April 1848-March 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 23


TC TO EDWARD STRACHEY; 20 December 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18481220-TC-ES-01; CL 23: 183


Chelsea: 20 December, 1848.

I looked over the copy you gave me (for which were, silently, sent many thanks) when it arrived here:1 I had much to praise in the gentle, assiduous, and pious spirit with which the task had been undertaken and performed; a really careful, industrious, lucid, and luminous reading of the play of Hamlet; and I pleased myself with the hope that your literary tendency would yet lead you into still fruitfuller fields, towards the reading and interpretation of objects much more in need of being ‘read’ (some of them), and better worth reading too, than the play of Hamlet. ‘Amlethus,’ I find from old Saxo,2 is nothing but a Norse myth, adumbrating the course of the sun and annual seasons; a dream of the human brain, instead of a created fact of the Almighty Maker; towards which latter class of objects, I persist in believing, the thought and reading-faculty of all serious men decidedly directs itself. What say you now to taking up a biography of some noble man, unknown or misknown to the vulgar, much to their damage; some bit of authentic historical narrative and delineation, worthy of a human soul's taking trouble with it? Such things your eye will discover if it look earnestly; such things are the real poems and dramas (God himself the author), which it best of all beseems a man to try if he can do a little towards interpreting.

Of your manner of writing I will say only that it has many good qualities in esse [actual] and in posse [potential], and that I know no rule so important as this one, which, indeed, if well understood, includes all rules whatsoever: ‘Be wisely brief.’ Brief, not in phrase only, but still more in thought. Divide the living from the dead! let nothing of extraneous or unessential enter into your living figure (if it is to live). Everywhere hit the nail on the head, and do not strike at it again!— With many thanks and regards

Yours ever truly, /

T. Carlyle.