The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON ; 26 September 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18400926-TC-RWE-01; CL 12: 266-269


Chelsea, London, 26 Septr, 1840—

My dear Emerson,

Two Letters of yours are here, the latest of them for above a week:1 I am a great sinner not to have answered sooner. My way of life has been a thing of petty confusions, uncertainties; I did not till a short while ago see any definite highway, thro' the multitude of byelanes that opened out on me, even for the next few months. Partly I was busy; partly too, as my wont is, I was half asleep:—perhaps you do not know the combination of these two predicables in one and the same unfortunate human subject! Seeing my course now for a little, I must speak.

According to your prognosis, it becomes at length manifest that I do not go to America for the present.2 Alas, no! It was but a dream of the fancy; projected, like the French Shoemaker's fairy shoes, “in a moment of enthusiasm.”3 The nervous flutter of May Lecturing has subsided into stagnancy; into the feeling that, of all things in the world, public speaking is the hatefullest for me; that I ought devoutly to thank Heaven there is no absolute compulsion laid on me at present to speak! My notion in general was but an absurd one: I fancied I might go across the sea, open my lips wide; go raging and lecturing over the Union like a very lion (too like a frothy mountebank) for several months;—till I had gained, say a thousand pounds, therewith to retire to some small quiet cottage by the shore of the sea, at least three hundred miles from this, and sit silent there for ten years to come, or forever and a day perhaps! That was my poor little daydream;—incapable of being realized. It appears, I have to stay here, in this brick Babylon; tugging at my chains, which will not break for me: the less I tug the better. Ah me! On the whole, I have written down my last course of lectures, and shall probably print them; and you, with the aid of proof-sheets, may again print them; that will be the easiest way of lecturing to America! It is truly very weak to speak about that matter so often and long, that matter of coming to you; and never to come. Frey ist das Herz, as Goethe says, doch ist der Fuss gebunden [The heart is free, but the feet are still bound].4 After innumerable projects, and invitations towards all the four winds, for this summer, I have ended about a week ago by—simply going nowhither, not even to see my dear aged Mother, but sitting still here under the autumn sky such as I have it; in these vacant streets I am lonelier than elsewhere, have more chance for composure than elsewhere! With Sterne's starling I repeat to myself, “I can't get out.”— Well, hang it, stay in then; and let people alone of it!

I have parted with my horse; after an experiment of seven or eight months, most assiduously prosecuted, I came to the conclusion, that tho' it did me some good, there was not enough of good to warrant such equestrianism: so I plunged out, into green England, in the end of July, for a whole week of riding, an explosion of riding, therewith to end the business, and send off my poor quadruped for sale. I rode over Surrey,—with a leather valise behind me and a mackintosh before; very singular to see: over Sussex, down to Pevensey where the Norman Bastard landed; I saw Julius Hare (whose “Guesses at truth”5 you perhaps know), saw Saint Dunstan's stithy and hammer, at Mayfield, and the very tongs with which he took the Devil by the nose;—finally I got home again, a right wearied man; sent my horse off to be sold, as I say; and finished the writing of my Lectures on Heroes. This is all the rustication I have had, or am like to have. I am now over head and ears in Cromwellean Books; studying, for perhaps the fourth time in my life, to see if it be possible to get any credible face-to-face acquaintance with our English Puritan period; or whether it must be left forever a mere hearsay and echo to one? Books equal in dulness were at no epoch of the world penned by unassisted man. Nevertheless, courage! I have got, within the last twelvemonth, actually, as it were, to see that this Cromwell was one of the greatest souls ever born of the English kin; a great amorphous semi-articulate Baresark;6 very interesting to me. I grope in the dark vacuity of Baxters, Neales;7 thankful for here a glimpse and the[re] a glimpse. This is to be my reading for some time.

The Dial No I came duly: of course I read it with interest; it is an u[t]terance of what is purest, youngest in your land; pure, ethereal as the voices of the Morning! And yet—you know me—for me it is too ethereal, speculative, theoretic: all theory becomes more and more confessedly inadequate, untrue, unsatisfactory, almost a kind of mockery to me! I will have all things condense themselves, take shape and body, if they are to have my sympathy. I have a body myself; in the brown leaf, sport of the autumn winds, I find what mocks all prophesyings, even Hebrew ones,—Royal Societies, and Scientific Associations eating venison at Glasgow, not once reckoned in! Nevertheless go on with this, my Brothers. The world has many most strange utterances of a prophetic nature in it at the present time; and this surely is well worth listening to among the rest.8 Do you know English Puseyism?9 Good Heavens, in the whole circle of History is there the parallel of that,—a true worship rising at this hour of the day for Bands and the Shovel hat. Distraction surely, incipience of the “final deliration,” enters upon the poor old English Formulism that has called itself for some two centuries a Church. No likelier symptom of its being soon about to leave the world has come to light in my time. As if King Macready should quit Covent-Garden, go down to St.-Stephen's, and insist on saying, Le roi le veut [The King wills it]10— I read last night the wonderfullest article to that effect, in the shape of a criticism on myself, in the Quarterly Review. It seems to be by one Sewell, an Oxford doctor of note, one of the chief men among the Pusey-and-Newman Corporation.11 A good man, and with good notions, whom I have noted for some years back. He finds me a very worthy fellow; “true, most true,”12—except when I part from Puseyism, and reckon the shovel-hat to be an old bit of felt; then I am false, most false. As the Turks say, Allah akbar [God is great]!

I forget altogether what I said of Landor; but I hope I did not put him in the Heraud category: a cockney windbag is one thing; a scholar and bred man, tho' incontinent, explosive, half-true, is another.13 He has not been in town, this year; Milnes describes him as eating greatly at Bath, and perhaps even cooking! Milnes did get your Letter: I told you? Sterling has the Concord landscape; mine is to go upon the wall here, and remind me of many things. Sterling is busy writing; he is to make Falmouth do, this winter, and try to dispense with Italy. He cannot away with my doctrine of Silence; the good John. My Wife has been better than usual all summer; she begins to shiver again as winter draws nigh. Adieu, dear E. Good be with you and yours. I must be far gone when I cease to love you. “The stars are above us, the graves are under us.”14 Adieu.

T. Carlyle