April 1849-December 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 24


TC TO C. G. DUFFY; 29 May 1849; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18490529-TC-CGD-01; CL 24: 58-60


Chelsea, 29 May 1849—

Dear Duffy,

There has risen a speculation in me, which is getting rather lively in these weeks, of coming over to have a deliberate walk in Ireland, and to look at the strange doings of the Powers there with my own eyes for a little.1 The hot season here, of baked pavements, burning skies, and mad artificialities growing ever madder till in August they collapse by sheer exhaustion is always frightful to me; and during this season, from various causes, is likely to be frightfuller than common: add to which, that I have fewer real fetters binding me here than usual,—nothing express at all but an edition of Cromwell, which the Printers, especially after two weeks hence, may manage for themselves:—in short, all taken together, I incline much to decide that I ought to give myself the sight of one other Country Summer somewhere on this green Earth; and that Ireland, on several accounts, has strong claims of preference on me. I do not expect much pleasure there, or properly any “pleasure”: alas, a Book is sticking in my heart, which cannot get itself written at all; and till that be written there is no hope of peace or benefit for me anywhere. Neither do I expect to learn much out of Ireland; Ireland is, this long while past, pretty satisfactorily intelligible to me,—no phenomenon that comes across from it requiring much explanation;—but it seems worth while to look a little at the unutterable Curtius' Gulf2 of British and indeed of European things, which has visibly broken forth there: in that respect, if not in another, Ireland seems to me the notablest of all spots of the world at present. “There is your problem, yours too, my friend.” I will say to myself: “There; see what you will make of that!”— In short, why shouldn't I go and look at Ireland, and be my own (Eternitys) “Commissioner” there?— Wm Edward Forster, the young Quaker whom you have seen, offers to attend me for at least two weeks, from the middle of june onwards; and, in truth, day after day the project is assuming a more practical form. Probably something really may come of it.

My preparations hitherto do not amount to much; yet I am doing, under obstructions, what I can. Yesterday, not till after much groping, I did at last get a tolerable map of Ireland (the Railway Commissioners', in six big pieces); I have examined or reexamined various Books,—but unfortunately find hardly one in the hundred worth examining. Sir James Ware's book (by Harris) is the one good Book I have yet seen:3 Flaherty says, “Camden saw England with both eyes, Scotland with only one, and Ireland, caecus [blind], with none”—nevertheless, Camden is yet by far my best guide in historical topography; indeed he, the very Apollo of Topographers, has rendered all others vile to me, unendurable on any ground that he has touched.4 I have also read the Life of St Patrick, Jocelin's absurd Legend; the dreary commentaries of poor Bollandists; and St Patrick's own Confessio (which I believe to be genuinely his, tho' unfortunately it is lyrical, not biographical);5 and one of the few places where I yet clearly aim to be is, on the top of Croagh Patrick,6 to wish I could gather all the serpents, devils, and Malefici [Witchcrafts], thither again, and rolling them up into one big mass, fling the whole safely into Clew Bay7 again! St Patrick's Purgatory too (but the real one,—in Lough Erne I think);8 the Hill of Tarah likewise,—and if I could find that Castle of Darwarth (or “Ardnochar and Horseleap,” in W. Meath County) where the native Carpenter, when Hugh de Lacy was shewing him the mode of chipping and adzing, suddenly took his axe and brained De Lacy,—I should esteem it worth while!9 The famishing Unions10 I, of course, want especially to see; this of itself, I suppose, will take me into the “Picturesque” department, which, on its own strength, I must not profess to regard much. What remarkable men have you in Ireland? There is a very wide question! But in fact I am still, as you perceive, in a dim inquiring condition as to this Tour; and solicit help from any likely quarter. Aubrey de Vere has undertaken to put down on paper, his notions of a set of Irish notabiles and notabilia for me: one of the purposes of this Letter was partly to try whether you perhaps wd not contribute a little in the same way. Or in any other way? Write me a word so soon as you have leisure,—on this and on other things.

Forster was greatly pleased with you both; and perhaps there may be an abatement of nonsense in one small province of things, by reason of that visit. What you are deciding on for your own future course, will be very interesting to me, so soon as it has got the length of being talked about. We send many kind regards to Mrs Duffy, last seen as a Naiad,11 then vanishing in the dust of the Strand,—eheu! In Bagot Street there is a beautiful Sister, whom I remember well, and always wish to be remembered by.12 No more: paper and time are done.

Yours ever truly—

T. Carlyle