The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO WILLIAM TAIT; 10 August 1826; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18260810-TC-WT-01; CL 4:122-124.


Scotsbrig, Thursday [10 August 1826]—

My Dear Sir,

An alteration has occurred in my engagements since I wrote last; and I cannot get to Edinr at present; and know not exactly when I shall. I have in consequence concocted a new Title-page; altered the Preface to suit it; and directed M'Corkindale to show you both before the proofs are returned. That of “German Novellists” &c was much more to my mind; and it belonged to us not to Roscoe, for we were first: however, on the whole, the present title tho' less neat and glib, may be more original, and better describe the peculiarities of the Book. After hammering over the matter for eight-and-forty hours, and trying two dozens of titles, this seemed the best I could raise:

German Romance:
Glimpses of its chief Authors and Kinds,
Translated Specimens (large)
with Biographical & Critical
Introductions (smaller).1

I like “glimpses of” very ill; and if you like it any worse, it must come out, tho' a just horror at puffing makes me wish to retain it or some equivalent. “Authors and Kinds” is descriptive of the work, as you will see from the Preface. On the whole I must leave the thing in your hands and Mr Ballantyne's, much better ones than mine.

I cannot participate in your fears about the fourth volume. A “German Novellists” without Goethe, would have been for all the world like an “English Dramatists” without Shakespeare. Consider what unspeakable contempt would have risen in the minds of all men for the botching compiler! Moreover Wilhelm Meister's Travels is by no means an uninteresting or peculiarly un-English book. On the contrary I reckon it (with Tieck) greatly the most immortal and poetical part of the whole; and notwithstanding my whimpering in the “Life of Goethe,” I have no doubt that there are many very many minds in the British isles that will view it so likewise; and these are the men that give the law to the mob of readers, a class of persons whom I still continue to think both Bookseller and Author will find it their interest in the long run to treat like rational men rather than like pampered children. On the whole we must not let the Edinburgh critics of German dishearten us: any of them that I have met with I have come to value, the longer I knew them, at a lower rate. They gabble words without wisdom; and really, I fear, know very little of the whole matter. It would not in the least surprise me if Meister as it is incomparably the best were also the most popular volume of the whole book.2

I thought at one time of writing an Introduction such as you recommend: but really the greater part, I may say almost all I know about German Novel writing is written down one way and another over the work; and a formal introduction to a thing so loose and fragmentary would have suited ill. The present is much more homogeneous with what follows, and I think will answer better.

It grieves me to hear you confirm the universal report of “bad times,” which all classes of men, learned and unlearned, seem destined to feel in this kingdom. Nevertheless, I believe it can only be temporary. The world requires literary amusement, and (ignorant monster that it is!) literary instruction still more. So that Poet and Editor and Bookseller and Printer's Devil shall all live!

I send you the invoice of these German Books; and should [be] very much obliged, if you would see the man paid as soon as possible; we can settle for the amount in due time.

Believe me always, / My Dear Sir, / Very Truly Yours's, /

T. Carlyle—

P.S. I see I have dashed out “Glimpses of” in Ballantyne's paper: however if you can tolerate it, I should like it fully better.

I shall hear about it all when the proofs come.

On maturer thought, I have reckoned it better not to give the name. There are several things said in the course of the Book, which tho' true enough might look almost pert, if said in the first person by a man whose name was nameless. Especially as you do not reckon it of any great importance, which indeed it cannot be.