October 1833-December 1834

The Collected Letters, Volume 7


TC TO JOHANN PETER ECKERMANN; 6 May 1834; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18340506-TC-JPE-01; CL 7:141-144.


Craigenputtoch, Dumfries, 6th May, 1834—

My Dear Eckermann,

At length, after the long tempestuous winter, your kind Message, of the 10th November 1833,1 reaches me, some days ago; a slow but most welcome arrival. It is grievous to think how our Correspondence seems to have misgone of late: your “Letter of last summer” never got hither; while of mine at least two seem to have been lost! My last notice from you was the Packet of winter gone a year; which, I well remember, met me (in the hands of a country-man, on its way hither), one wild day, in the valley of Glenessland, among these mountains; and was rapidly uncased, and eagerly examined in spite of the winds. I found in it the articles you mention: a Letter from yourself;2 the last Heft [Part] of Kunst und Alterthum, Herr von Müller's interesting Pamphlet, both with a most friendly inscription from his own hand; lastly H. Schwerdtgeburth's Engraving,3 and the Medal from Madam von Goethe. A grateful copious answer failed not from me, by the next Post; and this, it appears, was an answer spoken to the winds! Truly you have need of Faith, you my Friends in Weimar; in which too I rejoice to see you are actually not deficient. Will you now, my dear Eckermann, at this late hour, repeat to yourself and the rest all the thanks you can fancy I expressed: say to Madam von Goethe that her medal lies on our mantel-piece still in the envelope of her handwriting, in a little casket of Roman Porphyry (that once belonged to Kaiser Nero), and daily reminds us of her. Neither has her promise of a Letter been forgotten by us; nor, as we will now again hope, by her. Tell the Geheime[n]rath [Privy Councillor] that I read and again read, in more languages than one, his valuable Paper, with true satisfaction; and feel myself richer for his esteem. And now let us hope that no such rupture and dislocation may again occur in our intercourse, while earthly Distance alone divides us! Nay I am just coming nearer you; if not much in physical miles, yet in social conveniency much.

For this, my Friend, is the last Letter you are ever like to receive from Craigenputtoch: we remove to London next Whitsuntide; I in two days hence, to make preparation on the spot; and there henceforth we have our residence. That it is a great outward change this, you will readily guess; yet scarcely how great it is: from the most quiescent solitude in this world to precisely the most tumultuous, never-slumbering, immeasurable Babylon that the Sun looks down on! The thought of it fills me with vague, huge forebodings; but I feel the step to be inevitable, clearly necessary, and at lowest study to defy it. Often too I bethink me with comfort of our Goethe's saying, grounded on wise insight, and ever anew applicable and precious: “We look upon our Scholars as so many Swimmers, who, in the element that threatened to devour them, feel themselves unexpectedly buoyed up, and by its very obstruction borne along.”4 True, how true! So let us swim, lustily while life is left, in this or the other water, with more way or with less; and, if only in the right direction, bless our Destiny. Phlegethon-Fleetditch5 is what I used to name the London Water-way; but once for all, Literature, I find, so mad is its state becoming and become, cannot be carried on elsewhere by an Englishman: thro' Phlegethon-Fleetditch, therefore, our course does lie; and we will take it, by God's blessing, with as little criticism as possible. And so the “whinstone castle of Craigenputtoch” stands henceforth vacant, or tenanted only by double-barrelled grouse-destroying men, who know not Weimar; and you are to figure us in quite another environment.

If to all this external complication you add that for a long while I have felt myself in a kind of spiritual crisis also, wherein you doubtless know by experience how frightful it is to speak till the issue have decided itself,—it will seem natural enough that I have written less this year than for any of the last ten; and published of this year's writing absolutely nothing. By and by, if the Heavens smile on me, I shall have a thing or two to say. With German Literature especially I have had as good as no concern; the few new Books, that have reached me, are mere Heynes and Börnes,6 and such like; of no value, or of less than none. My Goethe and all that belongs to him stands out ever the grander, the more genuine, as I myself increase; yet stands out, I might say, as an object finished, to which there will be no continuation made; like a granite Promontory, high and sheer, stretching far into the waste chaos; yet not thro' it; thro' it, the world seems seeking itself another road,—or losing all aim of any. To me most significant, forever bedeutungsvoll, verehrungswürdig [momentous, venerable]! With him and his, however, it seems as if my labours in the German field might profitably terminate, at least make pause. As respects our own England again, my task in that direction, so far as it was my task, may be considered amply done: witness only this one fact, that within the last twelvemonths we have had no fewer than three new Translations of Faust, two of them published at Edinburgh on the same day.7 In fact, the fire is kindled, and there is smoke enough and to spare. Here and there a little flame too; as in Mrs Austin's Characteristics of Goethe, which you have doubtless seen. All is in the course of nature; it will all be flame one day, and cheerful light; whereby for the present let the smoke itself be cheerfully welcomed:—and thou, take thy bellows elsewhither! This is one face of the “spiritual crisis” I spoke of: how it will end and is ending I hope to give you some tokens, if I can collect in London any scraps of my late publishings from the vortex of Periodicals, which latter is like to be for a good while our only method of publishing; at least mine, greatly as I dislike it.

In such a position towards my old favourites, judge whether I will welcome that Correspondence of Goethe and Zelter announced in your last Packet. Zelter himself, the tüchtige Mann und Maurer [able man and mason], is a figure I look upon with almost filial love, from what I know of him; that Goethe should have so loved him is to me another beautiful proof of his own all-comprehending Tüchtigkeit [ability]. The Book, I imagine, has already arrived in England; but I shall not know till I have seen London.8 Of the Nachgelassene Werke [Posthumous Works] I possess none, and have seen only the first Lieferung [part]; where I read the Continuation of Faust with more thoughts than I have yet found utterance for. Thanks for your kind offer to send them to me. I will most gladly accept the Packet whatever its carriage may cost: the Werke [Works] are all here, presented by him, and I would have the whole of a sort. But in any case the carriage, I fancy, will cost little. What our address in London will be is yet unfixed; in the meanwhile that of “Messrs Black, Young and Young, Foreign Booksellers, Tavistock Street, Covent-Garden, London” will always find me, and for aught but Postletters probably be the best. They have an Agent in Leipzig (one Herbig: I think, probably known to your Weimar Booksellers); once in his hands, any Parcel would reach me in few weeks.

When we have cast anchor in London you shall hear from me again. Let me pray that this Letter too be not lost. If you think of writing to me very soon, which I hope you will, the above address will serve, or this of “Mrs Austin, 5. Orme-Square, Bayswater, London” will serve still better.— Tell me, I pray you, more and more specially what you are engaged in, what looking towards. Shall we never see you face to face in Modern Babylon? There will be a bedroom there for you, and a true welcome. Already thro' your Letters I seem to see you.— You spoke once of “Conversations of Goethe” you were about committing to paper.9 Falk I thought a failure, almost an offence;10 but yours might surely be one of the most interesting Books ever written. Are you acquainted with our English Boswell's Life of Johnson? If not, read it, con it; there are not ten Books of the Eighteenth Century as valuable.— Adieu, my Friend! The Lady returns you kindest salutations. Believe me most faithfully yours

T. Carlyle

London, 14th May. Am happily arrived here; expect among other things to meet a Mrs Jamieson (a friend of Madam Goethe's), and learn much from her about Weimar.11 No House obtained yet. Ora pro nobis [Pray for us]!— T. C.

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