January 1829-September 1831

The Collected Letters, Volume 5


TC TO JOHANN PETER ECKERMANN; 20 March 1830; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18300320-TC-JPE-01; CL 5:83-87.


Craigenputtoch, Dumfries, Scotland, / 20th March, 1830—

My dear Sir,

I have long owed myself the pleasure of writing to you, and might be a little puzzled to say why it had been so long. Perhaps my chief reason was that a certain negociation was in progress touching some Literary work to be undertaken by me, on which I wished to communicate with you; and so have waited, impatiently enough, till in the slow course of bibliopolic arrangements, I saw what turn matters were to take. The business, I believe, is now finally adjusted; indeed, in a state of actual advance; so that on this, as on all other topics, I can now address you without embarrassment.

It is pity that Weimar lay so distant from Scotland; with seas, and wide regions, to us all waste and unpeopled, intervening! No spot on this Globe is for me so significant at present; as indeed it is but for their association with human Worth and Effort that one city is nobler than another, that all cities are not mere stones and mortar. I can understand the long journeys which Lovers of Wisdom were wont to undertake, in old days, to see with their own eyes some Teacher of Wisdom: all sights in the Earth are poor and meaningless compared with this. We still speculate here on a journey to Weimar, and a winter's residence there; but the way is long, the issue after all but a luxury; then foolish little matters still detain us here, thus tho' the spirit is willing the flesh is weak.1 One still looks for a luckier time; and many a pretty waking dream, tho' at last it prove but a phantasm, will for years be worth entertaining.

We long much to hear news of you: how your venerable Poet wears his green old age; how his and your labours are prospering. Scarcely any German Traveller finds his way hither; so that, except public notices, we are left mostly to hope and guess. Often I look into Stieler's2 picture, and think the mild deep eyes ought to answer me. But they are only ink on paper, and do not. About the first of last December, we despatched a little Box for Weimar; containing pencil-sketches of our House and environment, Books and other trifles, among which I believe was something from my Wife for Madame: but unluckily, the frost set in directly after, the Elbe became innavigable; and the Edinburgh shippers gave little hope of the Packet leaving them till Spring. It was directed, as usual, to the care of Messrs Parish in Hamburg. Pray notify this to Seiner Excellenz, unless happily it be already in his hands. Of our deep, unabated regard and love I trust he needs no assurance.

I requested the Editor of the Foreign Review3 to forward you some of my lucubrations, which you said you had not seen; nevertheless, I am afraid he has neglected it; neither, I can warn you, is the loss very great. I was shocked to learn that poor Müllner was dead: the very post that brought me his version of my Playwrights in his Mittnt Blatt, conveyed also those other tidings, that the poor Jester was now ‘quite chopfallen.’ Alas, poor Yorick! And why did I add another grain to his last load of suffering, already too heavy for him!4— Since then I have not cast one other glance into your ‘Tartarus’; but looked only at the Elysium, which is far more profitable.

Of our English Literature at this moment the two chief features seem to be our increased and increasing attention to the Literature of neighbouring nations; and the universal effort to render all sorts of knowledge popular, to accommodate our speculations, both in price and structure, to the largest possible number of readers. In regard to that first peculiarity, you already know of our two Foreign Reviews, both of which affect to be prospering; and now farther we have a Foreign Literary Gazette,5 published weekly in London, and which tho' it is a mere steam-engine concern, managed by an utter Dummkopf [blockhead], solely for lucre, appears to meet with sale. So great is the curiosity, so boundless is the ignorance of men: dem Narrenkönig gehört die Welt [the world belongs to the king of fools], at least all the temporalities thereof. Our zeal for popularizing, again, is to be seen on every side of us. To say nothing of our Societies for the Diffusion of useful Knowledge, with their sixpenny treatises,6 really very meritorious, we have I know not how many Miscellanies, Family Libraries, Cabinet Cyclopedias and so forth; and these not managed by any literary Gibeonites [menials]7 but sometimes by the best men we have: Sir Walter Scott, for instance, is publishing a History of Scotland by one of these vehicles; Thomas Moore is to write a History of Ireland for the same work.8 The other day, I may add, there came a letter to me from a quite new Brotherhood of that sort; earnestly requesting a ‘Life of Goethe.’—Knowing my Correspondent as a man of some weight and respectability in Literature, I have just answered him that the making of Goethe known to England was a task which any Englishman might be proud of; but that as for his Biography, the only rational plan, as matters stood, was to take what he had himself seen fit to impart on the subject; and by proper commentary and adaptation, above all by a suitable version, and not perversion, of what was to be translated, enable an Englishman to read it with the eye of a German. If anything come of this proposal, and what, you shall by and by hear.9

But it is more than time that I should say a word about my History of German Literature (if such can be the name of it), the task above alluded to, and which also is to form part of a joint-stock enterprize, the first of a whole series of ‘Literary Histories’; French, Italian, Spanish, English Literature being all to be depicted in that ‘Cabinet Library’ of theirs. I am to have four volumes, and have thought a good deal about the plan I am to follow. The first volume is to be antiquarian, I think; to treat of the Nibelungen Lied, the Minnesingers, Mastersingers, and so forth, and may perhaps end with Hans Sachs. The second will probably contain Luther and the Reformation Satyrists, with Opitz and his School; down as far as Thomasius, Gottsched and the Swiss.10 The last two volumes must be devoted to your modern, indeed recent Literature, which is of all others the most important to us. I need not say how much any counsel of yours would oblige me in regard to this matter, many parts of which are still very dark to me. In particular, can you mention any reasonable Book, in which the ‘New School’ is exhibited; what was its history fairly stated, what its doctrines; what in the short was the meaning lying at the bottom of that boundless hubbub, which so often perplexes the stranger even yet with its echoes in your Literature.11 Is Grüber's talk (in his Wieland) about the Xenienkrieg to be depended on, or is it mostly babble:12 and is there any other Work that will throw light on that singular period? The ‘Briefwechsel’13 two volumes of which I have is doubtless the most authentic of all documents: but still my understanding of it is far from sufficient. A few words from you might perhaps save me much groping; neither will you grudge that trouble for me. Might I ask you to mention what you think in general the most remarkable epochs and circumstances (Momenta) of German Literature? Indeed nothing that you can write on that subject will be otherwise than welcome to me.—But alas! the sheet is done; and I must so soon say Lebwohl [farewell]! Pray do not linger in writing; your news too will seem highly important to us. Lastly, if it be not troubles[om]e, use the Roman handwriting; the other is like a thick [veil, requi]ring to be torn off first.—With best wishes, ever fa[ithfully your]s,— Th: Carlyle.

Your German Philistern,14 your Adelungs, Nicolais,15 &c (of which sort we have plenty in England even now), and what figure their activity specially assumed, are also an object of great curiosity with me. We call them ‘Utilitarians’ here, and they are mostly political, and ‘Radical,’ or republican.—

My Wife directs me to send her kind regards, and continued hope of one day seeing you. Pray, employ me, if there is anything here in which I can serve you.

I sent you a Letter by a Mr Peterkin,16 a Scottish Traveller who desired much to see the Poet, and whom I referred to you. Has he arrived yet?

Is Luden[']s Geschichte der Deutschen completed? Is his Life of Thomasius a satisfactory work?17 Adieu!

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