August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


TC TO EBENEZER JONES ; 14 February 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440214-TC-EJ-01; CL 17: 267-268


Chelsea, 14 feby, 1844—

Dear Sir,

I have received your volume of Poems, and read most part of them; which latter is of itself a fact that, in such a case, means somewhat with me! I find in you great fervour of temper; a genius hopeful, tho' as yet in all senses young; your brilliancy, your fire, playing greatly too much in the vague, like aurora borealis or sheet lightning, instead of being knit up into definite forms and thunderbolts. I will say very candidly, there seems to me the elements of a fine gift bestowed on you; if you have patience, strenuous diligence, humility; if you have all kinds of strength, for all kinds will be needed, there may something really worthy come of it. The labour is terrible; but the reward is great.

Young men who ask my advice, in these times, I generally counsel not to write in rhyme or metre; but to try rather whether they can be “poetic” on a basis of fact and sincere reality, this great universe being full of such;—for indeed all poetic forms are at present quite fallen into discredit, as they well deserved to do; and veracity not fiction was and is the true business for all human souls the highest as well as the lowest.— But, on the whole, forms go for little; it is substance only that goes for much. Sound sense, human energy and intelligence shall be welcome to us, in rhyme or not in rhyme.

Your Critic in the Newspaper is abundantly ill-natured, ill-bred, and very unjust;1 nevertheless it is my clear persuasion, his abuse will be of more profit to you than any praise he could have given. Never mind him, nor a thousand like him; hold on your way, with your eye on quite other loadstars; and after years of manful silent industry,—refining the gold in what hottest furnace you have, and ‘consuming your own smoke’2 the while,—let the world hear from you again.

Wishing heartily well to you, and hoping well of yours,

I remain (in great haste)

Yours very truly

T. Carlyle