August 1846-June 1847

The Collected Letters, Volume 21


TC TO KARL AUGUST VARNHAGEN VON ENSE; 3 March 1847; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18470303-TC-KAVE-01; CL 21:172-174.


Chelsea, London, 3 March, 1847—

My dear Sir,

Some ten days ago your new volume of Denkwürdigkeiten [Memoirs] was safely handed in to me;1 I fancy it must have been delayed among the ices of the Elbe, for the Note accompanying it bears date a good while back. Thanks for this new kindness: a valued Gift, to be counted with very many other which I now owe to you.— Some time before, there had arrived your announcement that the little Tomb of Shakspeare had made its way across the impediments; and, what was very welcome to me, that you meant to shew it to Herr Tieck. Surely there is no man in all the world that deserves better to see it! Will you say to him, if he knows my name at all, that I send him my affectionate respects and salutations; that, for the last twenty years and more, he has flourished always in my mind as a true noble “Singing-Tree” in that German land of Phantasus [Fantasy] and Poesis [Poetry]; that I, and very many here, still listen to him with the friendliest regards, with true love and reverence, and bid him live long as a veteran very precious to us. Your king did no act that got him more votes from the instructed part of this Community, than that of his recalling Tieck in the way he did, to a Country where he was indeed unique, and which had good reason to be proud of him.2

I have read the new volume of Denkwürdigkeiten; and am veritably called to thank you, not in my private capacity alone, but as a speaker for the Public withal. If the Public thought as I do on such matters,—that is to say, if the Public were not more or less a blockhead,—the Public would say to itself, “This is the kind of thing that before all others is good for me at present! This, to give me an account of memorable actions and events, in more and more compact, intelligent, illuminative form, evolving for me, more and more, the real essence of said actions and events,—this is Literature, Art, Poetry, or what name you like to give it; this is the real Problem the Writing Man has to solve for me, at present!”— Truly if I had command over you, I should say, “Memoirs, and ever new Memoirs!” There are no Books that give me so lively an impression of modern Facts as these of yours do. Withal I get a view as if into the very heart of Prussia thro' them; which also is highly valuable3 to me. I can only bid you persevere, give us what is possible; and must reflect with regret that one man's capabilities in such respect are limited and not unlimited.— Last week too I have read, with the liveliest interest, your Book on Blücher, which I had not sufficiently studied before.4 A capital Book; a capital rough old Prussian Mastiff set forth to us there! I seem to see old Blücher face to face; recognise his supreme and indispensable worth in that vast heterogeneous Combination,—which also to him was indispensable; for in a common element, one sees, he might very easily have spent himself, as hundreds like him have done, to comparatively small purpose; but that huge inert mass was always there to fall back upon, to be excited and ever anew excited, till it also had to kindle and flame along with him. “Kerle, Ihr sehet aus wie Schweine [Fellows, you look like pigs]!” and then these scenes, as at Katzstadt, “Napoleon just behind me, say you?” or to the enthusiastic Public on the streets of Halberstadt, “So mögt Ihr denn alle [You'd all like to be like that]— —!”— I have laughed aloud at such naiveties, every time they have come into my mind since. Thanks again and again for painting us such pictures, a real possession for all men.

Probably you are aware there is a kind of Translation going on from your Works, for our behoof, at present? One Murray, a principal Bookseller here, has decided on picking out Two volumes from you, for a Series of Books (Home and Colonial Library, or some such name) which he is going on with, in these years: the Translator of the Austin Firm, which is partly known to you;—respectable, he and his Enterprise, and to be welcomed in the meanwhile; yet I cannot but heartily wish he and party had let the matter alone; for precisely in those days I had in private set another young man, of much superior talent, upon the same adventure, and had got a Bookseller too,—when this announcement of the Murray's and Austins brought us to a sudden stop.5 Meanwhile, as I say, the thing is not to be regretted; the thing is to be welcomed in its place and time; will do good in the meanwhile, and prepare us by and by for better.

Of my own affairs I can report no alteration hitherto. I remain contentedly idle; shall doubtless feel a call to work again by and by, but wait unbeschreiblich ruhig [indescribably quiet] (as Attila Schmelzle has it)6 for that questionable consummation! I am very serious in my ever-deepening regard for the “Silences” that are in our Existence, quite unheeded in these poor days; and do, for myself, regard Book-writing in such a time as but a Pis-aller [last resort]. With which nevertheless one must persevere! Adieu my dear Sir; enliven me soon by another Letter. Yours ever

T. Carlyle