TC TO JOHN STERLING ; 4 August 1841; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18410804-TC-JOST-01; CL 13: 206-209
TC TO JOHN STERLING
Newby, Annan, N.B. 4 August, 1841—
On this desolate strand of the Ocean flood, where the memory of all friends revives on one with new distinctness, your good Letter1 was altogether welcome. Rowland's penny-postage too shall have some praise from us;2 the one instance as yet, or one of the very few instances in which mankind have taken the full advantage of that same “crowded civilization,” from the over-crowded state of which they suffer so many miseries! Let no sacrilegious Peel lay hands on that.
We have been here now for a matter of ten days, and begin to get accustomed to singular life we have. Our house is a small dandified fantasticality of a Cottage, almost close upon the gravel of the beach; a foot path, on coarse downs, with gorse, broom, hairy imitation of grass, passes east and west before our windows; behind us is an oat-field now in ear, are fishers' huts and cabins; right in front from this garret-window lies all Cumberland, lie Skiddaw, Helvellyn, and a thousand wondrous peaks, known to me from infancy;—at the present moment, all blue and shining in the August Sun; oftenest sunk in grey tempest; always worth a look from me. The place is very strange; most lonely; for three days after our arrival we had no phenomenon at all, but the everlasting roar of loud winds, and the going and coming of the great Atlantic Brine, which rushes up and rushes down, once every twelve hours, since the Creation of the world,—never forgetting its work; a most huge, unfortunate-looking thing; doomed to a course of transcendent monotony, the very image as of a grey objectless Eternity; the sound of it like a sublime complaint against ENNUI that had no end nor limits! To me all this is impressive enough; wholesome enough: it is solitude unbeautified by any Zimmermann,3 real solitude. For the rest, I bathe daily, ride often; drive my Wife, or my Mother who is with us in these days, to and fro in frail vehicles of the gig species. It is a savage existence for most part, not unlike that of gypsies;—for example, our groom is a great thick-sided laughing-faced redhaired woman; she comes to me, from time to time, with news of inextricable imbroglios in the harness, in the headstalls and hayrack; if I could not myself perform, the whole equine establishment would come to a stand-still. But none knows me, none ventures to know me; I roam far and wide in the character of ghost (a true revenant): such gypseydom I often liken to the mud-bath your sick rhinoceros seeks out for himself, therein to lie soaking for a season; with infinite profit to the beast's health, they say!— In three weeks or less this will probably be at an end. Majora canamus [Let us sing a better song].4—
What you say of Emerson is not entirely without some echo in myself:5 accordingly I love his Book not for its detached opinions, not even for the scheme of the general world he has framed for himself, or any eminence of talent he has expressed that with: but simply because it is his own Book; because there is a tone of veracity, an unmistakable air of its being his (wheresoever he may have found, discovered, borrowed or begged it), and a real utterance of a human soul, not a mere echo of such. I consider it, in that sense, highly remarkable; rare, very rare, in these days of ours. Ach Gott, it is frightful to live among echoes! All that I have “done” for poor Ralph Waldo, accordingly, is to express that sentiment in a short and very crabbed Preface; and allow James Fraser to reprint the work for his own behoof and Waldo's (if for any one's behoof!) with that imprimatur on it; which poor Fraser was most anxious to do, without further trouble of mine. The few that read the Book, I imagine, will get benefit of it. To America, I sometimes say, this Emerson such as he is seems to me like a kind of new era: really in any country all sunk crown-deep in Cant, Twaddle, and hollow Traditionality, is not the first man that will begin to speak the truth, any truth, a new and newest era?——— ——— There is no likeness of the face of Emerson that I know of; I fancy he never yet was engraved: poor fellow, it lies among his liabilities, to be engraved yet, to become a sect-founder, and go partially to the Devil in several ways,—all which may the kind Heavens forbid! What you ask about my likeness in the Exhibition is unanswerable: the thing belongs to one Lawrence, a young artist of great promise as yet all unripe; the thing, so frightful was it, and I suppose is it, shall forever belong to him!6 I likened it, four months ago when I struck work in sitting, to a compound of the head of a Demon and of a Flayed Horse; infandum [abominable], infandum.
I am really anxious to see what you have made of Strafford.7 But for Heaven's sake do have it copied into some entirely legible type of handwriting before you send it to me: in that amazing alphabet of yours, all like innumerable “pairs of spectacles” laid out in line (you careless fellow!), I can enjoy nothing. You shall have as faithful a verdict as I can give. You will know of yourself, my Friend, whether it is right or not; no other verdict is worth the hundredth part of one's own, if that be actually a verdict.——— My good Sterling, you have a beautiful talent in you; alas, it is such a business finding out what way to express that in!8 You will find better and better, if you seek; that is all that can be said of any mortal. To our loud passionate questionings, What must I do? What must I do to be saved?— there do come answers, right audible, tho' in the smallest lowest voice, which one must listen to with open ear, with patient humble heart, or one will never hear them,—more than the rest do. Courage: the battle is well worth fighting, if battle ever was!
God bless you, my man; I love you very well always. Remember me to Signor Hurricane the good Father and Thunderer if he is still near you. My wife would send her love to both of you; but is not here, is not well today, poor little woman. She has bathed but once, and, that time, hurt her ancle to lameness on an ugly stone of the beach. Adieu.
Yours ever affectionately
Did you hear of Bookseller Knight's failure; and the stoppage of Useful Knowledge?9