1854-June 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 29


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON; 8 April 1854; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18540408-TC-RWE-01; CL 29: 58-61


Chelsea, 8 April, 1854—

Dear Emerson,

It was a morning not like any other which lay round it, a morning to be marked with white,1 that one, about a week ago, when your Letter came to me; a word from you yet again, after so long a silence! On the whole, I perceive you will not utterly give up answering me, but will rouse yourself now and then to a word of human brotherhood on my behalf, so long as we both continue in this Planet. And I declare, the Heavens will reward you; and as to me, I will be thankful for what I get, and submissive to delays and to all things: all things are good compared with flat want in that respect. It remains true, and will remain, what I have often told you, that properly there is no voice in this world which is completely human to me, which fully understands all I say, and with clear sympathy and sense answers to me, but your voice only. That is a curious fact, and not quite a joyful one to me. The solitude, the silence of my poor soul, in the centre of this roaring whirlpool called Universe, is great always, and sometime strange and almost awful. I have two million talking bipeds without feathers,2 close at my elbow, too; and of these it is often hard for me to say whether the so-called “wise” or the almost professedly foolish are the more inexpressibly unproductive to me. “Silence, Silence!” I often say to myself: “Be silent, thou poor fool; and prepare for that Divine Silence which is now not far!”— On the whole, write to me whenever you can; and be not weary of welldoing.3

I have had sad things to do and see since I wrote to you: the loss of my dear and good old Mother, which could not be spared me forever, has come more like a kind of total bankruptcy upon me than might have been expected, considering her age and mine. On those last two days, that last Christmas sunday! She was a true pious brave and noble mother to me; and it is now all over; and the Past has all become pale and sad and sacred;—and the all-devouring potency of Death, what we call Death, has never looked so strange, cruel and unspeakable to me. Nay not cruel altogether, let me say; huge, profound, unspeakable, that is the word.— You too have lost your good old Mother, who staid with you like mine, clear to the last:4 alas, alas, it is the oldest Law of Nature; and it comes on every one of us with a strange originality, as if it had never happened before.— Forward, however; and no more lamenting; no more than cannot be helped. “Paradise is under the shadow of our swords,” said the Emir: “Forward!”5

I make no way in my Prussian History; I bore and dig toilsomely thro' the unutterablest mass of dead rubbish, which is not even English, which is German and inhuman; and hardly from ten tons of learned inanity is there to be riddled one old rusty nail. For I have been back as far as Pytheas6 (who first of speaking creatures) beheld the Teutonic Countries; and have questioned all manner of extinct German shadows,—who answer nothing but mumblings. And on the whole Fritz himself is not sufficiently divine to me, far from it; and I am getting old, and heavy of heart;—and in short, it oftenest seems to me I shall never write any word about that matter; and have again fairly got into the element of the IMPOSSIBLE. Very well: could I help it? I can at least be honestly silent; and “bear my indigence with dignity,” as you once said.7 The insuperable difficulty of Frederic is, that he, the genuine little Ray of Veritable and Eternal that was in him, lay imbedded in the putrid Eighteenth Century, such an ocean of sordid nothingnesses, shams, and scandalous hypocrisies, as never weltered in the world before;8 and that in everything I can find yet written or recorded of him, he still, to all intents and purposes, most tragically lies THERE;—and ought not to lie there, if any use is ever to be had of him, or at least of writing about him; for as to him, he with his work is safe enough to us, far elsewhere.— Pity me, pity me; I know not on what hand to turn; and have such a Chaos filling all my Earth and Heaven as was seldom seen in British or Foreign Literature! Add to which, the Sacred Entity, Literature itself is not growing more venerable to me, but less and ever less: good Heavens, I feel often as if there were no madder set of bladders tumbling on the billows of the general Bedlam at this moment than even the Literary ones,—dear at twopence a gross, I should say, unless one could annihilate them by purchase on those easy terms! But do not tell this in Gath;9 let it be a sad family-secret.

I smile, with a kind of grave joy, over your American speculations, and wild dashing portraitures of things as they are with you; and recognise well, under your light caricature, the outlines of a right true picture, which has often made me sad and grim in late years. Yes, I consider that the “Battle of Freedom and Slavery” is very far from ended; and that the fate of poor “Freedom” in the quarrel is very questionable indeed!10 Alas, there is but one Slavery, as I wrote somewhere;11 and that, I think, is mounting towards a height, which may bring strokes to bear upon it again! Meanwhile, patience; for us there is nothing else appointed.— Tell me, however, what has become of your Book on England?12 We shall really be obliged to you for that. A piece of it went thro' all the Newspapers, some years ago;13 which was really unique for its quaint kindly insight, humour and other qualities; like an etching by Hollar or Dürer,14 amid the continents of vile smearing which are called “pictures” at present. Come on, come on; give us the Book, and don't loiter!—

Miss Bacon has fled away to St. Albans (the Great Bacon's place) 5 or 6 months ago, and is there working out her Shakspeare Problem, from the depths of her own mind, disdainful apparently, or desperate and careless, of all evidence from Museums or Archives; I have not had an answer from her since before Christmas, and have now lost her address.15 Poor Lady: I sometimes silently wish she were safe home again; for truly there can no madder enterprise than her present one be well figured.— Adieu, my Friend; I must stop short here. Write soon, if you have any charity. Good be with you ever

T. Carlyle