The Collected Letters, Volume 13


TC TO RICHARD MONCKTON MILNES ; 2 December 1841; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18411202-TC-RMM-01; CL 13: 309-312


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, 2 Decr, 1841—

My dear Milnes,

Your imaginations are of the kindest; but alas the fact they point to is inexecutable, impossible! I must not think of Fryston again till—nobody knows when.1 It will behove me, in the name of all gods and demons, to sit here at the bottom of my inkwell, in this horrible black Babylon (whose fog-atmosphere does often seem to me in the November time like ink or Spartan broth, a fluid not a gas); and ascertain whether there does lie in me any farther stroke of work, yea or no. Hitherto all work I do is as that of a mole; invisible, uncertain whether extant or only semblant: I write some things, but straight'way burn them: am not I a hopeful man! In the general retrospect and estimate of life, I find simply what little fractions of work one has done, or even honestly tried to do; that and nothing else at all: the rest is not worth sixpence a century;—or rather one would demand something considerable to boot, or reject the bargain altogether!— You call me a Pessimist? No, my friend: I am a kind of Optimist withal; very literally so: therein lies the contradiction; which is but an apparent one, and arises from “the nature of the beast.” The practical fact is, I must try to get something put on paper that will stand when put: a little work once behind me, how gladly shall I rush forth (if the Upper Power permit) to salute the new spring skies; and say or feel with my whole soul to the old-new Earth and Universe (all Spartan broth and puddlement of men left far behind me): Salve magna parens [Hail great parent]!2

It is almost strange to myself how memorable Fryston, with its porches, parks, and all the environment of it far and wide, now dwells with me; clearer, I might almost say, and more beautiful, than when I looked on it with eyes. Good old Yorkshire,—a kind of embellished Scotland. Rivers rushing sea-ward with their ancient voice (not voiceless muddy ditch-rivers as here); airy hill-tops, with outlook over wide fruitful expanses; and ever in the distance some Leeds, some Wakefield sending up its great black smoke-coulisse, its great black banner, which announces, “Behold, O Squire, I too am here!”3— By the way can you tell me which “travelled bishop” it was that the Yorkshire Christians all ran to see, and “broke the wood bridge over the Aire,”—and so gave the name Broken-bridge to that exemplary Burough of yours? Camden says it was called Kirby in Saxon times, and till that accident.4 He also informs me that Edward Longshanks had a son born in Brotherton, his Queen being suddenly taken ill there; known afterwards to all persons as John de Brotherton.5 Many a time also do I reflect on that King's Stone-coffin which now stands in your Garden:6 once a King, strutting about with trumpeters blowing round it, long trains trailing after it; now shrunk together into dust and old leather, and come to serve as a Museum curiosity! Eheu, pepae, eheu [Alas, alack]! Good Heavens, could Domdaniel7 be any stranger, can either Heaven or Hell be any stranger than this Earth in York and other shires already is?

I know not why I babble all this; for really my time is not the amplest at present,—and I am a known friend of Silence. On the whole, I wish you were here. There are very few people I care to talk with in the world just now; and yet speech too has its uses, and there is a time for it as for its antagonist.

That was, as you say, a daring attempt on the part of James Marshall, in these distressed times!8 His Brother William came upon me yesterday; mentioned among other things that Her Majesty, Queen Victory, was to be godmother.9 Queen Victory, as you know, is one of the standing miracles of this age to me, poor little dame.— I finished in a long argument with Marshall yesterday about the probable Future of Sir R. Peel. In late months I have taken up a prophecy, I know not how, which all my Radical friends laugh to scorn, That Peel will perhaps try to abrogate these insane Corn-Laws (if the people do but agitate sufficiently), to institute Emigration-arrangements, Education-arrangements, &c &c; in one word, actually try to do something, and be in verity a Governor to this country which is fast falling mad and moribund for want of being governed! Truly I will confess, of all the as yet articulate and speaking classes or parties of this Count[r]y,10 Conservatism blind and lazy as it is does embody most of the religion, of the loyalty, humanity and available worth that exists among us. Conservatism, rallied under a truly brave and seeing man, who could understand that great black inevitable fast-swelling tide of Democracy; could interpret it, wisely yield to it, wisely resist it, in fact wisely accomplish what of just and right it inarticulately means: were not this a government! You told me once with great seriousness, “Peel, was a man of real talent,” a great man. Pray Heaven it prove so. If he be a man of really great talent, it seems clear to me he will endeavour somewhat as I say;—and may be, at such an epoch, the blessedest minister this country ever had. But alas, alas! If he be, on the other hand a mere red-tapist, and cunning Parliamenteer, ten times as cunning as Parliamenteer ever was before, he too will go to Staves11 in a little while, and be flung out like rubbish, as the rest have been. Enough of Politics. The Paper at any rate is all done.

What a blessedness is Lord Morpeth's: euge [well done] Sumner!12— Commend me to the worthy Cameron:13 I saw a sentence of his in a Newspaper one day which pleased me much. Adieu, dear Milnes. I love you always.

T. Carlyle