The Collected Letters, Volume 13


TC TO JOHN STERLING ; 31 October 1841; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18411031-TC-JOST-01; CL 13: 290-292


Chelsea, 31 Octr, 1841—

Dear Sterling,

The news that you had got out of bed again was of all others the welcomest here. You are very kind to think of us in your sickness; to see us beautified thro' that pale moonlight medium, and to love us as you with your kind heart do! We heard from your Mother that there was “blistering” afoot again. Happily it is now over for this time: my practical “use of terror” from it (as the Puritan Preachers say) would be, Take double and treble care of yourself in future. That you should be hunted out of Falmouth too by that scamp of a “Nosology” (a dangerous fellow for us all) were too bad. I bid you work slow, and dress warm.

The lithograph cockadoodle is not here now,1 did not stay here above a day; packing up a mass of abominable scarecrow effigies of Oxford Puseyites for Thomas Spedding, I found the Lithograph still lying on my table, and put it in by way of salt, to give a kind of savour to the mass, and perhaps keep off putrescence. So Spedding has it,—and who knows accordingly but future ages will have it! A man must look to that when he lithographs. Prince Posterity is always on the watch withal, if anything be going!—

At present, and for the last four weeks, I sit upstairs here, rigorously secret, almost sacred; no mortal, not the very postman or his knock, admitted till two o'clock. My Wife has swept and garnished the place for me, curtained, carpeted window-blinded it, really into civilized habitability for the first time; and bids me work or perish. I write daily some quantity of things; which then go into the fire. It is the miserablest kind of task I have, the like of this, which recurs on me duly at intervals. The fire once lit, you have some warmth, tho' it is burning away your life; but this miserable quasi-fruitless kindling of the fire, puff-puffing at it as with a pair of asthmatic bellows—!— The likelihood is, I may fling the bellows down again, and decide upon living tho' in a shivering state.

By the way, hinting at Books, I must mention a fact as to The Election a Poem. It is generally known here, known or guessed among all your friends at least, that you are writer of that work. I had mentioned it absolutely to nobody, nor did yet mention it, but everybody knew;—and as everybody approved, what matter? thought I. Well, the other evening, a certain John Forster, your Critic in the Examiner,2 was standing by this mantelpiece, gazing for novelties, and said, “Whose medallion is this?” “Why that is Sterling's, John Sterling's, the Author of the Election,” said I, in a moment of unguardedness! Forster (whom Lady Bulwer has called “Fuzboz a man of Brummagem enthusiasm”)3 gave instant sign that he had not already known the secret. What could I do? I swore him to hold his peace; and he, with much laughter, swore,—and will keep his oath according to circumstances, I daresay! What was better than our outlook that way, he stated his intention to give a “second notice” of the Poem, for which he had a great &c &c. This Forster is a most noisy man, but really rather a good fellow (as one gradually finds), and with some substance in his tumultuary brains; a proof of which is that Bulwer does seem to be no longer all of gold to him, as once was the case, but to give fatal symptoms here and there (to Forster's huge astonishment) of being mere scoured brass.

In conclusion I must beg of you to trust me with no more secrets of that kind,—secrets which everybody gets to know, and which everybody is liable to be blamed for disclosing; and which, at bottom, might without harm be talked of on the housetops by all men. I have studied to keep this like a masonic word; and yet see, if you do not forgive me, where am I!

You say nothing about Strafford; which I infer to mean that the Tragedy still lies in the “pottering furnace,” getting the dross, of carbon earth and extraneous alkalis, burnt out of it; in its geometrical shape no change yet visible. I am not sorry for this. Be Strafford what it may, the longer you keep it, my belief is it will grow the better. A “pottering furnace” is expensive to keep up, no doubt of that: but you cannot make steel without one; you make mere pig-iron, not so much as malleable at all! These are truths, my Christian friend; which, if it please the pigs,4 you shall gradually learn somewhat better.

I agree in nearly every word you say about Meister, and call your delineation just and vivid both of that Book and its Author as they impress one there. Truly, as you say, moreover, one might ask the question, Whether anybody ever did love this man,5 as friend does friend; especially, Whether this man did ever frankly love anybody? I think, in one sense, it is very likely the answer were No, to both questions; and yet, in another sense, how emphatically, Yes! Few had a right to “love” this man, except in the very way you mention: nay what living man had? Schiller, perhaps to some extent; and accordingly Schiller did, to something like that extent. One does not love the Heaven's-lightning, in the way of caresses altogether! This man's love, I take it, lay deep-hidden in him, as fire in the earth's centre; at the surface,—since he could not be a Napoleon, did not like to be a broken self-consumed Burns,—what could it do for him? The earliest instincts of self-culture, I suppose, and all the wider insights he got in the course of that would alike prescribe for him: Hide all this, renounce all this; all this leads to madness, indignity, Rousseauism, and will forever remain bemocked, ignominiously crucified one way or the other, in this lower earth: let thy love, far hidden, spring up as a Soul of Beauty, and be itself victorious beautiful; let summer-heat make a whole world verdant,—and if Sterling ask, next century, “But where is your thunderbolt then?” Sterling will take another view of it one day!——— Actually that seems to me the case. But I want a week of time and a quire of paper to explain myself about it. Also a stock of patience greater, I doubt, than that of any Christian friend would be!

Adieu, adieu. Get well, and keep well, my dear Sterling. No danger of our “forgetting” you, of our ever getting “angry” at you— Yours always

T. Carlyle