January-July 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 14


TC TO JOHN STERLING ; 23 July 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18420723-TC-JOST-01; CL 14: 234-235


Chelsea, 23 july, 1842—

My dear Sterling,

The day before yesterday your Packet of Puritan Divinity arrived safe. Your Parcel for Knightsbridge was forthwith consigned to your Father, who happened to come in at the moment; Maurice's Parcel was also despatched at once, as you directed.

I have read Peters's Sermon;1 the longest, most authentic utterance of his I have yet met with. Poor Hugh is not at all a fool; I find in him a very considerable fund of natural sagacity, coupled with great activity and ardour, and I do believe far more than the average sincerity, kindheartedness and general worth; I also like his drollery, or at least do not dislike it, even in the Puritan Pulpit,—so fond am I of real fun in the heart of any mortal, almost at any time! The old Christians used to be seized with “Easter Laughter” (some terrible whirlwind of guffawing, I suppose, even at that sacred time): serious men are always great laughers too on occasion.2 Was not poor Peters unlucky to lose his head! Lawrence Sterne3 kept his. Time and Chance happen unto all.— By the bye, Hugh was a Cornish man, as I discover very lately. No Biography of him, or means of getting one, is now extant on the Earth.

Yesterday there arrived a Packet from Varnhagen v. Ense; part of the contents were three copies of these German Shovel-hatteries one of which copies I send to you,—for your virtues or sins. Pray read it, and if you like send it on to Hare or some other. To me the whole matter is but mournful, distressing, even offensive,—as the gradual inevitable rotting away of carrion; with antiseptics indeed, but with ammonia and hydrogen not the less!

You made a real escape in the case of Brownson Alcott.4 He is a Yankee Don Quixote, who guesses that he will bring back the Saturnian Kingdoms to this forlorn Earth by a life of simplicity, and diet of vegetables. For the first two times, I got good fun out of him; for he is an ingenious, honest-hearted kind of Quixote,—a long lean man, very like the Don even in figure, who drawls terribly, and “guesses,” and has a kind of rustic dignity and loveability about him: but the second time, discerning my hopeless unbelief in vegetables he expressed real affliction; and tho' we kept him all night, and fed him with Scotch porridge, and unimaginable messes according to our best understanding, he refused to be comforted, and has not come again.— This also is the rotting of carrion; tho' it may be hartshorn derived from that; a kind of ammonia without the hydrogen, or with less of it! To speak in a figure!

My dear Sterling, I wish to Heaven you could teach me the secret of doing a little work; my poor right hand has altogether forgotten its cunning: and yet if I can work no more, why should I live any more! Verily it were not worth while.

My Wife salutes you; joins with me in wishing you all good.

Yours ever /

T. Carlyle