August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON ; 17 November 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18431117-TC-RWE-01; CL 17: 179-182


Chelsea, London, 17 Novr, 1843—

Dear Emerson,

About this time probably you will be reading a Letter I hurried off for you by Dr Russell in the last Steamer; and your friendly anxieties will partly be set at rest.1 Had I kept silence so very long? I knew it was a long while; but my vague remorse had kept no date! It behoves me now to write again without delay; to certify with all distinctness that I have safely received your Letter of the 30 Octr, safely the Bill for Twenty-five pounds contained it;2—that you are a brave friendly man, of most serene beneficent way of life; and that I—God help me!—

By all means appoint this Mr Clark to the honorary office of account-keeper,—if he will accept it!3 By Parker's4 list of questions from him, and by earlier reminiscences recalled on that occasion, I can discern that he is a man of lynx eyesight, of an all-investigating curiosity: if he will accept this sublime appointment, it will be the clearest case of elective affinity. Accounts to you must be horrible; as they are to me: indeed I seldom read beyond the last line of them, if I can find the last; and one of the insupportabilities of Bookseller Accounts is that nobody but a wizard, or regular adept in such matters, can tell where the last line, and final net result of the whole accursed babblement, is to be found! By all means solicit Clark;—at all events, do you give it up, I pray you, and let the Booksellers do their own wise way. It really is not material; let the poor fellows have length of halter. Every new Bill from America comes to me like a kind of heavenly miracle; a reaping where I never sowed, and did not expect to reap: the quantity of it is a thing I can never bring in question.— For your English account with Nickisson I can yet say nothing more;5 perhaps about Newyearsday the poor man will enable me to say something. I hear however that the Pirate has sold off, or nearly so, his Two-shillings Edition of the Essays, and is preparing to print another; this, directly in the teeth of Cash and double-entry book-keeping, I take to be good news.

James is a very good fellow, better and better as we see him more— Something shy and skittish in the man; but a brave heart intrinsically, with sound earnest sense, with plenty of insight and even humour. He confirms an observation of mine, which indeed I find is hundreds of years old, that a stammering man is never a worthless one. Physiology can tell you why. It is an excess of delicacy, excess of sensibility to the presence of his fellow creature, that makes him stammer. Hammond L'Estrange says, “Who ever heard of a stammering man that was a fool?” Really there is something in that.— James is now off to the Isle of Wight; will see Sterling at Ventnor there; see whether such an Isle or France will suit better for a winter residence.6

W. E. Channing's Poems are also a kind gift from you.7 I have read the pieces you had cut up for me: worthy indeed of reading! That Poem on Death is the utterance of a valiant noble heart, which in rhyme or prose I shall expect more news of by and by. But at bottom “Poetry” is a most suspicious affair for me at present! You cannot fancy the oceans of Twaddle that human creatures emit upon me, in these times; as if when the lines had a jingle in them, a Nothing could be something, and the point were gained! It is becoming a horror to me,—as all speech without meaning more and more is. I said to Richard Milnes, “Now in honesty what is the use of putting your accusative before the verb, and otherwise entangling the syntax; if there really is an image of any object, thought, or thing within you, for God's sake let me have it the shortest way, and I will so cheerfully excuse the omission of the jingle at the ends: cannot I do without that!”— Milnes answered, “Ah, my dear fellow, it is because we have no thought, or almost none; a little thought goes a great way when you put it into rhyme!” Let a man try to the very uttermost to speak what he means before singing is had recourse to. Singing, in our curt English speech, contrived expressly and almost exclusively for “despatch of business,” is terribly difficult. Alfred Tennison, alone of our time, has proved it to be possible in some measure. If Channing will persist in melting such obdurate speech into musi[c] he shall have my true wishes,—my augury that it will take an enormo[us] heat from him!— Another Channing, whom I once saw here, sends me a Progress-of-the-Species Periodical from New York.8 Ach Gott! These people and their affairs seem all “melting” rapidly enough, into thaw-slush or one knows not what. Considerable madness is visible in them. Stare super antiquas vias: 9 “No, they say, we cannot stand, or walk, or do any good whatever there; by God's blessing, we will fly,—will not you!—here goes!” And their flight, it is as the flight of the unwinged,—of oxen endeavouring to fly with the “wings” of an ox! By such flying, universally practised, the “ancient ways” are really like to become very deep before long. In short, I am terribly sick of all that;—and wish it would stay at home at Fruitlands,10 or where there is good pasture for it.— — My friend Emerson, alone of all voices out of America, has sphere-music in him for me,—alone of them all hitherto; and is a prophecy and sure day-spring in the East; immeasurably cheering to me. God long prosper him; keep him duly apart from that bottomless hubbub, which is not at all cheering! And so ends my Litany for this day.

The Cromwell business, tho' I punch daily at it with all manner of levers remains immoveable as Ailsa Crag.11 Heaven alone knows what I shall do with it. I see and say to myself, It is heroical; Troy Town was probably not a more heroic business; and this belongs to thee, to thy own people,—must it lie dead forever?— Perhaps yes,—and kill me too into the bargain. Really I think it very shocking that we run to Greece, to Italy, to &c &c, and leave all at home lying buried as a non-entity. Were I absolute Sovereign and Chief Pontiff here, there should be a study of the old English ages first of all. I will pit Odin gainst any Jupiter of them; find Sea-Kings that would have given Jason a Rowland for his Oliver! We are, as you sometimes say, a book-ridden people,—a phantom-ridden people.— — All this small household is well; salutes you and yours with love old and new. Accept this hasty messenger; accept my friendliest farewell, dear Emerson.

Yours ever /

T. Carlyle