The Collected Letters, Volume 13


TC TO ROBERT BROWNING ; 21 June 1841; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18410621-TC-RB-01; CL 13: 155-156


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea 21 june, 1841—

My dear Sir,

Many months ago you were kind enough to send me your Sordello; and now this day I have been looking into your Pippa passes, for which also I am your debtor.1 If I have made no answer hitherto, it was surely not for want of interest in you, for want of estimation of you: both Pieces have given rise to many reflexions in me, not without friendly hopes and anxieties in due measure. Alas, it is so seldom that any word one can speak is not worse than a word still unspoken;—seldom that one man, by his speaking or his silence, can, in great vital interests, help one another at all!—

Unless I very greatly mistake, judging from these two works, you seem to possess a rare spiritual gift, practical, pictorial, intellectual, by whatever name we may prefer calling it; to unfold which into articulate clearness is naturally the problem of all problems for you. This noble endowment, it seems to me farther, you are not at present on the best way for unfolding;—and if the world had loudly called itself content with these two Poems, my surmise is, the world could have rendered you no fataller disservice than that same! Believe me I speak with sincerity; and if I had not loved you well, I would not have spoken at all.

A long battle, I could guess, lies before you, full of toil and pain, and all sorts of real fighting: a man attains to nothing here below without that. Is it not verily the highest prize you fight for? Fight on; that is to say, follow truly, with steadfast singleness of purpose, with valiant humbleness and openness of heart, what best light you can attain to; following truly so, better and ever better light will rise on you. The light we ourselves gain, by our very errors if not otherwise, is the only precious light. Victory, what I call victory, if well fought for, is sure to you.

If your own choice happened to point that way, I for one should hail it as a good omen that your next work were written in prose! Not that I deny you poetic faculty; far, very far from that. But unless poetic faculty mean a higher-power of common understanding, I know not what it means. One must first make a true intellectual representation of a thing, before any poetic interest that is true will supervene. All cartoons are geometrical withal; and cannot be made till we have fully learnt to make mere diagrams well. It is this that I mean by prose;—which hint of mine, most probably inapplicable at present, may perhaps at some future day come usefully to mind.

But enough of this: why have I written all this? Because I esteem yours no common case; and think such a man is not to be treated in the common way.

And so persist in God's name, as you best see and can; and understand always that my true prayer for you is, Good speed in the name of God!2

I would have called for you last year when I had a horse, and some twice rode thro' your suburb;3 but stupidly I had forgotten your address;—and you, you never came again hither!

Believe me, Yours most truly,

T. Carlyle