August-December 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 15


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON ; 29 August 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18420829-TC-RWE-01; CL 15: 56-59


Chelsea, London, 29 August, 1842—

My dear Emerson,

This morning your new Letter, of the 15th August, has arrived; exactly one fortnight old: thanks to the gods and steam-demons! I already, perhaps six weeks ago, answered your former Letter,—acknowledging the manna-gift of the £51, and other things;1 nor do I think the Letter can have been lost, for I remember putting it into the Post-office myself. Today I am on the eve of an expedition into Suffolk, and full of petty business: however, I will throw you one word,—were it only to lighten my own heart a little. You are a kind friend to me, and a precious;—and when I mourn over the impotence of Human Speech, and how each of us, speak or write as he will, has to stand dumb, cased up in his own unutterabilities, before his unutterable Brother, I feel always as if Emerson were the man I could soonest try to speak with,—were I within reach of him! Well; we must be content. A pen is a pen, and worth something; tho' it expresses about as much of a man's meaning perhaps as the stamping of a hoof will express of a horse's meaning; a very poor expression indeed!

Your bibliopolic advice about Cromwell or my next Book2 shall be carefully attended, if I live ever to write another Book! But I have again got down into primeval Night; and live alone and mute with the Manes [Spirits of the dead], as you say; uncertain whether I shall ever more see day. I am partly ashamed of myself; but cannot help it. One of my grand difficulties I suspect to be that I cannot write two Books at once; cannot be in the seventeenth century and in the nineteenth at one and the same moment; a feat which excels even that of the Irishman's bird: “Nobody but a bird can be in two places at once!”3 For my heart is sick and sore in behalf of my own poor generation; nay, I feel withal as if the one hope of help for it consisted in the possibility of new Cromwells, and new Puritans: thus do the two centuries stand related to me, the seventeenth worthless except precisely in so far as it can be made the nineteenth; and yet let anybody try that enterprise! Heaven help me.— I believe at least that I ought to hold my tongue;more especially at present.

Thanks for asking me to write you a word in the Dial. Had such a purpose struck me long ago, there have been things passing thro' my head,—march-marching as they ever do, in long-drawn scandalous Falstaff-regiments (a man ashamed to be seen passing thro' Coventry with such a set!)4—some one of which, snatched out of the ragged rank, and dressed and drilled a little, might perhaps fitly have been saved from Chaos and sent to the Dial. In future we shall be on the outlook. I love your Dial, and yet it is with a kind of shudder. You seem to me in danger of dividing yourselves from the Fact of this present universe, in which alone ugly as it is can I find any anchorage, and soaring away after Ideas, Beliefs, Revelations and such like,—into perilous altitudes as I think; beyond the curve of perpetual frost, for one thing! I know not how to utter what impression you give me; take the above as some stamping of the fore-hoof. Surely I could wish you returned into your own poor nineteenth century, its follies and maladies, its blind or half-blind but gigantic toilings, its laughter and its tears, and trying to evolve in some measure the hidden Godlike that lies in it;—that seems to me the kind of feat for literary men. Alas, it is so easy to screw oneself up into high and ever higher altitudes of Transcendentalism, and see nothing under one but the everlasting snows of Himmalayah, the Earth shrinking to a Planet, and the indigo firmament sowing itself with daylight stars; easy for you, for me: but whither does it lead? I dread always, to inanity and mere injuring of the lungs!— “Stamp, stamp, stamp!”— Well, I do believe, for one thing, a man has no right to say to his own generation, turning quite away from it, “Be damned!” It is the whole Past and the whole Future, this same cotton-spinning, dollar-hunting, canting and shrieking, very wretched generation of ours. Come back into it, I tell you;—and so for the present will “stamp” no more.

The good Alcott and I have prospered, I am afraid, almost as ill as it was possible for two honest men kindly affected towards one another to do. How much he understands about me I know not; but what, how much or how little I understand about him, he knows still less. The third time we met, little Browning Paracelsus was here, a neat dainty little fellow, speaking in the Cockney quiz-dialect; to whom poor Alcott's vegetable-diet concern was as ridiculous as it could be to most. They did not prosper together; I walked up to town with them, and still no prosperity: Browning at length went away; and then the exasperated Sage did speak, and when we two came to part, answered my, “When shall I see you again?” by a solemn “Never, I guess!” It was really too ridiculous: however, there was no help; and I have not seen him again; nor, as I never could learn his address, does any remedy seem possible. He is a rustic man; ignorant of the life-methods of civilized men, which civilized men have adopted that they may not be intolerable to one another; nor apparently has he the faintest notion to learn them. I told him, “All this thing that we saw around us” (head of St James's street, with Piccadilly, with England) “had been existing now for a matter of two thousand years, not on his behalf at all, but on its own only, and had never heard of him till yesterday: why would he get angry that it did not all at once turn round and shape itself according to his image!” In vain: the excellence of the vegetable philosophy, and conquest of the world by a return to acorns and the primeval innocence, seemed so indubitable, that he did think it at least deserved a serious consideration from the oldest St James's Street and Piccadilly:— Ah me!

If there be still time, which I doubt there is not, I wish you would tell this good man that my whole heart is kindly affected to him; that I do esteem his Potatoe-gospel a mere imbecillity which cannot be discussed in this busy world at this time of day;—but that he ought really to come back to me! That I shall rejoice to see him again; and not bore him, if I can help it, if he will avoid boring me.— His Letters, of which there came three this morning, I always instantly put in a track which I know attains him, among some connexions he has at Richmond.——— ——— Adieu, my friend; I must not add a word more. My Wife [is]5 out on a visit; it is to bring her back that I am now setting forth for Suffolk. I hope to see Ely too, and St Ives and Huntingdon, and various Cromwelliana. My blessings on the Concord Household now and always. Command me expressly to your Wife and your Mother. Farewell, dear friend.

T. Carlyle