The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO GERALDINE E. JEWSBURY ; 21 October 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18401021-TC-GEJ-01; CL 12: 295-298


Chelsea, 21 October, 1840.

Dear Miss Jewsbury,

Will you put up with a hurried word from me today, instead of long discourses which I could like so well to hold with you, were it permitted me. I am busier than usual; I have had, and have, colds and etceteras: you shall not think me forgetful of you, which at any time is far from being the case.

I heartily condole with you on this mournful loss of your last Parent; mournful no doubt, and ever sudden when it comes, tho' long expected. It is the lot of all men; by the clearest course of Nature we are to lose our Fathers and Mothers here below; a world-old thing: but yet it comes on every one of us with a stern originality, as if it had never befallen till now. We ourselves, as you remark, seem far nearer to Death; there is now nothing between us and Death.1 And the little fraction of the Past which was ours, which we ourselves lived in, is gone irrevocably far,—swallowed up with the “great and famous Nations of the Dead.”2— You will not indulge these thoughts too much; there is no profit in them: we must “up, turn back into life”;3 we too have to live, and work,—this day or never. I hope your new duties and tasks are gradually getting clear to you; no life of a human being is without these; and all true knowledge is simply to ascertain how and what they are. Shall I not withal predict for you, dear modest heroine, a Future calmer and profitabler than the Past has been. You are getting thro' your sore struggles. Streaks of a new day-spring, not due to words of mine, but to yourself and Heaven's favour for the like of you, are breaking on your path. Doubt not, it will ripen gradually into tranquil day.

Before quitting this subject, let me say, among the few utterable thoughts one has about this great mystery of Death,4 and the many unutterable, That I do not now participate in your sad feeling of that total “impossibility.” No; it is most surely possible; it were not even more wonderful than that we now live. The miracle of miracles lies for us in that word. The UNNAMED who has cast the wondrous essence of us down into this imprisonment of a bodily shape, He, if it please Him, can sustain us under all imaginable forms and conditions. The Dead are with Him even as we the Living are. Their state is not more solemn, near to Him, than our own. We have to say, as the poor Arabs do, “Islam, His Will be done!” Or with Job of old, “Tho' He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”5 All prophecy about our future destiny seems to me, by the nature of it, futile, and at this epoch of the world, worthless: but an indestructible boundless hope about it seems permitted and sanctioned.— On the whole, I find I have great sympathy with the Chinese religion too; that worship of their Dead Fathers practiced there. This so far as one can see is probably the chief worship they have. God, they say, is “that blue sky,” is “that Immensity all round there”; about Him we know little: but our Loved Ones that lie buried, are not they as Gods to us,—deified; do not our hearts overflow in sacred pity, in solemn reverence for them! We offer these oblations at their tomb;—our mute voice towards them, expressive of what no words will speak!— Alas, what a wretched thing were Life, if there were no Death in it. I fancy the foolishest man would grow desperate of his existence and its paltrinesses, if that celestial temple, fearful and wonderful to the foolishest, stood not always in the background. Standing there, it makes the meanest life divine. Dying we do become a kind of Gods. I will speak no more of all this at present.

Your dear sister's name was well known to me; and, I remember, did suggest itself the first time I saw yours signed. Unluckily I have read none of her writings, except some scattered fragments which I caught in passing, which are now grown indistinct to me. From one source and another I had gathered some image of her as of a clear decisive rational woman, not unlike what you now describe.6 We unhappily never met. I lived far away then, among the Dumfriesshire hills, and knew almost nobody except from afar. The other day I made a clutch at one Book of hers (a strange reprint, it seemed, put into the oddest neighbourhood, done at Philadelphia); but my Dealer in Old Books had already parted with it.7 In the first leisure season, I mean to make interest with the Circulating Libraries, and learn better what she is, for her own sake and yours.

My wife accepts with much affection the message you send.8 She is as heterodox as yourself, and a true soul withal. Some mutual esteem could not fail between you if you met. Pray understand, however, for the present, that it is always with me you correspond, not with her and me; that she is to know no more than I judge publishable, and expects or desires to know nothing if that please me. Write always as to me alone.

Today I must have done. I love to fancy you by the sea shore beside your friend.9 I know those sands well; last year I let a wild vicious horse have its will there, and gallop with me, Mazeppa-like, for many miles, up towards Formby;10 an altogether interesting flight thro' space! The very breath of the Sea its great everlasting voice are a kind of healing to me. Go often thither. You will use your Catholic Priest, so far as he proves serviceable,—not perhaps without an eye of caution on him.11 They are busy these people in England at present; I know not well with what degree of moral merit; surely with small intellectual: i[t] seems to me the rest they can yield any soul is no very noble one. Yet I have a very honest cidevant Quaker who comes hither sometimes, who told me that he had now become a Catholic,—and that I had assisted him to that blessedness!12 Like the poor Italian, unable to mount his horse, who supplicating Saint Antony for aid, and then making a desperate vault, leapt over on the other side, with a “TROPPO grazia Sant' Antonio!13

Do you read many Books? You will find resources in Literature, the more as you get deeper into it. A picture of the struggle of a man; every book is that. All men in all ages, one finds, have had intrinsically the same struggle as we; identical, tho under such diversity of vesture. The face[s] of them, on this hand and on that, give one comfort: We are not alone then; we are in an endless army of comrades!

I have written more than I meant. Good be with you, dear sister Geraldine. Write always when you feel called to it as if you were my sister,—domestic news or what you will.

Yours affectionately

T. Carlyle