July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


TC TO JOHN STERLING; 25 December 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18371225-TC-JOST-01; CL 9:377-382.


Chelsea, 25th December, 1837—

My dear Sterling,

The tidings from Madeira were right welcome to us all.1 The delay and silence had been somewhat longer than we counted on; then newspaper accounts of shipwrecks and disaster, with possibility of evil to which poor man is ever liable: all this had alarmed some of us. But now happily there was nothing of that; and everything is as it should be. We can fancy you cantering along there, by the foot of the interior rock-country capped with mist, the sun shining on you, the ocean singing to you;2 and how with tender reminiscences and hopeful prospections, with poetic dreamings and interpretings, you pass the winter altogether tolerably; and return to us strong in the spring, and not leave us any more. May the Heavens grant it well! I think there are few prayers about any man that are more earnest in me. The South of England, a snug house there, with books, pens, friends, and composed (unclerical) activity,—it is a consummation to be wished. Patience, and shuffle the cards.

The packet they are sending off in these days will be an immense olla-podrida of message, letters, pamphlets; too much for you at one meal; only that like the Prophet Elishah you are to live on it for forty days.3 Satiety alternating with starvation: it is a bad but an unavoidable arrangement. This moist Christmas morning, behold, I in my dreariness will add one mess to the Pot,—as it were, one cold potatoe to the Irish stew. Reject it not; seeing the poor contributor has no other.

Nothing can excel my languor, my silent stagnation, since you went. I have been half deaf for a good part of the time; my head as if the left side of it were made of wood. In this state I wrote a long rigmarole on Walter Scott; a thing deserving instant fire-death, but which they are going to print. No mortal could have less wish to speak a syllable about Scott, or indeed about anything in Heaven or in Earth than I then and now; but the will of Destiny must be obeyed. My sole wish is that I could get to hold my tongue for twelve months to come. It is a wish, and almost necessity; for which I am occasionally devising schemes. A little money is requisite: how to gain a little money? Lecture! cries all the world; Lecture on German Literature, on European Literature, on the French Revolution, on Things in General!4 I can yet make nothing of London lecturing; I want two things, yea three; I want knowledge, of my audience, of myself; I want impudence. I want health. Others there are that say I should give a course on German in Oxford and Cambridge to the young men! I really believe I shall stir in that, and ascertain what hope is in it; there seems to me no Lecturing I could understand so well. Ach Gott! But on the whole, it is useless to kick against the pricks.5 If a man is to be doomed to death because he will not get upon the housetops, and cry, me voilà [here I am], I suppose, he must get up, and cry it—to the requisite extent. They send me letters, commendations about that Book, how glorious it is and will be; to which I have to answer with the poor French man: Gloire, donne-moi du pain [Glory, give me bread].6— But this is a bad strain I am getting into. I wish of all men that I had my John Sterling here at present. We will go on hoping, the thing I used to call “desperate hope.” Nay on the whole I really do always believe that I am on the way towards peace, and health both of body and mind. I go along like a Planet Jupiter with his five Belts, which are supposed to be five Storm-Zones full of tempest, rain, and thunder and lightning,—Jupiter himself very tranquilly progressive in the middle of them. There! See if you can do the like, you clear Phosphoros7 smiling always in the Sun's face; clear Mercury, living always in the Sun's arms, at a temperature, they say, hotter than redhot iron! Such planets, are they not extremely peculiar in the world?—

Long before this you will have read Wilson's leading-article, and your own poetry beatified.8 Wilson's great heart never shews itself better than when he falls in with a man like you. My counsel is, Accept his recognition of you (for that is not so high even as my own), and rejoice in it as a man has right to do: but as to your vocation for writing in verse,—do not believe Wilson a whit! His impressions of all things are vivid, fiercely emphatic, but indefinite, vague, not in the least to be depended on for practice. And yet I look to see you now write a great quantity more of verses. Well, my friend, you must then. Nothing can convince a man, nothing ought to convince him, except his own experiment: let him try; send out radii, in what directions his own daimon and judgement orders, till the cirmumference make him bound back again! And so good speed to you, my brave brother John; and this one counsel (which I have a mind to tattoo on the back of each of your hands so all-momentous is it), Festina lente [Hasten slowly]. I declare, it depends all on that.

I read the Rückert Translations from the Chinese last week:9 they are very interesting, very beautiful: harvest-songs, drinking-songs, songs of household calamity and felicity; an authentic melodious human voice from the distance of the Yellow Sea, from the time of Quang-fu-tchee10 and the Prophet Ezekiel! Authentic sincere: there is almost no other merit for me in written things. The sacred Scripture itself is sacred and divine because it is more sincere than any other Book. This Rückert shall abide with me in love, for its own sake and yours. I have read a great many other things; but they are worth next to nothing: trash, trash! One little Paper only there is which I hope to send you by and by; a thing of very great merit and notability indeed: by your friend Emerson, the American, author of that little Book called Nature. It is in the form of an “Oration” to some general assembly of the Transatlantic brethren of Letters, calling itself “Phi Beta Kappa11 Society,”—have you Greek enough to interpret that? I have not. But for the rest, as I say this “Oration” to the φ β κ is a right thing, such a tone in it as never came across the water before; as I have not heard in the world of late years. “Some call it mad, some inspired,” says Miss Martineau; whose copy is the only one I have yet seen. When mine comes I will send it you. I introduced you to Emerson the other week; told him that “Nature” was gone to Madeira, in the hands of a very unmanageable kind of fellow, and that he must look in Blackwood and make friends with him. O it is blessed, most blessed, to hear a man's articulate voice, in the infinite Babylonish jargon which is like to drive one entirely desperate at times.

Your horror of Goethe, your love of him and dread of being swallowed by him, does not in the least hurt my feelings.12 It is all right on your part; and yet it must not continue there. Study the man, my friend; get acquainted with him; you will most probably be obliged to get acquainted with him yet. Then; I think, you will find him not an Anachronism in any wise, but a Chronism, nay the only one hitherto discovered on this Planet of ours in these distracted days of ours. No other man whatever, as I say always, has yet ascertained what Christianity is to us, and what Paganity is, and all manner of other anities whatsoever; and been alive at all points in his own year of grace with the life appropriate to that. This in brief is the definition I have always given of the man since I first knew him: the sight of such a man was to me a Gospel of Gospels, and did literally I believe save me from destruction outward and inward. We are far parted now; but the memory of him shall ever be blessed to me as that of a Deliverer from death.— But, on the whole, O friend John, what a belief thou hast in the Devil! I declare myself an entire sceptic in that faith. Was there, is there, or will there be a great Intellect ever heard tell of without first a true and great Heart to begin with? Never; if my experience and faith in this God's world have taught me anything at all. Think it not, suspect it not. Worse blasphemy I could not readily utter. Nay look you in your own heart, and consider! [The] Devil's name is Darkness and that only; Eigendünkel [Self-conceit], the blackest kind of [Dark]ness, and wicked enough for any purpose. Fear no seeing man, therefore; know that he is of Heaven, whoever else be not; that the Arch-Enemy, as I say, is the Arch-stupid: I call this my Fortieth Church Article,—which absorbs into it, and covers up in silence, all the other Thirty-nine!

Since I began writing John Mill has been here; he is of purpose to write to you himself, and get your help in his Review, which has now become wholly his. What will you do? Mill himself means really well, and according as you mean all the way he goes: he is also parting from the Anatomical-preparation Radicals, deadest of men; which is a good symptom.

Good be with you always my dear Friend! /

T. Carlyle