August 1846-June 1847

The Collected Letters, Volume 21


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON; 2 March 1847; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18470302-TC-RWE-01; CL 21:170-172.


Chelsea, London, 2 March, 1847—

Dear Emerson,

The Steamer goes tomorrow; I must, tho' in a very dim condition, have a little word for you conveyed by it. In the miscellaneous maw of that strange Steamer, shall lie among other things a friendly word!

Your very kind Letter1 lay waiting me here, some ten days ago; doubly welcome after so long a silence. We had been in Hampshire, with the Barings, where we were last year;—some four weeks or more; totally idle: our winter had been, and indeed still is, unusually severe; my Wife's health in consequence was sadly deranged; but this idleness, these Isle-of-Wight sea-breezes have brought matters well round again; so we cannot grudge the visit or the idleness, which otherwise too might have its uses. Alas, at this time, my normal state is to be altogether idle; to look out upon a very lonely Universe, full of grim sorrow, full of splendour too; and not to know at all, for the moment, on what side I am to attack again!— I read your Book of Poems,2 all faithfully, at Bay House (our Hampshire quarters); where the obstinate people,—with whom you are otherwise, in prose, a first favourite,—foolishly refused to let me read aloud; foolishly, for I would have made it mostly all plain by commentary:—so I had to read for myself; and can say, in spite of my hardheartedness, I did gain tho' under impediments a real satisfaction, and some tone of the Eternal Melodies sounding afar off, ever and anon, in my ear! This is fact; a truth in Natural History; from which you are welcome to draw inferences. A grand view of the Universe, everywhere the sound (unhappily, far off, as it were) of a valiant genuine Human Soul: this, even under rhyme, is a satisfaction worth some struggling for. But indeed you are very perverse; and thro' this perplexed undiaphanous element, you do not fall on me like radiant summer rainbows, like floods of sunlight, but with thin piercing radiances which affect me like the light of the stars. It is so: I wish you would become concrete, and write in prose the straightest way; but under any form I must put up with you; that is my lot.— Chapman's edition, as you probably know, is very beautiful. I believe there are enough of ardent silent seekers in England to buy up this edition from him, and resolutely study the same: as for the review multitude, they dare not exactly call it “unintelligible moonshine,” and so will probably hold their tongue. It is my fixed opinion that we are all at sea as to what is called Poetry, Art &c in these times; labouring under a dreadful incubus of Tradition, and mere “Cant heaped balefully on us up to the very Zenith,”3 as men in nearly all other provinces of their Life, except perhaps the railway province, do now labour and stagger;—in a word that Goethe-and-Schiller's “Kunst” has far more brotherhood with Pusey-and-Newman's Shovelhattery, and other the like deplorable phenomena, than it is in the least aware of!4 I beg you take warning: I am more serious in this than you suppose. But so, you will not; you whistle lightly over my prophecies, and go your own stiffnecked road. Unfortunate man!—

I had read in the Newspapers, and even heard in speech from Manchester people, that you were certainly coming this very summer, to lecture among us: but now it seems, in your Letter, all postponed into the vague again: I do not personally know your Manchester negociators, but I know in general that they are men of respectability, insight and activity; much connected with the lecturing department, which is a very growing one, especially in Lancashire, at present;—men likely, for the rest, to fulfil whatsoever they may become engaged for to you.5 My own ignorant tho' confident guess, moreover, is, that you would, in all senses of the word, succeed there; I think, also rather confidently, we could promise you an audience of British aristocracy in London here,—and of British commonalty all manner of audiences that you liked to stoop to. I heard an ignorant blockhead (or mainly so) called Elihu Burritt bow-wowing here, some months ago, to an audience of several thousands, in the City, one evening,—upon Universal Peace, or some other field of balderdash; which the poor people seemed very patient of. In a word, I do not see what is to hinder you to come whenever you can resolve upon it. The adventure is perfectly promising: an adventure familiar to you withal; for Lecturing is with us fundamentally just what it is with you: Much prurient curiosity, with some ingenuous lore of wisdom, an element of real reverence for the same: everywhere a perfect openness to any man speaking in any measure things manful. Come, therefore; gird yourself together, and come. With little or no peradventure, you will realize what your modest hope is, and more;—and I, for my share of it, shall see you come again under this Sun! O Heavens, there might be some good in that! Nay, if you will travel like a private quiet person, who knows but I, the most unlocomotive of Mortals, might be able to escort you up and down a little; to look at many a thing along with you, and even to open my long-closed heart and speak about the same?— There is a spare-room always in this House for you,—in this heart, in these two hearts, the like: bid me help in this enterprise, in all manner of ways where I can; and on the whole, get it rightly put together, and embark on it, and arrive!

The good Miss Fuller has painted us all en beau, and your smiling imagination has added new colours.6 We have not a triumphant life here; very far indeed from that, ach Gott!—as you shall see. But Margaret is an excellent soul: in real regard with both of us here. Since she went, I have been reading some of her Papers in a new Book we have got:7 greatly superior to all I knew before; in fact the undeniable utterance (now first undeniable to me) of a true heroic mind;—altogether unique, so far as I know, among the Writing Women of this generation; rare enough too, God knows, among the writing Men. She is very narrow, sometimes; but she is truly high: honour to Margaret, and more and more good-speed to her,— Adieu, dear Emerson. I am ever yours