1854-June 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 29


TC TO WILLIAM BELL SCOTT; 16 November 1854; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18541116-TC-WBS-01; CL 29: 202-203


Chelsea, 16 Novr, 1854—

My dear Sir,

It is too certain I have committed an absurd mistake; which indeed I discovered two weeks ago, with an emotion compounded of remorse, astonishment, and the tendency to laugh and cry both at once!1 The truth is, I am pestered with incipient volumes of verses from young lads that feel something stirring in them; on the frontispiece of your little volume I read “Printer” (not Painter, as I should have done), nor did your written Note, in the hurry I was in, recal to me your identity: fancying therefore that it was an ingenious Printer lad, in your coaly town, who was rashly devoting his extra gifts, evidently rather valuable ones, to the trade of verse-making, I wrote and admonished (hastily reading 5 or 6 stanzas here and there) in the singular manner you experienced! Never was a more distracted qui pro quo [answer].2 On discerning that Printer was “Painter,” and hearing that you had published a volume of Poems,—I at once found my young “Idle Apprentice” converted into a grave earnest man, of mature mastership, and a beard almost as grey as my own; whose surprise at my reception of him it was at once ludicrous and horrible to picture to myself! This is the naked truth; and I hope you will find in it an explanation of everything.

For the rest, I must say, you take the affair, even in its unexplained shape, in a spirit which I must call chivalrous and every way humane and noble; for which accept praises and thanks from me, very cordial indeed. I need not add that verses of your writing, were they only the sport of well-earned leisure, come under a very different rubrick from verses by my supposed young gentleman playing truant;—and are likely to be much more deliberately “read” and judged of in this place;—and that my doctrine about Work and Speech was, and continues to be, so far as I can perceive, precisely your own.

On the whole I will ask you to come and see me again, if you can spare half an hour (3 to 4 p.m.) while in London; to consider me reading your new Poems (as my purpose was) the first spare evening I had; and always as remembering with pleasure and respect the friendly man, recognisable as an earnest fellow-labourer in the vineyard,3 whom I once saw here. You may believe me

Yours very sincerely always

T. Carlyle