The Collected Letters, Volume 27


TC TO WILLIAM DUNN ; 28 March 1852; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18520328-TC-WD-01; CL 27: 77


Chelsea, 28 March, 1852—

Dear Sir,

It would give me great pleasure to be of any use in developing into activity the beneficent ideas you have, and thereby doing a transcendent service to the world withal: but you are too generous to take it ill of me if I still answer that for me and my help there appears no possibility in such a direction, and that, too clearly, I can do nothing in it at all,—beyond wishing heartily well to it, if that is to do anything.

Your purposes seem high and excellent; many features, too, of a delicate and pious intelligence I can discern in what you say: but to myself the outcome seems entirely impracticable; and, without presuming to criticise what you or others may find good to attempt in such a matter, I can very clearly answer that for me, with my actual habits and now inveterate ways of thinking, there is really no firm place to stand on, no credible goal to aim at, in such a project, and in a word no work that I can do in it.

Your project seems to me to labour under that fatal error of aiming at “a Society which is to do the work of Society itself”: Society, it seems to me, exists simply, and has existed simply, in virtue of doing better or worse these very functions you contemplate for this new Association of private citizens: if such an Association did actually get into victorious activity, and do the work you cut out for it, were not this the real Church and the real State, the real King and the real Priest, and all else a superfluity and imposture?— I do not the least contemplate that any such Association could get into action,—unless delivering Orations and paying Subscriptions be accounted “action”:—and for the improvement of the old already extant Church and State I am forced to look towards quite other agencies.

Probably you will do well, as you contemplate, to speak out what thoughts are labouring in you, on these subjects; so far as you have attained a clear profound and modest conviction, you have a real call to speak: and the answer you get will elucidate in many ways what steps are next to be taken. As to me I can feel no tendency whatever towards such “Associations” as are alone possible in the present state of men's minds; and am continually reminding myself, “The good citizen's first duty is that of staying well at home,—managing wisely his own affairs, while so much madness is abroad.”

Believe me, / Dear Sir, / Yours with true regards & wishes

T. Carlyle