The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO WILLIAM DOUGAL CHRISTIE ; 31 December 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18401231-TC-WDC-01; CL 12: 376-378


Chelsea, Thursday Evg [31 December 1840]

Dear Christie,

There is much in what you say about Cochrane that seems to me altogether reasonable;—well worth considering, and balancing against what is to be said on the other side. He is evidently older by ten years than one could have wished. He may have a shade of “obstinacy” in him,—tho' the testimonials praise him as a man of courtesy and good temper, and I in my experience of him never saw anything else: I can well believe, at least, that he will not be so easily guidable as one of the mere Clerk species might be;—the guidablest of all quadrupeds is a starved cadger's garron [hawker's nag], reduced to skin and bone; no kicking or plunging from him; but, alas, withal there is no go in him! What I have known or got to believe of Cochrane is that he possesses sense, energy, discretion, enterprise; that his whole life has been a qualifying of himself for the management of such a business—and that now he would undertake it, sharing the risks along with us, in such a spirit as promises, were reasonable field granted him, the best results for us. He certainly does not write in a very oracular manner; but he writes not without clear sense of something that he means, of something that he ought to mean: and elegant writing is not the chief point with us. I think it one of the most promising symptoms our Adventure has ever exhibited, that a solid man, of grave years, of much acquirement, capability and experience, is willing to embark his life-interest upon it, and make it either prosper or fail himself to prosper. We should not lightly throw away such a possibility.

For the rest I do not so much fight for Cochrane as for the principle of action involved in choosing him. A saving of £50 annually to get a Clerk instead of a Manager, and Fellow-Adventurer hopefully on mature calculation committed to the scheme, and bound to make it succeed,—seems to me the Deplorablest thrift. Lewis1 says we must feel our way, save our £50, get a subordinate man, and then when we have succeeded appoint some Cochrane over him! It is like sending out a military expedition for conquest in foreign countries under a Serjeant, with strict proviso that when he has made conquests, we will send a General! Alas, too clearly, there will never be any General needed.— I must oppose this serjeant-scheme as altogether unwise,—if there be any general, on not impossible terms, attainable for us. Perhaps this other Hertford man, the Sub-editor,2 is a general? If so let him produce probabilities of it superior to those of Cochrane, and it is for him and not Cochrane that we must all vote. Does he in reality still continue a candidate? I understood you to announce that he had given up. It is very possible that he in that case might ultimately prove to be the likelier man. But for Heaven's sake, no Clerk when there is a real Librarian attainable! Let us all decide upon that.

My notion of the Librarian's function does not imply that he shall be King over us; nay that he shall ever quit the address and manner of a servant to the Library; but he will be as a wise servant, watchful, diligent, discerning what is what, incessantly endeavouring, rough-hewing all things for us; and, under the guise of a wise servant, ruling actually while he serves. Like a Nobleman's Steward: that is in some sort the definition of him. We may make more or not so much approximation to getting such a man. But I am deeply sensible that with no such man we are still hovering among the shallows, a cargo to win or to lose. No enterprise in this world ever prospered without some one man standing to it not par amours [for love] but heart and soul as a business. Lewis says, Yes, but Christie will be that man. Dare you undertake so much? If so, it will very greatly alter my computation; I shall feel greatly disposed to vote for whom you like! But fancy a boat propelled now by this man giving it a kick and going his ways; and there by another giving it a kick and going his ways! There must absolutely be a man with the tiller always in his hand,—or the voyage will end in Limbo Patrum [the half-way zone between earth and heaven].

Cochrane writes to me this morning a most despondent response3 to the Letter he has got from you. The endless hours (from 8 to 6) &c &c strike him altogether dumb. I explained that these are as yet but suggestions, that nothing is fixed but the £150;—that on the whole he had better still persist in coming up on Saturday, in looking at the business and letting us look at him face to face. Could I not see you tomorrow evening here? I broke the back of a good forenoon today, and except a fruitless word with Lewis made nothing of it. There is another Candidate with Testimonials &c in Pall Mall:4 pray look you after him.

There, dear Christie, are my notions about this Librarianship; but I promise always to avoid obstinacy, to lie open to light; nay I may profess that my first wish about the thing is not for this man or that man but to get my own poor self honourably winded out of it in some way before long.

I will willingly do whatever I can about Lists. But what in the world can anybody do? It is not a universal Library of the King; alas, we have only £2,000 to cover the whole field of knowledge with! I think one of your first things should be the buying of a good Book of Bibliography. Such a thing ought to be in the Library at any rate; one or more such. Brunet's5 in French is very common. But there is one Ebers [sic]6 (I think) which I have seen in one volume that seemed much preferable.

Can you lend me the Signet Library Catalogue,7 or any good Library Catalogue? I could mark in certain provinces what Books I understand to be good. Our first set of purchases ought to be popular, entertaining; What people will read and continue to read (which last narrows the field greatly): that is, to a great extent, the rule for us.

Is anybody drawing up a Code of Regulations? This must by no means fail, and will take jargon enough before it get completed. How needful is a man for us in these very days!

The Lord forgive you for making me scribble all this stuff!— Come and see me tomorrow, or soon at latest.

I am / Yours always

T. Carlyle