October 1845-July 1846

The Collected Letters, Volume 20


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON ; 17 July 1846; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18460717-TC-RWE-01; CL 20: 243-245


Chelsea, 17 july, 1846—

Dear Emerson,

Since I wrote last to you,—I think, with the Wiley-and-Putnam Covenant enclosed,—the Photograph, after some days of loitering at the Liverpool Customhouse, came safe to hand.1 Many thanks to you for this punctuality: this poor Shadow, it is all you could do at present in that matter! But it must not rest there, no. This Image is altogether unsatisfactory, illusive, and even in some measure tragical to me! First of all, it is a bad Photograph; no eyes discernible, at least one of the eyes not, except in rare favourable lights: then, alas, Time itself and Oblivion must have been busy. I could not at first, nor can I yet with perfect decisiveness, bring out any feature completely recalling to me the old Emerson, that lighted on us from the Blue, at Craigenputtoch, long ago,—eheu! Here is a genial, smiling energetic face, full of sunny strength, intelligence, integrity, good humour; but it lies imprisoned in baleful shades, as of the valley of Death; seems smiling on me as if in mockery, “Dost know me, friend? I am dead, thou seest, and distant, and forever hidden from thee;—I belong already to the Eternities, and thou recognisest me not!” On the whole, it is the strangest feeling I have:—and practically the thing will be that you get us by the earliest opportunity some living pictorial sketch, chalk-drawing or the like, from a trustworthy hand; and send it hither to represent you. Out of the two I shall compile for myself a likeness by degrees: but as for this present, we cannot put up with it at all; to my Wife and me, and to sundry other parties far and near that have interest in it, there is no satisfaction in this. So there will be nothing for you but compliance, by the first fair chance you have: furthermore I bargain that the Lady Emerson have, within reasonable limits, a royal veto in the business (not absolute, if that threaten extinction to the enterprise, but absolute within the limits of possibility): and that she take our case in hand, and graciously consider what can and shall be done. That will answer, I think

Of late weeks I have been either idle, or sunk in the sorrowfullest cobbling of old shoes again; sorrowfully reading over old Books for the Putnams and Chapmans, namely. It is really painful, looking in one's own old face; said “old face” no longer a thing extant now!— Happily I have at last finished it; the whole lumber-troop with clothes duly brushed (F. Revolution has even got an Index too) travels to New York in the Steamer that brings you this. Quod faustum sit [Let the outcome be lucky]:2—or indeed I do not much care whether it be faustum [lucky] or not; I grow to care about an astonishingly small number of things as times turn with me! Man, all men seem radically dumb; jabbering mere jargons, and noises from the teeth outwards; the inner meaning of them,—of them and of me, poor devils,—remaining shut, buried forever. If almost all Books were burnt (my own laid next the coal), I sometimes in my spleen feel as if it really would be better with us! Certainly could one generation of men be forced to live without rhetoric, babblement, hearsay, in short with the tongue well cut out of them altogether,—their fortunate successors would find a most improved world to start upon! For Cant does lie piled on us, high as the zenith; an Augean Stable with the poisonous Confusion piled so high:3 which, simply if there once could be nothing said, would mostly dwindle like summer snow gradually about its business and leave us free to use our eyes again! When I see painful Professors of Greek, poring in their sumptuous Oxfords over dead Greek for a thousand years or more, and leaving live English all the while to develop itself under charge of Pickwicks and Sam Wellers,4 as if it were nothing and the other were all things: this, and the like of it everywhere, fills me with reflexions! Good Heavens, will the people not come out of their wretched Old-Clothes Monmouth-streets, Hebrew and other; but lie there dying of the basest pestilence,— dying and as good as dead! On the whole, I am very weary of most “Literature”:—and indeed in very sorrowful abstruse humour otherwise at present.

For remedy to which I am, in these very hours, preparing for a sally into the green Country, and deep silence; I know not altogether how or whitherward as yet; only that I must tend towards Lancashire, towards Scotland at last. My Wife already waits me in Lancashire; went off, in rather poor case, much burnt by the hot Town, some ten days ago, and does not yet report much improvement. I will write to you somewhere in my wanderings. The Address “Scotsbrig, Ecclefechan N. B.,” if you chance to write directly or soon after this arrives, will, likely, be the shortest: at any rate, that, or “Cheyne Row” either, is always sure enough to find me in a day or two after trying.

By a kind of accident I have fallen considerably into American History in these days; and am even looking out for Amn Geography to help me. Jared Sparks, Marshall &c are hickory and buckskin; but I do catch a credible trait of human life from them here and there; Michelet's genial champagne froth,—alas, I could find no fact in it that would stand handling; and so have broken down in the middle of La France, and run over to hickory and Jared for shelter!5—— Do you know Beriah Green? A body of Albany Newspapers represent to me the people quarrelling in my name, in a very vague manner, as to the propriety of being “governed”; and Beriah's is the only rational voice among them.6 Farewell, dear Friend, Speedy news of you!

T. Carlyle