The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO JOHN STERLING ; 7 December 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18401207-TC-JOST-01; CL 12: 347-348


Chelsea, 7 Decr 1840—

Dear Sterling,

Thanks for your kind greeting from Torquay.1 We had heard of your going thither; and rejoiced greatly that at least you were not to be wafted over the Alps again, but to spend the winter in your own Island. Be content, my Friend Solitude is not joyful but sad for one of your temper; yet at bottom there are far more unprofitable things than solitude. How often do I, poor wretch, from amid this inane whirlpool, which seems to be grinding my life to pieces, cry aloud for a hut in the wilderness, with fields round me and sky over me; that on any terms consistent with life at all I might be allowed to live there! Nay perhaps I shall verily fly to Craigenputtoch again before long. Yet I know what solitude is, and imprisonment among black-cattle and peatbogs: The truth is, we are never right as we are: “O, the Devil burn it!” said the Irish Drummer flogging his countryman, “there's no pleasing of you, strike where one will!”

I commend your improvements of the Election, and shall watch with you what the world will say of it. A man has no other course: let him speak his best to mankind; let mankind's response give him farther guidance;—so far as guidance may lie there for him. My regret will be continual that you do not stand by the first-rate prose that you could write; but your own feeling is other, the call of your own nature seems to you to be other: you decidedly must and shall persevere, and try till you have ascertained. I feel well that whatsoever I could add on the matter would be impertinences henceforth. I am not infallible either!

My feeling of Harriett [sic] Martineau's Hour and Man2 is very similar to your own. A beautiful enthusiasm3 reigns in it; a half-enviable half-pitiable faith in Socinian Formulas, beauties of virtue &c &c. The banyan does by no means to my knowledge grow in the West Indies; indeed I hear there are eminent errors not a few of that sort in the Book: but if Shakspeare made seaport in Bohemia4 without much damage, what should they avail? Harriet is unfortunately not in your neighbourhood, but at Tynemouth far in the North. She is a brave creature; full of heart, full of healthy swift faculty: “God has given to every people a Prophet in its own speech,” say the Arabs.5 For Prophet read Poet; and wonder that even to the Socinian people of England in the nineteenth century the common lot has fallen!

Nickleby I never read, except pieces of it in newspapers:6 the Author I have seen sometimes, not without satisfaction; a kindly-constructed clear-sighted, good little fellow,—good enough and too good for the course he is flung into here.

My Brother has been with us these two days; today he returns to Ryde: he seems not much in love with his situation, nor very fast tied to it: the great salary, I suppose, is the main blessing of it.

As for me, I am sunk beyond audibility in black deluges, bottomless, shoreless, of Laudism, Rushworthism, Cromwellism, desperate incomprehensible inanity, and dulness without a name; a truly pitiable man. Whether any thing will ever come of it all, seems more than doubtful. But today I am just returned from a week's mad martyrdom as Special Juryman, and am one of the miserablest inhabitants of London. Enough! Yours ever

T. Carlyle