The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO JAMES HUTCHISON STIRLING ; 20 May 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18400520-TC-JHS-01; CL 12: 149-150


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea / 20 May, 1840—

My dear Sir,

I have read your Letter, and shewn it to another literary man, a person of sound practical habits and judgement; who, lamenting along with you the evil as it at present stands, agrees with me that your proposed Plan is entirely inexecutable. No Society could be formed here, or else where that I know of, on such a principle; and if there were one formed, the fallibility of its decisions would too certainly dissolve it again,—for its decisions, only some degrees better than those of the huge gross Public, could not hope to be infallible; and, unlike those of the Public, they would not be reversible, capable of rectifying themselves in the long run. What is to be got from Societies of that kind, in the present epoch of the world, may be seen from many instances. Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, to go no farther; let us look at that, and despair of Societies at present. “Societies” in fact are a kind of machines for doing what is not mechanical, what cannot be done by machinery at all; windmills laboriously built up to grind—let us say sunbeams or some other entirely ungrindable substance; they do not accordingly grind it; they produce nothing but fuss, dinner-oratory, newspaper-puffery, under various figures—wind.

For yourself, my dear Sir, if you are, as I suppose likely, a young literary man struggling towards the accomplishment of something good and manful, I will bid you in brief accomplish it, and lay it down silently in this all-embracing universe, with the sure faith that if it is good the universe will not reject it but accept it. Neither are the difficulties one strives under useless, wholly obstructive; very far from that; they have their most precious indispensable uses, and have furthered us while seeming only to obstruct: believe that you will find it so one day. Poverty itself, whatever the gross mass of the world may think of it, is by no manner of means a very great or the chief evil a man has to struggle under; nay, in these days, if you gave me a true man to breed up, with the heart of a man in him, I should say rather, Let him be poor! This I believe to be decidedly true.— Courage!

With many good wishes and hopes

Yours very truly /

T. Carlyle