The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO KARL AUGUST VARNHAGEN VON ENSE ; 7 November 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18401107-TC-KAVE-01; CL 12: 313-316


Chelsea, London, 7 Novr, 1840—

My dear Sir,

A fair Traveller1 from your country, who has done us the honour and pleasure of a visit, reminds me that I ought to write, that I ought to have written long weeks ago. Weeks, or even months, for on looking at your last Note I am shocked to discover that it must be almost half a year since it, and the new volume accompanied by it, arrived here! Why I have shamefully delayed so long, were now hard to say. Certainly it was not for want of thankfulness; neither was it for the rather common reason, that I had not read the Book and so knew not how to speak of it. The new volume of the Denkwürdigkeiten2 was eagerly read in the first days after its arrival here, and with a pleasure which is still vividly present to me.— Alas, you are a sickly man like myself; you know well enough, I doubt not, what Procrastination means! One of our poets calls it the “Thief of Time.”3 After long months one is suddenly astonished, some day, to find how much of Life, and of the best uses of life, it has stolen from us.

The most striking piece in this Fifth volume was, to me, the Congress of Vienna. All was good and very good; but this best. At the risk of speaking things which, in a vapid hollow time like ours, were perhaps as well unspoken, I must express my real admiration (that is the word) of the talent, skill, and faculty of many sorts, displayed in such a composition. That is what we call the art of writing,—the summary and outcome of many arts and gifts. The grand secret of it, I believe, is insight,—just estimation and understanding, by head, and especially by heart. Give a man a Narrative to make, you take in brief the measure of whatsoever worth is in the man. The Thing Done lies round him, with length, breadth, depth, a distracted chaos; he models it into order, sequence and visibility,—justly with whatever force of intelligence is in him. So far could he see into the genesis, organisation, course and coherence of it; so truly and far, no trulier and farther: it is the measure of his capability—of his Taugend [worth], and even if you like, of his Tugend [virtue]. I rejoice much in such a style of delineation; I prefer it to almost all uses which a man can make of the spiritual faculty entrusted him here below. Let us understand the Thing Done; let us see it, and preserve true memory of it: a man had understanding given him, and a pen and ink, chiefly for that. In the name of the present and of future times, I bid you continue to write us Memoirs.

Your proposed visit to London did not take effect last year. In another year perhaps you may execute it. You will find some persons here right well-affected towards you; much to see and consider; many things, I may suppose, which at first, and some which to the last, will afflict and offend you. We are near two millions in this City; a whole continent of brick, overarched with our smoke-canopy which rains down sometimes as black snow; and a tumult, velocity and deafening torrent of motion, material and spiritual, such as the world, one may hope, never saw before. Profound sadness is usually one's first impression. After months, still more after years, the method there was in such madness begins a little to disclose itself.

I read few German works at present; know almost nothing of what you are doing. Indeed except your own writings there turns up little, which a lover of German Literature, as I have understood the word in old years, would not as soon avoid as seek. In these days I have read a new volume of Heine's, with a strange mixture of feelings. Heine über Börne; it is to me the most portentous amalgam of sunbeams and brutal mud that I have met with for a long while. I remember the man Börne's book; in which he called Goethe the graue Staar[cataract] that had shut into blindness the general eye of Germany.4 Heine seems to have given up railing at Goethe; he, Heine himself, it seems, has now become a “Column of Luxor,”5 aere perennius [more lasting than bronze],6 and a god does not rail at gods. Eheu! Eheu! [Alas! Alas!]

If you stand in any correspondence with Dr Schlesier of Stuttgart, will you take occasion to signify, with many thanks on my part, that I have received his Third volume of Gentz's Writings;7 that I did make some attempt to get the Book reviewed here, but, having now no connexion with that department of things, could not find a proper hand to undertake the business. Indeed I apprehend Gentz has altogether passed here. I can remember him as a popular pamphleteer with a certain party in my early boyhood; but the party has now disappeared, the ideas of it have disappeared; and nobody will now recollect Gentz in the old light, or recognise him in a new. To myself I must confess he hitherto will by no means seem a Hero. The only portion of his writings that I have read with any entertainment is that Historical Piece delineating the prologue to the Battle of Jena. What you somewhere say about him I can read; hardly what any other says. A Lady here, daughter of the late Sir James Mackintosh,8 remembers him at Vienna: “a man in powdered ceremonial hair, with a red nose,”—seemingly fond of dining! EDIDIT monumentum [he has eaten his memorial]!

The fair Sophie kindly undertaking to carry any Parcel, I send you a little Pamphlet of mine published last year. Chartism, whether one hear the word or do not hear it, is the great fact of England at present.

Did any one ever write an adequate Life of your Frederick the Great? Is there anywhere a legible Life of Luther; so much as an attainable edition of his Tischreden?9 I fear the answer is, No, in all these cases.

Farewell, dear Sir; be, I do not say happy, but nobly busy, and think of us here as Friends.

Sophie promises to see us a second time tomorrow. I do not rightly know her name yet; but she has a right gemüthlich [agreeable] face, and laughing eyes of that beautifullest German grey!

Believe me, / Yours ever truly, / T. Carlyle