October 1845-July 1846

The Collected Letters, Volume 20


TC TO ALEXANDER J. SCOTT ; 5 December 1845; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18451205-TC-AJS-01; CL 20: 72-74


Bay House, Alverstoke Hants, 5 Decr, 1845—

Dear Scott,

Your Letter reached me here a few days ago; and I may truly say has given me very great pleasure. That you adopt the view I have taken up about Oliver, and approve of my most ungainly ineffectual labour in regard to him, and give me your kind and hearty “Euge [Bravo]!” from over the water,—this is a really precious thing to me. The first voice of approval I have heard on the matter; of a sincerity and an insight not to be doubted. I will take it as the omen that by and by many more such, nay in a certain sense at last all such, will be added; and the poor Work turn out to be actually worth something. It has been a work of infinite disgust and hopeless toil; on the whole really a kind of pious work,—more like a work of piety than any other I have done. So far as this is the case, it already has its reward: and for the rest, if the practical English mind do gradually come to understand, and believe as a very fact, that it once had a Hero and Heroism in this man and his work, my poor dry-bones of a Compilation may prove to be a better “Poem” than many that go by that name! We will leave it with the Destinies; right glad that we, not entirely disgracefully, have got done with it,—ungainly as it is in these bad days.

You ask me how I proceed in taking Notes on such occasions. I would very gladly tell you all my methods if I had any; but really I have as it were none. I go into the business with all the intelligence, patience, silence and other gifts and virtues that I have; find that ten times or a hundred times as many could be profitably expended there, and still prove insufficient: and as for plan, I find that every new business requires as it were a new scheme of operations, which amid infinite bungling and plunging unfolds itself at intervals (very scantily, after all) as I get along. The great thing is, Not to stop and break down; to know that virtue is very indispensable, that one must not stop because new and ever new drafts upon one's virtue must be honoured!— But as to the special point of taking Excerpts, I think I universally, from habit or otherwise, rather avoid writing beyond the very minimum, mark in pencil the very smallest indication that will direct me to the thing again; and on the whole try to keep the whole matter simmering in the living mind and memory rather than laid up in paper-bundles or otherwise laid up in the inert way. For this certainly turns out to be a truth: Only what you at last have living in your own memory and heart is worth putting down to be printed; this alone has much chance to get into the living heart and memory of other men. And here indeed, I believe, is the essence of all the rules I have ever been able to devise for myself. I have tried various schemes of arrangement and artificial and helps to remembrance; paper-bags with labels, little paper-books, paper-bundles &c &c: but the use of such things, I take it, depends on the habits and humours of the individual—what can be recommended universally seems to me mainly the above. My Paper-bags (filled with little scraps all in pencil) have often enough come to little for me; and indeed in general when writing, I am surrounded with a rubbish of papers that have come to little:—this only will come to much for all of us, To keep the thing you are elaborating as much as possible actually in your own living mind; in order that this same mind, as much awake as possible, may have a chance to make something of it!— And so I will shut up my lumber-shop again; and wish you right good speed in yours.1

In fact it seems to me this Life of Dante, if you were once fairly in the heart of it, would prove an excellent thing for you; the beginning of still better things; for yourself and for all of us. Can you not begin straightway to write? There is no end to inquiring; you never know what course you will go in, till you begin to experiment: it is a battle between the material and you.2 Do not aim too much at perfection; to you I believe I may give this advice. On the whole, try, try; it is all a trial, with many failures and a few successes: “all walking is a succession of falls.”3— —

My Wife and I are here on the mild Hampshire coast on a visit to the Barings, a very strange existence for us; pleasant enough for the time;—and utterly idle. One wonders how a human Day is made to eat its own head off in so complete a manner! Most beautiful, most elegant, friendly; but in the long run it would be suicidal. I contrive to save a long ride out of it for my own behoof; “a few reasonable words” as Goethe says;4 and at night a long spell of music, which, in the silence, brings innumerable strange old thoughts, scenes and emotions, up into the private-theatre again, to parade there, actually not much different from spectres I think!— This life is to last yet for an indefinite number of days.

My Wife sends many kind regards to you and yours. Take care of the Parisian cold; and do not be impatient that you make small progress towards health in this season. The Sun will reach his turningplace before long.

All hands here are rejoicing since yesternight that Peel has decided to abolish the Corn-Laws: total and immediate!5 There is really something brave in poor Peel. His actions point all or mostly towards truth; and his words—we will call them meaningless; a thing intended for the Morning Papers and the 27 million Blockheads merely.

Adieu, dear Scott. May Good be with you always: so prays very sincerely

Yours always /

T. Carlyle