January 1835-June 1836

The Collected Letters, Volume 8


TC TO JOHN STERLING; 4 June 1835; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18350604-TC-JOST-01; CL 8:134-138.


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, 4th June, 1835.

My Dear Sterling,

I said to Mill the other day that your Name was HOPEFUL; of which truth surely this copious refreshing shower of really kind and genial criticism you have bestowed on the hardened, kiln-burnt, altogether contradictory Professor Teufelsdröckh, is new proof.1 Greater faith I have not found in Israel!2 Neither here shall faith and hope wholly fail: know, my Friend that your shower does not fall as on mere barren bricks, like water spilt on the ground; that I take it hopefully in, with great desire (knowing what spirit it is of) to assimilate such portion of it as the nature of things will allow. So much, on this sheet, I must announce to you, were it at full gallop, and in the most imperfect words.

Your objections as to phraseology and style have good grounds to stand on; many of them indeed are considerations to which I myself was not blind; which there (unluckily) were no means of doing more than nodding to as one passed. A man has but a certain strength; imperfections cling to him, which if he wait till he have brushed off entirely, he will spin forever on his axis, advancing nowhither. Know thy thought, believe it; front Heaven and Earth with it,—in whatsoever words Nature and Art have made readiest for thee! If one has thoughts not hitherto uttered in English Books, I see nothing for it but that you must use words not found there, must make words,—with moderation and discretion, of course. That I have not always done it so, proves only that I was not strong enough; an accusation to which I for one will never plead not guilty. For the rest, pray that I may have more and more strength! Surely too, as I said, all these coal-marks3 of yours shall be duly considered, for the first and even for the second time, and help me on my way. With unspeakable cheerfulness I give up “Talented”: indeed, but for the plain statement you make, I could have sworn such word had never, except for parodistic ironical purposes, risen from my inkhorn, or passed my lips. Too much evil can hardly be said of it: while speech of it at all is necessary.4— But finally do you reckon this really a time for Purism of Style; or that Style (mere dictionary style) has much to do with the worth or unworth of a Book? I do not: with whole ragged battallions of Scott's-Novel Scotch, with Irish, German, French and even Newspaper Cockney (when “Literature” is little other than a Newspaper) storming in on us, and the whole structure of our Johnsonian English breaking up from its foundations,—revolution there as visible as anywhere else!

You ask, How it comes that none of the “leading minds” of this country (if one knew where to find them) have given the Clothes-Philosophy any response?5 Why, my good friend, not one of them has had the happiness of seeing it! It issued thro' one of the main cloacas of Periodical Literature,6 where no leading mind, I fancy, looks, if he can help it: the poor Book cannot be destroyed by fire or other violence now, but solely by the general law of Destiny; and I have nothing more to do with it henceforth. How it chanced that no Bookseller would print it (in an epoch when Satan Montgomery runs or seems to run thro' thirteen editions),7 and the Morning Papers (on its issuing thro' the cloaca) sang together in mere discord over such a Creation: this truly is a question, but a different one. Meanwhile, do not suppose the poor Book has not been responded to; for the historical fact is, I could show very curious response to it here; not ungratifying, and fully three times as much as I counted on, as the wretched farrago itself deserved.8

You say finally, as the Key to the whole mystery, that Teufelsdrockh does not believe in a “personal God.” It is frankly said, with a friendly honesty for which I love you. A grave charge nevertheless, an awful charge: to which, if I mistake not, the Professor laying his hand on his heart will reply with some gesture expressing the solemnest denial. In gesture, rather than in speech; for “the Highest cannot be spoken of in words.” “Personal,” impersonal.” One, Three, what meaning can any mortal (after all) attach to them in reference to such an object? Wer darf ihn NENNEN9 [Who dares name him]? I dare not, and do not. That you dare and do (to some greater extent) is a matter I am far from taking offence at: nay, with all sincerity, I can rejoice that you have a creed of that kind, which gives you happy thoughts, nerves you for good actions, brings you into readier communion with many good men; my true wish is that such creed may long hold compactly together in you, and be “a covert from the heat, a shelter from the storm, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.”10 Well is it if we have a printed Litany to pray from; and yet not ill if we can pray even in Silence, for Silence too is audible there. Finally assure yourself I am neither Pagan nor Turk, nor circumcised Jew, but an unfortunate Christian individual resident at Chelsea in this year of Grace; neither Pantheist nor Pottheist, nor any Theist or ist whatsoever; having the most decided contem[pt] for all manner of System-builders and Sectfounders—as far as contempt may be com[patible] with so mild a nature; feeling well beforehand (taught by long experience) that all such are and even must be wrong.11 By God's blessing, one has got two eyes to look with; also a mind capable of knowing, of believing: that is all the creed I will at this time insist on. And now may I beg one thing: that wherever in my thoughts or your own you fall on any dogma that tends to estrange you from me, pray believe that to be false;—false as Beelzebub, till you get clearer evidence.

However, descending from the Empyrean to London pavements, let me tell you that I am actually bestirring myself to try whether the people will give me any employment in this matter of National Education. Mill and some others undertake to help me, but have not reported yet. It is a confused business; out of which darkness is rayed forth on me hitherto. If we fail in it, there is some likelihood I may cross the Atlantic soon. The Book-Trade seems to me done here: a man must go where his work lies, where they will keep him in existence for his work.

Your good Mother shocked us a little by the news that your return hither was uncertain. We will still hope to see you ere long. May you come for the better not for the worse when you do come! That is very sincerely my prayer; for I do believe you to be a very honest fellow; and, alas, I have never known Destiny too kind to such. God bless you and guide you! I remain always— Your's with great sincerity,

T. Carlyle.