October 1831-September 1833

The Collected Letters, Volume 6


TC TO MACVEY NAPIER; 8 October 1831; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18311008-TC-MN-01; CL 6:12-14.


4. Ampton Street, Mecklenburg Square, / 8th October, 1831—

My Dear Sir,

I was much obliged by your kind and speedy reply about the Paper on Luther.1 I can sympathise in your distresses, from author and from reader, in regard to the matter of length: both parties are somewhat unreasonable, and the Editor, who must stand in the middle and sustain two fires, has no sinecure of it. Indeed, I think it is a thousand pities that writing had ever in any case come to be valued by its length: better even, if we must have a universal standard, that it were valued by its shortness; for Prolixity, in word, and still more in thought, may be defined as the characteristic of all bad writing; not to know the Essential from the Unessential, is simply not to know the matter in hand, and therefore to delineate it falsely and ill. Poor Authors, with Booksellers for their Mecaenases!2 Nay the very Weaver does not come and say, Here are so many yards of Cloth I have woven; but, Here are so many yards of such Cloth.

Six-and-thirty pages are a considerable space; yet I doubt whether so much would suffice me in this case. The thing I had in view was some picture of Martin Luther and of his Environment, what he was, and how he was; a matter, as you observe, of perennial moment; and requiring perhaps to be re-interpreted, and re-adapted to our new point of vision; of great interest for me therefore, but at the same time, of great compass and difficulty. At all events I think it will be prudent to wait a little and reconsider it before starting.3

Hope's Book on Man4 is also a subject I might have something to say upon; works of that sort are a characteristic of our era, and appear in great numbers: Godwin has published one (of little merit); Coleridge also has lately set forth a fragmentary Philosophy of Life; and I read a very strange one by Friedrich Schlegel,5 which he died while completing. It struck me that by grouping two or three of these together, contrasting their several tendencies, and endeavouring, as is the Reviewer's task, to stand peaceably in the middle of them all, something fit and useful might be done. I sent accordingly to consult Mr Rees how the Books were to be got at: he readily furnished me with Godwin; but informed me that Hope was not to be had without great difficulty, that you had a Copy which he would send for, and directly forward me. My present request is that if the Book is not already here, or on its way, you would favour me with it by the first conveyance. It is in any case worth looking thro' with more deliberation than my actual conveniences allow; Murray himself has not a Copy left, and I have only seen the Book, by special indulgence, in the British Museum. Whether it may be worth reviewing I am doubtful: it seems to be the work of a deep, earnest man, bears traces of long-continued, toilsome faithful meditation; and yet is perhaps the absurdest Book ever printed in any time or place. The highest culminating-point of the Mechanical Spirit of this age; as it were, the reductio ad absurdum of that whole most melancholy Doctrine.

Another matter I had to speak of, by any convenient vehicle: the State of Authors at this epoch; the duties, performances, and marvellous position of the Author in our System of Society; matters which, as I believe, will one day force themselves on the universal attention. As yet however all this lies vague enough before me. You shall judge of it when the time comes.

On the whole, I think I can engage to have something to offer you for your December Number; tho' whether on Hope's Book, or in what other form, has not yet become clear to me. Will you, at all events, forward me that wondrous Book; we shall then see what comes of it.

As t[he] last piece of business, for the present, I may mention that the money for th[e] Article on Taylor can be best transacted for here; and request you to fa[vour] me with the necessary document so soon as you have leisure. If it be a sizeab[le] letter, the Lord Advocate will frank it for me.

By [the way], the poor Lord Advocate as you have doubtless heard, [is] very ill; pai[nfully], not dangerously: we saw him last night, and found that [he] was understood to be recovering.

This is the day when, as the most seem to calculate, the Lords are to reject the Reform Bill. London is perfectly quiet, and promises to continue so: the poor Lords can only accelerate (by perhaps a century) their own otherwise inevitable enough abolition; that is the worst they can do: the People and their purposes are no longer dependent on them.

Mrs Carlyle is here, and joins me in kind regards to you.

Believe me always, / My Dear Sir, /Faithfully Your's, /

Thomas Carlyle.