TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON ; 19 July 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18420719-TC-RWE-01; CL 14: 227-232
TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON
Chelsea, London, 19 july, 1842—
My dear Emerson
Lest Opportunity again escapes me, I will take her, this time, by the forelock, and write while the matter is still hot. You have been too long without hearing of me; far longer, at least, than I meant. Here is a second Letter from you,1 besides various intermediate Notes by the hands of Friends, since that Templand Letter of mine:2 the Letter arrived yesterday; my answer shall get under way today.
First under the head of business let it be authenticated that the Letter inclosed a Draft for £51;3 a new unexpected munificence out of America; which is ever and anon dropping gifts upon me,—to be received, as indeed they partly are, like manna dropped out of the sky; the gift of unseen Divinities! The last money I got from you changed itself in the usual soft manner from dollars into sovereigns, and was what they call “all right,”—all except the little Bill (of £8 and odds, I think) drawn on Fraser's Executors by Brown; which Bill the said Executors having refused for I know not what reason, I returned it to Brown with note of the dishonour done it, and so the sum still stands on his Books in our favour. Fraser's people are not now my Booksellers, except in the matter of your Essays and a second edition of Sartor; the other Books I got transferred to a certain pair of people named “Chapman and Hall, 186. Strand”; which operation, tho' (I understand) it was transacted with great and vehement reluctance on the part of the Fraser people, yet it produced no quarrel between them and me, and they still forward parcels &c and are full of civility when I see them:—so that whether this had any effect or none in their treatment of Brown and his Bill I never knew; nor indeed, having as you explained it no concern with B's and their affairs, did I ever happen to inquire. I avoid all Booksellers; see them rarely, the blockheads; study never to think of them at all. Booksales, reputation, profit &c &c: all this at present is really of the nature of an encumbrance to me; which I study, not without success, to sweep almost altogether out of my head. One good is still possible to me in Life, one only: To screw a little more work out of myself, my miserable despicable, yet living, acting, and so far imperial and celestial self; and this, God knows, is difficulty enough without any foreign one!
You ask after Cromwell:4 ask not of him; he is like to drive me mad. There he lies, shining clear enough to me, nay glowing, or painfully burning; but far down; sunk under two hundred years of Cant, Oblivion, Unbelief and Triviality of every kind: thro' all which, and to the top of all which, what mortal industry or energy will avail to raise him! A thousand times I have rued that my poor activity ever took that direction. The likelihood still is that I may abandon the task undone. I have bored thro' the dreariest mountains of rubbish; I have visited Naseby Field, and how many other unintelligible fields and places; I have &c &c:—alas, what a talent have I for getting into the Impossible! Meanwhile my studies still proceed; I even take a gowlish kind of pleasure in raking thro' these old bone-houses and burial-aisles now; I have the strangest fellowship with that huge Genius of DEATH (universal president there), and catch sometimes thro' some chink or other, glimpses into blessed ulterior regions,—blessed, but as yet altogether silent. There is no use in writing of things past, unless they can be made in fact things present: not yesterday at all, but simply today and what it holds of fulfilment and promise is ours: the dead ought to bury their dead, ought they not? In short, I am very unfortunate, and deserve your prayers—in a quiet kind of way! If you lose tidings of me altogether, and never hear of me more,—consider simply that I have gone to my natal element, that the Mud Nymphs5 have sucked me in; as they have done several in their time!
Sterling was here about the time your Letters to him came: your American reprint of his pieces was naturally gratifying him much.6 He seems getting yearly more restless; necessitated to find an outlet for himself, unable as yet to do it well. I think he will now write Review Articles for a while; which craft is really perhaps the one he is fittest for hitherto. I love Sterling: a radiant creature; but very restless;—incapable either of rest or of effectual motion: aurora borealis and sheet lightening; which if it could but concentrate itself, as I [say?] always—!— We had much talk; but, on the whole, even his talk is [not] much better for me than silence at present.7 Me miserum [Woe is me]!8
Directly about the time of Sterling's departure came Alcott,9 some two weeks after I had heard of his arrival on these shores. He has been twice here, at considerable length; the second time, all night.10 He is a genial, innocent, simple-hearted man, of much natural intelligence and goodness, with an air of rusticity, veracity, and dignity withal, which in many ways appeals to one. The good Alcot: with his long lean face and figure, with his grey worn temples and mild radiant eyes; all bent on saving the world by a return to acorns and the golden age; he comes before me like a kind of venerable Don Quixote, whom nobody can even laugh at without loving! I could like much to speak with him, were it not that there is no keeping of him from his one topic long together; and my hopeless unbelief in that, and indeed in the whole scope of his present sally into modern existence (as little better than one of Quixote's), evidently gives him pain. We differ, so far as I can yet compute, from the very centre. His aim is, it would seem, to be something, and become a universal blessing thereby; my fixed long-growing conviction is that a man had better not attempt to be anything, but struggle with the whole soul of him to do something; on “vegetable diet,” or what diet and conditions soever he can suitabliest come at, and make safe truce and [avowed?]11 neutrality with the world by means of: there, having cleared a little free space for himself, let him work, in God's name, say I: there let him live on vegetables, and be happy and godlike, says Brownson;—an enterprise terribly infested with latent Demons (vanity &c), and in brief, as I believe, incompetent to Adam's children in this Earth! I do not want another Simon Stylites,12 however cunning his pillar may be. In short, I will speak no more with Alcot, about his vegetables (if I can possibly avoid it),13 but question him on Emerson, on New England, on a thousand things; on which his tidings are well worth hearing. The disease of Puritanism was Antinomianism;14—very strange, does that still affect the ghost of Puritanism?————(turn back)15
My poor Wife is still weak, overshadowed with sorrow: her loss is great, the loss almost as of the widow's mite; for except her good Mother she had almost no kindred left; and as for friends—they are not rife in this world.— God be thanked withal they are not entirely non-extant! Have I not a Friend, and Friends, tho' they too are in sorrow? Good be with you all.
Mrs Alcott's two Letters were forwarded yesterday; not indeed to his address, for I do not know that; but to a man who lives in the close neighbourhood, & knows and will find him.
By far the valuablest thing that Alcot brought me was the newspaper report of Emerson's last Lectures in New York.16 Really a right wholesome thing; radiant, fresh as the morning: a thing worth reading; which accordingly I clipped from the Newspaper, and have in a state of assiduous circulation to the comfort of many.— I cannot bid you quit the Dial;17 tho' it too, alas, is Antinomian somewhat! Perge, perge [Go on, go on], nevertheless.— And so now an end. T. C.