January 1829-September 1831

The Collected Letters, Volume 5


TC TO GOETHE; 3 November 1829; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18291103-TC-G-01; CL 5:26-29.


Craigenputtoch, Dumfries, 3d November, 1829—

Dear and Honoured Sir,

I must no longer postpone acknowledging these welcome messages from Weimar: your Letter, 1 which reached us early in September; and the Packet, therein announced, which duly followed it, about four weeks ago. Both, with all their much-valued contents, arrived in perfect safety and entireness; giving curious proof of the complete arrangements for transport, in these times, whereby the most delicate article can penetrate thro' unknown nations, tumultuous cities, and over wild seas, from the heart of the Continent, even into these desarts; and what is stranger still, how a voice of Affection from the Mind we honour most in this age can convey itself into minds that lie, in every sense, so far divided from it. Six years ago, I should have reckoned the possibility of a Letter, of a Present, from Goethe to me, little less wondrous and dreamlike than from Shakspeare or Homer. Yet so it is: the Man, to whom I owe more than to any other, namely some measure of spiritual Light and Freedom, is no longer a mere “airy tongue” to me;2 but a Living Man, with feelings which, in many kindest ways, reply and correspond to my own! Let me pray only that it may long continue; and if the Scholar cannot meet with his Teacher, face to face, in this world, may some higher, perennial meeting, amid inconceivable environments, be appointed them in another!

But descending from these lofty possibilities, accept my best gratitude for your friendly feelings, so often and gracefully manifested towards me, which, in this prose Earth, were precious, coming even from the commonest man. To you, our best return is to profit more and more by the good you have done us, to appropriate and practice more and more than high Wisdom, which we with the whole world have to learn from you. My Wife bids me say that she intends to read your entire Works this winter; so that, any evening, when the candles are lit, you can fancy a fair Friend assiduously studying you, “far over the Sea”; one little light and living point amid the boundless Solitude and Night. She finished the Wahlverwandtschaften [Elective Affinities]3 very lately, with high admiration; and a sorrow for poor Ottilie, which, she admits, expressed itself in “streams of tears.” Shallow censurers of the “Morality” of the Work, who are not altogether wanting here, she withstands with true female zeal.

To your own living Ottilie4 she requests me, moreover, to present her best thanks for that beautiful gift:5 it hangs in our drawing-room, admired by all for its workmanship; and to us far more precious for the hand and the household, of which it is an hourly memorial. The fair Artist, as I understand, is ere long to be thanked more specially, and in due form, by the receiver herself.

With my own share of the Packet6 I feel not less contented. Especially glad was I to find my old favourite the Wanderjahre so considerably enlarged: the new portions of the Book it was my very first business to read; and I can already discover no little matter for reflexion in that wonderful Makarie, and the many other extensions, and new tendencies, which that most beautiful of all Fragments has hereby acquired. The Briefwechsel [Goethe-Schiller correspondence] I have also read; and must soon read again; purposing to make it the handle for an Essay on Schiller, in the Foreign Review.7 I particularly admired the honourable relation that displays itself between Schiller and his Friend; the frankness in mutual giving and receiving; the noble effort on both sides: a reverence for foreign excellence is finely united with a modest self-dependence, in Schiller; whose simple, high, earnest nature again comes into clear light, in this Correspondence. The Proof-sheets of the Translation from my poor Life of Schiller affected me with various feelings; among which, regret at the essential triviality of the Original was nowise wanting. I wrote the little Book honestly enough, yet under too much constraint: it has not the free flow of a Book, but the cold buckram character of a College-Exercise. The Translation, with two or three very unimportant mistakes of meaning, seems excellently done; far better than such a work deserves.

The Farbenlehre [The Theory (or Science) of Color], which you are so good as offer me, I have never seen, and shall thankfully accept, and study; having long had a curiosity after it. Natural Philosophy, Opticks among the other branches, was for many years my favourite, or rather my exclusive pursuit; a circumstance which I must reckon of no little import, for good and evil, in my intellectual life. The mechanical style in which all these things are treated here, and in France, where my only teachers were, had already begun to sicken me; when other far more pressing investigations, of a humane interest, altogether detached me from Mathematics whether pure or applied.8 I still remember that it was the desire to read Werner's Mineralogical doctrines in the original, that first set me on studying German;9 where truly I found a mine, far different from any of the Freyberg ones!10 Nevertheless my love of Natural Science still subsists, or might easily be resuscitated; and various hints, which I have now and then had, of your method in such inquiries gives me hope of great satisfaction in studying it. The Farbenlehre, which I think is very imperfectly known, or rather altogether misknown, in England, will be [a] highly acceptable present.

This Letter is full of mere business details, and yet the most es[sen]tial of these is still to come. A little packet, chiefly for your Ottilie is getting ready, and will be sent off one of these days:11 it is also to contain the Sketches, of our house, and neighbourhood, such as you required; and will come most probably by the Messrs Parish of Hamburg, whose courtesy and punctuality in such matters I have often admired. I might mention also that there is a Herr Herbig, Bookseller in Leipzig, Agent for the Publishers of the Foreign Review (Messrs Black, Young, and Young; 2. Tavistock-street, Covent-Garden, London), thro' whom books would reach me, by quick steam-conveyance, at all seasons of the year; yet, in truth, I know not whether with equal security; or how your communication with Leipzig may stand.

In regard to my employments and manner of existence, literary and economic, I must not speak here. I am still but an Essayist, and longing more than ever to be a Writer in a far better sense. Meanwhile I do what I may; and cannot complain of wanting audience, stolid as many of my little critics are and must be. I have written on Voltaire, on Novalis, and was this day correcting proofsheets of a paper on Jean Paul, for the Foreign Review.12 I have some thoughts of writing a separate book on Luther; but whether this winter or not is undecided.— I delayed, three weeks, writing this Letter, till a proposal (from some London Bookseller's) of my composing what they call a History of German Literature were either finally agreed upon, or finally abandoned: but as yet neither of the two has happened. In the event of my engaging with such a work, I mean to consult with Doctor Eckermann for help; to whom, for his friendly Letter,13 I beg that my thanks and best regards may be offered.

All else I reserve till the Packet go. We shall think of you daily, and ever with Love. May all good be with you! I remain,

Your grateful Friend,

Thomas Carlyle14

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