The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO WILLIAM TAIT; 31 July 1826; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18260731-TC-WT-01; CL 4:119-121.


Scotsbrig, Ecclefechan, 31st July, 1826—

My Dear Sir,

I this morning send off the last eight leaves of Ms. for our German Book; and as the Printers have only about ten sheets remaining to compose, I calculate that the whole matter will be off my hands in a few days.

I am happy to tell you that this work, which has given me some unexpected trouble, also gives me some unexpected pleasure, and that at the present moment I am far better satisfied with the general structure of it than when you first proposed the business I could even hope to be. What its fate with the reading world may be you are better able to predict than I; but at all events, I think we may offer our Book to the Public as a thing fulfilling what it promises; giving real German Novellists, the highest to be found in that country; and on the whole offering a considerably truer and more comprehensive glimpse into German Literature than any other yet offered in England. I have seen, I think, three different sets of German Novellists advertised in the Newspapers (so that your idea at last—for the idea was yours—would seem to be a favourite one); but I should not incline to suppose that any of these productions can interfere much with ours; being addressed to quite a different set of readers, and filled exclusively, so far as I have observed, with second third and even fourth-rate men, of whom it were easy enough to collect two or three shiploads in Germany, as it would be in England.— Really so far as I can judge I reckon the Book in its own small way likely to be useful “for reproof, for doctrine for correction,”1 and what tho' last you will not reckon least, for—sale.

Next Parcel, I send M'Corkindale the Title-page, and a short Preface. I think the title should run thus: “German Novellists [not The];2 Translations from their works with Introductions Critical and Biographical. Vol. I containing Musäus, La Motte Fouqué, Vol. II. &c.” You can let me know by the next packet if you think of any alteration.

As this, if I remember rightly, very much resembles Roscoe's title,3 with which I should as soon not have it confounded,—I may mention that if you judged it of any great importance I am not utterly averse to putting my name to the Compilation tho' otherwise I had much rather not. It is a work which can never bring me reputation: nevertheless it is all true, and the best I in my circumstances could make it; and if it is necessary that any fraction of the Earth understand who did it, let them, in the Devil's name, understand!4

My Brother writes me that you do not think it would be adviseable to publish till November. On this point I can offer no advice, and make no objection. Arrange it with your Brother as you like. All I want is to have my hands washed of the affair; and ready to commence another. I hope only it will not be inconvenient to let me have two or three Author's copies made ready without delay. I wish to send one to Goethe, and another to my Hamburg correspondent;5 and the sooner this were done the better. As for the payment, which I have use for at present, it will be easy enough by lengthening the date of your Bill to manage this to the satisfaction of both parties.

I have farther to request that you would be so kind as take measures for the payment of Perthes and Besser the Hamburg Booksellers who sent me that last catalogue of German works. I suppose you would get some letter or document instructing you how to manage it; and the thing was done in so friendly a way, that it were pity not to be punctual. As it turns out, the Books, all except one, were totally superfluous, being indeed, with that exception (a Life of Richter), neither more nor less than duplicates of those already received from Leipzig. There must have been some gross mismanagement in the business; for the first cargo was shipped in March by some Scotch ship not a Lieth Smack; and had they been conveyed with reasonable fidelity, they would have been highly useful to me. At present how they have come is a mystery to me: a letter sent by post appears to have miscarried; for I never heard of it till on opening these parcels. Of course these last books are mine; and if you do not feel it convenient to risk the chance of selling them along with the rest, we will settle for the amount, and you may have your choice between these and the corresponding ones of the former lot, some of which are cut here and there, tho' otherwise uninjured; and all likely, I should think, particularly after the publication [of] our Novellists, to be acceptable to German Students. Every one of them should go into the Advocates' Library, by right.6

Next time M'Corkindale sends me down sheets, I shall look for a letter from you; and by way of answer to it, I expect to make my appearance in person to wind up all old matters, and if possible to start some new one. I know not whether you have any fresh plan of employment in store for me; nor is it material, for I have a vehement purpose (or at least desire) to write something out of my own heart and head, and so become Author in place of Editor. We shall talk of these things when we meet. What think you of a “German Dramatists” in the wake of these Novellists?—

Believe me always, / My Dear Sir, / Truly Your's, /

Thomas Carlyle