TC TO JOHN STUART MILL; 17 December 1833; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18331217-TC-JSM-01; CL 7:52-57.
TC TO JOHN STUART MILL
Craigenputtoch, 17th December, 1833—
My Dear Mill,
On Wednesday gone a fortnight I said to myself, “there will be a Letter from Mill tonight”; neither was I disappointed. Wednesday Evening brought Tea, and our draggled Postboy from Dumfries, with a whole bag of Letters, and the best of the whole from the Correspondent in question.1 Many thanks for your long close-written close-meditated Answer to all my queries! It is the best account of Paris I ever saw in equal bulk; contains as much as some Colburns'2 would have been glad of, to beat out into three volumes.
My wish decidedly were to go and see Paris with my own eyes; my purpose also, in all but one too probable contingency: The want of Money not needed for other more pressing objects. We shall see how matters turn. Alas, unless one go soon, the actors and spectators in those Tragedies will all have withdrawn, and one great interest of such a visit be past forever. That Necklace Baron,3 for example, what would I not give to have the questioning of him for one solar day! The “dignity of History” has buckramed up poor History into a dead mummy. There are a thousand purposes which History should serve beyond “teaching by Experience”: it is an Address (literally out of Heaven, for did not God order it all?) to our whole inner man; to every faculty of Head and Heart from the deepest to the slightest: there is no end to its purposes; none to one's amazement, contemplation, over it. Now for all such purposes, high, low, ephemeral, eternal, the first indispensable condition of conditions, is that we see the things transacted, and picture them out wholly as if they stood before our eyes;—and this, alas, of all considerations, is the one that “dignity of History” least thinks of. You must manage this by many indirect methods for yourself in your own person.
The actual Paris, from your account of it which confirms all that I gather elsewhere, seems (if we except its restlessness, which is no sublimity of the highest kind) to wear but a trivial aspect: a singular deficiency of great thoughts, great actions, great men. The merit of it, beyond England, appears to be mainly its abandon: it is a real existence of man, not hampered, dislocated, falsified at every step by side-feelings of responsibilities and respectabilities: this however is an immense merit,—for the spectator at any rate. But, on the whole, the French character puzzles me more and more. There never seems to have been in it generally any moral basis, in our sense of the word (which I take to be a Puritanical, to be therefore an Old-Hebrew one, and of the greatest worth and depth), but rather a quick graceful Sensuousness (Sinnlichkeit), whereupon naturally enough Honour, Gallantry, a light joyous way of life originated; and in later times also, September-work and enough else. In reading many French books, and even books of genius, I find this a necessary key to much. The authors seem to get along, in the strangest manner, quite comfortably without any Conscience at all, or ever feeling the want of one; taking the Given World as it is given; and getting many a sapid little mess of victual from it, come whence it may. At bottom, a Pagan kind of being, yet not without its significance.— And now as to this Litteratur der Verzweiflung [Literature of Despair],4 is it not really a Desperate Literature, yet with a Desperation of the flimsiest sort? Nothing struck me more in the Livre des Cent-et-Un: a small-beer run sour! Everybody in the most indignant Opposition—to Providence; and not so much as a good Faust's Curse comes of it. They eat their victuals there, with a sacre-ing [damn-ing] between the teeth (at the bad Cookery), and live uselessly, and die as the fool dieth.5
Your Pictures of Carrel and Cavaignac6 indicate at least a more emphatic species of man. I had seen Cavaignac's Pleading (in the French Globe); but nothing that led me to prophecy a character such as his present one. There is much in it you must respect: his very Atheism is a better Theism than that of Shovel-hat-dom;7 the wretchedest dishwashings (literally, if you will think of it; from Christian and Pagan dishes, that had once food in them) anywhere to be met with, at present, perhaps in the whole world. For the rest, I cannot without a very deep kind of commiseration, behold an earnest truth-loving man driven by perversities environing him, into this saddest of counter-perversities: the denial that Man or the World has any Father but Death. Sad enough, to “look upwards for the divine Eye, and see nothing but the empty black glaring bottomless Death's Eye-socket!”8 However it is his business not ours. Whoever recognises the infinite nature of Duty believes in a God, against his own Consciousness: our feeling towards his Atheism is dissent and sympathy, nothing more. In almost all the rest that Cavaignac teaches I go, a greater or a shorter way, heartily along with him. Carrel and his well-whiskered Coadjutors9 stand out in lively relief before me: one almost regrets to see such a man a Journalist merely: his voice might reach farther than the day; yet perhaps the day has need of him, and all voices (the most prophetic ever heard) reach only to some day. True also that recognised or not, NO thing a man ever did can be annihilated; it lives onwards, into Eternity, and even (as our Fathers well knew) thro' Eternity.
One other characteristic that strikes me much in your Description, and much in many other quarters is this strange universal hubbub the French are all making (and most of us make) about the “good of the species,” and such like. How each man seems to mind all men's business,—and leave his own to mind itself! Something is to be done; but not for Me or for Thee; no, for Mankind,—when I and Thou are quite past helping. What would all manner of Socinian Preachers think of me, if I confessed, as I do now to you with little misgiving (or at worst appealing to your future Self) that this manner of existence is to me almost as good as altogether foreign! Nay, I cannot find that it ever entered for much into the heart of any real benefactor of Mankind (as he proved to be): his guidance and purpose lay much nearer home; the working out of what was best and purest in himself: in this lay for him all the Law and the Prophets. The Good of the Species (a thing infinitely too deep for my comprehending) I leave, with the most perfect trust, to God Almighty the All-governing who does comprehend it; believing withal (when I do consider Causes and Effects—which is as rarely as possible) that no good thing I can perform, or make myself capable of performing, can be lost to my Brothers, but will prove in reality all and the utmost that I was capable of doing for them.— Now what think you of this Creed, my dear Friend?10 It is a point which I have long seen we differed in; but seen also, and with great pleasure, that we were approximating in. If you still differ from me, even with vehemence, I will not take it ill: in the calmest manner, as above said, I will appeal to the future John Mill, and he shall decide between us. The present John is no common Radical, but a most uncommon one, and daily growing more uncommon—onwards as I fancy to “speculative radicalism of the darkest tinge,”11 and also of some other.— In sober truth, I cannot so much as imagine any peace or solid foundation of improvement in human things till this [univer]sal scheme of procedure go out of men's heads again, and each take to what alone is practicable for him[self—]mending of his own ways;—wherefrom Benevolence enough, and infinitely better things, will be sure enough to result. Since you have read the New Testament, and understood it anew, I tell you all this, with the greater freedom. It seems to me, Jesus of Nazareth was of all men the least of a “Penny Lady,”12 or comprehensive universal Soup-Kitchen character: he pitied sorrow and sin and pain, with an infinite, outbursting, helpful pity, wheresoever he met with it; but so likewise did he smite with an infinite withering indignation whatsoever deserved that; and on the whole went about with a quite other object than consciously seeking either of these. “To do the Will of my Father,”13—were it even that of being scourged out of existence, as a failure and nonentity, and disgrace to the world.—
But here surely is too much of dissertation. You have a long arrear of London business to bring up with me; pray do not delay with it. I write a line to Buller along with this; but hardly imagine he will answer soon: my best almost sole dependence is you. I have not seen his Mirabeau14 yet; much to my dissatisfaction; from some delay in Booksellers.— You never tell me anything of Roebuck15 now: I remember once saying that he reminded me of Robespierre, and I could not take to him: this is not to hinder my feeling a true interest in what a true man (lean tho' he be) does, and grows to. I will even ask you to let me see him, when I return to London.— Hayward, writing about his Faust, surprises me with something about difficulties in the way of the Examiner, and a necessity for pecuniary help, and: whether any lies within my sphere? I will at least do no ill; by altogether holding my tongue about it. There is not out of Edinburgh a single man known to me, that were worth applying to. This fact of the Examiner's distress (if it be a fact) seems to me the most scandalous sympton yet of our literary taste. But from your silence about it, perhaps it is no fact, or an exaggerated one.16
No Books have yet come; but I expect Books tomorrow, and perhaps certain of yours may be among them. Have you Beaumarchais' Writings; his Figaro; his Goezman Mémoires?17 I shall be much obliged to Adolphe18 for anything about the Collier: that Old Baron's paper was very interesting to me; I figured him the most closeshaven distinct old man; dining out in comfortablest apparel and hairpowder; not without a touch of subacidity.— For the last month I have been very busy with a Paper on that same Necklace; which is now done, and truly a kind of curiosity in its way. I wanted to try whether by sticking actually to the Realities of the thing with as much tenacity and punctuality as the merest Hallam, one could not in a small way make a kind of Poem of it. The result is there: perhaps not quite so unsuccessful as one could have expected. I wish you had it to read it; for I have some thoughts of printing it as a little Book; and without advertisement at all (except perhaps one in the Examiner) sending it forth with my name on it to lie on, say, 100 Booksellers' Counters, and ask (without any Lying) whether any one has aught to say to it. A good Bookseller, to make the sheets into bales, and send them off punctually &c &c, one at least that would not steal, were of the truest service in such a case: I fancy it will by and by be found to be the sole use of such.— We shall judge of it better, when it is farther gone from us, and the dust of hewing it out is laid.—— In conclusion, or rather in abruption (for Paper and Time are done) I beg the most plentiful tidings from you; and will myself write more menschlich [humanly], less geistlich [spiritually], next time;—and remain ever— Your affectionate—
My Dame, as usual, sends all manner of kind regards; for I think you are among her prime favourites: a great thing, I assure you, so strict is she in critical creed. She is walking about here in the boisterous December, hoping for Spring and the voice of singing.
Will you tell me a little about these London St. Simonians? The[y] have published a sixpenny pamphlet.19— Remember me with thanks to d'Eichthal. What of his Brother G.?20 Do you see anything of W. Fraser? what is his address?
Poor Glen is coming hither: we expect him tonight with his Brother! Fancy such a meeting; but it seemed needful. A more forsaken Pair than these two perhaps breathe not.
Are you wearying for the Madame Roland (which seems not to be your own)? Say so, and I will despatch it