TC TO GOETHE; 23 October 1830; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18301023-TC-G-01; CL 5:176-181.
TC TO GOETHE
Craigenputtoch, Dumfries, 23d October, 1830—
My Honoured Friend,
From the first sentence of your otherwise most welcome Letter, I draw the unpleasant apprehension that mine of August last has failed to reach you.1 The like, it is true, never happened in our past correspondence: nevertheless to such accidents we are ever liable; at all events, this suspicion of neglect, under which I may have fallen, is of such a sort that I lose not a moment in removing it. Did no Letter for you, then, arrive in the beginning of September; announcing that your Packet of the 13th June, and Letter of the 7th, had both happily come to hand; and been received with the old feelings of thankfulness and gladness, which such expressions of your regard must ever merit from us? I will still hope so: for the Letter, of which unluckily I have kept no memorandum, and cannot more accurately specify the date, was without any doubt despatched hence, and safely committed to the Post-Office; after which, so punctual are the rules and arrangements of that Establishment, there seems no probability of miscarriage on this side the German Shore; except, indeed, one of our Mail-Ships had been wrecked; of which in the Newspapers I observed no notice. If such hope, which I still cherish, prove well-founded, let the present Letter be considered as a conscientious supererogation: in all things touching my duties of Gratitude towards you, I would willingly make assurance doubly sure. When the Packet, which we are now permitted shortly to expect, reaches us, I will write again. Meanwhile be pleased to entertain the conviction that our regard, our love for you is not susceptible of change or interruption; that few days, none perhaps wherein I am well employed, pass over me in these solitudes, without affectionate remembrances, and thoughts full of kindly veneration, for the Friend, who fern im Lande [in a far away country]2 sometimes also thinks of us.
In this Letter are two prophetic allusions breathing a noble pathetic dignity, which nevertheless affect me with alarm and pain.3 Far distant be that day so mournful for us, and for millions! It is true, I might ask myself: What are you to me but a Voice; and is not that Voice one of those that cannot die? Will not also, when we are still more inaccessibly parted, the memory of past kindness abide, perennially sweet, with the survivor? Neither in any case do we sorrow as those that have no Hope. He who has seen into the ‘high meaning of ENTSAGEN’ [renunciation]4 cherishes even here a still faith in quite another Future than the vulgar devotee believes, or the vulgar sceptic denies. ‘God is Great,’ say the Orientals;5 to which we add only, ‘God is good,’ as the beginning and end of all our Philosophy. But let us look away from these solemnities, which, however, the wise man at no moment forgets: the blessedness of Life is not in Living, but in Working well; and he to whom a Task, rarely exampled in the history of men, was given, and who has done it, and is still doing it, ‘looks both before and after’6 with calm eyes, tho' the dew of ‘natural tears’7 may gather there. We will hope and pray that a life so precious may be lengthened, in peaceful activity, to the utmost term; that long years of kind earthly brotherhood are still appointed us.
If my last Letter were not lost, it would convey to you in warm terms the admiration I felt for the Schiller' sche Briefwechsel [Correspondence with Schiller], which I was then on the point of finishing. A singularly kind Chance brought two such men into neighbourhood: their relation so full of generous helpfulness, and the highest Endeavour, is one which, especially in these times, it does us good to look upon; to you especially, as the more independent of the two, and by whom the sick, retiring, almost monastic Schiller was still held in some communion with the world, the lovers of Genius will feel deeply indebted; first for your friendly ministerings to this noble man; and now for perpetuating this record of so rare a union. In Schiller himself there is almost a spirit-like abstraction and elevation; yet a painful isolation, except from you, is also manifest: we could figure him as some Prometheus; stealing fire, indeed, from Heaven; but to whom also the Gods as punishment had sent chains and a gnawing vulture. How different was his fate from that of our own poor Burns, blest with an equal talent, as high a spirit; but smitten with a far heavier curse, and to whom no guiding Friend, warmly as his heart could love, and still long for Wisdom, was ever given! One such as you might have saved him, and nothing else could; but only the vain, the idle, the dissipated gathered round him, he was alone among his kind, and courage and patience at last failed him, and he lost all that made him man. He was of Schiller's age: in the second year of that fair Weimar union, Burns perished miserably, deserted and disgraced, in that same Dumfries, where they have erected Mausoleums over him now that it is all unavailing, and would buy a scrap of his handwriting, as if it were Bank-paper. Such is the sad history which, in generation after generation, is too often repeated to us.8
Having here come upon Burns I will add my heartiest wishes, not unmixed with considerable fears of a negative result, that your young Translator may be successful with him.9 The changeful, too fugitive expressiveness of his diction is one great charm with Burns; at all times hard to seize by a Translator, and no doubt doubly so when hidden in the rough guise of our Scottish provincial dialect. Besides his chief, indeed almost his only true Poetical Writings are Songs, which are of all the most unmanageable. Otherwise Burns is only a Volksdichter [folk-poet], more notable for shrewd sense, passionate attachment, and a certain rustic humour than any higher qualities.10 I shall be full of curiosity to see your Countryman's Version, the first I believe into any foreign tongue: if he fail, beyond the due limits of Poetical and Translatorial Licence, the highest kindness we can do him here will be to forget him; the whole British nation is passionately attached to Burns; the very Inn-windows where he chanced to scribble, in idle hours, with his versifying and often satirical Diamond, have all been un-glassed, and the scribbled panes sold into distant quarters, there to be hung up in frames! There is an infinite Dilettantism in the world; but also a certain indestructible universal Love for Spiritual Light, and ‘Reverence for what is Above us.’11
Quitting Burns, I must not omit to thank you, were it even a second time, for Wachler, whom I find in my Historical studies, a solid, trustworthy and useful help. I mentioned, last time, that my German Literary History was, so far as concerned Publication, standing in a state of abeyance, the original Bibliopolic scheme, of which it formed part, having fallen to the ground. There is now another possibility of its being sent forth; as a Separate Work; which I shall like better. The negociation is not in my hands: but perhaps before the next Letter, I may have it in my power to communicate the issue. Meanwhile I have been engaged a little in other more ambitious enterprizes:12 but whether the result may be a Book, or only a pair of Magazine Essays I cannot yet predict; but will mention in due time if it prove worthy of mention.
The news from Berlin, full particulars of which, with so many other interesting things, I expect by your Packet, could not be other than gratifying. To Friends recommended by you my best services must be always due: one of these men, if the name Hitzig belongs to the Biographer of Hoffmann and Werner, is already favourably known to me. A Letter, according to your wish, with offer of heartiest cooperation in a work which I also reckon so important, shall not be wanting.13
There is much more to be said, were not the unstretchable paper too near an end[.] For the Farbenlehre I shall afterwards thank you more at large. To your Ottilie express our kindest wishes every way; hope also for prosperity in her Editorship of that fair Chaos14 (like the graceful one of a Lady's Portfolio), for which, among these Mountains, new materials, I believe, are preparing. Forget not your kind resolution of soon writing again. Thro' the winter you shall duly hear of me: it is a deep snow thro' which Mail-guards will not either drive or ride; and now Steam carries men and ships across the water in all seasons. My friendly regards to Dr Eckermann if he is with you. My Wife joins me in sincerest prayers that all Good may be with you. God have you in his keeping! I am ever,
Your Affectionate Friend and Servant,