January-September 1856

The Collected Letters, Volume 31


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON ; 20 July 1856; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18560720-TC-RWE-01; CL 31: 128-130


Chelsea, 20 july, 1856—

Dear Emerson,

Welcome was your Letter1 to me, after the long interval; as welcome as any human Letter could now well be. These many months and years I have been sunk in what disastrous vortexes of foreign wreck you know, till I am fallen sick and almost broken-hearted, and my life (if it were not this one interest, of doing a problem which I see to be impossible, and of smallish value if found doable!) is burdensome and without meaning to me. It is so rarely I hear the voice of a magnanimous Brother Man addressing any word to me: ninety-nine hundredths of the Letters I get are impertinent clutchings of me by the button, concerning which the one business is, How to get handsomely loose again; What to say that shall soonest end the intrusion,—if saying Nothing will not be the best way. Which last I often in my sorrow, have recourse to, at whatever known risks “We must pay our tribute to Time”:2 ah yes, yes;—and yet I will believe, so long as we continue together in this sphere of things, there will always be a potential Letter coming out of New England for me, and the world not fallen irretrievably dumb.— — The best is, I am about going into Scotland, in two days, into deep solitude, for a couple of months beside the Solway sea:3 I absolutely need to have the dust blown out of me, and my mad nerves rested (there is nothing else quite gone wrong): this unblessed Life of Fredk is now actually to get along into the Printer's hand;—a good Book being impossible upon it, there shall a bad one be done, and one's poor existence rid of it:—for which great objects, two months of voluntary torpor are considered the fair preliminary. In another year's time (if the Fates allow me to live), I expect to have got a great deal of rubbish swept into Chaos again. Unlucky it should ever have been dug up, much of it!—

Your Mrs Ward4 should have had our best welcome, for the sake of him who sent her, had there been nothing more: but the Lady never shewed face at all; nor could I for a long time get any trace,—and then it was a most faint and distant one as if by double reflex,—of her Whereabout: too distant, too difficult for me, who do not make a call once in the six months lately. I did mean to go in quest (never had an Address); but had not yet rallied for the Enterprise; when Mrs W. herself wrote that she had been unwell, that she was going directly for Paris, and would see us on her return.5 So be it:—pray only I may not be absent next! I have not seen or distinctly heard of Miss Bacon for a year and half past: I often ask myself, what has become of that poor Lady, and wish I knew of her being safe among her friends again. I have even lost the address (whh at any rate was probably not a lasting one);6 perhaps I could find it by the eye,—but it is five miles away; and my non-plus-ultra7 for years past is not above half that distance. Heigho!— But let me get to business; for I have a little piece of actual business again to burden you with; and my Paper is rapidly wasting away.

Chapman the Bookseller (in addition to Fredk, about which we have yet made no bargain) has at length resolved on a “Collective Edition of Carlyle's works”; to be printed in a cheap but handsome and immaculately correct form: 16 handy little volumes (big 12mo; no, foolscap 8vo I should think) to sell at 6/ each, and be published monthly,—first of them will come out probably in Novr, and so last for 15 months more (French Revn makes the first two volumes). The Book is to be stereotyped; I have got a loyal friend8 to do the correcting, to do an Index &c &c; the printer is the excellent Robson9 (acquainted with that peculiar article): in short I believe the thing will be well done, in all points. The Stereotyped Plates, after Chapman has printed his 2,000 or 4,000 are to be mine.10

Well, you perceive now what I am at. If an American Publisher has liberty to import British Stereotype Plates (and to send them back soon, for that too will be needed), he might, if his mind lay towards such an adventure, have the chance of doing a “Carlyle's works” for Americans, on terms both of cheapness and correctness defying all competition. What I want of you is to make some inquiry on the matter;—or perhaps set E. P. Clarke upon it, if he still stand true?11 Do not take too much trouble. I have a real wish (real if not very vivid) that my American friends could read me without the foul errors all their Editions abound with. Item a wish (real, but neither is this very vivid) to secure all the peculium [payment] there actually does lie in this Enterprise at home and abroad,—at least to give myself the chance of trying for it. And this is all the length I have gone, or (if your answer be negative) have any intention to go. Pardon! Pardon!

My time is all up and more; and Chaos come again12 is lying round me, in the shape of ‘packing’; in a thousand shapes!— Browning is coming tonight to take leave. Do you know Browning at all? He is abstruse; but worth knowing.— And what of the Discourse on England by a certain man? Shame! We always hear of it again as “out,” and it continues obstinately in.13 Adieu, my friend

Ever yours,—

T. Carlyle