July 1847-March 1848

The Collected Letters, Volume 22


TC TO GEORGE BARBER ; 30 December 1847; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18471230-TC-GB-01; CL 22: 188-189


Chelsea, 30 decr, 1847—

Dear Sir,

I am afraid there is no good German-English Dictionary; certainly at least I do not, and never did, possess one such. If you decide on having the best attainable by moderate means, I believe (but only by hearsay) it is one published by Whitaker here a few years ago; the work of a German, whose name I think is Flügel, but revised by an Englishman called Oxenden or Oxneford:—the name of Whitaker the Publisher will it[self]1 direct you to the object, thro' any Bookseller; the cost of the Work may, I suppose, be some 20 or 25 shillings,—but it will be safest to inquire first.2 Adelung's big Dictionary, all German (like our Johnson), and in several volumes, is the only one to be recommended as quite effectual for an interpretation of that language, when once you have made some way in it.3

On the whole, if I might advise you from my own experience, I should say, Be content with any Dictionary; read Books; diligently, carefully,—with a determination to know, by guessing and divination if no otherwise, accurately what it is that the Author means. If you read good Authors, Lessing, Schiller, Goethe and the like, you will find this same “divination” of their meaning a process otherwise highly useful; and insensibly, while thus intent on higher objects you will learn with exactness the import of words, and find yourself able to read German as no Dictionary could teach you to do. The grand thing is to read, industriously with daily constancy, with rigorous fidelity:—and as to choice of Books, the best rule is, Please your own real taste so far as you can; read the Book you at heart want to read, if it be attainable; or if it be not, then the next in degree that is. And in short, be constant, keep moving forward. A man that will advance steadfastly, even by a very bad road, will get thro' far worse imbroglios than the German Language; provided, I say, he advance in one direction, and do not take to turning back, or helplessly groping round and round, in search of new better directions.

Bidding you good speed in this and all faithful endeavour

Yours very sincerely /

T. Carlyle

Mr Geo. Barber.