August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


TC TO HENRY ALWORTH MEREWETHER ; 13 February 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440213-TC-HAM-01; CL 17: 265-266


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, 16 [13] feby, 1844—


May I venture to trouble you, in your public capacity, with a matter which as yet concerns myself only, but which perhaps you will not judge to be altogether foreign from public considerations.

I have been engaged, for a long while past, in inquiries into the History of England during the Commonwealth Period, a section of our annals which is not wanting in interest to any class of Englishman, tho' it lies involved hitherto in endless obscurities, misconceptions and confusions; and I have often had occasion to reflect, with regret and with surprise, that one important set of original documents connected with this Period, the Records namely of the City of London, do not appear to have ever been consulted, much less investigated and examined, with an eye to the historical elucidation of it.

The Records, I understand, are complete and copious; and much light for the History of that time, it is presumable, does lie in them. The Citizens of London and their Common Council, in that great struggle, were as the right hand of the Parliament itself; in constant communication and cooperation with it; their effort was, in many senses, the mainspring of the effort of the English People: in fact, it gradually becomes manifest, contrary to the commonly received opinion, that London was little less preponderant and incessantly momentous in our English revolution than Paris was in that of the French, of which it used to be said, ‘France was Paris.’ The Records of such a City in such a Period ought to be made available to History. It seems unlikely that there should not be discoverable in them many indications, dates, details, illustrative of various things. The very names of the successive Lord-Mayors and City Authorities, during those years, might clear up many an uncertainty in our printed Books.

My own projects with regard to this piece of History, which would require, to do it justice, the work of more than one man, and far other furtherance and arrangements than seem likely at present, are as yet extremely hypothetical. What can be done, and what under the existing conditions must be left unattempted, can only become clear by degrees. But in the meanwhile I could wish, thro' your means, respectfully to solicit of the Common Council an answer to this request and inquiry: Whether I, or some person1 better fitted for the work and equally approved by you, might be permitted to look into the City Records for those years; and ascertain, in the first place, what historical matter existed in them; in order that, if it seemed important, farther measures might be taken to have it rendered available, in some fit way, to the uses of English History? The years I refer to are those from 1640 to 1660; or, to secure the full limits, we might say, 1637 to 1663; twenty-six years in all. It ought to be very emphatically specified, what is in all completeness the fact, that the object is historical and such only; that the notes or extracts taken, if any, could be submitted to your approval and imprimatur; that all conditions which did not render the enterprise itself impossible would be cheerfully complied with.

If you can, in some proper way, submit this request to the Gentlemen of the Common Council, I shall feel much obliged; if their answer happily prove favourable, I shall hope to proceed upon it without detriment to anyone, and with some advantage or likelihood of advantage to myself and many.2

I have the honour to be / Sir / Your most obedt

Thomas Carlyle

To Mr Serjeant Mereweather &c &c

Town-Clerk's Office