The Collected Letters, Volume 11


TC TO JOHN FORSTER ; 27 February 1839; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18390227-TC-JF-01; CL 11: 34-36


Chelsea, 27th Feby, 1839.

My dear Sir,

We are very unlucky in meeting. I did not go out yesterday till near 3 o'clock; but of course had despaired of you a good while before that. Generally I am at home till two; you shall be right welcome to me any morning when you can get so far.

With regard to the Copyright Bill,1 I will desire you to assure Sergeant Talfourd,2 if he yet need assurance, that no person more heartily or gratefully approves of his exertions in that matter than I; or would, as in duty bound, be readier to do any thing and all things that could forward it. But as to Petitioning in my own name, it does appear to me, after all the consideration I can give it, that neither my age, my position nor pretensions could authorize such a step on my part. Ridicule, it seems to me, and the general inquiry, Who is this pretentious “Single Person”? would be the too probable result. It is indeed a tragical enough sort of game I play, and have played, with the world; no other than this: “O world, I will say something thou shalt listen to perhaps, some day, in spite of thy teeth; or be starved to death for it.” Rather a tragical game; but one which any description of, to Parliament or others, would tend much to render farcical. Do you not think so, looking at it under the light of prose and reality?

My notion therefore decidedly is that our brave Sergeant ought to stand by Wordsworth, Southey and the other acknowledged Patres Conscripti [Senators];3 carefully excluding any meaner sort of man, whose appearance in the cause could only weaken and deface the impression of those reverend veterans. I heard an Official person, the other night, speaking with a kind of awe, and tone of solemnity, of “having seen the Petition of William Wordsworth.”4 It is better to keep by that, and “say ditto to Mr Burke”;5 is it not?

As for me, all the opinion I have on the subject, and the only Petition I would rationally set forth, is embodied (I believe) in that atrabilical cynical Utterance which I sent the Sergeant last summer,6 as I think I mentioned to you when we met. If Mr Talfourd still have that, it really contains all I have to say. You may print it in the Examiner, and indicate in any fit way, whose it is if you like: it really is my whole judgement, and in as fit a dialect as I could put it into; the promulgating of this, which I do not recommend, but also as you see do not prohibit, were really the producing of all the effect I could pretend to, in or out of Parliament, on this business.

I write this Note, in case you do not come, which in spite of Mr Hunt's message I doubt is not likely today. I want to see you otherwise about that poor “Library” which I am afraid is like to stick forever on the stocks, unless you can give it a shove, and launch it. Once fairly floating in the water, I should have good hopes of it; but there it sticks for the present, motionless, or moving at the rate of an inch in the week.

Have you in any of your Books a Narrative of Jenny Geddes's “Flinging of the Stool” at Edinr on the 23d of July 1637, with her, “Out thou foul thief! Wilt thou say mass at my lug [ear] then?”7 I can find no account except the meagrest syllabus in Heath, Burnet, Whitlock or any of my men.8 Perhaps Baillie has something of it? I have not Baillie's Book.9 Janet seems to me one of the heroines of this world; more memorable considerably than Iphigenia or any of that set. The twirl of her stool, what a stroke was that! The first stroke in an infinite bout of single-stick, broad-sword, artillery, Pulpit, Parliament and other tongue-fence and hand-fence; one of the latter strokes of which was struck in front of Whitehall by the axe of a man in mask!— Yet Jenny remains unsung; only Burns named a riding mare after her.10

Believe me / My dear Sir / Yours always truly

T. Carlyle