TC TO GOETHE; 25 September 1828; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18280925-TC-G-01; CL 4:404-409.
TC TO GOETHE
Craigenputtoch, Dumfries, 25th September, 1828—
Dear and Honoured Sir,
A pleasing duty, which has long lain before me, need not now be put off any longer. Both your Packets are at length in my hands: the Post-Letter, enclosing Dr Eckermann's,1 has been here since the end of June; the Book-Parcel, by way of Hamburg and Leith, since last night; when our Servant, due notice from Messrs Parish's Agent being given, brought it up with him from Dumfries. All was in perfect safety, Books, Music, Manuscript; and certainly a singular and most welcome appearance in this our remote home, where, it would still seem, we are not toto divisi orbe [cut off from the whole world], but in kind relation with what we reckon highest and best there. Herr Zelter's2 melodies are to be proved to-night on the Pianoforte; and The Poet, as Vogel3 has drawn him, will look down on us, while we listen, with a friendly monition that if Yesterday and To-day have been spent in wise activity, we “may also hope for a Morrow which shall not be less happy.” In a few hours, too, I purpose to enjoy this Second Part of Faust; and explore what farther novelty these estimable volumes contain. One dainty little article I already notice in the Kunst und Alterthum: your translation of our ancient Scottish “Schwank” [“Merry Tale”], as Hans Sachs would call it, Get up and bar the Door!4 The manuscript version I have often read; and not without a smile that I should hear, in a strange tongue, the old rough rhymes of my childhood so faithfully rendered back by the Author of Mignon and Iphigenie. As you are curious in Popular Poetry, I might mention that Scotland is very rich in such things; old, quaint, rugged Songs and verses, written with a sly humour, a sly meaning, which still as we think characterises the national mind. Some of these pieces have even Royal Authors: there is The Wife of Auchtermuchty, a far homelier piece than yours, and of a similar character, which one of our Jameses is said to have written; as another of them did undoubtedly compose our Christs Kirk on the Green, a fragment full of a still more genial humour.5 But of all this, at some other time.
For the present I should thank you again, had I words, for this new testimony of your friendliness. Doubtless it does seem wonderful to us that you and yours, occupied with so many great concerns in which the whole world is interested, should find any time to take thought of us who live so far out of your sphere, and can have so little influence reciprocally on aught that pertains to you. But such is the nature of this strangely complected Universe, that all men are linked together, and the greatest will come into connexion with the least. Neither, tho' it is a fine tie, do I reckon it a weak one, that unites me to you. When I look back on my past Life, it seems as if you, a man of foreign speech, whom I have never seen, and, alas, shall perhaps never see, had been my chief Benefactor; nay I may say, the only real Benefactor I ever met with; inasmuch as Wisdom is the only real good, the only blessing which cannot be perverted, which blesses both him that gives and him that takes.6 In trying bereavements, when old Friends are snatched away from you, it must be a consolation to think that neither in this age, nor in any other, can you ever be left alone; but that wherever men seek Truth, Spiritual Clearness and Beauty, there you have Brothers and Children. I pray Heaven that you may long, long be spared to see good, and do good, in this world: without you, existing Literature, even that of Germany so far as I can discern it, were but a poor matter; and without one man, whom other men might judge clearly and yet view with any true reverence. Nevertheless the good seed that is sown cannot be trodden down, or altogether choked with tares; and surely it is the highest of all privileges to sow this seed, to have sown it: nay it is privilege enough if we have hands to reap it, and eyes to see it growing!7
But I must refrain myself here; one small sheet will not hold everything; and I have business matters to speak of. Sir Walter Scott has received your Medals, several months ago; not thro' me directly, for he had not returned to Edinburgh, when I left it; but thro' Mr Jeffrey, our grand “British Critic,” to whom, as I learn, Sir Walter expressed himself properly sensible of such an honour “from one of his Masters in Art.” The other medals have all been distributed, except one which I still hesitate whether to send to Mr Lockhart, or to Mr Taylor of Norwich,8 who is at present publishing Specimens of German Poetry, is a man of learning, and long ago gave a version of your Iphigenie, which, on report, I understand to be of a superior sort. Farther, at your request, I must mention that the Translator of Wallenstein is George Moir,9 a young Edinburgh Advocate, who cultivates Literature in conjunction with Jurisprudence, and promises to do well in both, being a person of clear faculty, and tho' young, without any marked deficiency or redundancy, either in talent or temper. He is a man of very small bodily stature; from which cause perhaps in part, I used to regard him rather with a sort of fondness than of pure equal friendship: he seemed to me a little polished crystal, nearly colourless for the present, but in which, at some hour, the Sun might come to be refracted and reflected in a fine play of tints. As to the Foreign Review, you may by this time have seen a long Paper entitled “Goethe,” which appears in No. III; and for which I can only ask your pardon; knowing too well that it is a poor enough affair. A far poorer one on Heyne10 is to come out shortly, in No. IV; after which I know not what, or whether anything from me, is to follow; tho' Jean Paul, Novalis, Tieck, nay Lessing and Klopstock are all still lying before me. The only thing of any moment I have written since I came hither is an Essay on Burns, for the next No. of the Edinburgh Review, which I suppose will be published in a few weeks.11 Perhaps you have never heard of this Burns: and yet he was a man of the most decisive genius; but born in the rank of a Peasant, and miserably wasted away by the complexities of his strange situation; so that all he effected was comparatively a trifle, and he died before middle age. We English, especially we Scotch, love Burns more than any oth[er] Poet we have had for centuries. It has often struck me to remark that he was born a few months only before Schiller, in the year 1759; and that neither of these two men, of whom I reckon Burns perhaps naturally even the greater, ever heard the other's name; but that they shone as stars in opposite hemispheres, the little atmosphere of the Earth intercepting their mutual light.
You inquire with such affection touching our present abode and employments, that I must say some words on that subject, while I have still space. Dumfries is a pretty town, of some 15,000 inhabitants; the Commercial and Judicial Metropolis of a considerable district on the Scottish border. Our dwelling-place is not in it; but fifteen miles (two hours riding) to the Northwest of it, among the granite mountains and black moors, which stretch westward thro' Galloway almost to the Irish Sea. This is, as it were, a green oasis in that desart of heath and rock; a piece of ploughed and partially sheltered and ornamented ground where corn ripens, and trees yield umbrage, tho' encircled on all hands by moorfowl and only the hardiest breeds of sheep. Here, by dint of great endeavour, we have pargetted and garnished for ourselves a clean substantial dwelling; and settled down, in defect of any Professorial or other official appointment, to cultivate Literature on our own resources, by way of occupation; and roses and garden-shrubs, and if possible health, and a peaceable temper of mind, to forward it. The roses are indeed still mostly to plant; but they already blossom in Hope; and we have two swift horses, which, with the mountain air, are better than all physicians for sick nerves. That exercise, which I am very fond of, is almost my sole amusement; for this is one of the most solitary spots in Britain, being six miles from any individual of the formally visiting class. It might have suited Rousseau, almost as well as his Island of St. Pierre:12 indeed I find that most of my city Friends impute to me a motive similar to his in coming hither, and predict no good from it. But I came hither purely for this one reason: That I might not have to write for bread; might not be tempted to tell lies for money. This space of Earth is our own; and we can live in it and write and think as seems best to us, tho' Zoilus13 himself should become King of Letters. And as to its solitude, a Mail Coach will any day transport us to Edinburgh, which is our British Weimar[.] Nay even at this time, I have a whole horse-load of French, German, American, English Reviews and Journals, were they of any worth, encumbering the tables of my little Library. Moreover from any of our heights I can discern a Hill, a day's journey to the eastward, where Agricola with his Romans has left a camp,14 at the foot of which I was born, where my Father and Mother are still living to love me. Time, therefore, must be left to try: but if I sink into folly, myself and not my situation will be to blame. Nevertheless I have many doubts about my future Literary activity; on all which how gladly would I take your counsel! Surely, you will write to me again, and ere long; that I may still feel myself united to you.Our best prayers for all good to you and yours are ever with you. Farewell!
Jane unites with me in affectionate respects to your Ottilie, whom in many a day-dream she and I still hope to see and know, in her Father's circle. A Brother of mine will perhaps see you in Winter, or Spring, on his way from München.
Dr Eckermann's friendly and very flattering Letter deserved a speedier reply, and shall not long want a reply, tho' now a late one. He is known to me by his writings and by report, as an able and amiable man; for whose acquaintance I should heartily thank you. Meanwhile be pleased to assure him of my regard, and purposes to express it directly. Many avocations must till now be my excuse.
Leith is still a safe place of transit for German Packages. We are but eighty miles from it; and the Messrs Parish seem to be the most courteous of Expeditors.