January-July 1843

The Collected Letters, Volume 16


TC TO KARL AUGUST VARNHAGEN VON ENSE ; 5 February 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430205-TC-KAVE-01; CL 16: 47-50


Chelsea, London, 5 Feby, 1843—

My dear Sir,

Many thanks again for your kind present of Books; for your two kind Letters, the latter of which arrived with Asher's Book-parcel duly, a few nights ago.1 The only unfriendly news you send is that of your own health; which I wish you had been able to make a little pleasanter to me! Summer weather at the Baths, and no permission to enjoy it except thro' carriage windows, is very sad work. And you are still a prisoner in Berlin, or nearly so;—yet, thank Heaven, not an idle one, not a discontented one: this too is something to be thankful for. We have to take the Light and the Dark as they alternate for us here below; and try to make the right use of both. I say often of myself that if I had suffered no ill health, I should have known nothing. The stars shine out, as Friedland's did, when it is grown rightly dark round us!2— Yet I hope to hear, as the summer advances, that you emerge again, and see good under the Sun. Nay, so long as you can continue writing, with whatever pain it be, how many sons of Adam are there who ought to pity you; who are not rather called to envy you?—

I know not if I ever reported with what pleasure I read that little Delineation of the Prussian Field-Marshal Schwerin.3 One has pleasure in it because it is a ‘Delineation,’ which so many Books only pretend to be: one sees a certain section of Human Life actually painted, rendered credible and conceivable to one. That last Battle is clear to me as if I had fought in it:4 there is a kind of gloomy dumb tragic strength in the Phenomenon, as in some old Norse-Mythus, for me,—as if I looked into the old Death-Kingdoms, whereon Living Prussia, with what it can say and do, reposes and grows! Those long ranks of speechless Men standing ranked there, with their three-cornered hats and stiff hair-queues and fighting apparatus; dumb, standing like stone statues to be blasted in pieces with cannon-shot:—there are ‘inarticulate meanings’ without end in such a thing for me!——— Surely I much approve your farther Biographic projects; and bid you, ‘Frisch zu [Go ahead]!’ How true also is that of Goethe in his advice to you:5 I have felt it a hundred times;—indeed it is properly the grand difficulty with my own poor Cromwell at present; that he lies buried so deep; that his dialect, thought, aim, whole costume and environment are grown so obsolete for men. What an English Puritan properly meant and struggled for in the Seventeenth Century: I say to myself, “Is all that dead? Or is it only asleep (not entirely with good consequences for us); a thing that can never die at all?” If it be dead, we ought to leave it alone! “Let the dead bury their dead”6 is as true in Literature as elsewhere. Hence indeed so few Histories, and so many Pedantries and mere Sham Histories,—which, if men were resolute enough, they would verily fling into the fire at once, and make an end of!—

Stuhr, as you predict, is heavy; but I find him solid and earnest, I believe I shall find it well worth while to travel thro' him.7 One's desire to know about the old days is so unquenchable; the average of fulfilment to it grows at length so very low! Stuhr is very far indeed above what I have to call “par” in late times.

Some fortnight ago I sent off the Life of Richter by the channel you pointed out.8 There was not another copy readily procurable; so I sent you the one we had ourselves been reading here. There was a Mitchell's Life of Wallenstein added, which perhaps you may find partly interesting even in its very short-comings.9 Mitchell is an honest man; but his indignation against much inanity that he has to witness here throws him into somewhat of a cramp antagonism now and then. He is distinguished here by his deadly enmity to the bayonet, which he declares to be a total chimera in war,—false, damnable, heretical, almost in the old ecclesiastic sense!—

My stock of Autographs which I have had much pleasure in gathering for you is of much more bulk than value! Hardly a half dozen of men very interesting to you will you find here; the rest are transitory notabilities,—on many of whom, as they are like to be entirely unknown out of their own Parish, I have had to mark some brief commentary in pencil. Pray use your Indian-rubber there, where you find needful; for it is of the nature of free speech to a trusted friend, not of litera scripta [the written letter]. Perhaps, even thro' the Trivial, you with your clear eyes will get here and there a glimpse into our English Existence: the great advantage is, that you can and ought to burn some nine-tenths of the bundle so soon as you have looked it over. As occasion offers I will not forget to gather you a few more autographs: Byron, Fox, Pitt I do not yet give up;10 indeed the first of these, with some others, are already promised me.

Your reading of the Austins is altogether correct.11 Mrs Austin came first into vogue among us by translating Puckler Muskau (if that is the right spelling),12 and has risen ever since by her sunny hopeful vivacious character, and a good share of female tact and the like. Her husband, as you say, is truly painful,—a kind of Prometheus Vinctus [Bound],13 bound not by any Jupiter! The man is faithful, veracious, energetically almost spasmodically laborious; but of an egoism which has, alas, proved too strong,—which has made him unhealthy unhappy; which, as I say, “has eaten holes in the case of it.” Poor Austin,—a brave man too: but able to bring it no farther than hard isolated Pedanthood! Nay, as Sir Toby in Shakspeare has it, “because thou art virtuous, shall there be no more cakes and ale?”14

I am very busy; and hope to tell you about what (it is a poor volume,15 perhaps preparatory to something farther) in a month or two. Adieu, my good Friend: better health to both of us; unabated heart to both of us!

Yours ever truly /

T. Carlyle.