TC TO JOHN STERLING; 17 January 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18370117-TC-JOST-01; CL 9:115-120.
TC TO JOHN STERLING
Chelsea, London, 17th January, 1837—
My dear Sterling,
This New-year's wish which I now send you is a pleasure to myself I have long looked forward to. Ever since your Letter1 came I have said to myself, were this malison of a Book done, I will write to John. Nay perhaps John will write to me a second time on credit in the interim? His Letter is like a warm sun-glance and breath of the South in this dreary London Fog!— John has not written a second time on credit;—which who could ask him to do? But here is this Book actually tied up under packthread, the burning Nessus' Shirt2 stript off one: and so now in a state of comfortable nudity and frigescence3 we write to him.
Do you know the Scottish word threep?4 I had taken a threep that I would write to no one, that I would not quit London, or know any rest satisfaction or pleasure of life till the despicability of a task were done. I declare, no man was ever so near being drowned, according to another Scotch Phrase, “in a spoonful of water”!5—However, as I said, it is over: five days ago I finished, about ten o'clock at night; and really was ready both to weep and to pray,—but did not do either, at least not visibly or audibly. The Bookseller has it, and the Printer has it; I expect the first sheet tomorrow: in not many weeks more, I can hope to wash my hands of it forever and a day. It is a thing disgusting to me by the faults of it; the merits of which, for it is not without merits, will not be seen for a long time. It is a wild savage Book, itself a kind of French Revolution;—which perhaps, if Providence have so ordered it, the world had better not accept when offered it? With all my heart! What I do know of it is that it has come hot out of my own soul; born in blackness whirlwind and sorrow; that no man, for a long while, has stood speaking so completely alone under the Eternal Azure, in the character of man only; or is likely for a long while so to stand:—finally that it has gone as near to choking the life out of me as any task I should like to undertake for some years to come; which also is an immense comfort, indeed the greatest of all.— To wind up this part of the business, I may tell you that the Article Mirabeau is published, and a thing called Diamond Necklace is publishing (the latter in Fraser's Magazine); and that the “Country Newspapers,” as Fraser tells me, express extreme dissatisfaction. I shall have a separate Copy of each, in few days, for you; and leave it at Kinghtsbridge: and see you then, if you dare for the life of you join with the Country Newspapers! Like a recreant, as you—are not altogether! We will now therefore turn a new leaf.
The news we get from Belsito, which one way and another come tolerably often, are for most part of a very favourable kind. Allowing that you study to shade for us a little the shady parts, we have still great reason to be thankful. Keep your heart quiet, my Friend; learn the great art of resting: there is positively nothing else you want to bring you all manner of good. But you do want that; you must learn it and acquire it that is the task set you at this time. My Brother's news of you are that your account of your health is not so good as he expected; that it is still possible he may see you in Rome: his joy for his own sake, not for yours, at such a possibility, again comes to words. When I am to see you next? It is all uncertain as the wind this day twelvemonth; yet surely we shall meet again somewhere under the sun before long. May the Heavens turn it well! I will repeat you again the little song that goes humming thro' my head, very frequently in these times; the only modern Psalm6 I have met with for long:
It is not a piece of Psalmody that? It seems to me like a piece of marching-music of the great brave Teutonic Kindred as they march thro' the waste of TIME,—thro' that section of Eternity they were appointed for; oben die Sterne and unten die Gräber,7 with the Stimmen der Geister, the Stimmen der Meister!8 Let us all sing it, and march on cheerful of heart. “we bid you hope”;9 so say the voices. Do they not?
One of the announcements you made me was as welcome as any other: that you were rather quitting Philosophy and Theology.10 I predict that you will quit them more and more. Not surely till the time; not till they have done for you what they needed to do. A man can do nothing but prosecute faithfully the thing that his soul points to: let no counsel or cacklement of friends and Country Newspapers slacken him in that: these mean well, but they know not what they say! Nevertheless I will give it you as my decided prognosis (grounded on good medical pathology and auto-pathology) that the two Provinces in question are become Theorem, Brain-web and Shadow; wherein no earnest soul can find solidity for itself. Shadow, I say; yet the Shadow projected from an everlasting Reality that is within ourselves: quit the Shadow, seek the Reality,—this becomes the hest of one's whole nature by and by.— For which reason, when I hear of my dear John getting into History, and writing Poetry, and on the whole worshipping and working in the real genuine Temple of Immensity, I will say to him Euge [Good speed]! Antaeus-like, in the air one cannot thrive: “touch but with thy toe the surface, straightway thou art strong again!”— For the present I ask Antaeus's pardon, and appeal to Antaeus ten years hence; I see him clenching his fist at me for what I have said here,—which nevertheless is as true as Gospel ! Fight away, thou Earth-born; only not with me, who am thy bottle-holder, and faithful, tho' thou spurnest my [light.]
No sheet ought to go to Bourdeaux less than half filled with what is called gossip[ing]-fractiuncles of Biography: which far excels any speculation one can hope to hear. My sheet is unhappily near done; and contains nothing but Autobiography.— John Mill, as you perhaps know, is home again, in better health, still not in good. I saw him the day before yesterday; sitting desolate under an Influenza we all have. I on the whole see little of him. He toils greatly in his Review; sore bested with mismanaging Editors, Radical discrepancies, and so forth. His Platonica and he are constant as ever: innocent I do believe as sucking doves, and yet suffering the clack of tongues, worst penalty of guilt. It is very hard; and for Mill especially as unlucky as ever. The set of people he is in is one—that I have to keep out of. No clan of mortals ever profited me less. There is a vociferous platitude in them; a mangy, hungry discontent,—their very joy like that of a thing scratching itself under disease of the itch! Mill was infinitely too good for them; but he would have it, and his fate would. I love him much; as a friend frozen within ice for me! Mrs Austin is making great noise in Corfu [Malta: ed.]; giving balls &c: à la bonne heure. I have not seen Taylor for a long time: the last time I saw him was accidentally in the Strand two months ago; when we walked a while together. Solemn and true as ever. He inquired zealously after you: a solemn true man; whom I love much. There has been a critique of his Statesman in the Edinburgh Review;11 setting several things to rights on that head: it was by Spedding; I read some sentences of it, in your Father's Library, and thought it very rational and just. The Statesman is a Reality of its sort, and not a Cobweb; you may trample it a little thro' the kennels, and it will still subsist. Miss Fenwick12 is again here; suffering much from our eminently bad winter. Happy you at Belsito! This day, down at Chelsea even, it is yellow all as illscoured brass; at noon, with three windows, hardly light enough: beyond Hyde Park Corner, think what it must be,—Erebus, Nox13 and the great deep of gases, miasmata, soot and despair; bipeds of prey reduced to hunt by torch-light! Let us pity the poor white man.14—— I have seen your elder Brother;15 unhappily as yet only three times. He is the loveablest human creature, it seems to me, I have met for a long time. The present company always excepted! A man with such clearness, gentle lambent fire of humanity of him,—and not flying out like Aurora-Borealis or sheet-lightning; like some persons I could name! On the whole I congratulate you on such a brother;—and really could often wonder where you both came from; a couple of singular fellows in this world: born of the Tornado! Anthony has your Father's eyes tho' black, and your voice; he was a strange beautiful vision to me.—
My wife is miserably ill today, the third day of headache and Influenza work. She can say nothing except “her love”; bids me say whatever I can for her: You are far out when you suppose she has given you up, or ever dreamt of that. Adieu my dear Friend! write to me, and love me. I am always
Yours very truly indeed—
Mrs Sterling must accept our Newyear's wishes, and get well, and better. Teddy also, and the one I shoed the doll for.16 Send me an old Bourdeaux Newspaper when you cannot write. I think they come for a halfpenny.— I have seen Miss Martineau; Mrs Butler, Miss Kemble that was: nichts davon [nothing about that],—except worship for the poor white woman!