TC TO THOMAS STORY SPEDDING; 23 November 1851; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18511123-TC-TSS-01; CL 26: 238-240
TC TO THOMAS STORY SPEDDING
Chelsea, 23 Novr 1851—
You are very good to poor Sterling and me; and I am very glad to hear your honest calm and friendly voice again, on that or any subject.1 The voice of one man that has human feeling, candour and discernment, may well be welcome to me in the distracting whirlpool of voices, mostly fraught with mere folly and impertinent insanity, to which I am exposed here. For to say truth, my “Correspondence” in these late years, is nearly altogether a burden to me; and I could often wish there had been no “Literature,” or art of penmanship, invented by the Sons of Adam: so sad is it to sit as the general target, or national Cock-shy, for Prurient Blockheadisms in an extensive department of our affairs; and to spend so much of one's fast-fleeting time in merely repelling such missiles, and making them rebound at the due angle! Rowland Hill's penny post has done nothing for me, whomsoever it may have benefited. Alas, the longer one lives, intrinsically one has to grow the lonelier, and shrink closer into one's nook, admitting to the Genius of Human Stupidity: “Yea, thou art great, thou, and the very gods prevail not against these;2 and I, behold, am small, and would fain die in peace!” The quantity of mortals that utter any sense with these never-resting tongues and pens of theirs seems to me lamentably small at present!— But let us not complain.
I am somewhat at a loss to make out clearly what specially in my creed is the stone of stumbling to you and other intelligent friends. To myself it is all in the most compact quiescent condition, and gives me no trouble at all for the last thirty years or so,—fierce as the struggle was, almost to the edge of death or insanity, that I had with it before. But ever since, as Goethe says, “With God, or with the Gods, my affairs have stood on a very tolerable footing!”3 And it is really grand among all one's other hindrances and darknesses, to look with such composure as mine can be on Newman, Wiseman, Allies, Ward and Company,4 and have no concern whatever in that Red (Mud) Sea of theirs, and the drowned or drowning dogs which painfully welter in the same! The fact is I quitted that long since; found that I must quit it, however inconvenient,—under pain of damnation (for is not Sham-belief, with its corollary Intellectual and Practical Hypocricy, a damnable and the one damnable thing?)—and accordingly I had the honesty to quit it; which, sad to say even the better part of the world has not yet managed to do, but still clings by it as if Heaven lay in that direction after all. To me it is frightfully evident that quite the reverse of Heaven lies in that direction just now! Here, if I may venture a guess, is perhaps one main ground of the discrepancy in our views as to the worth of this time: that you look on much as good, while it has really the outer skin of goodness, while to me it is bad and horrible, having the skin only, and being inwardly an Apple of Sodom, poisonous to every soul. This, which I often express very wildly, is in all deliberateness my real belief about such phenomena, a most painful and burning belief; and if my pious friends could valiantly follow me over that barrier where they all call halt as yet, I fancy they wd all see quite a new set of phenomena, much to their terror, and somewhat to their profit perhaps, as the times now go! I believe there never was a good innocent-hearted Nation, or indeed any Nation at all, so steeped to the lips in inveterate HYPOCRICY of every description, and saturated with it and tinted with it to the very marrow of the bone, as this poor English Nation now is; which of course never dreams of being “Hypocritical,” very far from that,—so tinted is it thro' all films, and to the marrow of the bone!— For the rest, I by no means fear the Devil will get hold of God's world; let him try his hand at that! But too clearly there are large tracts of generations,—the Age of Tiberius & Co,5 for example,—when the Devil has on all sides the upper hand: which generations I do account damned; “destined to serve as mere manure on the field of existence,” when once the better growths in them have come to perfection. And now if Hypocricy is the summary of all sin, and of the Devil devilish, meet it where we will, what can I think of this poor generation of ours and the three or four contiguous to it!—— You perhaps see here some shadow of my meaning: but indeed I could object much to these old symbols, “Devil” &c, &c, which are far from expressing one's modern notion about the world, and by me are only used because they lie handiest when such unspeakables are to be spoken of at all. And on the whole I will now shut shop in the preaching line, and not trouble you any further with that today.
Our Water-cure experiences were curious and pleasant enough, not specially important in respect of personal health.6 To get perfectly well I found might actually be possible for me by self-sacrifice for years long; possible; but not worth while! What good is it, at the age of three score and ten, to say “I am perfectly well in health”; and, not having a stroke of work good or bad to show for yourself, be obliged to die, and grow as ill as your neighbours!— But I think the Water-cure a really fruitful invention; and calculated to have great results in our Modern Society, not medical only but moral, nay I had almost said religious. “Here is a RAMADHAN for swollen Bull,”7 I said to myself, “here in these lonesome water-tubs; let him sit there for a month; and worship, in a monastic manner, at least his own big Belly, ugly but appropriate Idol, if he have no other God!” I really think it will do Bull good by degrees.
What you say of Lord Bacon is heart-rending. Gone to shoot Birds, and by an invisible Nemesis gets himself shot! Let him immediately come to Chelsea, and give account of himself.8
I am deep in extremely dull German Books about the History of Frederick the Great. If I were a Prussian, I wd write a Book about that man; and call on all men to reverence him as the last real King we have seen in this world.
Adieu dear Spedding; I have got to the very end of my paper,—and far beyond the end of my time!9
Yours ever truly