August 1846-June 1847

The Collected Letters, Volume 21


TC TO CHARLES B. DARWIN; 17 May 1847; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18470517-TC-ED-01; CL 21:211.


Chelsea, May 17, 1847

There is unfortunately no recipe or “word” that can avail you. The “course of reading” or endeavour that would be wisest of all for Charles Darwin in Kentucky, will already not be quite the wisest for him in Tennessee;1 what would have exactly suited him, at his age, in 1837, will no longer altogether suit him now when the World has got ten years forwards on its course! Specific direction is and remains impossible, in such a case. You will have, as heretofore, to chose, by what of light, of manfulness and faithfulness is in your own mind, The Better and the Good from out of the boundless imbroglio of the trivial, the Bad and Base (which men of less light are eagerly following on all hands of yore); and with, your whole sorely to appropriate these, and elaborate them as you have faculty and opportunity— you then and now. It appears you have had a very fair success hitherto; and have lifted your head and shoulders somewhat out of the slough, and can look about you a little: hope confidently that the good henceforth will repay with like bounty the like fidelity of effort. I have observed this truth, even in our confused world: that whatever of real human worth a man does put into his grand enterprise, just about the same quantity of real human victory (unrecogniseable often to blockheads, but very real for all that) does he in the end get out of it;—this is an unspeakable comfort to a brave young man! But “real” human worth and human victory are, as I say, very often not so recogniseable: who knows, for example, whether your President Polk and our King Hudson2 (if you have heard of such a man, who has made 2 millions by railways here) have gained any “victory” at all,— have gained anything but a “more conspicuous exhibition of their own ugliness”; which surely is defeat and not victory? You must very particularly pray the Heavens, for one thing. Not to infect you with vulgar ambitions (literary or other), which is fatal to all nobleness in men! “Seekest thou great things, seek them not.” Seek eternal things (if you know them); you will better and better get to know them, if you seek honestly. That also is a fact.

As to “reading,”— read “History and Prophecy” (if you understand these words): whatsoever of truly Interesting, has been, is, or is about to be, in this World where you have come to live,— all that authentically bears on these questions, snatch it wherever you can find it, read that with greedy heart, and on the whole read nothing else. The hugest Follies of this world are flying about at present in the shape of Books and Book-Celebrities.

Adieu. /

T. Carlyle