August 1857-June 1858

The Collected Letters, Volume 33


TC TO W. LATTIMER ; 3 March 1858; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18580303-TC-WL-01; CL 33: 186-187


Chelsea, 3 March, 1858

Dear Sir—

In addition to all other hindrances, I am at present, and for many months back, overwhelmingly busy; every moment of my time occupied. Nor indeed, with such ignorance of the details as is inevitable to me, could it well be advantageous to interfere with advice. A child learns from his father what view of the universe (and also what practice in it) the father actually has, not pretends to have; and I should say, it was one of the clearest and most comprehensive duties, on the part of the father, to proceed loyally with his child,—loyally, and with his best wisdom and caution,—in this as in other matters.

There is a Book by Jean Paul, called “Levana, or The Doctrine of Education” (some such title); a small volume, which has been translated;1 which I should judge it might be worth your while to procure and study: you will find a great many fruitful ideas in it, in reference to the task you have on hand. In Wilhelm Meister's Travels (sequel to Wilhelm's Apprenticeship) by Goethe,2 there is, by intimation rather than by direct lecture on the subject, by far the best account that I have ever known to be written, especially in modern times, of that high matter. I recommend this, on all hands, for many years past, as the Book of Books on Education of the young soul in these broken distracted times of ours;3 but do not find that almost any English person yet reads it with understanding.

Believe me,

Yours with many kind regards,

T. Carlyle


Chelsea [Spring, 1858].

In answer to Mr. Lattimer,—in great haste,—T. C.

1. Forms of devotion, “Infant Prayers” and other, I should judge, might have a very good effect, on one proviso (but this a rigorous one), That the father himself completely believed in them. If the father do not entirely believe, if he even unconsciously doubts, still more if he do not even know what belief is, the child will at once more or less clearly feel this; and the effects will be bad, and that only,—perhaps to a degree little suspected at present.

2. That we are all “bound to speak the truth” to our fellow creatures; and the divine importance of doing that is plain enough by this time, or ought to be. But the faithful man here too will keep his eye upon the concrete fact as well as upon the rubric, or letter of the law; and will know that it is with the fact that he has got to deal. To set up “cases of conscience,” and puzzle over them, will not much help him. The permitted limits of simulation, who could undertake to define them? We do not inform the fox, inquiring of us, where our poultry lodges. All men are entitled at least to keep their thoughts dumb when they please. Answers that have that effect are a refuge possible in most cases.—And for the rest there is a far deeper veracity than that of the tongue; which it is infinitely important to acquire, and which I have often noticed superstitious professors of tongue-truth to be greatly destitute of.

3. All nations that have risen beyond the rank of Samoyedes4 have had laws, which they kept as sacred, in reference to matters sexual: and generally the higher they have risen in the scale of nations, the nobler and more imperative have such laws been. Continence (in this and in all things) is the perpetual duty of all men and all women. Chastity, in the true form of it, is probably the most beautiful of virtues,—essential to all noble creatures. A lewd being has fatally lost the aroma of his existence; and become caput mortuum [death's head or worthless residue] in regard to the higher functions of intelligence and morality. No frightfuller feature of these ruined generations presents itself than that of their utter corruption in this respect.—Alas, what can a parent do in such times? He will need all his wisdom to do even a little for his child in that important particular. For injudicious meddling is capable, I believe, of frightfully worsening the affair.