August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


TC TO JOHN STERLING ; 4 December 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18431204-TC-JOST-01; CL 17: 198-200


Chelsea, 4 decr, 1843—

My dear Sterling,

I received your kind Note, written in the hour of your departure; I received your Irish Newspaper from Ventnor, and understood it as a monition that I had permission to write to you,—which I wished to do, but alas could not! In truth, I am very miserable at present; or call it, heavy-laden with fruitless toil; which will have much the same meaning. My abode is and has been, figuratively speaking, in the centre of Chaos; onwards there is no moving, in any yet discovered line, and where I am is no abiding:—miserable enough! The fact is, without any figure, I am doomed to write some Book about that unblessed Commonwealth; and as yet there will no Book shew itself possible.1 The whole stagnancy of the English genius, two hundred years thick, lies heavy on me; dead Heroes, buried under two centuries of Atheism, seem to whimper pitifully, “Deliver us, canst thou not deliver us!”— and alas what am I, or what is my father's house? Confound it, I have lost four years of good labour in the business; and still the more I expend on it, it is like throwing good labour after bad! On the whole, you ought to pity me. Is thy servant a dead dog,2 that these things have fallen on him?— — My only consolation is that I am struggling to be the most conservative man in England, or one of the most conservative. If the Past Time, only two centuries back, lie wholly as a torpedo Darkness and Dulness, freezing as with Medusa-glance all souls of men that look on it,3 where are our foundations gone? If the Past Time cannot become melodious, it must be forgotten, as good as annihilated; and we rove like aimless exiles that have no ancestors,—whose world began only yesterday! That must be my consolation, such as it is.

I see almost nobody, I avoid sight rather, and study at least to consume my own smoke. I wish among your buildings, you would build me some small Prophet's Chamber, fifteen feet square, with a separate garret and flue for smoking; within a furlong of your big house; sacred from all noises, of dogs, cocks, pianofortes and insipid men;—engaging some dumb old woman to light a fire for me daily and boil some kind of kettle: a man might write there all day to some purpose, and cheer himself by talk all evening! But it cannot be. There is no such city of refuge, I am told, till once we get beyond the Zodiac; so in the mean time we must study to go on without it.

Of men or new books or things, I cannot say a word; dwelling myself so deep, with mere Chaos and old Nox. I have only seen Mill transiently once, Lockhart transiently once, and hardly any other person whose existence is of any moment to you. A man from Chancery Lane, anonymous hitherto,4 sent me a Pamphlet about the necessity of an “Authors Publishing Society,” in which project I hear he still persists, tho' not entirely a fool; I also purchased for sixpence lately the first No of an “Authors Institution Circular,” or some such thing, worth less than any known coin:—indeed there is everywhere a bodeful premonition heard that Bookselling in our sense of the business draws to its close; that it is due some time since to Chaos again,—and that something else must follow it.— —

Did you see an American of the name of James, who went towards you? An estimable man, full of sense and honest manfulness, when you get acquainted with him. My regards to him if he is near you.5

My Wife is gone this evening with your Father to drink tea with Darwin; a notable lark! The Articles in the Times6 do the Writer of them an immense good; besides what they infallibly do or tend towards doing to the world. Adieu, dear Sterling, best friend! Be not angry with me, be patient with me; write when you have charity, and so Vale, Vale

T. Carlyle