The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO THOMAS ARNOLD ; 9 January 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18400109-TC-TAR-01; CL 12: 10-12


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London / 9 Jany, 1840—

Dear Sir,

Accept many thanks for the kind Letter you have written me. It is very gratifying to learn that a man like you has got some good of that wild savage Book of mine;1 no less is it gratifying and unexpected that you sympathize so completely in the essential all-pervading Idea set forth there, the fatally false condition of the Lower Classes; the soul, as I may call it, of which that Book on the French Revolution, and the enormous French Revolution itself, was the embodyment! I will take it as an omen that many thinking heads in England are full of anxious meditation on this matter; as indeed it seems well worthy of all the thought of all good men in these days. And yet, as you say, how few seem to be aware of the existence of such a thing! To me, when I came hither, it was matter of dumb astonishment to hear the notions of Lawgivers, Radical Members and such like on the matter; I have long ceased to speak of it at all in such circles: perhaps the public events of last year and the present may have spoken in a dialect more intelligible there.2 To me it seems and has long seemed clear, that unless these people, and the upper classes generally, awaken to quite a new sense of their duties, position and necessities in our system of society, there are results at no great distance from us such as very few of our public men have the smallest anticipation of, such as all men public and private might well sorrow to anticipate.

I have set down in that Pamphlet on Chartism3 some thoughts of mine, which have lain oppressive in my heart these ten, some of them these twenty years; I applied more than once in past times to Editors of Reviews for leave to publish them in that way: but to no purpose; the Editors even of radical Reviews believe that the “condition of the Working Classes is daily and yearly improving”;—to which I used to answer, “Then what, in Heaven's name, are you?”4 At length, having now a kind of means to publish independent of Editors, I send forth the thing on its own footing,—primarily, to relieve myself of it, (which is one's only rule); and am now right glad that I have done with it, and that now the world has to do,—or not to do. I know not what you will say to the little Essay when you see it; I suppose there are several things in it you will heartily agree with: at all events, I will recommend it to you as an authentic shadow, so far as it goes, of my true sentiments on this subject; the completest utterance I could conveniently give at present of several things not very easy to utter.

For the rest I confess my hopes of the Aristocracy and Church are not high. I incline to fear that the Providence which governs this world will have appointed to teach them too, as is the usual case, only with stripes. Taught they will infallibly be, as I calculate; if not by milder and nobler ways, then even by stripes,—stripes and ever new stripes till they have learned, or else till they have been abolished and cast out as unteachable. Such striping is a frightful process,—for them and for us! Surely it behoves every man, who so views it, to do what is in him for forwarding that lesson with the fewest possible stripes!5

In this point of view, one would say it was extremely natural for the scattered individuals entertaining such thoughts, to unite themselves, and endeavour with mutual aid to make their thought an action. And yet do not most “Societies,” such is our spiritual impotency in this time, turn out very soon to be rather empty things; swollen mostly with cant, vanity and wind,—the main reality in them the dinners they eat! Alas, it is even so;—and yet not necessarily so, not by any means. Man can join with man for a true object; and “ten men united can do what a thousand singly would fail in”:6 it needs only that the men be true and the object be true. As for me, with little money, little health, with in fact no resources whatever except what lie within myself, all I can say is, If such a Society should ever come to existence it would be one of the highest duties and a really precious pleasure for me to do in it whatsoever my best ability were equal to. I invite you therefore not to drop your idea; but to canvass it farther in your own thoughts, and with others; and see whether it be not possible after all.7

Many thanks for your kind invitation to Rugby. I used to know Warwickshire a little; to see you and what you preside over would be in all ways interesting: neither will I fling away the hope of making it out one day or other.8 Unhappily I am one of the worst of Travellers;—ought in short, as I many times think to have been made like a snail, with my house and establishment on my back. It is not with my will, but greatly against it, that I have led from of old one of the loneliest lives.

Probably you come up to Town in May, as all the world does? If so, pray find out Chelsea, and my dwellingplace here: you shall be a welcome sight to me, then or at any time.

Believe me, / My dear Sir, / Yours with true esteem, / T. Carlyle