candlestick

April 1848-March 1849


The Collected Letters, Volume 23


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TC TO ELIZABETH C. GASKELL; 8 November 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18481108-TC-ECG-01; CL 23: 154-155


TC TO ELIZABETH C. GASKELL

Chelsea, 8 Novr, 1848—

Dear Madam (for I catch the treble of that fine melodious voice very well),—We have read your Book here, my Wife first and then I; both of us with real pleasure. A beautiful, cheerfully pious, social, clear and observant character is everywhere recogniseable in the writer, which surely is the welcomest sight any writer can shew us in his books; your field moreover is new, important, full of rich materials (which, as is usual, required a soul of some opulence to recognise them as rich): the result is a Book seeming to take its place far above the ordinary garbage of Novels,—a Book which every intelligent person may read with entertainment, and which it will do every one some good to read. I gratefully accept it as a real contribution (almost the first real one) towards developing a huge subject, which has lain dumb too long, and really ought to speak for itself, and tell us its meaning a little, if there be any voice in it at all! Speech, or Literature (which is, or should be, Select-Speech) could hardly find a more rational function, I think, at present.

You will probably give us other Books on this same matter; for I see you are still young;1 and Mary Barton, according to my auguries of its reception here, is likely to procure you sufficient invitation. May you do it well and ever better! Unless I mistake, you are capable of going still deeper into this subject, and of bringing up Portraits of Manchester Existence still more strikingly real,—which latter quality is the grand value of them in the end.— Your writing is already very beautiful, soft, clear, and natural:—only learn ever more (what perhaps you can, and what very few can under present conditions) to be concise; I mean not in words only, but in thought and conception; to reject the unessential more and more, and retain only the essential, at whatever cost of sacrifice:—this, well understood, is really the Law and the Prophets2 for a writer! Very fit that a good Book, or any other product that is to endure, have the water carefully roasted out of it, in the first place Jem Wilson,3 too, knows very well that one should hit the nail on the head, always; and having riveted it home, go to the next nail, not beating on the intermediate spaces,—if we are smiths. In short, brevity and clear veracity,—those two, which make properly but one, are “the soul of wit,”4—the essence of all good qualities in writing. On the side of “veracity,” or devout earnestness of mind, I find you already strong; and that will tend well to help the other side of the matter if there be any defect there.

May you live long to write good Books,—and to do silently good actions, which I believe is very much more indispensable!—With kind respects and thanks

Yours very sincerely /

T. Carlyle