The Collected Letters, Volume 28


TC TO RICHARD MONCKTON MILNES ; 18 May 1853; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18530518-TC-RMM-01; CL 28: 145-146


Chelsea, 18 May, 1853—

Dear Milnes,

Thanks, in the name of the small “suffering remnant”1 of studious souls in this country! If you and the Chancellor2 can take away that heavy aggravation from the price of good old Continental Books, you will accomplish a real benefit, and a thing creditable to both of you.

But I much fear it cannot be yet done by this method; or in fact without abrogating the foolish Book duty altogether. The present charge on Old Books is but an insignificant trifle; the real aggravation consists in the necessity of having every Book examined (on the Continent, first of all), fixed into its Customhouse class by stamp, &c &c; and in the consequent necessity of having agents; at Leipzig and elsewhere, to dun the officials, and get all this performed before the Book can sail:—for example, my last Foreign Book, Friedrich's Works, some 30 volumes (1788–92), was bought for me at Leipzig according to the Catalogue price for about 9/; and, laid down here at Chelsea, it cost 35‘/,—of which the carriage might cost perhaps about 2/ (in Prussia it could have been carried, by post, an equal distance for that sum, and they are now getting a kind of supplementary conveyance to reach, if not St Martin's, yet Regent's Circus on similar terms); the Queen's dues here, I really do not think above 1/6—and upwards of a guinea spent on mere Boeotian3 Botheration! Is not that a thing flagrant; well worthy of abolition by two men of sense that have got it by the neck? I pray you cut it home, and see you do not send it off with a mere scratch which will suffer it to live all the same!—

As I said, the new Books published in Germany or elsewhere at present, are not a care to me, are the reverse of a care; but if the others cannot be delivered except in their company, then clearly let the whole be delivered. I find we must go to the end of the whole tether in regard to “liberty of the press” here in England, in these blessed days; we must try it to the very uttermost (such is the irreversible Plebisscitum4 [decree of the People] just now), and see whether wisdom and salvation do lie in that,—and not in something infinitely different from that, by and by! This of Foreign Books, and absolute Freedom of the Book Trade every way, is the natural codicil to such sublime universal determination of the English People;—and it will come with a good grace from the hands it now depends on; and I really hope the Chancellor and you will do it, now that you are at it. If you made a Law to cheapen Old Foreign Books, and did not cheapen them perceptibly at all,—how should you like it!

At all events, consult Williams & Norgate (Henrietta Street), also Nutt (Fleet-Street), on the subject,—or employ me to rally those about you with their admonitions;—and see that you discern fully what your Law will do, before passing it;—and do not botch this fine business, but turn it off in a state to hold water!

Yours ever truly

T. Carlyle

My Wife is just off to Headley (Reigate), to see the young Sterling girls; and I know not whether she will be up in time for Saturday night.— I myself am discoverable here about 3 p.m. any day, and after 6 almost any evening.