January-July 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 14


TC TO [JAMES H. STIRLING] ; 18 January 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18420118-TC-JHS-01; CL 14: 14-17


Chelsea, 18 jany, 1842—

My dear Sir,

The decision you so earnestly expect ought at least to be sent you soon;1 unfortunately it is all the kindness I can shew you at present.

I have read the whole of your Prose Manuscript: if you knew what an element one lives in here, this of itself might be proof that you are worth something to me! The Poetic Manuscript I have not read in whole, but only parts; such part, as seemed sufficient for grounding a practical conclusion on; and this I now in great haste proceed to transmit you.

It appears to me clearly altogether improbable that any Bookseller, in these times of the Book-trade, would so much as consent to publish your Ms. at his own cost; far less pay down any sum of money for it. Nay I am not at all sure, harsh as this may seem, that it were for your own real good to have it published, to have it what is even called “succeed.” There is undoubtedly sign of talent in it; but talent in far too loose, crude and unformed a condition: to have such accounted real finished talent, and praised and preached abroad, is precisely the fatallest future for a youth of any merit;—the sweetness in the mouth which in the belly becomes bitter as gall! You will understand all that better, I hope, some ten years hence; and twenty years hence, better still. But, on the whole, however that may be, I hesitate not to pronounce your Poem entirely unworkable as a financial element, in this place, at this time; and advise you not to spend more effort in that direction, but to quit it altogether for some more promising one. I at least, who know hardly any Bookseller, and have indeed small sympathy with their trade and aims at present, must profess my inability to make any helpful use of this Ms. I will, if you still request it, submit the Paper to the Publisher of Fraser's Magazine, the only Bookseller I speak to once in six months: but I must say beforehand that I think he has no chance to accept it. This is my sincere verdict. A much politer and softer to the ear might easily have been written; but my words are to do you good if they can; and a deeper feeling of regard orders me to avoid all flattering unctions in your case.

You seem to me a young man to whom Nature has given a superior endowment, which you run a considerable risk of failing to unfold. Alas, it is so easy to fail! You have in you that generous warmth of heart, which is usually, if it be well guided, the mother-soil of all sorts of talent; but which also, if ill guided, can run up into miserablest waste and weeds. Your mind is opening in many directions, great ideas or prophecies of ideas announcing themselves to you; all this is well, and the best. But, as I can discern withal, all this must as yet be kept in, held down with iron vigour, till it fashion and articulate itself: the cruellest waste for it were to dig it all out at present as germinating seed, to let it all rush up as worthless spurry and chickweed. My dear young friend, you must learn the indispensable significance of hard stern long-continued labour. Grudge not labour, grudge not pain, disappointment, sorrow or distress of any kind: all is for your good, if we can endeavour and endure. If you cannot,—why then it is all hopeless; no man ever grew to anything who durst not look death itself in the face, and say to all kinds of Martyrdom, “Ye shall not subdue me!” Be of courage; a man lies in you: but a man is not born the second time, any more than the first, without travail.— Your desultory mode of study hitherto has probably been a great misfortune; a thing to be pitied, as I well know, and to be blamed, as times now go: but it is a thing you must correct and get the better of. I fancy I discover in you, indeed, a certain natural tendency to haste, crudity, semi-articulate diffusion; I earnestly entreat you, stand up against that, unmercifully as against your worst foe! It will never do. The world wants alcohol, not beerwort [unfermented beer]. It is a crime to produce the latter, if the former be in you. You must learn the meaning of Silence,—that forgotten knowledge of Silence I am always speaking of! Be in no haste to speak yourself. Why be porous, incontinent? Nothing can ferment itself to clearness in a colander. Pray that you may be forced to hold your tongue: the longer you keep silence, the richer will your speech be when it does come.

Practically my advice were very decidedly that you kept by medicine; that you resolved faithfully to learn it, on all sides of it, and make yourself in actual fact an Ἰατρὸό, a man that could heal disease. I am very serious in this. Pecuniary means will occasion difficulty;2 but they need not prove insuperable if you bestir yourself. If a man bestir himself, what thing is insuperable? Your present wishes, tastes &c ought to go for little with you. A man who cannot gird himself into harness will take no weight along these highways! I would even advise that you resolutely postponed, into the unexplored uncertainty of the Future, all concern with Literature, determined to set no store by that, to let it come or stay away as it might chance to like. As a trade I will protest against your meddling with it; describe it as the frightfullest, fatallest and too generally despicablest of all trades now followed under the sun. He that can, Mithridates-like,3 make poison his aliment, let him live in it, and conquer (by suffering, first of all); let no other try it. A steady course of professional industry has ever been held the usefullest support for mind as well as body: I heartily agree with that. As often I have said, What profession is the equal in true nobleness to Medicine? He that can abolish pain, relieve his fellow mortal from sickness, he is the indisputably usefullest of all men. Him savage and civilized will honour. He is in the right, be in the wrong who may. As a Lord Chancellor, under one's horsehair wig there might be misgivings; still more perhaps as a Lord Primate under one's cauliflower: but if I could heal disease, I should say to all men and angels without fear, Eu, Ecce [Look, well done]!

If Literature do unfold itself at length under shelter of such a profession then let Literature be welcome; it will be safe, beneficial, and have a chance to be true and wise, in such circumstances. How many true Physicians have turned out to be true Speakers, or even Singers! A man can first speak when he has got to know something; and knowledge comes from Experience alone. My decided advice is, that you stand resolutely by Medicine, determine to find an honest livelihood by Medicine, and do a man's task in that way.4 There is then a solid backbone in one's existence, round which all manner of beautiful and wholesome things will grow.

And so farewell for the present; and a good genius guide you,—a good patient valiant heart which is the best of all geniuses! I have not time to write another word.

Yours with many good wishes /

T. Carlyle