April 1848-March 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 23


TC TO WILLIAM MACCALL; 3 November 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18481103-TC-WM-01; CL 23: 146-149


Chelsea, 3 Novr, 1848—

My dear Sir,

I have read your Preface carefully, and about half of the Translation:1 the latter, so far as I could judge in absence of the original, appeared to be well and carefully done,—but finding the hand (contrary to expectation) somewhat indistinct to me, and not having any prospect of seizing the Author's drift, or otherwise coming to clearer insight of a practical sort, I desisted where I mention. The Preface, I am sorry to say, but I ought to say it at once, does not seem to me as if it would answer at all. It is much too angry, emphatic, controversial,—where there is, or well can be, no “controversy” on the part of the public, nothing but nescience and indifference as yet in that quarter. You do nothing to invite us into your somewhat formidable Spinoza Antre, or subterranean shrine; and this, I consider, was the one business of a Preface. Some short sketch of Spinoza's Life, if well managed; some quiet account of what the world has successively thought of him, and now thinks:—all this (or much better than this) might have been some sort of introduction to what we are going to enter upon; but nothing of the present writing seems to me to tend at all decisively in that direction. Surely you should stand at the door of your Hostel with at least a peaceable face; not brandishing the war-club, and testifying that you do not care if we think you a Pantheist &c &c. In short, my dear Sir, I do not think your Preface suitable either for Spinoza or for yourself; and were I the Bookseller of your Treatise, I should insist on having that suppressed, and some little bit of Biography, History, or even Bibliography (for that is somewhat wanted here of itself, the origin, first publication &c of the Book being quite unknown, and rather enigmatic to us) substituted, or even no Preface at all, in its stead. But, alas, I am more and more confirmed in the sad prognosis I gave you the other night, that no Bookseller will undertake this Work at present;2 that to prosecute the attempt to any length, among that class, will but add chagrin and invitation to the other sorrows and toils already invested in this task by you! A most sad verdict to give; and given with quite other than joy, as you may well believe: but you will take it kindly of me, and with the candour you have, perhaps draw profit from it by and by rather than bootless pain. A man, of whom the Heavens intend to make a man in these times, has an immense quantity of sore lessons to learn;—and you, I can perceive, are very much in that case. Courage! Be open to your schooling; prompt to admit things painful if they are true. A man does grow, in that way, to know the will of the Eternal Destinies, and the nature of this terrene element, a little better, and to profit thereby; in another way, he will not know or profit.

I have read with very much more pleasure the Two Printed Pieces,3—at least one of them, the “Individuality of the Individual”; for in the other, called “Creed of a Man,” tho' I find a variety of true thoughts, and no opinion not easily pardoned even when dissented from, yet the form of the thing, so rigid, naked, skeleton-like, afflicts me, and there breathes out of it, pardon me if I almost say, something fierce, lean, fanatical; savouring sadly of your death-wrestle with the Socinian and other serpents;—and not right or desirable, whencesoever derived. In your lecture itself there is enough of all this visible; but there comes out farther a certain heroic brilliancy, and sound as of clanging steel, which are of much better omen to me. What you say here, and where I have fallen in with it elsewhere, about the “Individuality of the Individual,” I reckon to be perfectly just in its meaning; and indeed have found it recognised everywhere by all truly wise men, this long while: “Be faithful to yourself and your endowment; grow to what the Gods have appointed you for being,” in this, sure enough, lies all the Law and the Prophets for a man. Nevertheless I grieve much to see it wrenched from its environments in this Manner, and spasmodically set up like a kind of “new religion”; which, according to my clear belief concerning it, is by no means its real place or attitude. Alas, it is in looking here that I see the sorrowfullest stock of contradictions, and painful experiences, till in many respects you learn otherwise, laid up for you! Believe me, no man is called to use any [but]4 the most solemn conviction of his in that way. New “religions,” and even old if they had been set up in that way, are but a ghastly, unfruitful, phantasmal kind of thing, one and all; and to found a Sect, to come forth as if one at all would or could found a Sect, is to me like a kind of spiritual suicide for a man of any geniality, at present! But here, alas, we have again the Socinian Affair, not yet quite triumphed over, tho' trampled low enough. Here, I believe, where your “tendency to the abstract,” and to much else, takes its rise;—here, as I construe it, is the grand source of your impediments, not economical only but spiritual as well; and it is to cut you out from this perhaps that your severest lessons, now and till it be accomplished, are appointed you! A brave man ought to come out of this, really ought, if he is capable of anything better.— You have already achieved an immense victory; you have done what not one of a thousand, even who think they have done it, ever does: seen into the damnable nature of all Cant and Conventionalism whatsoever: a man who has achieved this ought really to quit “abstractions”; let him swallow down his once “divine-idea” into the life-blood of him, and circulate it there, at all moments, thro' everything he does and says,—and in this murk of Egyptian midnight enveloping the poor sons of men everywhere, he will find enough to do, and to say of the concrete sort, I should think! But to stand on the highways, crying, “Behold my divine-idea, idea by itself idea!”—this I think will never answer him; and has never answered the like of him,—in spite of Spinoza's example, or rather I may say, witness Spinoza's example. To him, and to all “Socinian” and Quasi Socinian people, including Antoninus, Epictetus & Co,5 a brave man I rather think i[s] now called to say, with pity and affection, Farewell. Let us emerge from Orcus,6 and its pallid shadows, and logics, and articles and “abstractions”; let us enter into the busy light, where we have been long wanted, and where our home and seedfield and battlefield is.

I know not, Dear Sir, whether all this, which has far exceeded what I meant to write, can do anything but grieve you. That surely was not the purpose of it!— On the whole my practical conclusion is, that Spinoza will in no way do anything for you; and that, on trial, which of course you will incline to make with Parker or others, you ought to be prepared for admitting such an unwelcome result. For the rest, that your much likeliest outlook, for the immediate occasion, seems to lie in Lecturing; in which enterprise, if you will resolutely throw all “abstractions” behind you, and insist on something (almost anything) concrete, and on that alone, I promise you considerable success by degrees. Try Northampton, therefore;—or if you cannot get on there, let us endeavour to find you some other place. And believe in general that I, for one, would gladly help you if I could. and, in any case, pray let me know before the cruise quite fail.7 And, Courage! Yours truly

T. Carlyle