January 1835-June 1836

The Collected Letters, Volume 8


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON; 3 February 1835; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18350203-TC-RWE-01; CL 8:36-43.


5. Cheyne Row Chelsea, London, 3d Feby 1835—

My Dear Sir

I owe you a speedy answer as well as a grateful one; for, in spite of the swift ships of the Americans, our communings pass too slowly. Your Letter, written in November,1 did not reach me till a few days ago; your Books or Papers have not yet come,2—tho' the ever-punctual Rich,3 I can hope, will now soon get them for me. He showed me his waybill or invoice, and the consignment of these friendly effects “to another gentleman,” and undertook with an air of great fidelity to bring all to a right bearing. On the whole, as the Atlantic is so broad and deep, ought we not rather to esteem it a beneficent miracle that messages can arrive at all; that a little ship of paper will skim over all these weltering floods, and other inextricable confusions; and come at last, in the hand of the Twopenny Postman, safe to your lurking-place, like green leaf in the bill of Noah's Dove? Let us be grateful for mercies; let us use them while they are granted us. Time was when “they that feared the Lord spake often one to another.”4 A friendly thought is the purest gift that man can afford to man. “Speech” also, they say, “is cheerfuller than light itself.”5

The date of your Letter gives me unhappily no idea but that of Space and Time. As you know my Whereabout, will you throw a little light on your own. I can imagine Boston, and have often seen the musket vollies on Bunker Hill;6 but in this new spot there is nothing for me save sky and earth, the chance of retirement, peace and winter seclusion. Alas, I can too well fancy one other thing: the bereavement you allude to, the sorrow that will so long be painful before it can become merely sad and sacred. Brothers, especially in these days, are much to us: had one no Brother, one could hardly understand what it was to have a Friend; they are the Friends whom Nature chose for us; Society and Fortune, as things now go, are scarcely compatible with Friendship, and contrive to get along, miserably enough, without it. Yet sorrow not above measure for him that is gone. He is, in very deed and truth, with God,—where you and I both are. What a thin film it is that divides the Living from the Dead! In still nights, as Jean Paul says, “the limbs of my Buried Ones touched cold on my soul, and drove away its blots, as dead hands heal eruptions of the skin.”— Let us turn back into Life.7

That you sit there bethinking yourself, and have yet taken no course of activity, and can without inward or outward hurt so sit, is on the whole rather pleasing news to me. It is a great truth which you say that Providence can well afford to have one sit:8 another great truth which you feel without saying it is that a course wherein clear faith cannot go with you may be worse than none; if clear faith go never so slightly against it, then it is certainly worse than none. To speak with perhaps ill-bred candour, I like as well to fancy you not preaching to Unitarians, a Gospel after their heart. I will say farther that you are the only man I ever met with of that persuasion whom I could unobstructedly like.9 The others that I have seen were all a kind of halfway-house characters, who, I thought, should, if they had not wanted courage, have ended in unbelief; in “faint possible Theism,”10 which I like considerably worse than Atheism. Such, I could not but feel, deserve the fate they find here; the bat-fate: to be killed among the rats as a bird, among the birds as a rat. I know your Channing a little; I have met with our Fox;11 but find my opinion only confirmed by these. You can pardon me this heresy? Nay who knows but it is doubts of the like kind in your own mind that keep you for a time inactive even now? For the rest, that you have liberty to choose by your own will merely, is a great blessing; too rare for those that could use it so well; nay often it is difficult to use. But till ill health of body or of mind warns you that the moving not the sitting posture is essential, sit still, contented in conscience; understanding well that no man, that God only knows what we are working, and will show it one day; that such and such a one, who filled the whole Earth with his hammering and trowelling and would not let men pass for his rubbish, turns out to have built of mere coagulated froth, and vanishes with his edifice, traceless, silently or amid hootings illimitable; while again that other still man, by the word of his mouth, by the very look of his face, was scattering influences, as seeds are scattered—“to be found flourishing as a banyan-grove after a thousand years.”12 I beg your pardon for all this preaching, if it be superfluous: impute it to no miserable motive.

Your objections to Goethe are very natural, and even bring you nearer me:13 nevertheless I am by no means sure that it were not your wisdom, at this moment, to set about learning the German Language with a view towards studying him mainly! I do not assert this; but the truth of it would not surprise me. Believe me, it is impossible you can be more a Puritan than I; nay I often feel as if I were far too much so: but John Knox himself could he have seen the peaceable impregnable fidelity of that man's mind, and how to him also Duty was infinite, Knox would have passed on, wondering, not reproaching. But I will tell you in a word why I like Goethe: his is the only healthy mind, of any extent, that I have discovered in Europe for long generations; it was he that first convincingly proclaimed to me (convincingly, for I saw it done): Behold even in this scandalous Sceptico-Epicurean generation, when all is gone but Hunger and Cant, it is still possible that Man be a Man! For which last Evangel, the confirmation and rehabilitation of all other Evangels whatsoever, how can I be too grateful? On the whole, I suspect you yet know only Goethe the Heathen (Ethnic); but you will know Goethe the Christian by and by, and like that one far better. Rich showed me a Compilation in green cloth boards that you had beckoned across the water: pray read the fourth volume of that, and let a man of your clearness of feeling say, whether that was a Parasite or a Prophet.14— And then as to “misery” and the other dark ground on which you love to see genius paint itself,—alas, consider whether misery is not ill health too; also whether good fortune is not worse to bear than bad; and on the whole whether the glorious serene Summer is not greater than the wildest hurricane,—as Light, the Naturalists say, is stronger a thousand times than Lightning. And so I appeal to Philip sober;15—and indeed have hardly said as much about Goethe since I saw you, for nothing reigns here but twilight delusion (falser for the time than midnight darkness) on that subject, and I feel that the most suffer nothing thereby, having properly nothing or little to do with such a matter: but with you, who are not “seeking recipes for happiness,” but something far higher, it is not so, and therefore I have spoken and appealed; and hope the new curiosity, if I have awakened any, will do you no mischief.

But now as to myself; for you will grumble at a sheet of speculation sent so far: I am here still, as Rob Roy was on Glasgow Bridge, “byding tryste” [waiting for a meeting]16; busy extremely with work that will not profit me at all in some senses; suffering rather in health and nerves; and still with nothing like dawn on any quarter of my horizon. The Diamond Necklace has not been printed, but will be, were this French Revolution17 out; which latter, however, drags itself along in a way that would fill your benevolent heart with pity. I am for three small volumes now, and have one done. It is the dreadfullest labour (with these nerves, this liver) I ever undertook; all is so inaccurate, superficial, vague, in the numberless Books I consult; and without accuracy at least, what other good is possible? Add to this that I have no hope about the thing, except only that I shall be done with it: I can reasonably expect nothing from any considerable class here, but at best to be scolded and reproached; perhaps to be left standing “on my own basis,”18 without note or comment of any kind,—save from the Bookseller, who will lose his printing. The hope I have however is sure: if life is lent me; I shall be done with the business; I will write this “History of Sansculottism,” the notablest phenomenon I meet with since the time of the Crusades or earlier; after which my part in it is played. As for the future, I heed it little when so busy; but it often seems to me, as if one thing were becoming indisputable: that I must seek another craft than Literature for these years that may remain to me. Surely, I often say, if ever man had a finger-of-Providence shown him, thou hast it; Literature will neither yield thee bread, nor a stomach to digest bread with: quit it in God's name, shouldst thou take spade and mattock instead. The truth is, I believe Literature to be as good as dead and gone in all parts of Europe at this moment, and nothing but hungry Revolt and Radicalism appointed us for perhaps three generations; I do not see how a man can honestly live by writing, in another dialect than that, in England at least; so that if you determine on not living dishonestly, it will behove you to look several things full in the face, and ascertain what is what with some distinctness. I suffer also terribly from the solitary existence I have all along had; it is becoming a kind of passion with me, to feel myself among my brothers. And then, How? Alas, I care not a doit for Radicalism, nay I feel it to be a wretched necessity, unfit for me; Conservatism being not unfit only but false for me: yet these two are the grand Categories under which all English spiritual activity that so much as thinks remuneration possible must range itself. I look around accordingly on a most wonderful vortex of things; and pray to God only that as my day is so my strength may be.19 What will come out of it is wholly uncertain: for I have possibilities too; the possibilities of London are far from exhausted yet: I have a brave Brother, who invites me to come and be quiet with him in Rome; a brave friend (known to you) who opens the door of a new western world,—and so we will stand considering and consulting, at least till the Book be over. Are all these things interesting to you? I know they are.

As for America and Lecturing, it is a thing I do sometimes turn over, but never yet with any seriousness. What your friend says of the people being more persuadable, so far as having no Title-controversy &c &c will go, I can most readily understand it.20 But apart from that, I should rather fancy America mainly a new Commercial England, with a fuller pantry: little more or little less. The same unquenchable, almost frightfully unresting spirit of endeavour, directed (woe is me!) to the making of money, or money's work, namely food finer and finer, and gigmanic renown higher and higher: nay must not your gigmanity be a purse-gigmanity, some half-shade worse than a purse-and-pedigree one? Or perhaps it is not a whit worse; only rougher, more substantial; on the whole better? At all events ours is fast becoming identical with it; for the pedigree ingredient is as near as may be gone: gagnez de l'argent, et ne vous faites pas pendre [make money and don't get yourself hanged], this is very nearly the whole Law, first Table and Second. So that you see when I set foot on American land, it will be on no Utopia; but on a Conditional piece of ground, where some things are to be expected and other things not.—— I may say, on the other hand, that Lecturing (or I would rather it were Speaking) is a thing I have always had some hankering after: it seems to me I could really Swim in that element, were I once thrown into it; that in fact it would develope [sic] several things in me, which struggle violently for developement [sic]. The great want I have towards such an enterprise is one you may guess at: want of a rubric, of a title to name my speech by. Could any one but appoint me Lecturing Professor of Teufelsdrockh's science: “Things in general”! The discourse of Poets and Poetry in the Hazlitt style, or talk stuff about the Spirit of the Age, were most unedifying: one knows not what to call himself. However, there is no doubt that were the child born it might be christened: wherefore I will really request you to take the business into your consideration, and give me in the most rigorous sober manner you can some scheme of it: How many Discourses; what Towns; the probable Expenses, the probable net Income, the Time &c &c, all that you can suppose a man wholly ignorant might want to know about it. America I should like well enough to visit; much as I should another part of my native country: it is as you see distinctly possible that such a thing might be; we will keep it hanging, to solace ourselves with it, till the time decide.

Have I involved you in double postage by this loquacity? Or what is your Am[er]ican rule? I did not intend it when I began; but today my Confusion of head is very [gr]eat, and words must be multiplied with only a given quantity of meaning.

My Wife, who is just gone out to spend the day with a certain “celebrated Mrs Austin” (called also the “celebrated Translatress of Puckler Muskau”21), charged me very specially to send you her love, her good wishes and thanks: I assure you there is no hypocricy [sic] in that. She votes often for taking the Transatlantic scheme into contemplation; declares farther that my Book and Books must and will indisputably prosper (at some future era), and takes the world beside me,—as a good wife and daughter of John Knox should.— Speaking of “celebrated” persons here, let me mention that I have learned by stern experience, as children do with fire, to keep in general quite out of the way of celebrated persons, more especially celebrated women. This Mrs Austin who is half ruined by celebrity (of a kind) is the only woman I have seen not wholly ruined by it. Men, strong men I have seen die of it; or go mad by it.22 Good fortune is far worse than bad!—— Will you write with all despatch my dear Sir; fancy me a fellow wayfarer, who cordially bids you God-Speed, and would fain keep in sight of you, within sound of you.— Yours with great sincerity,

T. Carlyle—

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