April 1848-March 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 23


TC TO J. C. SYMONS; 28 November 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18481128-TC-JCS-01; CL 23: 161-164


Chelsea, 28 Novr, 1848—

Dear Sir,

I am glad you intend setting forth your ideas on the frightful subject of Pauperism, a subject which naturally engages the thoughts of all thinking men in these times; and certainly if I had any statistic or other information that promised to further you, I would with pleasure send it. But that is not the case; nor indeed, according to my calculation, could it well be. First and last, I have looked into various statistic books and records, but these hitherto have not been a source of much knowledge to me on the matter; and in these, at any rate, I suppose you to be already infinitely richer than I. Knowledge on this subject, and indeed on any subject, I have generally found, is only to be had by the exercise of observation on it in the concrete shape, and not from statistics,—which, in order to be worth much, require to follow and to confirm and modify convictions, not to precede, or pretend to create them. Following in this way in the rear, they can be select and appropriate, and may become as an invincible drilled army for one's object; preceding, in the usual fashion, they are a huge canaille, consisting of fit and unfit, and oftenest serve only to encumber, or even to smother and destroy! I will trouble you with nothing of that sort, on the present occasion, even if I had it in plenty.

My native region, Annandale, Dumfriesshire, on the Scotch Border, which is so unfortunate as to lie on the road from Donaghadee in Ireland1 towards the rich parts, north and south, of this Island, has from of old forced on me the tragic spectacle of a brave, industrious, religious, excellent and happy Peasantry reduced, within 30 years that I have known it, gradually to a condition below endurance (tho' the poor people do yet continue to endure it); and has given rise to innumerable reflexions in me. Beggary, vice, and every species of human degradation steadily increasing in the lower orders, and in the higher every species of human idleness, levity and contemptibility, along with the new increase of rent, and what is called “improvement” by Customhouse Philosophers (and is so, to a certain degree, in a certain small sense): all this was of a nature to give rise to reflexions! Influx of scandalous hordes of ragged Irishmen,—as indeed not only there, but now everywhere, and on the streets of London itself, may be observed,—has been the palpable proximate cause of most of that misery: but, alas, I can perceive withal it is “proximate” only, and indeed is not so much itself a “cause,” as the symptom and general outcome of many sad causes. Causes innumerable, deep-seated, wide-spread, engrained into the very blood of us; most difficult to be cast out (“impossible” is the word),—and which must be cast out, or social death itself, in the shape of “Red Republic” and bottomless ruin and delirium, seems not to be far off!

My own private conclusion, which as yet I can get very few to agree in, is that the Government (even that distracted Talking Phantasm presided over by the like of Lord John Russell, which we at present call Government) ought to close its sublime Scriptures of Political Economy, with all their unutterable Talmuds, and looking at the bare fact,—which is plain enough without hand-lanterns, and will soon grow to an explosive business effectually superseding lanterns,—say to itself, “I must either find employment for these hungry masses, or they and I must perish. I am no Government otherwise, but a noisy insane Coil of red tape and Palaver, disowned of gods and men!”

What immediate novelties, what infinitude of slow changes are involved in such an enterprise, I perceive too well. But it seems to me, either they or else ruin have become inevitable soon,—and that the years and even the months that now pass are priceless! I have the firmest conviction that it is possible for even an actual Government (with one brave man in the heart of it), to begin enlisting mad perishing mobs of unemployed Paupers into “Industrial Regiments,” and under strict military drill, just as Rhadamanthus, and wise, and stern as he, to find employment for them, in colonies, in Bogs of Allen,2 in hundreds of square miles of waste improvable land (now first become important by railways) which I myself have travelled over; and on the whole, to get sufficient work out of them for their own subsistence;—and so set the whole world on the right track in this matter. By persisting in which, widening cautiously their field of operations, improving, gradually perfecting their methods,—the enormous Problem, if achievable (which we at no moment doubt), may be achieved; and, in the course of long, faithful centuries, Society from basis to top, may be purged of its Unveracities to a moderate extent, and actually what they call “remodelled,” with nothing but real commanders, and no quack commander (either clerical or lay), openly venturing to shew himself in it! What a Problem that is, I have some notion. But to see even the beginning of it were a blessing unspeakable. Alas, even to begin it, we need, even according to my hypothesis, “one brave man” in the Realm of Red tape;—and where he is to be got is perhaps not so very clear at present!

I often tell my friend Mr Buller* (who is very patient with me), the “Organization of Labour” is an actual inevitability in every country,—and must be taken up not à la Louis Blanc, but in precisely the opposite manner (by military command namely, and death-penalty if needful);—and that he, Mr Buller, he of all men, with some six annual millions in his pocket,3 and a Horseguards and Sovereign Power to back him in the necessary drill exercise, is the man to begin it!

Believe me Dear Sir / Yours very truly /

T. Carlyle

J. C. Symons Esq

*Alas, my poor friend died, next morning, this 29th Novr 1848!

Letter written yesterday; not sent, nor ever to be so.