TC TO GOETHE; 22 January 1831; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18310122-TC-G-01; CL 5:218-222.
TC TO GOETHE
Craigenputtoch, Dumfries, 22nd Jany, 1831—
My Dear and Honoured Friend,
I learn with the truest sorrow, by Dr Eckermann's Letter,1 and the public Journals, what has befallen at Weimar; that you have lost him who was the most precious to you in this world; that your own life, threatened by violent disease, has been in extreme danger. My only consolation is that you yourself are still preserved to us; that you bore your heavy stroke with the heroic wisdom we should have anticipated of you. It is a truth, which we are daily taught in stern lessons, that here nothing has a ‘Continuing City’;2 that man's life is as ‘a vapour which quickly fleeth away.’3 Within the bygone Twelvemonth I too have lost no fewer than five of my near relatives: the last, a Sister, peculiarly endeared to me by worth and kind remembrances, whom I now seem to have loved almost more than any other of my kindred. ‘We shall go to them, they shall not return to us.’4 Meantime, while Days are given us let us employ them: ‘our Field is Time,’5 what we plant therein has to grow thro' Eternity: our Hope and Comfort is ‘To work while it is called Today.’6 And so: Forward! Forward!
What Dr Eckermann mentions of your being busied with a Continuation of Faust could not be other than great news for me. Pray tell him also that his counsel and admonition about an English version of Faust came in the right season;7 that I had already long been meditating such an enterprise, and had well nigh determined, before much time elapsed, on attempting it. The British world is daily getting readier for a true copy of Faust: already we everywhere understand that Faust is no theatrical spectacle, but a Poem; that they who know and can know nothing of it, must also say nothing of it; which, within the last four years, is an immense advancement. Lord L. Gower's Translation8 is now universally admitted to be one of the worst, perhaps the very worst for such a work, ever accomplished in Britain: our Island, I think, owes you some amends; would that I were the man to pay it! As I said, however, I have as good as determined to make the endeavour ere long.
In an early Number of the Edinburgh Review, perhaps in the next, there is to appear as I learn, a criticism of the Briefwechsel [Correspondence], involving most probably a delineation and comparison of the two great Correspondents. I must warn all German Friends to expect but little: the Critic,9 I apprehend, will be the same who criticised Faust and Lord Gower in the last Number of that Periodical: an admiring Dilettantism, but no true insight or earnest Criticism is to be looked for.— I too am again to speak a word on that favourite subject; a word of warning and direction, where the harvest is great, and the reapers many and more zealous than experienced.10 A certain William Taylor of Norwich, the Translator of your Iphigenie has written what he calls a Historic Survey of German Poetry; the tendency of which you may judge of sufficiently by this one fact, that the longest Article but one is on August von Kotzebue.11 Taylor is a man of real talent; but a Polemical Sceptic only; with no eye for Poetry, who sees in the highest minds only their relation to the Church Creed; whose Book therefore, as likely to mislead many, I have felt called upon to contradict, and by such artillery as I had batter down into its original rubbish. I fear, you will not like the satirical style: the more agreeable will some concluding speculations be on what I have named World-Literature, after you; and how Europe, in the communion of these its chief writers, is again to have a ‘Sacred College and Council of Amphictyons,’ and become more and more one universal Commonwealth.12 This, it seems to me, is one of the most cheering signs of the future that are yet discernible: Literature is now nearly all in all to us; not our Speech only, but our Worship and Law-giving; our best Priest must henceforth be our Poet; the Vates [prophet] will in future be practically all that he ever was in theory,—or else Nothing, which last consummation we cannot consent to admit. The Review of Taylor is not to appear for some months:13 in the meanwhile, I am working at another curious enterprise of my own, which is yet too amorphous to be prophecied of.14
Leaving now these paper speculations, let me descend a little to the solid Earth. We have a mild winter here, are busy and peaceable; often look into that Weimar House, and figure our Friend and Master there, and pray for all blessings on him. A little collection of Memorials, intended to cross the Sea, is also gathering itself together: we anticipate that before the next 28th of August, at all events, it will have saluted you. I have already got nearly all my writings for the Foreign Review; and will send them in the shape of Aushängebogen [last proof], since they are yet in no other. Learning from your Tag-und-Jahres-Heft [Day and Year Journal] that you had no Copy of the English Iphigenie,15 I sent to London to procure one; hitherto without effect: however, as the work stands entire in this Taylor's Historic Survey, I will study to send it in one or the other form.16 Some weeks ago we heard of a wandering Portrait-painter being at Dumfries, who took what were called admirable likenesses, in pencil, at two hours' sitting: whereupon we drove down, and set the Artist to work; who unhappily produced, by way of Portrait for me, a piece of beautiful pencilling, which had no feature of mine about it; so that it cannot be sent to Weimar, being worth nothing: however, my Wife has undertaken to copy and rectify it; at all events, to clip you some profile of me.17 Were there aught else we could do for you in our Island; had I but a true Work of my own writing to send!
The Saint-Simonians in Paris have again transmitted me a large mass of their performances: Expositions of their Doctrine; Proclamations sent forth during the famous Three Days; many Numbers of their weekly Journal. They seem to me to be earnest, zealous, and nowise ighorant men, but wandering in strange paths. I should say, they have discovered and laid to heart this momentous and now almost forgotten truth, Man is still a Man;18 and are already beginning to make false applications of it. I have every disposition to follow your advice, and stand apart from them; looking on their Society and its progress nevertheless as a true and remarkable Sign of these Times.
In our own Country too the political atmosphere grows turbid, and great things are fermenting, and will long ferment. To which also I reckon that my proper relation is that chiefly of Spectator: the world is heavily struggling out into a new era; the struggle has lasted centuries, and may yet last centuries: let him who has seed-corn, or can borrow seed-corn, cast it into these troubled Nile-waters, where, in due season, it will be found after many days. Some of our friends are high in the New Ministry, especially the Edinburgh-Reviewer of Meister, a good man and bad critic:19 but the Sun and Seasons are the only changes that visit the wilderness. Mein Acker ist die Zeit.20
Perhaps ere long a Letter will come from Weimar to tell us that you are still well, and nobly occupied. Meanwhile know always that we love you and reverence you. To your dear Ottilie speak peace, and from us all that is kind and sympathizing. “God is great, God is good.”—21 I remain ever,
Your affectionate grateful Friend,
Please to return Dr Eckermann my friendliest thanks, and encourage him to repeat his kind favour: I will surely reply to it.