The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO THOMAS AIRD ; 17 October 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18401017-TC-TA-01; CL 12: 290-292


CHELSEA, 17th October, 1840.

MY DEAR AIRD,—Yesterday a Herald reached me with one Article in it which I did not fail to notice!1 It is not, in general, seemly or convenient that the reviewed make any answer to his reviewer; but the present is a case worthy beyond most of forming an exception to such a rule.

You will not laugh at me when I tell you that I read the Paper with very great pleasure. It is a noble panegyric; a picture painted by a Poet, which means with me a man of Insight and Heart—decisive, sharp of outline, in hues borrowed from the sun! I find an enormous exaggeration of all features; but the resemblance, so far as I may judge, is altogether good. It is rare indeed to find oneself mirrored so in a brother-soul; and one of the truest pleasures when by a happy chance it does offer itself. Not many things have ever been written about me in which I could see my own image with so many features that I knew to be mine. Reviews for most part have next to no resemblance, the reviewers being blockheads; in that case, whether they are loud with censure or loud with eulogy goes for absolutely nothing; one has to hand them aside, like a letter misdirected; they do one neither ill nor good. This present is an altogether different business!2

For the rest, it is really a truth, one never knows whether praise be good for one; whether it be not, in very fact, the worst poison that could be administered. Blame, or even vituperation, I have always found a safer article. In the long run a man has and is, just what he is and has,—the world's notion of him has not altered him at all. Except, indeed, if it have poisoned him with self-conceit, and made a caput-mortuum [death's head] of him!— I will not thank you for so much praise; but I will right heartily for being a brave, true-hearted man and loving me so well; this is an entirely lawful pleasure. That a craftsman recognise so generously his fellow-craftsman, and his work, seems to me, even were I not the object of it, a most brave thing.

You spoke rightly of my Edinburgh Reviewer; a dry, sceptical, mechanical lawyer (one Merivale, I hear), with his satchell of Dictionaries dangling at his back—with the heart of him torpid or dead, and the head of him consequently not alive. His notion of Robespierre's “religion” struck me, as it does you, the product of a heart dead. Kill the heart rightly, no head then knows rightly what to believe; has then any right sense of true and false left in it! His notion of Dumouriez's campaign, taken up in this place, at this time of day is enormous—little inferior to R.'s religion itself. But it does not equal a third thing which I found in that article, which I wonder no Iconoclast, radical or other took note of; this namely: that “hunger” is universal, perennial, and irremediable among the lower classes of society—unknown only among the horses and domestic animals; that enlightened liberal government means a judicious combining of those who are not hungry to suppress those who are, and lock them up from revolting! “The pigs are to die, no conceivable help for that; but we, by God's blessing, will at least keep down their squealing!” It struck me as the most infernal proposition, written down in that cold way, I had ever had presented to me in human language—unattended with its fit corollary, the duty of “universal simultaneous suicide,” and a giving up of this God's creation on the part of Adam's race as a bad job!

I did not [visit] Scotland this summer; and I got nowhither, except for one short week down into Sussex. I trust always I shall be able to get away altogether some day. The sight of a silent green field with the great silent sky over it: ah me, why should it be denied to any mortal man?

My wife is in general better this year than usual; though complaining a little these two days. She sends many kind remembrances [She wants] to clip out the Article and preserve it among her valuables. “An excessively clever thing!”

Adieu, dear Aird. My pen is bad, my paper and time are both done to-day. Live happy, busy; remembering us now and then!

Yours always truly,