August 1846-June 1847

The Collected Letters, Volume 21


TC TO THOMAS CHALMERS; 20 February 1847; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18470220-TC-TCH-01; CL 21:163-166.


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London 20 feby, 1847—

My dear Sir,

We receive, my wife and I, with great pleasure this little new memorial of you;1 and are very much obliged indeed that you should hold us so kindly in remembrance, in spite of distances, and changes, and the flight of years. We are still Scotch enough to be very proud of you; still human enough to feel a true sympathy with you on all manner of things.

In reading over this Paper you have written on the History of Philosophy, I am really much struck to discern on how many essential points I see altogether as you do,—starting as we probably did from almost opposite ends of the diameter, in reference to them. It is long since I ever read so much as this on these subjects; which, except on special incitement, it is my habit altogether to avoid: for it was, many years ago, my slow but at length clear practical conclusion, which I also rejoice to find intimated in this Paper, that (for me, at least) the German transcendental Metaphysics had as it were swallowed and abolished the Scotch or French Sceptical; that the whole baleful Universe of Cobwebs, in which with blinded eyes, passionately searching thro' long years, I had nearly lost my life, was now annihilated; so that, by Heaven's unspeakable mercy, I could now look abroad with my own eyes over the real Universe once more, and see! Since that, I have more and more decidedly kept clear of all such speculations; and indeed have privately been of opinion, nothing doubting, tho' not wishing to dogmatise, that all Metaphysics and Mental Philosophy so-called is, for men in general as well for myself, no other than a disease; properly a “fever of Scepticism,”2 from which the healthy intellect of man seeks only, and must seek, to escape;—as accordingly we find, in all ancient healthy ages, men have used their intellect not for looking into itself (which I consider to be naturally impossible, and a mere morbid spasm), but to look out, as an eye should, over the Universe which is not we, and there to recognise innumerable things, and to believe, and do,—and adore withal, as in that case is a very universal and infallible result, among other blessed ones! This I privately maintain, as a very irrefragable article of faith; to myself highly important, and pregnant with results quite boundless. From time to time, too, I meet with gratifying Confirmations: Goethe says once of himself. “I never thought about thinking (Habe nie ans Denken gedacht), ” I know a better trick that; —and here too, in this Review Article, the Scottish Speaker apprises me that he too, in his altogether different sphere, is not far from the same opinion! Among all the fine things there unfolded or hinted to us, there is none I like better than that.— I also have to say that Humboldt's Kosmos gave me the same sad feeling that it has given you;3 the feeling namely that this view of Nature was an altogether unworshipping, and therefore as I think, unworthy, lamed, and indeed inhuman one! I said to myself, with many reflexions little fit for words, “Since the first Norse Thinker, Odin or whatever his name, sank prostrate at the Unutterable Spectacle of Earth and Sea and Air, of the Stars and the Graves, of the Lightnings and the Azures, of Life and of Death; and, with his brow in the dust, said awestruck “It is a God!”4—from this first Norse Thinker with his eyes and his worship, onward to the last German one with his telescopes, crucibles, “immense practical utilities,” accredited sentimentalisms, and “love of the picturesque,” what a way have we travelled.!5——

But I must stop short in these lucubrations. I owe you thanks for another Gift, dated many months ago: a broad, genial and altogether excellent address, on the subject of your Edinburgh Schools: a mere Occasional Speech, extracted from the Newspapers; to me more useful (I really believe so, for in many things it rebuked me) than most of the volumes I have read since.6 May a blessing attend you in your work,—as assuredly a blessing will! If you ever come to London, pray let us see your face again.7 If not, think of us kindly, as of fellow wayfarers that think kindly of you.

Yours very sincerely always

T. Carlyle