The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO N. H. JULIUS; 4 December 1826; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18261204-TC-NHJ-01; CL 4:160-164.


21. Comley Bank, Edinburgh, 4th December / 1826—

My Dear Sir,

The acknowledgement of your kind attention in regard to those Books you forwarded me into Dumfriesshire is a debt which for several months has lain heavy on my conscience. The more so, as Messrs Perthes & Besser are still unpaid, and a pecuniary obligation is superadded to your other claims on me. Unable to discover any method of paying my little debt to your Booksellers, I had determined to postpone interfering with it at all, till the publication of my “German Romance” should enable me at the same time to transmit you a copy of that work, to which you had so kindly contributed your assistance. Happily Mr Aiken,1 whom I met with lately, affords me an earlier opportunity of transacting this necessary business; an opportunity the more gratifying, as the coming out of that same “German Romance” which has already lain printed almost three months, is still put off to an uncertain distance, the Publisher being seized with alarm at our late commercial distresses, and doubly and trebly anxious to catch “the right season” (when London is at the fullest) for sending it forth to the world. Mr Aiken has also been obliging enough to undertake settling with Messrs Perthes and Besser for me; so that now I hope the whole matter may be satisfactorily adjusted.

I will not weary you with thanks for your kindness in this affair; but only wish from my heart that your own concerns may some time or other put it in my power to repay the service, and to shew you not in word but in deed what sense I entertain of it. Also nichts mehr davon [But nothing more of this]!

Some singular fatality must have attended those book-packets: they came, both together, in the month of August; and the post-letter which you referred to has never come yet! I suspect it must have been the fault of the Custom House officers in Leith, that the Books were detained so long; a fault which I shall study to obviate in future negociations; and the mail-letter must either have sunk at sea, or dropped thro' the fingers of our Hamburg or London Postmasters, a contingency not indeed to be obviated, but which is happily of rare occurrence. As it was, Hoffmann and the rest arrived about six weeks after copies of them had come from Leipzig; and what was doubly provoking the Life of Richter was just two days later in coming to hand than the Introductory Chapter on Jean Paul in going to press! It is thus that the most cunning contrivances of mortals are dissipated into vanity, and gross officers of Customs can frustrate the most kind exertions of Friends! Yet I must beg you to pardon those B[o]eotian2 persons, as I have long since done: they knew not the mischief they were occasioning, or the good they were preventing; and this proof of your obliging and really friendly attention to my wants was so valuable to me, that I could not but heartily thank the Leith Douaniers [customs officers] for transmitting it to me on any terms.

Of my Translations and Criticisms, which we have now agreed to distinguish by the title of “German Romance: Specimens of its Chief Authors,” &c I shall not at present trouble you with any farther description; hoping in a few weeks to shew you the article itself; and with all my imperfections, to gain from you the credit of at least having wished to do your countrymen justice. I have ventured also to prophecy that this merit will ere long be much more common than it is at present, or lately; for one of the most striking features of our present literary spirit, and as I think by no means the most unpromising one, is our decidedly increasing attention to German: I should suppose that within the last ten years (since the publication of Madame de Stäel's Allemagne)3 the number of German scholars among us has increased fully tenfold; and to judge from actual appearances the increase is going on at present in a still more rapid ratio. In a few years, we shall know you, as you know us; and England will no longer disgrace itself by talking of Germany as unwisely as of Japan.

A proof of this fast increasing attention to German is the four Selections of German Tales, which last year were all in the press at one time. Except mine, these works are all published; and if in general they meet with but a sorry reception, one can hardly deny that it is little worse than they merit; and even the absurdest of them must contribute to awaken curiosity, and promote a wider and juster survey of your Literature. You ask me the names of these my brethren Translators: Roscoe4 came first (a son of Mr Roscoe's of Liverpool—the historian of Leo X and Lorenzo di Medici); he is said to be ignorant of German; and his Book is certainly bad; then came one (Cruikshank5 I have heard him called) with a Collection published by Whittaker in London, which I have never seen, or heard of except by the newspaper advertisement; and lastly a Mr Gillies6 has sent forth three volumes the other week in Edinburgh, with what merit or success I have not learned; tho' he himself (an unemployed Advocate of this city) has long been known as one of the most enthusiastic students of German, and as possessing the largest German Library of any man in Scotland or perhaps in Britain. This is rivalry of Trade with a vengeance! My poor Book, however, you will be happy to learn, is to a great degree uninterfered with by any of these Works; and will be allowed to live its month or two, on its own legs without reference to them.

I was very much obliged by your copy of Doering's Jean Paul7 and the manuscript sent along with it; which tho' too late for assisting my printed critical labours I perused with great interest. My curiosity indeed was rather excited than satisfied by the strange “string of shreds and patches,”8 which Doering calls a Life; but Richter is a subject of such attraction that any account of him however meagre was peculiarly welcome. If Otto's Life of Richter9 have a good reputation, and be already published, I could wish Mr Perthes would take the first opportunity of sending it to me: in this point I must beg you again to be my selector and judge.

What of Tieck's new Novel?10 I can get no account of it in this country; no one even to say that he has ever heard of it. Tieck has become one of my chief favourites: I read his Genofeva yesterday with no ordinary pleasure.

Which do you reckon the best Literary Review in Germany? The Vienna Jahrbücher is the only one I find in Edinr. In scientific Periodicals we are far richer: Schuhmacher &c &c are regularly received; your work among others is taken in at the College Library. Jörden's Lexicon11 I have long been in the habit of consulting; and I fully agree with your character of it.

I was surprised to find that you had heard of the Edinburgh Janus,12 and still more that I had any hand in it. The concocter of the whole scheme, I believe, was the Bookseller Boyd; and his contributors were gathered from all quarters where he could find them; in many cases unknown to all the world, in several cases, even to each other. I had no hand in it whatever; nor will you regret it much, when you learn that the enterprise has totally failed; the Janus never having made any way, except by dint of what we call puffing. It is not to be repeated. The Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life are understood to be by Professor Wilson13 of this city; a wild exuberant genius, author also of the Isle of Palms, City of the Plague &c &c, and believed in secret to be the great mainspring of Blackwood's Magazine.— Have you seen the Confessions of an English Opium-Eater?14 I should think that as a Physician and man of Letters you would feel an interest in it: it was highly popular here some years ago; the Author is a man of real talent, and ruined by Opium as he says.— It is quite certain that Sir Walter Scott is publishing a Life of Napoleon:15 five volumes are already printed, and two more are to be ready forthwith. He is also writing another novel. About a year ago, his pecuniary affairs went to wreck, and from the bankruptcy of our chief Edinr Bookseller he himself became bankrupt;16 but this seems to sit lightly on his spirits, and he is as gay and busy as ever. His Napoleon, it is expected, will be the great work of the winter.

But I must check my garrulity: for the sheet is nearly done, and my time is done altogether. I have written in the greatest haste; for Mr Aiken could only give me the briefest warning; but I could not think of letting the opportunity pass without shewing at least that I wished to profit by it.

I shall desire much to hear from you by the return of Mr Aiken's packet: if not, it is probable I may write to you again before an answer arrive; for I must send you a copy of this “German Romance,” so soon as it sees the light. I have still hopes of even seeing you, and seeing Germany before I die!

Meanwhile, Believe me always, with a true sense of your kindness, and the greatest desire to return it,

My Dear Sir, / Most faithfully Your's /

Thomas Carlyle—