August 1846-June 1847

The Collected Letters, Volume 21


TC TO EDWARD FITZGERALD; 12 January 1847; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18470112-TC-EF-01; CL 21:132-135.


Chelsea, 12 jany, 1847—

Dear Fitzgerald,

We are very glad to hear of you again at first hand; and will very willingly answer your kind inquiries after us. Spedding told me of your pious attempt to get down to Chelsea, and how it foundered: we hope to be in better luck next time you come to Town.1

There has been an unusual confusion, and some degree of illness, in this house, for a good many weeks past;—owing partly to the fierce weather; partly also to a change of servants or servant, so small a cause! Our little Scotch maid, a most invaluable little totum and factotum for eleven years back, went away at Martinmas last to a Brother she has in Dublin; and Mrs C. in her bother with the newcomers (for a series of them came, and were found condemnable) got a bad cold, was obliged to be boxed up strictly in her own room; wherefrom, as you may guess, ensued considerable puddle on the household side of things. Happily that is all over now: a good servant found at last; the Mistress able to go about (tho' still within doors); I, seated safe aloft (in a little back room or closet, where I think you have smoked with me), very idle, but at liberty and silent,—which is a very considerable improvement, very welcome to me indeed!— — We speak of a short visit to Hampshire soon; the place we were at last year, when you missed us:2 the country air, it is thought, may set us all up again. Early in February, at latest, we expect to be all back, and quiet in our old anchorage here.

I never thought of Bunyan at all;3 “Rhadamanthus” would be a much likelier subject;—in fact if there were any “documents” procurable about R., or any ground to go upon, he were precisely the fellow for me! The world's main want, as I read it, is a Rhadamanthus, at this very time. Such an all-pervading life-element of Cant, from Nadir up to Zenith an illimitable ocean of Cant, in which all men and institutions live, move, and have their highly paralytic being,4—truly it were well worth while to rend it asunder one good time, to burn it up with Heaven's Lightning, if one could, and send it back to the Devil, in the shape of stinking gas which it is! Rhadamanthus alone is fit for such a thing;—and perhaps the gods will send him, one day. If not in Heaven's fire, then in Hellfire, all that accursed twaddle will, one day, be burnt up: of that I am at all times sure enough!—

But the truth is, I for my own part am utterly idle, of late months, or as good as idle; merely reading great qua[n]tities5 of omitted Books,—with unspeakable detestation, for most part; Chesterfield, Mahon, &c &c,6— and happily forgetting them almost as soon as read; losing nothing but my time by them. Literature generally seems to me rather a sorry business, in my splenetic humour; not very clearly discriminated from a poor shallow jugglery and Merry-Andrewism, in the times we are getting into! I know feats I could like far better to do than write Books. However, as we have no other craft, I suppose we shall have to resume it in the course of time, if we last long.

Almost the only supportable reading I have got into has been, now and then, little snatches of old History, especially by contemporaries. Do you know the Acta Sanctorum,—upwards of 50 huge folios, with clasps; which the Jesuits (Bollandists, so called from one Bollandus who began it) have been busy compiling and collecting now, in slow sequence, for above 150 years? It is in the London Library: a huge mass of dross, but with real bits of gold in it. The Life of St Columba (a Derry Irishman) in the poor little Island of I (Ee) 1200 years ago;7 actually extant there with such a strange old world round him: I have got some real satisfaction out of St Columba, well read.— As you are an earnest soul, and delight in old History too, suppose you try there a little. The Lives of the British Saints; these, if done by contemporaries, are really worth looking at. And the Jesuit Editors have really done their part very tolerably well. On the whole I am going to look farther in that huge Book. Twysden too, do you know Twysden? Some ten old English Monk Histories, with Selden's Preface, in 1652: I am getting real good of Twysden.8 Truly I think if you persist in your old tastes, you might as well try in some of those sources.

Ireland is a perpetual misery to me; lies like a kind of nightmare on my thoughts, little as I personally have to do with it. Certainly men ought to “subscribe”;—those that have pity for their starving fellow creatures, what less can they do than give a little money?9 Yet I confess it seems to me subscription, to never such an extent, will do next to no good at all. For it is as if, by this failure of potatoes, and ability of the people to live on any terms, the general high-built, long established Imposture of Irish Existence and Society were frightfully crashing down into one huge welter of ruin,—never (thank God, never) to be built up again on the old footing any more. If the people of property can contrive ways of really guiding and feeding the population? that is the problem! If they cannot,—God Almighty is saying to them very audibly, Then depart ye, disappear!— — Adieu dear F.; you see my paper is done, for this time!

Ever yours /

T. Carlyle