April 1848-March 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 23


TC TO JANE A. M'INTYRE ; 27 September 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18480927-TC-JAM-01; CL 23: 122-123


The Grange, Alresford, 27 Septr1848—

My dear Madam,

The question that perplexes you is one that no man can answer; you may console yourself by reflecting that it is by its nature insoluble to human creatures,—that perhaps what human creatures mainly have to do with such a question is to get it well put to rest, suppressed if not answered, that so their Life and its duties may be attended to without impediment from it. Such questions in this our earthly existence are many.

“There are two things,” says the German Philosopher, “that strike me dumb: the Starry Firmament (palpably infinite) and the Sense of Right and Wrong in man.”1 Whoever follows out that “dumb” thought will come upon the origin of our conceptions of Heaven and Hell,—of an Infinitude of merited Happiness, and an Infinitude of merited Woe,—and have much to reflect upon under an aspect considerably changed.

Consequences good and evil, blessed and accursed, it is very clear, do follow from all our actions here below, and prolong and propagate and spread themselves into the Infinite, or beyond our calculation or conception; but whether the notion of reward and penalty be not, on the whole, rather a human one transferred to that immense divine fact, has been doubtful to many. Add this consideration, which the best Philosophy teaches us: That the very consequences (not to speak of the penalties at all) of evil actions die away, and become abolished, long before Eternity ends; that it is only the consequences of good actions that are eternal,—for these are in harmony with the laws of this universe, and add themselves to it, and cooperate with it for ever, while all that is in disharmony with it must necessarily be without continuance, and soon fall dead:—as perhaps you have heard in the sound of a distant chorus of voices, in the sound of a Scottish Psalm amid the mountains; the true notes alone support one another, all following the one true rule; the false notes, each following its own difft false rule, quickly destroy one another; and the Psalm, which was discordant enough near at hand, is a perfect melody when heard from afar.

On the whole I must account it but a morbid weak imagination that shudders over this wondrous divine universe as a place of Despair to any creature; and contrariwise, a most degraded human sense, sunk down to the region of the brutal (however common it be) that in any case remains blind to the infinite difference there ever is between Right and Wrong for a human creature,—or God's Law and the Devil's Law.—— Yours very truly T. Carlyle