July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


TC TO JOHN STERLING; 11 September 1836; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18360911-TC-JOST-01; CL 9:50-53.


5. Cheyne Row Chelsea, London, / 11th September, 1836

My dear Sterling,

One evening, almost a fortnight ago, returning home from a long solitary walk in the twilight, I found lying on the table a Letter,1 the superscription of which I knew. Nothing could be welcomer, more opportune. My Brother had left me that morning,2 we had waved hats sorrowfully at the St Katherine Docks; my Wife was still in Scotland; I had worked all day, able to do no work: I felt unusually alone in this world. It is very sweet to hear a Brother's voice saluting us from the distance, in such mood; saying, “Thank Heaven, with me it fares thus and thus: now How with thee?” It were a very shabby Earth this, without a thing or two of that kind.

You paint me, so far as scenery and environment goes, a mere terrestrial Paradise there on the Garonne. Contrasted with the grinding dust and discord of this London it makes one sigh. Your own mood of mind too is all that one could expect: glad and sad. A sunny cheerfulness, continual activity; struggling to keep down an under-world of Unrest.3 It is beautiful to me but also mournful: alas, so are the brightest men made; their Life like golden sunshine on a black deep river! My dear Friend, there is but one doctrine of Philosophia Prima [First Philosophy] that I would impress on you: The necessity of sitting quiet. Could I but teach you that, you were verily without flattery one of the best fellows in this world. Nay as it is one finds you altogether exceedingly easy to tolerate; and prays you, in the name of Heaven to take care of yourself, and get the body casehardened a little; that so, sitting or running, quiet and unquiet, you may rough it out like the rest of us,—with fair play to you!

Meanwhile mourn not, my good Friend, to see yourself dissevered from all practical Activity, and put among the Supernumeraries (as Hypochondria will suggest). It is hard for the young soul, all budding with activities and capabilities, to hear it said, Thou shalt not be active. Nevertheless I protest, and could demonstrate as Euclid, that it is, many times, most merciful, beneficial for the young soul (if there be rich promise there); that most probably for you, in your case, it may prove furthersome and not hindersome. Or perhaps you already believe it, and know it; and will not thank me for my demonstration? If so, know it well, then; blessing God for it: and let the thought of it be as Peace to you in these pilgrimings, which for the present are not joyous but grievous.— I myself have been buried seven4 long years among Peat-Bogs, nearly forty years now amid black obstructions and confusions too tedious to mention; and I can speak on the subject: I declare it to be all right and good. How the seed-corn seems lost when you bury it! And yet that is but an inadequate similitude. On the whole SILENCE seems to me the Highest Divinity on this Earth at present. Blessed is SILENCE; the giver of all Truth, of all Good that has any substance or continuance in it! If a man is to work, indeed, as a Reviewer, or Pamphlet-Book writer, or as a Parliamenteer, or Town-crier, silence will not do for him at all. But if a man is not to work in any such way as these, but in a quite other and higher way, then let him sit seven years silent, or half a century silent (nay for that matter, all his days silent),—the NET-RESULT cannot be got out of him otherwise. Seed-corn, as I said, is one thing; ground meal is another: this latter you must not bury. My faith as to John Sterling is that the fellow is not meant for meal! Therefore that this snatching of him away from me, tho' abundantly sorrowful, is even what it ought to be; that perhaps we shall both bless it yet; and finally—that for the present my Sermon ought to terminate. Take it as a real sermo [discourse], or word spoken in earnest. The grand Application and use of Improvement of the whole is: Sit quiet, or as near as may be stagnant; in the stillness all blessed things will grow in you.—

But probably it were far better if I sent you instead of Sermon a large bundle of News. You know my seclusion here; also how all people at this season are roaming out of Town. About ten days ago, my Wife came home: I descried her trunks outside an Omnibus in Fleet-Street, as I went to meet her; the Mail having come earlier than usual. She esteemed it a mark of great genius. The poor Dame had suffered very greatly, and did nothing but complain from Scotland: but she had done much better ever since her return, and is really now about as well as usual. She sends you many a kind remembrance, not by this Sheet only but by many a spiritual Conveyance on which no postage is charged. This day week I saw Mrs Austin; lately returned from Boulogne; and now making ready for Malta, of her Husband's appointment to which I fancy you have heard. It is an appointment to be the Minos and Lycurgus5 of Malta, as I often say; for which he ought to bless the Powers continually; nay Minos and Lycurgus had to enforce as well as legislate, and here is all Britain to enforce for Austin! Nevertheless one may doubt if it will do much for him; so aci[di]fied a man has he grown; and produces nothing but acid,—perhaps of an antiseptic quality. That evening he was confined sick. Cornewall Lewis6 was there; Henry Taylor, beautiful man, and on the same sofa with him a Saxon Countess (Löwenthal,7 I think) a beautiful woman. The conversation went on in French; and amounted to—a pleasant time of music or Sonata: of which some crabbed Fontenelle might have asked, indeed: Sonate, que me veux tu [Sonata, what do you want with me]?— John Mill has written to somebody from Marseilles; to go thence by Leghorn, to Naples &c: his health unfortunately, appeared to be no better; I am not without my anxieties for Mill. By the bye, let me mention that his Review does not come out till October: I have had the Mirabeau Article in my hand; terribly defaced by the Printer; if I can I will manage to get you a copy of that at least, tho' you will relish it but indifferently.— Maurice has come twice athwart me: a man I like always for his delicacy, his ingenuity and earnestness: he is wonderfully patient of me, I often think; and I ought to esteem his way of thought at its full worth, and let it live in me, if I could. Hitherto I regret to confess, it is mainly moonshine and spitzfindigkeit [subtleness], and will not live. But the man is good, and does live in me.— There are Books &c. but behold I have no room for them. One Book let me recommend to you as very well worth reading: Rémusats Translation of “The Two Fair Cousins” from the Chinese. Would you like to see a man of real genius struggling to express himself, and actually becoming discernible, under the figure of ‘dragon-letter verses,’ Chinese formalities and formulas, buy this Book.8 A man who really sees into objects; and under his silk gown and mandarin ways, has a certain impetuosity in him.

As to myself I am about as good as half done with the last volume of that unfortunate Book: I have at present no other history. My one wish is to have the miserable rubbish washed off my hands: the sole blessedness I expect or desire from it is that of being done with it. After which— —? No man in Europe perhaps has a blanker Future;—which however we will prevent if possible from getting black. Is one not alive? Is not this Universe his too, and this little sungilt Planet, in some measure—tho' the Record Offices, with their Attorney Parchments would fain persuade us of the contrary? Me they had long so persuaded; but, by God's blessing, shall never more do it. A fig for such Record Offices! There is a Record Office that I know of worth a thousand of them. “Uns rufen die Geister, die Stimmen der Meister: Sie heissen uns HOFFEN!”9 And so God bless you, my dear Friend; and preserve you long well for a blessing to me. Yours very heartily— T. Carlyle.

Your beautiful Dürer hangs over the sofa where you sat last: the stick you lent me that night is in the Lobby, an almost still kinder memorial. It says daily Gedenke meiner [Remember me], as I go out.