January-July 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 14


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON ; 28 March 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18420328-TC-RWE-01; CL 14: 100-102


Templand, Thornhill, Dumfries, Scotland 28 March, 1842—

My dear Friend,

This is heavy news that you send me; the heaviest outward bereavement that can befal a man has overtaken you. Your calm tone of deep quiet sorrow, coming in on the rear of poor trivial wordly businesses, all punctually dispatched and recorded too, as if the Higher and Highest had not been busy with you, tells me a sad tale. What can we say in these cases? There is nothing to be said,—nothing but what the wild son of Ishmael1 and every thinking heart, from of old have learned to say: God is great! He is terrible and stern; but we know also He is good. “Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him.”2 Your bright little Boy, chief of your possessions here below, is rapt away from you; but of very truth he is with God, even as we that yet live are,—and surely in the way that was best for him and for you and for all of us.— Poor Lidian Emerson, poor Mother! To her I have no word. Such poignant unspeakable grief, I believe, visits no creature as that of a Mother bereft of her child. The poor sparrow in the bush affects one with pity, mourning for its young; how much more the human soul of one's Friend! I cannot bid her be of comfort; for there is as yet no comfort. May good Influences watch over her, bring her some assuagement. As the Hebrew David said, “we shall go to him, he will not return to us.”3

I also am here in a house rendered vacant and sacred by Death. A sore calamity has fallen on us,—or rather has fallen on my poor Wife (for what am I but like a spectator in comparison); she has lost unexpectedly her good Mother, her sole surviving Parent, and almost only relative of much value that was left to her. The manner too was almost tragic. We had heard of illness here, but only of commonplace illness, and had no alarm. The Doctor himself, specially applied to, made answer as if there was no danger: his poor Patient, in whose character the like of that intimately lay, had rigorously charged him to do so: her poor Daughter was far off, confined to her room by illness of her own; why alarm her, make her wretched? The danger itself did seem over; the Doctor accordingly obeyed. Our first intimation of alarm was despatched on the very day which proved the final one. My poor Wife casting sickness behind her got instantly ready, set off by the first railway train: travelling all night, on the morrow morning at her Uncle's door in Liverpool she is met by tidings that all is already ended. She broke down there; she is now home again at Chelsea, a cheery amiable younger Jane Welsh, to nurse her: the tone of her Letters is still full of disconsolateness. I had to proceed hither, and have to stay here till this establishment can be abolished, and all the sad wrecks of it in some seemly manner swept away. It is above three weeks that I have been here; not till eight days ago could I so much as manage to command solitude, to be left altogether alone. I lead a strange life; full of sadness, of solemnity, not without a kind of blessedness. I say it is right and fitting that one be left entirely alone now and then,—alone with one's own griefs and sins, with the mysterious ancient Earth round one, the everlasting Heaven over one, and what one can make of these. Poor rustic businesses, subletting of Farms, disposal of houses, household goods: these strangely intervene, like matter upon spirit, every day;—wholesome this too perhaps. It is many years since I have stood so in close contact face to face with the reality of Earth, with its haggard ugliness, its divine beauty, its depths of Death and of Life. Yesterday, one of the stillest Sundays, I sat long by the side of the swift river Nith; sauntered among woods all vocal only with rooks and pairing birds. The hills are often white with snow-powder, black brief spring-tempests rush fiercely down from them, and then again the sky looks forth with a pal[e] pure brightness,—like Eternity from behind Time. The sky, when one thinks of it, is always blue, pure changeless azure; rains and tempests are only for the little dwellings where men abide. Let us think of this too. Think of this, thou sorrowing Mother! Thy Boy has escaped many showers.

In some three weeks I shall probably be back at Chelsea. Write thitherward so soon as you have opportunity; I will write again before long, even if I do not hear from you. The monies &c are all safe here as you describe: if Fraser's Executors make any demur, your Bookseller shall soon hear of it.4

I had begun to write some Book on Cromwell: I have often begun, but know not how to set about it; the most unutterable of all subjects I ever felt much meaning to lie in. There is risk yet that, with the loss of still farther labour, I may have to abandon it;—and then the great dumb Oliver may lie unspoken for ever: gathered to the mighty Silent of the Earth; for, I think, there will hardly ever live another man that will believe in him and his Puritanism as I do. To him small matter.

Adieu, my good kind Friend, ever dear to me, dearer now in sorrow. My Wife when she hears of your affliction will send a true thought over to you also. The poor Lidian!— John Sterling is driven off again, setting out I think this very day for Gibraltar Malta and Naples. Farewell, and better days to us.— Your affectionate T. Carlyle