August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


TC TO KARL AUGUST VARNHAGEN VON ENSE ; 4 December 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18431204-TC-KAVE-01; CL 17: 196-198


Chelsea, 4 Decr, 1843—

My Dear Sir,

Will you accept from me this new packet of mostly worthless Autographs, if perchance it may amuse you for an hour. The collecting of it, as opportunity spontaneously turned up, has been a real pleasure to me, not a trouble or employment in any sense. We will keep the lion's-mouth still open; and when I find any contribution accumulated there, I will continue to send it you.

Several of these Autographs, I think, are duplicates: but you can burn the second or the first, whichever you find the more worthless, and retain the other. The best part of them, as you will perceive, came to me from Mr Lockhart, Sir Walter Scott's son-in-law, Editor of our chief Review,1 a man of sound faculty and rather important position here,—who has lately made acquaintance with your writings,2 and is glad to do any civility to such a man.

It is now about three weeks since a new Gift of Books from you arrived safe, thro' the assiduous Bookseller Nutt.3 Many thanks for your kindness, which never wearies! They are beautiful volumes, the outside worthy of the interior, these of your own: they stand on my shelves, in a place of honour; and, as I look at them or re-examine them, shall remind me of many things.— Nyerup too seems an excellent work of its kind; and shall be well read and useful to me one day.4 I wanted precisely such a lexicon, for those Norse Mythics. The business has had to postpone itself for the present; but is by no means finally dismissed; may it is likely to return, on occasion, for a long course of time. I often feel it to have been a great mistake this that we Moderns have made, in studying with such diligence for thousands of years mere Greek and Roman Primordia, and living in such profound dark inattention to our own. Odin seems to me as good a divinity as Zeus, the Iomsburg is not a whit less heroic than any Siege of Troy;5— the Norse conception of this universe, the Norse operations in this universe, were as well worth singing of, and elaborating, as some others! But Greeks and Romans, I suppose, did not found Colleges for studying the Phoenician languages and antiquities? In how many ways are we ridden as with nightmares, we poor Modern men!— —

After long sorrows and confused hesitations, I have at last sat down to write some kind of Book on Oliver Cromwell and the English Civil Wars and Commonwealth. It is the ungainliest enterprise I ever tried; grows more and more bewildering, the closer I look into it: many times I have wished it had never come athwart me; stolen already various years of ugly labour from me. But in many enterprises years of sore labour are to be sunk as under the foundations. I say and repeat to myself: St Petersburg is a noble city; and there had to perish 170,000 men in draining the Neva bogs, before the building of it could begin; under the first visible stone of Petersburg there lie 170,000 lives of men!6 Courage!— I must not forget to thank you for the good Stuhr:7 some gleams of military illumination I did get from him, which is more than I can say of several more pretentious personages.

The musca volitans is not unknown to me;8 I had, for some five years, and still occasionally have, a very pretty one,—which I call the “French Revolution,” that Book having brought it on me! Ill health is a most galling addition to one's burdens. But here too we must say, Courage, Courage! You have long been a sufferer under this foul Fiend; and you have wrenched some good hours from it too, and have some right brave work to shew for yourself nevertheless. Festina lente [Make haste slowly], that is the important rule. May I hear speedily that you are better; that you are again victorious and remember me! And so adieu, dear Friend, from your affectionate,

T. Carlyle