August 1846-June 1847

The Collected Letters, Volume 21


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON; 18 December 1846; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18461218-TC-RWE-01; CL 21:112-114.


Chelsea, 18 Decr, 1846—

Dear Emerson,—This is the 18th of the month, and it is a frightful length of time, I know not how long, since I wrote to you,—sinner that I am! Truly we are in no case for paying debts at present, being all sick more or less, from the hard cold weather, and in a state of great temporary puddle: but, as the adage says, “one should own debt, and crave days”;1—therefore accept a word from me, such as it may be.

I went, as usual, to the North Country in the Autumn; passed some two extremely disconsolate months,—for all things distress a wretched thin-skinned creature like me,—in that old region, which is at once an Earth and a Hades to me, an unutterable place, now that I have become mostly a ghost there! I saw Ireland too on my return; saw black potatoe-fields, a ragged noisy population, that has long in a headlong baleful manner followed the Devil's leading, listened namely to blustering shallow-violent Imposters and Children of Darkness, saying, “Yes, we know you, you are Children of Light!”2—and so has fallen all out at elbows in body and in soul; and now having lost its potatoes is come as it were to a crisis; all its windy nonsense cracking suddenly to pieces under its feet: a very pregnant crisis indeed! A country cast suddenly into the meltingpot,—say into the Medea's-Cauldron;3 to be boiled into horrid dissolution; whether into new youth, into sound healthy life, or into eternal death and annihilation, one does not yet know! Daniel O'Connell stood bodily before me, in his green Mullaghmast Cap; haranguing his retinue of Dupeables: certainly the most sordid Humbug I have ever seen in this world; the emblem to me, he and his talk and the worship and credence it found, of all the miseries that can befal a Nation. I also conversed with Young Ireland in a confidential manner; for Young Ireland, really meaning what it says, is worth a little talk: the Heroism and Patriotism of a new generation; welling fresh and new from the breasts of Nature; and already poisoned by O'Connellism and the Old-Irish atmosphere of bluster, falsity, fatuity, into one knows not what. Very sad to see. On the whole no man ought, for any cause, to speak lies, or have anything [to]4 do with lies; but either hold his tongue, or speak a bit of the truth: that is the meaning of a tongue, people used to know!— Ireland was not the place to console my sorrows. I returned home very sad out of Ireland;—and indeed have remained one of the saddest, idlest, most useless of Adam's sons ever since; and do still remain so. I care not to write anything more,—so it seems to me at present. I am in my vacant interlunar cave5 (I suppose that is the truth);—and I ought to wrap my mantle round me, and lie, if dark, silent also. But, alas, I have wasted almost all your poor Sheet first!—

Miss Fuller came duly as you announced;6 was welcomed for your sake and her own. A high-soaring, clear, enthusiast soul; in whose speech there is much of all that one wants to find in speech. A sharp subtle intellect too; and less of that shoreless Asiatic dreaminess than I have sometimes met with in her writings. We liked one another very well, I think, and the Springs too were favourites. But, on the whole, it could not be concealed, least of all from the sharp female intellect, that this Carlyle was a dreadfully heterodox, not to say a dreadfully savage fellow, at heart; believing no syllable of all that Gospel of Fraternity, Benevolence, and new Heaven-on-Earth, preached forth by all manner of “advanced” creatures from George Sand7 to Elihu Burritt,8 in these days; that in fact the said Carlyle not only disbelieved all that, but treated it as poisonous Cant,—sweetness of sugar-of-lead,—a detestable phosphorescence from the dead body of a Christianity, that would not admit itself to be dead, and lie buried with all its unspeakable putrescences, as a venerable dead one ought! Surely detestable enough.— To all which Margaret listened with much good nature; tho' of course with sad reflexions not a few.— She is coming back to us, she promises. Her dialect is very vernacular,—extremely exotic in the London climate. If she do not gravitate too irresistibly towards that class of New-Era people (which includes whatsoever we have of prurient, esurient, morbid, flimsy, and in fact pitiable and unprofitable, and is at a sad discount among men of sense), she may get into good tracks of inquiry and connexion here, and be very useful to herself and others. I could not shew her Alfred (he has been here since) nor Landor:9 but surely if I can I will,—that or a hundred times as much as that,—when she returns.— — They tell me you are about collecting your Poems.10 Well; tho' I do not approve of rhyme at all; yet it is impossible Emerson in rhyme or prose can put down any thought that was in his heart but I should wish to get into mine. So let me have the Book as fast as may be. And do others like it if you will take circumbendibuses [circumlocutions] for sound's sake! And excuse the Critic who seems to you so unmusical; and say, It is the nature of beast!— — Adieu, dear Friend: write to me, write to me. Yours ever T. Carlyle