August 1846-June 1847

The Collected Letters, Volume 21


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 8 November 1846; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18461108-TC-JAC-01; CL 21:87-89.


Chelsea, 8 Novr, 1846—

My dear Brother,

Here is your specimen of Dante, which I have read over with attention; I find it anxiously faithful and literal, with here and there a gleam of strange poetical significance;—I suppose, in short, very fairly done on your part. But it is terribly abstruse; perplexed, obscure and indeed unintelligible to a modern English reader! I do not see how a serious man of the nineteenth century could often consent to risk his time in the guessing of such obsolete riddles: any general popularity or interest for such a Book appears to me impossible. In its present form I believe the Chapmans and you too are as well quit of it To bring the message of Dante home again to a modern ear,—of which enterprise I cannot very accurately estimate the benefit,—some other more cunning plan would be required. Perhaps you will persist; perhaps you will give it up as a game not worth the candle? In very literal truth I cannot advise you;—alas, most worthless barren “wishes” are all I can give you! Dante, at present and probably for long generations hence, must remain the property of the Travelling Dilettante mainly; the sorrowfullest brood of mortals this Sun ever saw!—

We do not find it unnatural or improper that you should eschew Leamington,1—that now and henceforth you should decline all such confused dangerous adventures, for which in your circumstances there really is no adequate motive or incitement. If you had a house and reasonable establishment to live in anywhere, there you could on your own footing practice what medicine you pleased, and do the work you found in you with total independance2 on all the conditions of it which are so disagreeable to your feelings. In real earnest, that might be the best way for you.— Here also I have no power to help or to advise; alas, none at all.

We got home again on Thursday afternoon: I found the Examiner still lying open, and addressed it to you for a kind of sign. Our visit was to a beautiful house and country and very kind people; we had some days even of bright sunshine, and the brown leaves are still very copiously sticking to the trees: but on the whole it was to me with my dyspepsias and insomnolences other than a pleasure; a strange nightmare of smoke and flame, and indigestion and donothingism,—which I was very willing indeed to see end. We had many people there; nearly all insignificant except by their manners and rank. Old Rogers staid the longest, indeed as long as ourselves; I do not remember any old man (he is now 83) whose manner of being gave me less satisfaction! A most sorrowful distressing distracted old phenomenon; hovering over the rim of deep Eternities with nothing but light babble, fatuity, vanity, and the frostiest London with in his mouth! Sometimes I felt as if I could throttle him, the poor old wretch; but then suddenly I reflected, “It is but for two days more. Pity the sorrows of a poor old man!” Lady Harriet lived mostly in her own apartments, dined at another hour than we; and except at breakfast and tea did not much appear. Lady Bath was there; an airy, imaginative Puseyite lady,3—unsubstantial to the touch as rainbows. On Thursday happily it ended; and I got to my own bed again, and to my own dinner of mutton-chop and American much. We are engaged to Alverstoke “after Christmas for a month”; but I consider it problematical if we shall go. Silence is better than most speech; mush and chop of one's own, how preferable to champagne dinners with plate-services and a regiment of valets! Often did the prayer of Agur come to my mind, and thanks that to me also it had been granted, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me!”4

We are coming now to need the Scotsbrig Butter; also a small supply of oatmeal, but I cannot yet say how much. Lady Ashburton wants “about 3 stones,”—they eat cakes, and good meal is not known here. At Alverstoke too perhaps some may be wanted, perhaps not: we ourselves want little, not altogether none: in a few days I will write to Jamie some express request; in the mean time, let the Satur Miller do his best, and have a small batch ready such as he can set before the King!— Thomas Erskine has come to Town from Italy; we have just heard from him, in Baker Street; under the surgeons still. Last night, a weary tea with the American Margt Fuller and Mazzini,—not to be repeated!5—— — How is my good dear Mother? I trust still well. The hurried line from The Grange was no Letter to her; but there shall one come. I wrote to Jean to keep the Parcel safe, which I hope has arrived before now. Affectionate regards to Jamie and Isabella. Write me soon how my Mother is.

Ever Yours /

T. Carlyle