August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON ; 31 October 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18431031-TC-RWE-01; CL 17: 162-165


Chelsea, London, 31 octr, 1843—

My dear Emerson,

It is a long weary time since I have had the satisfaction of the smallest dialogue with you.1 The blame is all my own; the reasons would be difficult to give,—alas, they are properly no-reasons, children not of Something but of mere Idleness, Confusion, Inaction, Inarticulation, of Nothing in short! Let us leave them there, and profit by the hour which yet is.

I ran away from London into Bristol and South Wales, when the heats grew violent, at the end of June. South Wales, North Wales, Lancashire, Scotland: I roved about everywhere seeking some Jacob's-pillow2 on which to lay my head and dream of things heavenly;—yes that at bottom was my modest prayer, tho' I disguised it from myself: and the result was, I could find no pillow at all; but sank into ever meaner restlessness, blacker and blacker biliary gloom, and returned in the beginning of September thoroughly eclipsed and worn out, probably the weariest of all men living under the sky. Sure enough I have a fatal talent of converting all Nature into Preternaturalism for myself: a truly horrible Phantasm-Reality it is to me; what of heavenly radiances it has, blended in close neighbourhood, in intimate union, with the hideousness of Death and Chaos;—a very ghastly business indeed! On the whole, it is better to hold one's peace about it.— I flung myself down on sofas here,—for my little Wife had trimmed up our little dwellingplace into quite glorious order in my absence, and I had only to lie down: there, in reading books, and other make-believe employments, I could at least keep silence, which was an infinite relief. Nay gradually, as indeed I anticipated, the black vortexes and deluges have subsided; and now that it is past I begin to feel myself better for my travels after all. For one thing, articulate speech having returned to me,—you see what use I make of it.

On the table of the London Library, voted in by some unknown benefactor whom I found afterwards to be Richard Milnes, there lay one thing highly gratifying to me: the last two Numbers of the Dial. It is to be one of our Periodicals henceforth; the current Number lies on the table till the next arrives; then the former goes to the Binder; we have already, in a bound volume, all of it that Emerson has had the editing of. This is right. Nay in Edinburgh, and indeed wherever ingenuous inquisitive minds were met with, I have to report that the said Emerson could number a select and most loving public; select, and I should say fast growing: for good and indifferent reasons it may behove the man to assure himself of this. Farther, to the horror of poor Nickisson (Bookseller Fraser's Successor), a certain Scoundrel interloper here has reprinted Emerson's Essays on greyish paper to be sold at two shillings,3—distracting Nickisson with the fear of change! I was glad at this, if also angry: it indicates several things. Nickisson has taken his measures, will reduce the price of his remaining copies; indeed he informs me the best part of his edition was already sold, and he has even some colour of money due from England to Emerson thro' me! With pride enough will I transmit this mournful noble peculium; and after that, as I perceive, such chivalrous international doings must cease between us. Past and Present, some one told me, was in spite of all your precautions straightway sent forth in modest grey, and your benevolent speculation ruined.4 Here too, you see, it is the same. Such chivalries therefore are now impossible; for myself I say, “Well let them cease; thank God they once were, the memory of that can never cease with us!”—

In this last Number of the Dial, which by the bye your Bookseller never forwarded to me, I found one little Essay, a criticism on myself,5—which, if it should do me mischief, may the gods forgive you for! It is considerably the most dangerous thing I have read for some years. A decided likeness of myself recognisable in it, as in the celestial mirror of a friend's heart; but so enlarged, exaggerated, all transfigured,—the most delicious, the most dangerous thing! Well, I suppose I must try to assimilate it also, to turn it also to good if I be able. Eulogies, dyslogies, in which one finds no features of one's own natural face, are easily dealt with; easily left unread, as stuff for lighting fires, such is the insipidity, the wearisome nonentity of pabulum like that: but here is another sort of matter! “The beautifullest piece of criticism I have read for many a day,” says every one that speaks of it. May the gods forgive you.— I have purchased a copy for three shillings, and sent it to my Mother: one of the indubitable benefits I could think of in regard to it.

There have been two friends of yours here in these very days: Dr Russell just returning from Paris; Mr Parker, just bound thither.6 We have seen them rather oftener than common, Sterling being in Town withal. They are the best figures of strangers we have had for a long time; possessions, both of them, to fall in with in this pilgrimage of Life. Russell carries friendliness in his eyes, a most courteous modest intelligent man; an English intelligence too, as I read, the best of it lying unspoken, not as a logic but as an instinct. Parker is a most hardy, compact, clever little fellow, full of decisive utterance, with humour and good-humour; whom I like much. They shine like suns, these two, amid multitudes of watery comets and tenebrific constellations, too sorrowful without such admixture on occasion!

As for myself, dear Emerson, you must ask me no questions till—alas, till I know not when! After four weary years of the most unreadable reading, the painfullest poking and delving, I have come at last to the conclusion that I must write a Book on Cromwell; that there is no rest for me till I do it. This point fixed, another is not less fixed hitherto, That a Book on Cromwell, is impossible. Literally so: you would weep for me if you saw how, between these two adamantine certainties, I am whirled and tumbled. God only knows what will become of me in the business. Patience, Patience!

By the bye, do you know a “Massachusetts Historical Society,” and a James Bowdoin, seemingly of Boston?7 In “vol II. third series” of their “Collections” lately I met with a disappointment almost ludicrous. Bowdoin, in a kind of dancing embarrassed style, gives long-winded painfully minute account of certain precious volumes containing “Notes of the Long Parliament” which was in the New York Library; poises them in his assaying balance, speculates, prophesies, inquires concerning them: to me it was like news of the lost Decades of Livy:8 Good Heavens, it soon became manifest that these precious volumes are nothing whatever but a wretched broken old dead Ms. copy of part of our printed Commons Journals, printed since 1745, and known to all barbers! If the Historical Society desired it, every Member of Parliament could procure them the whole stock, Lords and Commons, a wheelbarrowful or more, with no cost but the carriage. Every member has the right to demand a copy, and few do it, few will let such a mess cross their doorthreshold! This of Bowdoin's is a platitude of some magnitude.9 ——— ——— Adieu, dear Emerson. Rest not, haste not;10 you have work to do. / T. Carlyle