April-December 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 18


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON ; 5 August 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440805-TC-RWE-01; CL 18: 167-169


Chelsea, 5 Augt, 1844—

Dear Emerson,

There had been a long time without direct news from you, till four days ago your Letter arrived. This day I understand to be the ultimate limit of the American Mail,—yesterday, had it not been Sunday, would have been the limit: I write a line, therefore, tho' in very great haste.

Poor Sterling, even I now begin to fear, is in a very bad way. He had two successive attacks of spitting of blood, some three months ago, or more; the second attack of such violence, and his previous condition then so weak, that the Doctor as good as gave up hope,—the poor Patient himself had from the first given it up. Our poor Friend has had so many attacks of that nature, and so rapidly always rallied from them, I gave no ear to these sinister prognostics; but now that I see the summer influences passing over him without visible improvement, and our good weather looking towards a close without so much strength added as will authorize even a new voyage to Madiera,—I too am at last joining in the general discouragement; all the sadder to me that I shut it out so long. Sir James Clark, our best-accredited Physician for such diseases, declares that Life for certain months may linger, with great pain; but that recovery is not to be expected. Great part of the lungs, it appears, is totally unserviceable for respiration; from the remainder, especially in times of coughing, it is with the greatest difficulty that breath enough is obtained. Our poor Patient passes the night in a sitting posture; cannot lie down: that fact sticks with me ever since I heard it! He is very weak, very pale; still “writes a great deal daily”; but does not wish to see any body; declines to “see even Carlyle,” who offered to go to him. His only Brother, Anthony Sterling, a hardy soldier, lately withdrawn from the Army, and settled in this quarter, whom we often communicate with, is about going down to the Isle of Wight this week: he saw John four days ago, and brings nothing but bad news,—of which indeed this removal of his to the neighbourhood of the scene is a practical testimony. The old Father, a Widower for the last two years, and very lonely and dispirited, seems getting feebler and feebler: he was here yesterday; a pathetic kind of spectacle to us. Alas, alas! But what can be said? I say Nothing; I have written only one Note to Sterling:1 I feel it probable that I shall never see him more,—nor his like again in this world. His disease, as I have from of old construed it, is a burning of him up by his own fire. The restless vehemence of the man, struggling in all ways these many years to find a legitimate outlet, and finding except for transitory unsatisfactory corruscations none, has undermined its Clay Prison in the weakest point (which proves to be the lungs), and will make outlet there. My poor Sterling! It is an old tragedy; and very stern whenever it repeats itself of new.— —

Today I get answer about Alfred Tennyson:2 all is right on that side. Moxon informs me that the Russell Books and Letter arrived duly, and were duly forwarded and safely received; nay farther that Tennyson is now in Town, and means to come and see me. Of this latter result I shall be very glad: Alfred is one of the few British or Foreign Figures (a not increasing number, I think!) who are and remain beautiful to me;—a true human soul, or some authentic approximation thereto, to whom your own soul can say, Brother!— However, I doubt h[e] will not come; he often skips me, in these brief visits to Town; skips [every] body indeed; being a man solitary and sad, as certain men are, dwelling in an element of gloom,—carrying a bit of Chaos about him, in short, which he is manufacturing into Cosmos!

Alfred is the Son of a Lincolnshire Gentleman Farmer, I think;3 indeed you see in his verses that he is a native of “moated granges,”4 and green fat pastures, not of mountains and their torrents and storms. He had his breeding at Cambridge, as if for the Law or Church; being master of a small annuity on his Father's decease, he preferred clubbing with his Mother and some Sisters,5 to live unpromoted and write Poems. In this way he lives still, now here now there; the family always within reach of London, never in it; he himself making rare and brief visits, lodging in some old comrade's rooms. I think he must be under forty, not much under it.6 One of the finest looking men in the world. A great shock of rough dusty-dark hair; bright-laughing hazel eyes; massive aquiline face, most massive yet most delicate, of sallow-brown complexion, almost Indian-looking; clothes cynically loose, free-and-easy;—smokes infinite tobacco. His voice is musical metallic,—fit for loud laughter and piercing wail, and all that may lie between; speech and speculation free and plenteous: I do not meet, in these late decades, such company over a pipe!— We shall see what he will grow to. He is often unwell; very chaotic,—his way is thro' Chaos and the Bottomless and Pathless; not handy for making out many miles upon. (O Paper!)7

I trust there is now joy in place of pain in the House at Concord, and a certain Mother grateful again to the Supreme Powers!8 We are all in our customary health here, or nearly so; my Wife has been in Lancashire, among her kindred there, for a month lately: our swoln City is getting empty and still; we think of trying an Autumn here this time.—Get your Book9 ready; there are readers ready for it! And be busy and victorious! Ever yours

T. Carlyle

My “History” is frightful! If I live, it is like to be completed; but whether I shall live, and not rather be buried alive, broken-hearted, in the Serbonian Quagmires10 of English Stupidity, and so sleep beside Cromwell, often seems uncertain. Erebus has no uglier, brutaller element. Let us say nothing of it. Let us do it, or leave it to the Devils. Ay de mi!