TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON; 13 August 1849; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18490813-TC-RWE-01; CL 24: 192-194
TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON
Scotsbrig, Ecclefechan, N.B. 13 Augt, 1849—
Dear Emerson,—By all laws of human computation, I owe you a Letter, and have owed, any time these seven weeks: let me now pay a little, and explain. Your second Barrel of Indian Corn arrived also perfectly fresh, and of admirable taste and quality; the very bag of new-ground meal was perfect; and the “popped corn” do, when it came to be discovered: with the whole of which admirable materials such order was taken as promised to secure “the greatest happiness to the greatest number”;1 and due silent thanks were rendered to the beneficence of the unwearied Sender:—but all this, you shall observe, had to be done in the thick of a universal packing and household bustle; I just on the wing for a “Tour in Ireland,” my Wife too contemplating a run to Scotland shortly after, there to meet me on my return. All this was seven good weeks ago: I hope[d]2 somewhere in my Irish wayfarings to fling you off a Letter; but alas I reckoned there quite without my host (strict “host,” called Time), finding nowhere half a minute left to me; and so now, having got home to my Mother, not to see my Wife yet for some days, it is my earliest leisure, after all, that I employ in this purpose. I have been terribly knocked about too,—jolted in Irish cars, bothered almost to madness with Irish balderdash, above all kept in dreadfully short allowance of sleep;—so that now first, when fairly down to rest, all aches and bruises begin to be fairly sensible; and my clearest feeling at this present is the uncomfortable one, that “I am not Caliban but a Cramp”:3 terribly cramped indeed, if I could tell you everything!
What the other results of this Irish Tour are to be for me I cannot yet in the least specify. For one thing, I seem to be farther from speech on any subject than ever: such masses of chaotic ruin everywhere fronted me, the general fruit of long-continued universal falsity and folly; and such mountains of delusion yet possessing all hearts and tongues: I could do little that was not even noxious, except admire in silence the general “Bankruptcy of Imposture” as one there finds and sees it come to pass, and think with infinite sorrow of the tribulations, futile wrestlings, tumults and disasters which yet await that unfortunate section of Adam's Posterity before any real improvement can take place among them. Alas, alas! The Gospels of Political Economy, of Laissez-faire, No-Government, Paradise to all comers, and so many fatal Gospels,—generally, one may say, all the Gospels of this blessed “New Era,”—will first have to be tried, and found wanting. With a quantity of written and uttered Nonsense, and of suffered and inflicted Misery, which one sinks fairly dumb to estimate! A kind of comfort it is, however, to see that “Imposture” has fallen openly “bankrupt,” here as everywhere else in our old world; that no dexterity of human tinkering, with all the Parliamentary Eloquence and Election Franchises in nature, will ever set it on its feet again, to go many yards more; but that its goings and currencies in this Earth have as good as ceased forever and ever! God is great; all Lies do now, as from the first, travel incessantly towards Chaos, and there at length lodge! In some parts of Ireland (the Western “insolvent unions,” some 27 of them in all), within a trifle of one half of the whole population are on Poor-Law rations (furnished by the British Government, £1100 a week furnished here, £1300 there, £800 there); the houses stand roofless, the lands unstocked, uncultivated, the landlords hidden from bailifs, living sometimes “on the hares of their domain”: such a state of things was never witnessed under this sky before; and, one would humbly expect, cannot last long!— What is to be done? asks every one; incapable of hearing any answer, were there even one ready for imparting to him. “Blacklead those 2 million idle beggars,” I sometimes advised, “and sell them in Brazil as Niggers,—perhaps Parliament, on constraint, will allow you to advance them to be Niggers!”— In fact, the Emancipation Societies should send over a deputation or two to look at these immortal Irish “Free men,” the ne-plus-ultrà of their class: it would perhaps moderate the windpipe of much eloquence one hears on that subject! Is not this the most illustrious of all “ages”; making progress of the species at a grand rate indeed? Peace be with it.
Waiting for me here, there was a letter from Miss Fuller in Rome, written about a month ago; a dignified and interesting Letter; requesting help with Booksellers for some “History of the late Italian Revolutions” she is about writing; and elegiacally recognising the worth of Mazzini and other cognate persons and things. I instantly set about doing what little seemed in my power towards this object,—with what result is yet hidden,—and have written to the heroic Margaret: “more power to her elbow!” as the Irish say. She has a beautiful enthusiasm; and is perhaps in the right stage of insight for doing that piece of business well.— Of other persons or interests I will say nothing till a calmer opportunity; which surely cannot be very long in coming.
In 4 days I am to rejoin my wife; after which some bits of visits are to be paid in this North Country; necessary most of them, nor likely to be profitable almost any. In perhaps a month I expect to be back in Chelsea; whither direct a word if you are still beneficent enough to think of such a Castaway! Yours ever
I got Thoreau's Book; and meant well to read it, but have not yet succeeded, tho' it went with us thro' all Ireland: tell him so, please. Too Jean-Paulish, I found it hitherto.4