The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO GOETHE; 17 January 1828; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18280117-TC-G-01; CL 4:301-303.


Edinburgh, 21. Comley Bank, / 17th January, 1828—

Respected Sir,

In addition to the valued marks of your regard already conferred on me, I have now to solicit a favour of a more practical, and as I may justly fear, of a more questionable nature. If the liberty I take is too great, let me hope that I shall find in your goodness an excuse.

I am at present a Candidate for the Professorship of Moral Philosophy in our ancient Scottish University of St. Andrews; a situation of considerable emolument and respectability, in which certain of my friends flatter me that I might be useful to myself and others. The Electors to the office are the Principal and actual Professors of the College; who promise in this instance, contrary indeed to their too frequent practice, to be guided solely by grounds of a public sort; preferring that applicant who shall, by reference perhaps to his previous literary performances, or by Testimonials from men of established note, approve himself the ablest. The qualifications required, or at least expected, are not so much any profound scientific acquaintance with Philosophy properly so called, as a general character for intelligence, integrity, and literary attainment; all proofs of talent and spiritual worth of any kind being more or less available. To the Electors personally I am altogether a stranger.

Of my fitness for this or any other office it is indeed little that I can expect you to know. Nevertheless, if you have traced in me any sense for what is True and Good, and any symptom however faint that I may realize in my own literary life some fraction of what I love and reverence in that of my Instructors, you will not hesitate to say so; and a word from you may go farther than many words from another. There is also a second reason why I ask this favour of you: the wish to feel myself connected by still more and still kinder ties with a man, to whom I must reckon it among the pleasures of my existence that I stand in any relation whatever. For the rest, let me assure you that good or ill success in this canvass is little likely to affect my equanimity unduly: I have studied and lived to little purpose, if I have not, at the age of two-and-thirty, learned in some degree “to seek for that consistency and sequence within myself, which external events will for ever refuse me.”1 I need only add, on this subject, that the form of such a document as I solicit is altogether unimportant; that of a general Certificate or Testimonial, not specially addressed at all, being as common as any other.

The main purpose of my Letter is thus accomplished: but I cannot conclude without expressing my satisfaction at the good news we continue to hear from Weimar, and the interest which all of us feel in your present so important avocations. By returning Travellers, and Friends resident in Germany, we often get some tidings of you. A younger Brother of mine, at present studying Medicine and Philosophy in München, has the honour of an acquaintance with your Correspondent, Dr Sulpiz Boisserée;2 thro' whose means I have just learned that you proceed with unabated diligence in the correction of your Works; and what especially contents me, that we are soon to expect some farther improvement, perhaps enlargement, of the Wanderjahre; and at all events, a Second Part of Faust. In the Wanderjahre, so choice a piece of composition does it seem to me, I confess I see not well what improvements are to be made: so beautiful, so soft, and gracefully expressive an embodyment of all that is finest in the Philosophy of Art and Life has almost assumed the aspect of perfection in my thoughts; every word has meaning to me; there are sentences which I could write in letters of gold. Enlargement, indeed, I could desire without limit: and yet the work, as it stands, has the singular character of a completed fragment; so lightly yet so cunningly is it joined together; and then the concluding Chapter, with its Bleibe nicht am Boden heften [do not stay clinging to the ground],3 as it were scatters us all into infinite Space; and leaves the Work lying like some fair landscape of an unknown wondrous region, bounded on this side with bright clouds, or melting on that into the vacant azure! May I ask if there is any hope that these clouds will roll away, and show us the undiscovered country that lies beneath them? Of Faust I am taught to expect with confidence not only a continuation but a completion; and share in the general curiosity of Europe to see what it is.

Will you pardon me for speaking so freely of what I know so slightly: I may well feel an interest in your labours such as few do. My Wife unites with me, as in all honest things, so in this, in warmest regards to you and yours. Nay your Ottilie4 is not unknown to her: with the sharp sight of female criticism she had already detected a lady's hand in the tasteful arrangement of that Packet, not yet understanding to whom it might be due. Will Ottilie von Goethe accept the friendly and respectful compliments of Jane Welsh Carlyle, who hopes one day to know her better? For it is among our settled wishes, I might almost say projects, sometime to see Germany, and its Art and Artists, and the Man who more than any other has made it dear and honourable to us. We even paint out to ourselves the too hollow daydream of spending next winter, or if this Election prosper, the summer which will follow it, in Weimar! Alas that Space cannot be contracted, nor Time lengthened out; and so many must not meet whose meeting could have been desired! Meanwhile we will continue hoping; and pray that, seen or unseen, all good may ever abide with you. Trusting soon to have the honour of a Letter, I remain,

Respected Sir, / Yours with affectionate reverence, / Thomas Carlyle.5