August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


TC TO HENRY COLE ; 25 October 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18431025-TC-HC-01; CL 17: 156-158


Chelsea, 25 Octr, 1843—

My dear Sir,

Thanks for the ray of light you have thrown over that dreary labyrinth of a mouldering Necropolis, named Record Office,—a true City of the Dead, and not yet properly Buried!1 How to turn those Parchments to account, if not by making glue of them, seems to be a problem at present.

Charles First's Roll would have been of some use or interest to me, as being one fixed statistic element, tho' a most small one, in a watery chaos which, I believe, for undecipherability and sheer stupid confusion is without example among Nations that do record by writing, and not by Wampum or Peruvian thrums. Alas, life is far too short and Art far too long for an adventure like the one you shadow forth. I will leave this unfortunate Roll forever and a day,— and hope at least that the rats may not get it, but the human carpenters to make useful glue!2

In seriousness, all I wanted was some guess, grounded on any authentic basis, at the Population of England in Charles First's time. It is but lately I have learned to guess that of London at some 3 or 4 hundred thousand. In regard to the general Population, there is not even, that I know of, ground for a guess.3 Perhaps you know of some somewhere? If so, it will be a real service to point it out to me.

Let me also, since my hand is in, put another question. Can you inform me clearly, in the dialect of mortal men, what a “subsidy” actually was? They speak of a “fifteenth” too: what in God's universe was this “subsidy and fifteenth,” “subsidy and two fifteenths,” which all the world writes of as a thing known to everybody, and no individual I can meet in the world will give any distinct explanation of?4 Subsidies come down, I think, to the time of Charles II perhaps lower: what the value of a subsidy was in Charles First's time, if one first well knew what the subsidy itself was, would certainly throw light on the economics of that time. Perhaps you yourself know about all this; perhaps you can twitch by the ear some learned gentleman that does? A clear word in that direction would be a decided comfort to me. Let the learned gentlemen say also which the last subsidy was,—the date, namely, of the last tax ever levied under that name, or to be levied while time runs. We should then have done with it!—

For the rest do not bother yourself about all this: if you can without undue trouble, then speak; if not, let it go to the winds,—with my malison upon it! And believe me ever

Yours most truly /

T. Carlyle