August-December 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 15


TC TO KARL AUGUST VARNHAGEN VON ENSE ; 19 December 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18421219-TC-KAVE-01; CL 15: 238-240


Chelsea, London, 19 Decr, 1842—

My dear Sir,

For several months now I have been a great defaulter; defrauding you of a most indispensable reply to a kind message, and myself of a great pleasure in imparting it! How this has been, by what foolish combinations of sickliness, idleness, excessive work, you, who, alas are yourself too often a sick man, will perhaps well enough understand. Suffice it now, better now than still later, very penitently and very thankfully to say that your most welcome Gift, with the kind written remembrance in it, arrived safe here, in due course; that I have read the Books, especially your own part of them, a good while ago, with agreeable results then and since;—and that now, when you are home again (as I hope) refreshed and recruited by the Bath waters and summer recreations, I knock again at your town door with a grateful salutation.

Your Denkwürdigkeiten [Memoirs] are again, as ever, the delightfullest reading to me. Truly, I think, were I an absolute monarch I should decree among other things, That Varnhagen von Ense be encouraged, ordered and even compelled to write and ever to continue writing Memoirs! It is authentically my feeling. Always, alas, as one grows older, one's appetite for Books grows more fastidious; there is now for me very little speculation and almost nothing of the so-called Poetic that I can bear to read at all: but a man with eyes, with a soul and heart, to tell me in candid clearness what he saw passing round him in this universe,—is and remains for ever a welcome man. Speculations, Poetries, what passes in this or the other poor human brain,—if it be not some most rare brain of a Goethe or the like: this is often a very small matter; a matter one had rather not know. But what passes in God's universe; this verily is a thing one does wish to know, if one adequately could! In truth, I have not for years read any writings that please me, solace and recreate me as these Denkwürdigkeiten do. It is beautiful to see such a work so done. A Historical Picture of the living Present Time; all struck off with such light felicity, such harmonious clearness and composure; such a deep, what I could call unconscious soul of Method lying under it:—the work of an Artist! Well; I will thank you; and wish you long heart and strength to continue, for my own sake and the world's; for the sake of this Time, and perhaps still more of the Times that are coming.——— Your Russian Kartaptschin1 is a terrible fellow; a man in the style of Michael Angelo! One begins to understand how what I often call “dumb Russia” may be a kind of dumb Rome, one of the greatest phenomena on the Earth at present, with such souls in it here and there. We have to thank you, at least I have, for shewing us a glimpse of actual Russia face to face for the first time. By your help I got a real direct look at the wild Poet-soul, Puschkin;2 and said to myself, Yes, there is a Russian man of genius; for the first time, I see something of the Russians! We begin here, the better heads of us, to have a certain true respect for Russia with all its “barbarism” real and imaginary; to understand that tho' the Russians have all Journalists in the world against them, they have Nature, Nature's Laws and God Almighty partly in their favour! They can drill wild savage peoples and tame waste continents, tho' they cannot write Journalistic Articles. What a contrast with our French friends! They can prove by the precisest logic before all men that they were, are and probably will always be in possession of the true light: Violà [There], this is the key to all arcana, this of ours. And then take a look at them in Algiers3 and elsewhere!—

My own studies and struggles, totally ineffectual as yet, have lain [prin]cipally for a long time back in the direction of Oliver Cromwell and our great Puritan Civil-War, what I call the “Apotheosis of Protestantism.” I do not count with any certainty that I shall ever get a Book out of it: but in the meanwhile it leads to various results for me; across all the portentous rubbish and pedantry of two centuries I have got a fair front view, also, of the flaming sun-countenance of Cromwell,—and find it great and god-like enough, tho' entirely unutterable to these days. Our Histories of him, contemporary and subsequent are numerous; all stupid, some of them almost infinitely stupid. The man remains imprisoned, as under Ætna-Mountains of rubbish; unutterable, I suppose, for ever. But the meaning of this preamble, was that I had an inquiry to make of you: Whether, namely, there exist in German any intelligent and intelligible Book about the military antiquities of Gustavus Adolphus's time? Much in our Cromwell's methods of fighting &c remains obstinately obscure to me. I understand only that it was the German and Swedish method; the chief officers of our Civil War, especially great multitudes of Scotch had served in the Thirty-Years War.4 Often have I reflected, in gazing into military puzzles of that period, “Would that I had Varnhagen here, the Soldier and Thinker, to tell me what this means!” I decide on asking if there is any German Book, at least. But I fear there is none. We have a late Life of Wallenstein by a very intelligent Scotch Soldier, Colonel Mitchell;5 but Mitchell too says he cannot understand how they fought with their pikes and muskets or matchlocks; in short, I find he knows no more of it than I do.

There is a Life of Jean Paul come to me from over the Atlantic; by one Mrs Lee, of Boston; an entertaining little Book, and curious as coming from the other hemisphere. I think of sending you a copy by some opportunity if I can find one.— Pray write to me by and by; do not imitate my sluggishness!— Yours ever, with true regard,

T. Carlyle