The Collected Letters, Volume 13


TC TO JOHN STERLING ; 13 May 1841; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18410513-TC-JOST-01; CL 13: 130-132


Chelsea, 13 May, 1841—

My dear Sterling,

Any time these six weeks I have been fully and even eagerly minded to send you a word of remembrance, a word of inquiry; and yet till this moment, in so many weeks all of perfect idleness, it is never done! How the like of this takes place in private history, with a Penny-Post all in action round us, and paper and ink not unattainable,—is a phenomenon which I will leave Philosophy to give account of. Man was known long ago as a very strange fellow,—partaking much of the nature of the Ass.

About the end of March, being greatly broken by Influenza and long imprisonment in Cockneydom, I had decided on a run into the country; but found obstacles seemingly endless tho' of small moment; and so was sitting in the melancholy character of Rusticus expectat [the rustic who waits],1 when Richard Milnes (everlasting honour to him!) as it were lifted me up, carried me with him to Yorkshire, and set me flying. I returned only on Thursday last from a long gyration, which had included a glance at native Annandale withal; and am seated here in a small upper back-room in the summer twilight at this date; a sadder and alas not a wiser man!2 Friend John shall at least know authentically my whereabout; that will be one small duty done.——— My Life threatens all to go to rubbish here, if I do not look to it. The braying uproar of this City is distractive and destructive to me: and yet the question, How to keep what of really valuable I possess in it, and avoid what renders all possession nearly worthless? baffles my best endeavour hitherto. Patience,—at lowest Silence, and shuffle the cards!

Varnhagen von Ense,3 the beneficent munificent man, has sent by way of gift a set of German Books, which I merely inquired the names of: these, such of them as turn upon Luther, I read for the present. Oliver Cromwell lies inaccessible, ever more inaccessible (like a Tower far up among granite chasms), the nearer I get to him— By what art or aid of Clio4 can any man ever make a History of him? Yet he had a history; as great as another's! Only the man to write it will probably never be born.— Or leaving History altogether, what do you say of Prophecy? Is not Prophecy the grand thing? The volcanic terra di lavoro [land of labor] of Yorkshire and Lancashire: within that too lies a prophecy gran[der] than Ezekiel's;—and the “Church of the Future,” its dome is the skyey vault; a much finer than St. Peter's or St Paul's dome! In short, the essential point is to know whether you will look before or after, or stand like the Ass between his two bundles, looking at nothing save his own stupidity!— And so, having got now into another sheet, I will quit all that embroiled disconsolate concern; leave it partly in the hands of the upper and under Powers.

My Wife has a copy of a little Book which Emerson the American has written for you (for you and me and others), and sent you a copy of to her care. I inquired again this evening, Whether it was yet gone? She had offered it to your Father, had duly apprised you of it: but the little volume itself still lies here. I long somewhat to hear what you will say of it. Not for a long time have I read anything with more profit. I cannot so much say pleasure as profit: this man, for the veracity of the rude word that is in him, seems to me one of a thousand. I do regard him as the sign of a New Era in Yankee-land. As the last malodorous flicker of expiring lamps is to the first (cold) gleam of morning out of Heaven, so is Puseyism &c &c to poor Emersonism, cold tho' it be— Well, you must read that little Book of Essays, and tell me if you do not find a right tone in it here and there

The Election arrived here during my absence. All the changes I have noticed are improvements;—especially the change from dreadful illegible handwriting into clear print, is not that an improvement! Upon the whole there is real worth in the Piece, real worth you observe;—and you will not believe me at all, when I say, and persist in saying, that there is far more of real worth, of real poetry too, in the prose you have written and can write, than there is any clear proof of in this! Well, do not believe me; it would be a dreadful responsibility if you did. It is amazingly difficult to know what to believe in such matters. A man has to read with all his eyes, with the best spectacles and only makes out the truth approximately after all. Curious: there is a work which we here and now could best of all do; that were the thing of things for us to set about doing. But alas what is it? A advises one thing, B another thing, C still more resolutely a third thing; the whole Human Species actually or virtually advise all manner of things; and our own vote, which were the soul of all votes, the word where all else are hearsays, lies deep-buried, drowned in outer noises, too difficult to come at!—

Adieu, dear Sterling; I must not begin another sheet. Today at Milnes's there was due inquiry made for you among the lions, and joy at the prospect of seeing you before long Good be ever with you, my Friend. Forget us not.

T. Carlyle