October 1831-September 1833

The Collected Letters, Volume 6


TC TO JOHN STUART MILL; 1 May 1833; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18330501-TC-JSM-01; CL 6:376-383.


Edinr, 1st May, 1833—

My Dear Mill,

Before flying off, which we are minded to do next tuesday, I must send you a word. You know where our Address will be; I only remind you that now the season for it enters.

A week ago I sent up all your Books to Tait, who engaged the day before yesterday that they should be more effectually packed, and despatched by Steam on Wednesday (this day), with a Twopenny Letter advertising you of their address and arrival: so pray act accordingly. As Tait is a very punctual man, I can flatter myself all this has been accomplished; I will ascertain it, however, before my departure, and apprise you if anything have failed. Could I once hear that you had got that other Packet out of the India-House labyrinth, it were all well. The Books sent on this last occasion were: Thiers (10 voll., one broken in the back, and which was so); English in France (3 voll.); and I think six Numbers of the Repository,— all that I had.1 A brief invoice went with them; on the back of it your address. The Fraser Packet I still expect to get here, before setting off.

The influenza has not seized us; we had enough of mischief without it. On the whole, I have learned nothing this winter; scarcely once indeed heard a thought which seemed to have any the smallest significance: however, there was Contradiction in abundance; and Contradiction itself is a kind of instruction. I feel as if in spite of Morpheus himself I had laid in considerable matter for thinking of; as if in the very Darkness I have had to drink my fill of there lay the possibility of clearer light. The men are all stupid with an inconceivable stupidity? Well, grant that; learn to know it, and how to deal with it. This world, and no other, was the world thou hadst to work in: kick not against the pricks;2 smite where it is softer.

At some moments I have the sickliest misgivings about the vocation of Literary Man, of Speculative Man at all, in this epoch; I dream of bursting out into quite another sort of Activity: this will require the maturest deepest deliberation. God send me sight! Once on the right way, you fear nothing: the Devil and the world at his back cannot prevent you advancing thereon,—as far as your strength will carry you; which is exactly as far as need be.

Yesterday in some Newspaper I saw a sentence quoted from the Monthly Repository about Books and Men, which was curiously emblematic of my own late thoughts. If it was not you that wrote it (which I fear), then there must be another Mystic in England, whose acquaintance I should gladly make.3

Hayward's Faust is not nearly so bad as I thought it would be: considered as a matter of Business, he has really done it most handsomely, and his Book (glossarially) is worth something: there is even here and there a touch of elegance; and no mistakes (which Dictionaries, Consultations or the like could remove) of any moment. The Prolegomena are very perfect in their kind; altogether worthy of our “cleverest second-rate man,” and will do good as far as they go.— The complete original Faust is now come; I am to begin reading it tomorrow.4

In Literature, I rather predict, nothing considerable will or can be done, for a long long while. Economically it is utterly embarrassed, the Bookseller System being more and more clearly dead and done: spiritually it is no less embarrassed, for I defy you, at this day, strive as you will, to think of anything but one black, barren, galling fixed-idea: the Death-Birth of the World;5—wherein, for the time, speculation is not wanted, but prompt practical insight, and courageous action. What is our inference from that? There are days when I could determine to turn my back on the whole sickening really painful scene of Hunger and Hollowness, and fly to America, where the people have at least something to eat and to do.

But the thing I now have to do is fold up this sheet. You have now two Letters—of a sort: pray delay not. Take care of the influenza; think of August and us.

Ever faithfully, /

T. Carlyle


That the Editor of the Law Magazine, whom several of our readers may know in that capacity as a quick ingenious mirth-loving man altogether of the clever-practical sort should among these voluminous masses of accumulated Stradling versus Stiles-7 composition have been adding slip to slip with a Prose Transl of Faust may partly seem surprising. But the handy workman is he not who has tools, but who has hands; these latter he can turn towards one material or the other, as occasion serves; and of all raw-material produce some profitable manufacture. Happy in these days and in all days for him that has hands, have he tools or not

Our good Hayward says it was Charles Lamb that indirectly first put him on this enterprise. Lamb had been heard to remark that of all Translations of the Greek Tragedians those bald literal Latin ones, for the use of schools, produced the deepest impression on him.8 A remark most pertinent most just; which indeed properly is now second-hand and much older than Lamb; and may be read, for instance, in Johnsons Lives of the Poets, as recording the experience of some worthy in regard to the Iliad.9 Second or first hand be the remark and its author thanked: thereby have we got a similar version of the Germ[an] Diabolic Tragedy, to which in existing circumstances the heartiest welcome is due.

Two considerable services Mr Hayward has rendered: a negative and a positive; the former tho' only negative were itself no small one. It is now some ten years that Lord Leveson Gower's Translation of Faust to the scandal of all adepts nay to the misleading of innumerable non-adepts10 has had its course here[.] first both by demonstration and by experiment it has been made manifest to whosoever wears eyes in his head what quality the said so-called poetical Performance is of. Hayward as man of the robe and wig, is master of judicial logic, adroit in banter: not only exhibiting the real Faust (tho' the stripped and leafless Faust at least the not unreal Faust) but at great length by comparison and critical citation has in the handsomest way dissected the spurious Faust, and left it lying so that he who runs may read11 and value it. A painful service, but a necessary one; and now at length finally done. Reviewers of great and of small name did indeed make significant wry mouths over Lord Leveson's work: but none found in his heart to say out aloud, what is here with all courtesy and yet to the understanding of the dullest said or rather shown and left unsaid: that of all English poetical Translations extant, past or to be expected Lord Leveson's of Faust is probably the worst—that saw a second edition. This in a Country, which pleads guilty of Hoole and Company12 and in general translates (as is supposed) by some modification of the steam-engine, is saying much; yet unhappily cannot be denied. It is written fools rush in where angels fear to tread:13 and surely when we consider it if ever there was an astonishing phenomenon in Literature it was that of a very young man, not yet rightly able [to] read one of Mr Rowbotham's Florileges,14 and inexperienced as need be in all practical or speculative philosophy human divine or devilish, rushing in (not driven by hunger) with Nathan Bailey's Dictionary15 under his arm to re-sing for a listening English world the highest utterance of the highest most mysterious among modern men! A daring attempt; a criminal one if you will; but what then? for had Korah &c known what they were doing, would they have done it? Happier than Korah Dathan or Abiram, the young Adventurer yet survives unswallowed; and more, what ought to cover all sins, expresses a becoming contrition.16 Let his Lordship [be] heartily forgiven[,] his poetical Faust declared an air, hence forth let no man, not even the oldest woman, in speaking of Goethe remain ignorant that Lord Leveson's Translation is non-extant; and herewith once for all the whole matter be abolished.

And now knowing that we know nothing of Goethe's Faust (which is a real increase of knowledge) the question for English readers curious about the “Apocalypse of this Era” is what can be known? In regard to that second or positive service the Translation into English Prose has done somewhat; alas, that it is not all, that it is not much, the Translator knows better than a thousand of his critics. Of a true Poem what can the Prose Translation be but at best the naked trunk and boughs, so rigid wintry-looking, without the green rustling balminess of leaves! Nay farther as respects this case: in large sections of Faust the meaning is more like a melody an inarticulate music, soul-searching sense-entrancing enough; so that the mere articulate words [crossed out: “sense” written] often in the highly difficult to decipher would do little for us tho' we had them. They are like the separate notes; but transposed, thrown out of joint, the time quite lost; the rhythm the movement wholly wanting, to be supplied according to force of fancy. What then? Take thankfully what of the original we get; know ever how much is not there; above all bless ourselves that nothing not of the original is there. Under such limitations does the Prose Translator work. Neither, so long as we read the Hebrew Bible in English, let us say that he can accomplish little; let us venture to say what he can not accomplish.

To friend Hayward in this enterprize, there were two sorts of requisites[:] meditation[,] appropriation of his original without which all lexicons and scholia avail nothing; but then also extraneous means helps, deep long-continued consultations, researches, inquiries, learned glosses[,] for much of Faust never so well translated needs commentary.17 As concerns the latter we have all praise to give him: his assiduity has been most meritorious; friends German and English, far and near, among whom are such authorities as Grimm and Schlegel18 have been consulted and give response: if somewhat yet remains, there is no risk in saying that so much was never before done. To the un-German reader these Notes are essential; nay more, among the most German of English readers there is perhaps not one who will not find elucidation there.

Farther we say measuredly that to most British readers the Translation itself will be of true service. The Translator has shown the laudablest fidelity of purpose, has paused, has diligently examined; so far as perspicacity and logical clearness would carry him has triumphed. His version sticking close to the original has a kind of anxious correctness; in parts too a graceful expressiveness; if dimness, a certain air of dislocation rest[s] over other parts; how was it, with such opportunities, to be helped? The Reviewer[,] an old student of Faust[,] here holds himself bound to testify that he has read ¾ of the English Faust, in close comparison with the German, and with many real felicities [and] but a few immediately-remediable shortcomings, was able to detect no unquestionable error of moment. Under the last head which does not include half a dozen the worst was but this: Die Gegenwart [the present]—meaning as we believe [“]the present time by a fellow of ability[”]; not “the presence of a brave boy,” which in that context will simply mean nothing.19 [The others (for we may as well give them all) are &c.]20 Add now that the Book is valued at twelve shillings, is of excellent paper and type; that Faust is considerably the strangest thing written in Europe for some three or four generations; (all which assertions no mortal living will dispute us): and the reader knows now what he has to do.

On the whole, therefore is not this Book and the reception it seems to meet with a thing we can honestly look upon with welcome? A satisfaction that German Literature (which in one best sense may be said to mean Literature itself, in this epoch) spreads vigorously both in height and breadth, has its interpreters[,] its critics, and ever-increasing public; that one of the chief Products of G Literature need no longer be misknown, may now begin to be in some small degree known. Ten years that do much in many cases have in this worked wonders: a new influence may be said to have added itself to British Thought; where, as is easy to predict, its effects deep enough in their character can nowise be wanting.

If we go farther, and hint prophetically that perhaps in this little volume we see the symptom of a new era in British Translation generally, the reader will recoil from us: nevertheless he need not. British Translation is among the worst of all spiritual products on the face of this globe; how to contradict it, that with the single exception of our English Bible there is no good Translation of importance in our language.21 In fact the whole principle spirit [is] wrong for this best of all reasons that it is simply not true. An Interpreter, one would think, were either one that explained (stood true) (exhibited) his original; or else were Nothing whatever. But with us the strangest idea has got abroad that we stand truest to the foreign Original, by clipping and torturing[,] by dy[e]ing and dizening it to look something like a native! Pope's Belle Infidele [beautiful unfaithful]22 might be tolerated as a Hetaera: but so many thousand thousand altogether unlovely jilts (wretched trulls & trollops offensive to eye and to nose) are melancholy proof to what length we have carried it. So far as we know this inconsiderable volume is the first English one in which the true principle of Translation has been fairly avowed and acted on: this namely that before all other considerations, the first second and third requisite (to which all others must be sacrificed) is closeness, utmost possible resemblance. (Shall the Portrait-painter give us Ibrahim Pasha23 in the coat and air of a London Alderman; or Agame[m]n[on] armed with horse-pistols?) Such is the principle this little volume both acts on, and theoretically vindicates, reminding [one] for instance [of] M. G. St Aulaire, who declares all what is not logically clear must be altered into clearness, that it is as much as saying the “moon—.”24

It may be information to some that the Faust here translated, and long treated as a whole by British and other Reviewers is nevertheless but a fragment; the first act of a whole consisting of five acts. Some have heard of Helena; that was the third act[;] indeed the whole four acts are not much larger than the first alone. We state now that the whole work published some months ago has reached Britain, lies here beside us; as completed by its author the year before his decease.25 Beyond the dramatis personae we have not yet had time to go: but that seems promising enough. There is reason to hope that the Diabolic Tragedy now perfect and fully compacted may prove worthy of all study; the highest work of Art, properly the work of Art belonging to its Era; and give rise to new Translations not only of the true-prose sort but even of the true poetical.

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