candlestick

April 1848-March 1849


The Collected Letters, Volume 23


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TC TO THOMAS AIRD; 15 November 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18481115-TC-TA-01; CL 23: 155-156


TC TO THOMAS AIRD

CHELSEA, 15th Nov. 1848.

MY DEAR AIRD,—I have received your volume of poems:1 many thanks to you for so kind and worthy a gift, and for the kind and excellent letter which came to me the day after. I have already made considerable inroads into the ‘Tragedy of Wold,’ and other pieces: I find everywhere a healthy breath as of mountain breezes; a native manliness, veracity, and geniality which, though the poetic form, as you may know, is less acceptable to me in these sad times than the plain prose one, is for ever welcome in all ‘forms’ and is, withal, so rare just now as to be doubly and trebly precious. But your delineations of reality and fact are so fresh, clear, and genuine when I have met you in that field, that I always grudge to see such a man employ himself in fiction and imagination,—when the ‘reality,’ however real, has to suffer so many abatements before it can come to me. Reality, very ugly and ungainly often, is nevertheless, as I say always, God's unwritten poem, which it needs precisely that a human genius should write and make intelligible (for it would then be beautiful, divine, and have all high and highest qualities) to his less-gifted brothers! But what then? Gold is golden, howsoever you coin it; into what filigree soever you twist it. I know gold when I see it, one may hope. For the rest, ‘a wilful man must have his way.’2 And, indeed, I know very well I am in a minority of one with this precious literary creed of mine, so cannot quarrel with your faith and practice in that respect. Long may you live to employ those fine gifts in the way your own conscience and best deliberated insight suggests!3

Your new lodging, commanding a view of Troqueer and the river, must be a welcome improvement on the former, which was of the street streetish: the very sound of the Cauld4 is a grateful song to one's heart; whispering of rusticities and actualities; singing a kind of lullaby to all follies and evil and fantastic thoughts in one! You speak of my getting back to Scotland: such an imagination dwells always in the bottom of my heart; but, alas! I begin often to surmise that it is but perhaps imaginary, after all; that I am grown a pilgrim and sojourner, and must continue such till I end it! That shall be as it pleases God.

I get very ill on with all kinds and degrees of work in late days; in fact, the aspect of the world, from one end of it to the other, especially this last year, is hateful and dismal, not to say terrible and alarming, and the many miserable meanings of it strike me dumb. The ‘general Bankruptcy of Humbug’ I call it; Economics, Religions, alike declaring themselves to be Mene Mene;5 all public arrangements among men falling as one huge confessed Imposture, into bottomless insolvency, Nature everywhere answering, ‘No effects!’ This is not a pleasant consummation; one knows not how to speak of this all at once, even if it had a clear meaning for one!— Good be with you, dear Aird. Tell my sister6 you have heard from me, and that she must write.— Yours ever truly,

T. CARLYLE.