April-December 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 18


TC TO ALEXANDER J. SCOTT ; 30 May 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440530-TC-AJS-01; CL 18: 52-54


Chelsea, 30 May, 1844—

My dear Scott,

It was a painful surprise to me the sad news I had the other week, of the opinion your Doctor had pronounced upon you. I was not aware that you were ill; I was looking for a sight of you soon, as one of the compensations in store for me;—and it turns out all otherwise for the present,—not as I had ordered it, but as Another has.1

My first impulse was to inquire after your Address; for the feeling in me was one that longed to utter itself in some kind of words. And yet alas there were, and there are, as good as no words. It is so little that one man can do for another. We can weep and grieve for one another; we can bid one another be of courage, be of hope;—and that is, as it were, all!— The wretched state of my own spirits, and the deep confusions I am weltering in of late, have prevented me from doing even that.

My Wife was heartily gratified by the tone of your Letter, which she heard read at the Wedgwoods': it was brave, manful and calm, she said, as the words of a man could be. This is right; hold on by this, and quit it not. It is the anchor we have in these wild storms of Time and Chance,—a strength lent us by our Maker, and which, we may say, holds of Him. We are here in the Place of Hope always; and yet always we are to be prepared for Evil, since the Worst is, at all moments, near to every one of us.

Doctors are in no case infallible prophets to me; my Brother too says that your disease is one they are apt enough to be mistaken in: we know nothing yet for certain, except even this, That the Eternal does rule in all things; that all shall be according to His will,—and that surely this shall be well. Well and best. Dear friend, what words can I say to you? There are no words, and I will say no more.— —

My work, for the last seven or eight months, has been in the highest degree dreary and disheartening, and hitherto, so far as appearance goes, seems altogether or almost altogether in vain. I find that the Spirit of Puritanism is not to be delineated to these ages,—except with an effort which borders nearer on the impossible than I have ever yet gone. I may describe myself as plunging thro' a Chaos, without firmaments even, not to say without landmarks, where there is no land or sea or sky: such an element as I was never in before. Little comes upon the paper, after great endeavour; almost nothing comes that seems destined to stay there.2

And yet I feel sometimes as if this sorrowful and perhaps impossible enterprise were perhaps appointed to do me good. It is a fruitful kind of study that of men who do in very deed understand and feel at all moments that they are in contact with God, that the right and wrong of their little life has extended itself into Eternity and Infinitude. Very clearly I perceive that this is the highest condition of man,—his only true condition for being a man. I stand astonished at the sober indubitable fact of it: how the thing that we hear, every day, like a mere sound, was to these men a fact! It is at bottom my religion too; I seem to understand that it will, in the essence of it, have to be all men's. These are ‘robes of light,’ as I say, encircling a man, without which the man is not luminous, but dark and unmanlike.— If I can gather this, and make it mine a little more conclusively, from my Puritans, my literary disappointment in the matter may be borne! Certainly, it seems to me, this their practical Contact with the Highest was a fact, which can be imitated, which should be emulated by all men. The latest fact of its kind, nearest to our own sunk days, and a fact forever memorable to us. In what of Egoism they had embarked on this faith I do not participate; in their hopes little, in their terrors not at all: that seems to me the new condition we are got into, or struggling to get into.

Dear Scott, I feel I do not weary you with these things. Thoughts of the like sort I do believe are daily in your own mind, and, in your sore-struggling pilgrimage to spiritual manhood, have long been. If it please God, you shall yet be employed to make them clearer to yourself and others.— I will write no more tonight. I will bid you rest in Patience, rest in Hope, like a faithful man!

It would be cruel to trouble you when perhaps you are weak; but if at any good moment you felt disposed to write me a little word of any kind, I should be glad of it. My blessings on your good Wife. May God's blessing be on you both always, and on us all. Good night.

Your affectionate /

T. Carlyle