January 1835-June 1836

The Collected Letters, Volume 8


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON; 29 April 1836; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18360429-TC-RWE-01; CL 8:335-338.


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London, 29th April 1836—

My Dear Emerson,

Barnard is returning across the water, and must not go back without a flying salutation for you. These many weeks I have had your Letter by me; these many weeks I have felt always that it deserved and demanded a grateful answer; and, alas, also that I could give it none.1 It is impossible for you to figure what mood I am in. One sole thought, that Book! That weary Book! occupies me continually: wreck and confusion of all kinds goes tumbling and falling around me, within me; but to wreck and growth, to confusion and order, to the world at large I turn a deaf ear; and have life only for this one thing,—which also in general I feel to be one of the pitifullest that ever man went about possessed with. Have compassion for me! It is really very miserable: but it will end. Some months more, and it is ended; and I am done with French Revolution, and with Revolution and Revolt in general; and look once more, with free eyes, over this Earth, where are other things than mean internecine work of that kind: things fitter for me, under the bright Sun, on this green Mother's-bosom (tho' the Devil does dwell in it)! For the present really, it is like a Nessus' Shirt,2 burning you into madness, this wretched Enterprise; nay it is also like a kind of Panoply, rendering you invulnerable insensible to all other mischiefs.

I got the fatal First Volume finished (in the miserablest way, after great efforts) in October last; my head was all in a whirl; I fled to Scotland and my Mother for a month of rest. Rest is nowhere for the Son of Adam. All looked so “spectral” to me in my old-familiar Birthland; Hades itself could not have seemed stranger; Annandale also part of the Kingdom of TIME. Since November I have worked again as I could; a second Volume got wrapt up and sealed out of my sight within the last three days. There is but a Third now: one pull more, and then! It seems to me, I will fly into some obscurest cranny of the world, and lie silent there for a twelvemonth. The mind is weary, the body is very sick; a little black speck dances to and fro in the left eye (part of the retina protesting against the liver, and striking work): I cannot help it; it must flutter and dance there, like a signal of distress, unanswered till I be done. My familiar friends tell me farther that the Book is all wrong, style cramp &c &c: my friends, I answer, you are very right; but this also, Heaven be my witness, I cannot help.— In such sort do I live here; all this I had to write you, if I wrote at all.

For the rest I cannot say that this huge blind monster of a City is without some sort of charm for me. It leaves one alone, to go his own road unmolested. Deep in your soul you take up your protest against it, defy it, and even despise it; but need not divide yourself from it for that. Worldly individuals are glad to hear your thought if it have any Sincerity; they do not exasperate themselves or you about it; they have not even time for such a thing. Nay in stupidity itself on a scale of this magnitude, there is an impressiveness, almost a sublimity; one thinks how, in the words of Schiller, “the very gods fight against it in vain”;3 how it lies on its unfathomable foundations there, inert yet peptic, nay eupeptic, and is a Fact in the world, let theory object as it will. Brown-stout, in quantities that would float a seventy-four, goes down the throats of men; and the roaring flood of Life pours on;—over which Philosophy and Theory are but a poor shriek of remonstrance, which oftenest were wiser perhaps to hold its peace. I grow daily to honour Facts more and more; and Theory less and less. A Fact it seems to me is a great thing: a Sentence printed if not by God, then at least by the Devil;—neither Jeremy Bentham nor Lytton Bulwer had a hand in that.

There are two or three of the best souls here I have known for long: I feel less alone with them; and yet one is alone; a stranger and a pilgrim.4 These friends expect mainly that the Church of England is not dead but asleep;5 that the leather coaches with their gilt pannels can be peopled again with a living Aristocracy, instead of the simulacra of such. I must altogether hold my peace to this; as I do to much. Coleridge is the Father of all these.6 Ay de mi!7

But to look across the “divine salt-sea.”8 A Letter reached me, some two months ago, from Mobile, Alabama; the writer, a kind of friend of mine, signs himself James Freeman Clarke:9 I have mislaid, not lost his Letter; and do not at present know his permanent address (for he seemed to be only on a visit at Mobile); but you doubtless do know it. Will you therefore take or even find an opportunity to tell this good Friend that it is not the wreckage of the Liverpool ship he wrote by, nor insensibility on my part that prevents his hearing direct from me; that I see him, and love him in this Letter; and hope we shall meet one day under the Sun,—shall live under it at any rate with many a kind thought towards one another.—— The North American Review you spoke of never came (I mean, that Copy of it, with the Note in it);10 but another Copy became rather public here,—to the [astonish?]ment of some. I read the Article myself: surely this Reviewer, who does not want in [sense?] otherwise, is an original: Either a thrice-plied quiz (Sartor's “Editor” a twice-plied one); or else opening on you a grandeur of still Dulness, rarely to be met with on Earth.

My friend! I must end here. Forgive me till I get done with this Book. Can you have the generosity to write, without an answer? Well, if you cannot, I will answer. Do not forget me. My love and my Wife's to your good Lady to your Brother and all friends. Tell me what you do; what your world does. As for my world, take this (which I rendered from the German Voss, a tough old-Teutonic fellow) for the best I can say of it:

“As journeys this Earth her eye on a Sun, thro' the heavenly spaces;
And, radiant in azure, or Sun-less, swallowed in tempests,
Falters not, alters not; journeying equal, sunlit or stormgirt:
So thou, Son of Earth, who hast Force, Goal and Time, go still onwards.”11

Adieu, my dear friend!—— Believe me ever,

[Thomas Carlyle]12