upon him these 200 years: let us consider that!
You say nothing about winter and your whereabout; we learn with pleasure that it is to be Falmouth not Italy. As for me when it came to the point of setting out, some two weeks ago, I decided on going nowhither; the preferable way I found of all ways would be to sit still,—tho' with many regrets. My daydream is always that I shall by and by get out of this inane hubbub altogether: a small cottage by the seashore, with Books, with Pen and Paper, with hills and a sky—Ach Gott! But the rule at present is, “hold your jaw, Dinnish [loud-talking] boy, and eat your pratees [potatoes] with it then!”
Adieu, dear Sterling; be a good boy, and love me. My Wife sends many salutations.
Yours ever /