The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO GOETHE; 20 August 1827; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18270820-TC-G-01; CL 4:246-249.


Edinburgh, 21. Comley Bank, / 20th August 1827—

Dear and Honoured Sir,

I have now the pleasure of signifying that your kind purpose has been accomplished. Your Note of the 17th May reached us in two weeks, by the Post; and the much longed-for Packet, which it had warned us to expect, has at length, duly forwarded and announced by Messrs Parish and Co. of Hamburg, arrived here in safety, on the 9th of this month.

If the best return for such gifts is the delight they are enjoyed with, I may say that you are not unrepaid; for no Royal present could have gratified us more. These Books with their Inscriptions,1 these Autographs and tasteful ornaments, will be precious in other generations than ours. Of the Necklace in particular I am bound to mention that it is reposited among the most valued jewels, and set apart for “great occasions,” as an ernste Zierde2 fit only to be worn before Poets and intellectual Men. Accept our heartiest thanks for such friendly memorials of a relation, which faint as it is, we must always regard among the most estimable of our life.

This little drawing-room may now be said to be full of you. My Translations from your Works already stood, in fair binding, in the Book-case, and portraits of you lay in portfolios; during our late absence in the country some good Genius, to prepare a happy surprise for us, had hung up, in the best framing and light, a larger picture of you, which we understand to be the best resemblance: and now your Medals lie on the Mantel-piece; your Books, in their silk-paper covers, have displaced even Tasso's Gerusalemme; and from more secret recesses, your handwriting can be exhibited to favoured friends. It is thus that good men may raise for themselves a little sanctuary in houses and hearts that lie far away.

The tolerance, the kindness, with which you treat my labours in German Literature, must not mislead me into vanity; but encourage me to new effort in appropriating what is Beautiful and True, wheresoever and howsoever it is to be found. If “Love” does indeed “help to perfect knowledge,”3 I may hope in time coming to gain better insight both into Schiller and his Friend; for the love of such men lies deep in the heart, and wedded to all that is worthy there.

For your ideas on the tendency of modern poetry to promote a freer spiritual intercourse among nations, I must also thank you: so far as I have yet seized their full import, they command my entire assent; nay perhaps express for me much which I might otherwise have wanted words for. When I try to convert these written observations “into a dialogue,” it is as if one of the Three4 were speaking and speaking not to the world, but first to me in particular. Helena also, in that beautiful new Edition of your Poems, I have not failed to read; a bright mystic vision, with its Classic earnestness and Gothic splendour; but I must read it again and again before its whole manifold significance become clear to me. Could mere human prayers avail against an aesthetic Necessity, Faust were surely made triumphant both over the Fiend and himself, and this by the readiest means; the one would go to Heaven, and the other back to his native Pit: for there is no tragic hero whom one pities more deeply than Faust.

You are kind enough to inquire about my bygone life. With what readiness could I speak to you of it, how often have I longed to pour out the whole history before you! As it is, your works have been a mirror to me; unasked and unhoped for, your wisdom has counselled me; and so peace and health of soul have visited me from afar. For I was once an Unbeliever, not in Religion only, but in all the Mercy and Beauty of which it is the symbol; storm-tossed in my own imaginations; a man divided from men; exasperated, wretched, driven almost to despair; so that Faust's wild curse seemed the only fit greeting for human life, and his passionate Fluch vor allen der Geduld!5 was spoken from my very inmost heart. But now, thank Heaven, all this is altered: without change of external circumstances, solely by the new light which rose upon me, I attained to new thoughts, and a composure which I should once have considered as impossible. And now under happier omens, tho' the bodily health which I lost in these struggles has never been and may never be restored to me, I look forward with cheerfulness to a life spent in Literature, with such fortune, and such strength, as may be granted me; hoping little and fearing little from the world; having learned that what I once called Happiness is not only not to be attained on Earth, but not even to be desired. No wonder I should love the wise and worthy men by whose instructions so blessed a result has been brought about! For these men too there can be no reward like that consciousness that in distant countries and times the hearts of their fellow men will yearn towards them with gratitude and veneration, and those that are wandering in darkness turn towards them as to [sure?] loadstars guiding into a secure home.

I shall still hope to hear from you, and again to write to you, and [al]ways acknowledge you as my Teacher and Benefactor. May all good be long continued to you, for your own sake and that of mankind! With the truest reverence, I subscribe myself,

Worthy Sir, / Your grateful Friend and Servant,

Thomas Carlyle—

[JWC's postscript:] My heartfelt thanks to the Poet for his graceful gift, which I prize more than a necklace of diamonds, and kiss with truest regard—

J W Carlyle—