January-September 1845

The Collected Letters, Volume 19


TC TO AN UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT ; 13 May 1845; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18450513-TC-UC-01; CL 19: 69-70


Chelsea, 13 May, 1845—

Dear Sir,

I am very glad to have you for a reader: a sincere and earnest man in all places and conditions is very precious to me.

Your scheme of cheap Books has been suggested to me from various quarters, and very clearly corresponds to my own wishes in the matter; but unfortunately the decision of it does not rest with me. The Booksellers declare against it; I know nothing about trade; and hesitate to attempt working out a mere conviction of my own in that matter,—having besides work enough in provinces that do belong to me.

The price of Books at present, so far as Books have any real worth for the culture of men, is certainly a great evil. Rather more than a half of the whole selling-price of a Book falls into the hands of the man and men who do the mere act of selling it. This is a fact which I learned with amazement some years ago, and have not ceased to reflect upon occasionally since. The charge of 55 per cent for selling any article, by any mode of sale, is certainly enormous. Nay what is worst of all, the greater part of it is expended in puffing into sale Books that are worthless, or making up for loss on Books that no puffing can sell: the poor individual Bookseller makes nothing of it; he very generally becomes bankrupt in the business, poor man. It is in fact a mad affair. But what shall we say? The origin of it is even this, The faith men have in puffing, the cowardly haste all men are in to get their goods sold, their worth acknowledged, and their work paid for, in a day,—as if there were but one Day; as if there were no continuance of Time, and of Eternity behind Time! The origin of the thing lies deep, and is the fatal origin of many things among us; and will not be capable of cure, I doubt, for a while.

As for you, if you are short of Books you would like to read, believe me on my word and experience, It is not such an evil as your fancy represents it. One little page read well is worth many volumes carelessly run over. My reverence for Books does not increase with my years. My reverance for earnest reflexion and meditation, above all things for honest manful conduct (which is the great source of clearness of vision too for us all) does go on increasing.

May good be with you in your Business and in your Life outward and inward.

I remain / Yours with real wishes

T. Carlyle