The Collected Letters, Volume 26


TC TO LADY ASHBURTON; 27 October 1851; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18511027-TC-LA-01; CL 26: 217-218


Chelsea, 27 Octr, 1851—

Dear Lady,— We are in a very dark state here; nearly altogether silent, given up to our own thoughts, such as they may be in this decadent state of the year and of the world;—and I can write you nothing that is not worse than blank paper: that is literally my sad predicament; with which let me not sadden you, and degrade myself, by complaining about it. Under all the cataracts of Avernus,1 I have a kind of feeling that I am not yet drowned; a kind of notion that I shall not and will not drown, or lie dead altogether: in this humour let me strive, and silently give me your blessing,—as indeed it is almost my one blessedness at present to know that you do; Heaven reward you for that same! And if any thought of yours pretend to whisper that I have forgotten or am like to forget you, be so kind as inform said thought that it is infinitely mistaken, and had better hold its peace in time coming, for that I only too well remember you, and that (by act magic or otherwise) you are painted very sufficiently bright in my poor spellbound and spectre-haunted imagination; the one glow of radiancy that still looks of Heaven to me, on a ground which is black and waste as the realms of Phlegethon and Styx,2 and which sets you off (I can assure you) to great advantage, whatever else it do!— And so let that rest also; and let the strenuous human soul work out its passage thro' the jungle the best it may, and not sink beyond the lips if that can be helped.

In general, as above hinted, I avoid all people; greatly prefer not to be spoken to, so long as there is so little wisdom sincerity or worth in speech: I have therefore no news for you, or such only as are patent to all the world, and cannot be of the least interest except for forgetting, which truly is a duty we owe to many things. I spend all my time in reading, in annotating; walk twice a day; study to tread on nobody's toes,—and yet one does, unconsciously, involuntarily; and other people do on ours to an almost intolerable extent!— My last Book was an old heavy Life of Captain Cook, by a certain dull Dr Kippis;3 rather an abridgt of Cook's Voyages than any perceptible account of his Life, which must however have been a remarkable one, could any glimpse of it be got. Clearly a braver man than is made above four or five times in a generation. There is much in the Book about your Great–grandfather, the dissolute Earl, whose nickname whh I have heard from yourself and others I have now forgotten.4 It struck me forcibly this Ld of the Admiralty was to appearance possessed of certain most important virtues withal; that probably the virtues much preponderated if we cd judge him as the gods judged,—and that in brief our present judgt of him was not of the gods at all, but of the mere ribalds and mutinous street populace!— I daresay there must be Letters of Cook, for one thing, still at Hinchinbrook?5 If I were Lord Sandwich, I wd have some order taken with what memorials there are of this ancestor. And as for the First Earl, Oliver's Ironside, and clearly a noble and able man,6—that oblivion, I must say, is not very pious on the part of his descendants! But, after all, “what can one do?” “What” &c &c? I know the heavy intricacy of these questions too, in a time like ours, in a state of manners (aristocratic and other) like ours. Alas, alas!— If you can remember when you go to Alverstoke, will you ask Croker if there is any descendant of Cook now alive that he knows of? and if so what or where?7 Let us turn the unfortunate Croker to this account (as even from Badgers one can make excellt shaving-brushes); and keep it in mind for me when we meet.

I called twice for Lady Sandwich, but both times in vain; my wife was with me the first time:—I like well to think of your frail old Mother as in England and among friends just now, rather than at Paris amid jangling Ape—populations, waiting for the advent of Ledru. Mazzini persists that there is no doubt of his arriving at the presidency. Which truly I shall be rather glad of: the maximum of Sansculottism, let us have it, since our hand is in! Jane has got Italian lessons for poor Saffi the Roman Ex-Triumvir, which truly was a fortunate achievement. I have seen no sadder milder-minded more priest-like young man than this Head of the Revolutionists, who has now got 20 shillings a week to rejoice over!— — Thackeray was here one night; going to Edinr with his Lectures in December; then to Yankeeland with do: having first published a Novel in 3 volumes; and so smitten heartily on the big drum. For myself I am yet writing nothing: God help me!— But enough. I mean to write again by and by. No answer! God bless you.