April 1848-March 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 23


TC TO KARL AUGUST VARNHAGEN VON ENSE; 29 December 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18481229-TC-KAVE-01; CL 23: 192-194


Chelsea, 29 Decr, 1848—

My dear Sir,

It is a long sad time since I have written to you, or could expect to hear any word directly from you: for indeed I have been, and still am, in an altogether inarticulate condition; writing to nobody; in the highest degree indisposed to writing, or uttering of myself, in any kind! You do not doubt but many kind thoughts and remembrances have crossed the sea to you, all this while; nor do we want evidence of the like on your part; nay, from Miss Wynn and otherwise, we have pretty accurately known how you were going on, and have generally had some image of you kept lucid and vivid in our circle here. Forgive my silence—silence is not good altogether, when there are kind hearts that will listen and reply! The advent of the New Year admonishes me that I should open my leaden lips, and speak once more,—were it but as Odin's Prophetess did, from the belly of the Grave!1 In the language of the season, I wish you a right brave New Year, and as many of them as your heart can still victoriously front in such a world. Courage! En avant [Forward]! I will start up too, some day, and march along with you again, I doubt not.

Some weeks ago your little Pamphlet on the question of German Unity (Schlichte Reden [Plain Talk]) came to me;2 a welcome little word, which I read with entire assent. This was your message hitherward; and now, the other day, I despatched for you a little old Book of mine which they have been republishing here;3—a Book of no moment; which probably you already have received: let this be a small memento from me, when you look upon it. Whether I shall ever write another Book in this world has often seemed uncertain to me of late; but I believe I shall have to try it again before long, or else do worse!

What a year we have had since February last! The universal breaking down of old rotten thrones, and bursting up of street-barricades; enfuriated Sansculottism everywhere starting up, and glaring like a world-basilisk into the empty Wan-Wan4 that pretended to be a god to it. “What art thou, accursed contemptibility of a Wan-Wan?”— It is to me the most sordid, scandalous and dismal sight the world ever offered in my time; and if there were not in the dark womb of that “abomination of desolation”5 a ray of eternal light for me, I should think (like poor Niebuhr)6 the universe was going out, and pray for my own share, “From me hide it!” But withal I discern well, none more loyally, It is a sacred phenomenon, a fulfilment of the eternal prophecies, the beginning of a newbirth of the world: A general “bankruptcy of Imposture” (so I define it); Imposture, long known by the wise for what it was, is now known and declared for such to the foolish at the market-cross, and admits openly that it is a bankrupt piece of scoundrelism, and requests only time to gather up its rags, and walk away unhanged. How can I lament at this? Dismal, abominable as the sight is, I cannot but intrinsically rejoice at it. And yet what a Future lies before us, for centuries to come,—if we had any thought within us, which very few have.

The feeling here among considerate persons is, that Germany, in spite of all the explosion of nonsense we have seen, will certainly recover some balance; and march, like a brave country,—not towards Chaos, as some others seem to do! We can understand that it is all the levity, the froth and mutinous folly that comes first to the top: but Germany deceives us all if there be not abundant silent heroic faculty in the heart of it;—and indeed it is to England and Teutschland that the Problem seems to me now to have fallen: and a dreadful Problem it is,—insoluble by the Southern genius, as we see. God assist us all!— I am / ever your affectionate Friend,

T. Carlyle.

Goethe and the Frau von Stein: but that deserves a chapter by itself!7 I read your Copy, with pleasant wonder, which has not yet subsided into clear appreciation

Memorandum.8 My Wife, for above a year past, is acquainted with your works done on paper by the scissors;9 works that fill the female fingers with despair,—the female heart with desire to possess for itself a few specimens. Can you kindly think of this, some after-dinner?— T.C.