TC TO JOHN STUART MILL; 24 September 1833; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18330924-TC-JSM-01; CL 6:444-450.
TC TO JOHN STUART MILL
Craigenputtoch, Dumfries, 24th Septr 1833—
My Dear Mill,
Our Letters1 met each other (and passed without recognition) at Dumfries. As mine professed only to be the semblance of a Letter, it seems fit that I first write again. Perhaps you will have time to answer me still before leaving England: in any case you will think of me the better in France, and feel yourself in my debt.
No hope now remaining of your presence here this Autumn, we must even give it up, like so much else; and try to create a new one. Blessings on the “good time coming”! Were it not for the future tense, the past and the present would lose half their value; our TIME-WORD (Anglice, VERB) were all-too incomplete in this world. One of my chief anticipations from your visit was that we might, in reality, get better acquainted here: we are so like two Spirits to one another, two Thinking-machines. Let us hold by that, however, and study to extend it, till we get more. If I had shown you my book-presses here, my refectories, dormitories, even stalls and coal-houses, my whole terrestrial clay-environment, you would have seen me infinitely better, and loved me more, felt more authorized to love me. But, as the Philosophers say, “What good is it”? Let us do the best we can.
I received your Books last Wednesday, together with a great packet from my Brother. The little Paper on Alison2 was the first thing I fell upon; a thing I read carefully and even twice. There is not a word in it that I do not subscribe to: it is really a decided little utterance, with a quiet emphasis, a conscious incontrovertibility, which (heretic that I am) I rejoice to see growing in you. Such a feeling, such a mode of writing seems to me, in these days especially, the only fruitful one: emphasis in uttering, what is it but the natural result of entireness in believing; the first condition of all worth in words spoken, and quite especially precious in a despicable sceptical, “supposing,” weathercock, foundationless era such as ours. Give me, above and before all things, a man that has legs to stand on: keep far from me, were it possible, the innumerable decrepit culs-de-jatte [cripples], that can stand, that can move nowhere, but only beg permission of all byestanders to move whithersoever they are shoved! You perceive, therefore, I set little store by this so celebrated virtue of Tolerance: alas, I cannot say that I have almost ever seen such a virtue; only seen, often enough and with ever-increasing dislike, Indifferentism parading itself in the stolen garments of it. “I came not into the world to bring peace, but a sword”!3 Such is in perhaps all cases part of the stern mission which a good man feels laid on him. How different, above all, is that honey-mouthed, tear-stained, soup-kitchen Jesus Christ of our poor shovel-hatted modern Christians from that stern-visaged Christ of the Gospels, proclaiming aloud in the marketplace (with such a total contempt of the social respectabilities): “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites”!4 Descend from your Gigs, ye wretched scoundrels, for the hour is come!—
As for this business of the French Revolution I think you ought to determine on setting forth your ideas and acquisitions in regard to it at more length than you have ever yet done; and that by your first opportunity, with your best deliberation. It is properly the grand work of our era (a most sorrowful, barren and unfruitful work, yet still the work which was laid on us, which we have done, and are doing): in this, in the right understanding of this, is involved all possible knowledge important for us; and yet at the present hour our ignorance of it in England is probably as bad as total (for Error is infinitely worse than Ignorance); and in France itself knowledge seems only just beginning. Understand me all those sectionary tumults, convention-harangues, guillotine holocausts, Brunswick discomfitures; exhaust me the meaning of it! You cannot; for it is a flaming Reality; the depths of Eternity look thro' the chinks of that so convulsed section of Time;—as thro all sections of Time, only to dull eyes not so visibly. To me, it often seems, as if the right History (that impossible thing I mean by History) of the French Revolution were the grand Poem of our Time; as if the man who could write the truth of that, were worth all other writers and singers. If I were spared alive myself, and had means, why might not I too prepare the way for such a thing? I assure you the attempt often seems among my possibilities. The attempt can be made; cannot, by the highest talent and effort, be succeeded in, except in more or less feeble approximation. But indeed is not all our success approximate only?— In any case I continue thoroughly interested in the subject, and greedily collect whatever knowledge I can of it. That Thiers,5 these Mémoires of yours have done more for me than almost all else I had read; you can hardly conceive with what a tumult of feelings, visions, half-visions, guesses and darknesses they wholly envelope me. Whatever more of such you have pray get me. I spent yesterday with Madame Roland;6 a most remarkable woman; one of the clearest, bravest, perhaps as you say best of her sex and country; tho' (as indeed her time prescribed) almost rather a man than a woman. I prefer her, however, to de Stael, on several grounds: on this, were it on no other, that she utterly divests herself of cant, which the spiritual Amazon never could even resolutely try to do. But on the whole what a contrast are these two! Of the other book-figures I think Riouffe7 dwells most with me; he and the other Prison men, especially that little citizen Versifier, and his jaunty ways with the Citoyennes: it was all to me like the grandest Drama I had ever assisted at.8
But now in connexion with these fine speculations let me tell you some little practical things I will have you do for me at Paris. The first is to ascertain by comparison of me and that city how you imagine I could contrive to live there for a few months: I mean not only spiritually, socially, but economically, crumenically [purse-wise]. What think you is the lowest sum for which a couple such [as] you know us could contrive to subsist there, so as (dismounting altogether from the Gig) to go on w[ith] fair chance in the way of intellectual investigation? Are there furnished houses or huts to be had about any of the circumjacent villages, where you can keep your own servant; and at what rate? Should one find the French Notabilities (I mean Literary and Artistic—if indeed there be any such) accessible, communicative? Libraries I know there are, not how available they are. The thing I want to understand is French Existence, French History, especially the recent portion of it: you can tell me what resources, from Books, from Men, from personal inspection I should find there more than elsewhere; we shall then, weighing outlay with value to be anticipated, know better how it stands. Another thing I need, perhaps attainable enough: a good French Dictionary! I have got old Richelet in two folios,9 very useful for my Bayle10 and whatever is earlier; and then three or four wretched French-English ones, which daily in attempting to use them I feel inclined to burn. The Academy Dictionary is not of my sort; a little vocabulary of any sort that contained all kinds of words, vulgar and royal, and gave even the feeblest interpretation were far better for me than your Cruscan11 (“sifting”) sort, for often the “siftings” are the very thing I am in quest of. You can probably name me a name here; that I think is all I shall ask at present.
My sheet is turned the worst way already, and I am hardly begun writing! That is the misery of Letters. I had much to tell you about my way of life here; still an inkless one, still an unsettled one. My last letter was written in the extremity of solitude; I write now from a house full of the wretchedest company,—whom I have left drinking in another room: God help them! I have many projects for the winter, and hope not to waste it, perhaps least of all if it prove a silent one; which however is not likely. Poor Glen is still in the Glasgow Asylum, one of the many broken promises one sees and sighs over. Another of them is at the bottle and glass here close by me. Alas! alas!— Glen's brother was here last week, and we had much council about the poor fellow; of whom I have not given up hope: we made a sort of plan you will hear of by & by[.]
John, I fancy, is by this time past Frankfort journeying up the Rhine; not to rest till Lausanne or even Milan. I am glad you like him, and prepare to know him: may it prove for good to both! He is a man of perhaps naturally sceptical intellect, but who has (with great agony) burnt the scepticism out of him, and now stands assured of several things, on a basis that neither man nor Devil can push him from: a thoroughly honest man, with much talent yet undeveloped in him; a broad laughter-loving fellow, yet of deepest earnestness; with an inexhaustible fund of affection and massive bonhommie: love him as well as you can without fear. Of you he thinks all that is good and handsome; only that perhaps “too logical” is your excess. If so, reduce it by strengthening the antagonist muscle. You understand that; and it means, in human culture, a great deal. Weaken nothing; strengthen the opposite of what is too strong.
You surprise me greatly by liking Cagliostro; as indeed your likings and dislikings in these cases have shown me more than once how little I yet understand you. As it is the rarest of all things to get any fraction of sincere criticism I feel always much gratified with your approval; heartily thankful for your so kindly expressed censure; that too I know still better to be genuine. You are right about my style; your interrogatory is right.12 I think often of the matter myself; and see only that I cannot yet see. Irony is a sharp instrument; but ill to handle without cutting yourself. I cannot justify, yet can too well explain what sets me so often on it of late: it is my singularly anomalous position to the world,—and, if you will, my own singularly unreasonable temper. I never know or can even guess what or who my audience is, or whether I have any audience: thus too naturally I adjust myself on the Devil-may-care principle. Besides I have under all my gloom a genuine feeling of the ludicrous; and could have been the merriest of men, had I not been the sickest & saddest. Thus stands it: but I tell you I will mend; and what more can man do?
Now I beg of you write with all abandonment; with all copiousness as to your elder Brother, not caring what you write. And so blessings be with you! My good Dame (from amid her visitorial Tophet13) joins truly in the prayer.
Ever faithfully, /
I have forgot twice to say that I should like Coningsby and Bulwers England;14 and indeed anything almost or altogether that you like. Bulwer is an honest kind of creature, tho' none of the strongest; nay perhaps as you once said “distinguished most for his tenuity.”
The Poorlaw Commission stands on the rich side of the question, and looks at the poor as things, who nevertheless are men too. For the rest it is well done; Chadwick's part far the best: and such a spectacle of baseness, wretchedness, dishonesty; wherein perhaps only this light-gleam (a most electric one) shines on us that now at last, both Magistrate and Govt seem heartily afraid of the poor, quite heartily afraid! God help them; and us.15—
Remember us affectionately to the Austins;16 in whose good fortune we sincerely rejoice.