The Collected Letters, Volume 13


TC TO GERALDINE E. JEWSBURY ; 15 February 1841; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18410215-TC-GEJ-01; CL 13: 34-37


Chelsea, 15 Feby, 1841—

Dear Miss Jewsbury,

Your good Letter1 would have got a readier answer, had I not been unusually busy. Some ten days ago I was for answering it; but the Letter itself at that moment, huddled hastily aside and locked up somewhere, in my shifting out of one room into another,—was not discoverable. I am up to the chin in papers and flying fragments;—here nevertheless lies yours once more!— I am printing two Books; an old one, and a new. Nay I have had to sit almost half a week, till the life was almost choked out of me, in the Babel element of Westminster Hall; deciding a Jury-case some of your Manchester people sent me, about patent India-rubber cards!2— In short, there is no limit to my confusion. But I have shoved the welter aside, a little, today; and will have a few words of speech with my brave Geraldine. In some week or two, this hurly-burly, what of it is peculiar, will have rolled itself off altogether, into a decent completion.

Curiously enough what you say about Fate3 arrived here precisely while I was correcting a Proofsheet in which something to the very same effect stood printed! Prayer, in the mere sense of asking something that is pleasant or deprecating what is painful, seems to me, as it does to you, a mistaken thing. Our modern convictions, if we will look honestly at them, are in fact hardly consistent with it. Yet there is more in Prayer, as the Christian people meant it, than that. Something which we too cannot dispense with, get it in what shape we may! The prostrating of our own will before the Highest; agreeing fervently to take his will, however cruel-looking, and not ours, for the best, for the blessedest: that is, I think, the highest morality there is in man.

You will find hints and glimpses about all that, in these Lectures of mine, the Book I am printing. I expect a very confused response to the many strange things set forth there,—strange and new, as I found, to the world, but not new to me for ten years past: it was because of their turning out to seem so new, that I decided on printing them. From here and there a true hearted Geraldine, intent on hearing a true word rather than a plausible one, I discern well enough that the response will not be confused! The number of souls who, in these Islands, are weary of being walking “Formulas,” and intent at all costs on being “Realities,” is, thank God for it, rapidly increasing of late years.— The other Book is your old friend Sartor, which they are reprinting. It is strange, and other than joyful for most part, to look back upon your Self of ten years ago! Good part of this Book I find to be true; but it all lies at a distance from one's Here,—so visible, so inaccessible, in the ‘transparent prison’ of the Past!—

You ask yourself, too vivid Geraldine, “Is this all I am here for?”4— Alas yes, we have all to ask that, in our struggling moods, and answer it very mournfully: “Yes, this, paltry insignificancy of a this, is all!” At bottom, our very asking of it is a part of the answer. It is a struggle of the incompressible infinite Soul to enlarge that same “This,” to ennoble it, and make it (whether the Newspapers mention it or not) a great “This.” For the rest, the question itself, the remonstrance in the question, is one of the many that have no answer. If we consider it well, the immensest thing man does (writing Iliads, founding religions, governing empires) is small, most small;—one day, it will have vanished, the Earth herself will have vanished, and not be! Small, I say, as good as non-extant (on one side); and yet the meanest thing a man faithfully does is great withal, great as the world.— Our purpose, dear Friend? Our best purpose, so far as I could articulate it, is to be and do what God made us capable of being and doing. To each one of us, it is literally an infinite purpose; wide as our own Selves, deep as the mystery of our Life. The working of it out; that is the problem for us; a problem of wise calculation and detail from day to day. Mark moreover, The instinct of general resolute tendency towards this, continual wish and effort towards it: that alone is what can be demanded of us; nay I think that alone has much wisdom or value in it. Your acquaintance who wanted to make himself “a name”5 would have seemed to me as entirely poor a man as he did to you. We are not expected to have a signal-post set up for ourselves as the end of our career: no signal-post on this intricate low, complex, convex Earth we live in;—none but a kind of fanatic or fool, I think, has such very commonly. The wise man, as I say, has his pole-star up aloft, instead of signal-post down below. He says to himself I will travel northward,—northward, not southward, by God's help,—towards that everlasting loadstar: but my windings on the labyrinthic Earth, with its mountain-precipices, with its seas, and impassable torrents,—Heaven alone knows at what signal-post, goal or restingplace I shall arrive on that, or with how many circuits and searchings by the way!— Do I give you any idea? I know partly what I myself mean.6

In Your letter is one passage which I interpret to mean that the most important of all practical questions for a young woman has come before you for decision. Dear Geraldine, lonely young heroine, may a good Genius guide your judgement! It is in our arrangement of things, and indeed must more or less in all arrangements be, a questionable thing for a woman (somewhat more than for a man) not to wed at all. And yet to wed7 when the infinitude of Hope and Affection is all awry[?]!— On the whole, I find it all a dubiety, a confused lottery: one of the few fixed precepts I would quote for myself is, “Have nothing to do with a fool!” Between the wise, some wise relation will in the worst case spring up; but a fool,—he is the most fatal fellow always! God bless you, dear Geraldine, and guide you well!— Yours—

T. Carlyle