The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO REV. JAMES DODDS ; 5 February 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18400205-TC-JADO-01; CL 12: 29-31


5 CHEYNE ROW, CHELSEA, / LONDON, 5th February, 1840.

Dear Sir,—It would surely be a duty and a luxury to help a young man struggling in such difficulties, outward and inward, as those of your cousin.1 Unfortunately, however, there seems nothing, or very little, beyond barren sympathy and wishes, that I could offer in the way of help. A man is not so easily helped; the help that would avail such a man as your cousin seems to be must come from within rather than from without.

As to this project of writing for the periodical press, I must say, in the first place, that there is yet no evidence of your cousin's having acquired a faculty to write what would be successful or useful there. Then, secondly, my concern with that department of things was always in the utmost degree exoteric, and for a good many years back has altogether ceased; so that any furtherance of mine could advance him but a little way, if at all. And then, alas! thirdly, that it is doubtful to me whether the highest conceivable “success” in that course might not be for your cousin an evil in place of a blessing. I speak advisedly in this matter. There is no madder section of human business now weltering under the sun than that of periodical literature in England at this day. The meagrest bread-and-water wages at any honest, steady occupation, I should say, are preferable for a young man, especially for an ambitious, excitable young man. I mistake much if your cousin were not wise to stick steadfastly by his law and what benefits it will yield him; studying, of course, in all ways, to perfect and cultivate himself, but leaving all literary glory, &c. &c., to lie in the distance, an obscure possibility of the future, which he might attain, perhaps, but also could do very well without attaining. In another year, it seems, his official salary may be expected to increase into something tolerable; he has his mother and loved ones within reach; he has, or by diligence can borrow and have, some books worth reading; his own free heart is within him, to shape into humble wisdom, or mar into violent madness; God's great sky is over him, God's green, peaceable earth around him. I really know not that he ought to be in haste to quit such arrangements.

Nevertheless, if he persist in the purpose to write, which, in my ignorance of the details of his situation I know not that he should absolutely avoid doing, let him by all means try it. If he turn out to have the fit talent, he will decidedly find an editor; if not, it is better in all ways that he do not find one. I will, with great readiness, forward his paper to the proprietor of Fraser's Magazine, who is my bookseller, and have it looked at. I would offer it to any other editor whom your cousin might suggest, provided I know such editor; but except Mr. Tait of Edinburgh, whom I did once know, I can think of no other much worth applying to, if, indeed, these be worth it! They will make short work of the business, and answer truly, “This thing seems fit for us; this thing seems not fit!” That is all they will answer.

In conclusion, I should say that your cousin ought decidedly to try for some other subject to start with than criticism on Shakespeare. Doubtless he must know best what he has the call to write upon, if he have really an inward call. But the thing he will have the chance to write entertainingly upon will be something he specially himself has seen; not probably Shakespeare, I should say, which all the world these two centuries has been doing its best to see.2 Excuse this abruptness. Heaven knows I would gladly help your cousin if I could. τλῆτε φίλοι [endure my friends]!3 For the present I subscribe myself

Yours truly,