January-September 1845

The Collected Letters, Volume 19


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON ; 16 February 1845; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18450216-TC-RWE-01; CL 19: 31-34


Chelsea, 16 feby, 1845—

Dear Emerson,

By the last Packet which sailed on the 3d of the Month I forgot to write to you, tho' already in your debt one Letter; and here now has another Letter arrived, which on the footing of mere business demands to be answered.1 I write straightway; not knowing how the Post-Office people will contrive the conveyance, or whether it can be sooner than by the next Steamship, but willing to give them a chance.

You have made another brave bargain for me with the Philadelphia people; to all which I can say nothing but “Euge! Papae [Well done]!” It seems to me strange, in the present state of copyright, how my sanction or the contrary can be worth £50 to any American Bookseller; but so it is, to all appearance; let it be so, therefore, with thanks and surprise. The Messrs Carey and Lea distinguish themselves by the beauty of their Editions;2 a poor Author does not go abroad among his friends in dirty paper, full of misprints, under their guidance: this is as handsome an item of the business as any. As to the Portrait too, I will be as “amiable” as heart could wish; truly it will be worth my while to take a little pains that the kind Philadelphia Editors do once for all get a faithful Portrait of me, since they are about it, and so prevent counterfeits from getting into circulation.3

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Frontispiece, CL Volume 10

Oil portrait of Thomas Carlyle by Samuel Laurence, 1838.

The original is privately owned; reproduced by kind permission of the owner.

I will endeavour to do in that matter whatsoever they require of me; to the extent even of sitting two days for a Crayon Sketch such as may be engraved,—tho' this new sacrifice of patience will not perhaps be needed as matters are. It stands thus: There is no Painter, of the numbers who have wasted my time and their own with trying, that has indicated any capability of catching a true likeness, but one Samuel Lawrence, a young Painter of real talent, not quite so young now, but still only struggling for complete mastership in the management of colours. He does Crayon Sketches in a way to please almost himself; but his oil paintings, at least till within a year or two, have indicated only a great faculty still crude in that particular. His oil portrait of me, which you speak of, is almost terrible to behold! It has the look of a Jötun, of a Scandinavian Demon, grim, sad as the Angel of Death;—and the colouring is so brickish, the finishing so coarse, it reminds you withal of a flayed horse's-head: “Dinna speak o't!” But the preparatory Crayon-Sketch of this, still in existence, is admired by some judges: poor John Sterling bought it from the Painter, and it is now here in the hands of his Brother, who will readily allow any authorized person to take a drawing of it.4

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Frontispiece, CL Volume 8

Crayon portrait of Thomas Carlyle by Samuel Laurence, circa 1838.

Bought from the painter by John Sterling and greatly admired by him

The original is now at Carlyle's House, Chelsea.

Lawrence himself I imagine would be the fittest man to employ;—or your Mr Ingram, if he be here and a capable person: one or both of these might superintend the engraving of it here, and not part with the Plate till it were pronounced satisfactory. In short I am willing to do “anything in reason”! Only if a Portrait is to be, I confess I should rather avoid going abroad under the hands of bunglers, at least of bunglers sanctioned by myself. There is a Portrait of me in some miserable Farrago called Spirit of the Age;5 a Farrago unknown to me, but a Portrait known, for poor Lawrence brought it down with sorrow in his face: it professes to be from his Painting; is a “Lais without the beauty” (as Charles Lamb used to say);6 a flayed horse's-head without the spiritualism good or bad,—and simply figures in my mind as a detestability, which I had much rather never have seen. These poor Spirit-of-the-Age people7 applied to me; I described myself as “busy” &c, shoved them off me; and this monster of iniquity, resembling nothing in the Earth or under it, is the result. In short, I am willing, I am willing;—and so let us not waste another drop of ink [up]on it at present!— On the whole are not you a strange fellow? You apologize as if with real pain for “trouble” I had, or indeed am falsely supposed to have had, with Chapman here;8 and forthwith engage again in correspondences, in speculations, negociations, and I know not what, on my behoof! For shame, for shame! Nay you have done one very ingenious thing; set Clark upon the Boston Bookseller's accounts: it is excellent;— Michael Scott setting the Devil to twist ropes of sand.9 “There, my brave one; see if you don't find work there for a while!” I never think of this Clark without love and laughter. Once more, Euge.

Chapman is fast selling your Books here; striking off a new 500 from his stereotypes. You are wrong as to your Public in this country:10 it is a very pretty Public, extends pretty much I believe thro' all ranks, and is a growing one,—and a truly aristocratic, being of the bravest inquiring minds we have. All things are breaking up here, like Swedish Frosts in the end of March; a gâchis epouvantable [frightful mess]. Deep, very serious, eternal instincts are at work; but as yet no serious word at all that I hear, except what reaches me from Concord at intervals. Forward, forward!— And you do not know what I mean by calling you ‘unpractical,’ ‘theoretic’ &c? O coeca corda [O blindhearted one]!11 But I have no room for such a theme at present.

The reason why I tell you nothing about Cromwell is, alas, that there is nothing to be told. I am day and night, these long months and years, very miserable about it,—nigh broken hearted often. Such a scandalous accumulation of Human Stupidity in any form never lay before on such a subject. No history of it can be written to this wretched fleering, sneering, canting, twaddling godforgetting generation: how can you explain Men to Apes by the Dead Sea?12 And I am very sickly too, and my Wife is ill all this cold weather;—and I am sunk in the bowels of Chaos, and only some once in the three months or so see so much as a possibility of ever getting out! Cromwell's own Letters and Speeches I have gathered together, and washed clean from a thousand ordures; these I do sometimes think of bringing out in a legible shape,—perhaps soon. Adieu, dear Friend; With blessings always, / T. Carlyle

Poor Sydney Smith is understood to be dying;13 ‘water on the chest,’ past hope of Doctors. Alas!—