April 1848-March 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 23


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON; 6 December 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18481206-TC-RWE-01; CL 23: 168-171


Chelsea, 6 Decr, 1848—

Dear Emerson,

We received your Letter1 duly, some time ago, with many welcomes; and have, as you see, been too remiss in answering it. Not from forgetfulness, if you will take my word; no, but from many causes, too complicated to articulate, and justly producing an indisposition to put pen to paper at all! Never was I more silent than in these very months; and with reason too, for the world at large, and my own share of it in small, are both getting more and more unspeakable with any convenience! In health we of this household are about as well as usual;—and look across to the woods of Concord with more light than we had, realising for ourselves a most mild and friendly picture there. Perhaps it is quite as well that you are left alone of foreign interference, even of a letter from Chelsea, till you get your huge bulk of English reminiscences assorted a little. Nobody except me seems to have heard from you; at least the rest, in these parts, all plead destitution when I ask for news. What you saw and suffered and enjoyed here, will, if you had once got it properly warehoused, be new wealth to you for many years. Of one impression we fail not here: admiration of your pacific virtues, of gentle and noble tolerance, often sorely tried in this place! Forgive me my ferocities; you do not quite know what I suffer in those latitudes, or perhaps it would be even easier for you. Peace for me, in a Mother of Dead Dogs2 like this, there is not, was not, will not be,—till the battle itself end; which however is a sure outlook, and daily growing a nearer one.

You are to be burdened with a foolish bit of business for me again; do not grudge it, but do it since it has come in course! Here is the matter. About three years ago (I think in the end of 1845), Mr Hart, of the Bookselling Firm Carey & Hart in Philadelphia, sent me, as you may remember, a Draft for £50 payable by some house in Liverpool;3 it was in return for liberty to print (without grumble from me) the Book of Essays; and tho' an old silent friend in Philadelphia negociated the immediate details,4 you too I believe had a hand in the affair, and were privy to it all along. Well, this Draft arrived; came to me while I was at Alverstoke in Hampshire with Mr Baring (Hon. W. Bingham Baring, now Lord Ashburton) probably about this very season of the year: whether the Liverpool House had accepted I cannot now say; but their acceptance not being doubtful, the Paper (payable probably in 60 days or so) was of course perfectly equivalent to the sum marked on it; and accordingly Mr Baring, when I spoke of negociating it, and inquired his advice, How? volunteered, as my only Banker is a Scotch one at Dumfries, to give me at once in return for it a Draft on his Bankers (the Drummonds, of Charing Cross here), by whom the Paper would be duly managed without trouble to any body, and the £50 at once paid me. And so undoubtedly the £50 was at once paid me, and I got it and spent it, and returned some acknowledgement to Mr Hart for it; and had entirely forgotten it, when about a year ago Mr Baring, surveying his Banker's account-book, told me he could not find that item in it; was by me invited to search farther, has searched farther, set his Bankers to search,—and now, the other day, ascertains finally that there is no such payment or transaction recorded in his favour,—and that, in brief, he must have lost the Carey-and-Hart Draft for £50 payable by some Liverpool House, and that it was never presented for payment, and consequently never paid! This he told me the other night; and I of course, heartily vexed at this act of carelessness, engaged to inquire. The things to be done therefore are two: first to ascertain from Mr Hart what the exact particulars of the Draft were (this will be tolerably easy, I suppose); and then secondly Whether, supposing the money were never demanded it is now in the hands of the Philadelphia or of the Liverpool House, or in whose hands,—in short, what is possible for limited but honest human nature, pursuing correctness under impediments, still to do in the matter! Ascertain me these two things, this one last time, like a good fellow:—and I will let you lie quiet for a very long time to come!—

Nay there is another practical question,—but it is from the female side of the house to the female side,—and in fact concerns Indian meal, upon which Mrs Emerson, or you, or the Miller of Concord (if he have any tincture of philosophy) are now to instruct us! The fact is, potatoes having vanished here, we are again, with motives large and small, trying to learn the use of indian meal; and indeed do eat it daily to meat at dinner, tho' hitherto with considerable despair. Question first therefore: Is there by nature a bitter final taste, which makes the throat smart, and disheartens much the apprentice in Indian meal;—or is it accidental, and to be avoided? We surely anticipate the latter answer; but do not yet see how. At first we were taught the meal, all ground on your side of the water, had got fusty, raw; an effect we are well used to in oaten and other meals: but, last year, we had a bushel of it ground here, and the bitter taste was there as before (with the addition of much dirt and sand, our mill-stones I suppose being too soft);—whereupon we incline to surmise that there is perhaps, as in the case of oats, some pellicle or hull that ought to be rejected in making the meal? Pray ask some philosophic Miller, if Mrs E. or you do not know;—and as a corollary this second question: What is the essential difference between white (or brown-grey-white) Indian meal, and yellow (the kind we now have; beautiful as new guineas, but with an ineffaceable tastekin of soot in it)?— And question 3d, which includes all: How to cook mush rightly, at least without bitter? Long-continued boiling seems to help the bitterness, but does not cure it. Let some oracle speak! I tell all people, our staff of life is in the Mississippi Valley henceforth;—and one of the truest benefactors were an American Minerva5 who could teach us to cook this meal; which our people, at present (I included) are unanimous in finding nigh uneatable; and loudly exclaimable against! Elihu Burrit6 had a string of recipes that went thro' all newspapers three years ago; but never sang there oracle of longer ears than that,—totally destitute of practical significance to any creature here!

And now enough of questioning. Alas, alas, I have a quite other patch of sad and saddest considerations,—on which I must not so much as enter at present! Death has been very busy in this little circle of ours, within these few days. You remember Charles Buller, to whom I brought you over, that night, at the Barings' in Stanhope Street?7 He died this day week, almost quite unexpectedly; a sore loss to all that knew him personally, and his gladdening sunny presence in many circles here; a sore loss to the political people too, for he was far the cleverest of all Whig men, and indeed the only genial soul one can remember in that department of things. We buried him yesterday; and now see what new thing has come. Lord Ashburton, who had left his mother well in Hampshire ten hours before, is summoned from poor Buller's funeral by telegraph; hurries back, finds his mother, whom he loved much, already dead! She was a Miss Bingham, I think, from Pennsylvania, perhaps from Philadelphia itself.8 You saw her;9 but the first sight by no means told one all or the best worth that was in that good lady. We are quite bewildered by our own regrets and by the far painfuller sorrow of those closely related to these sudden sorrows. Of which let me be silent for the present;—and indeed of all things else, for speech, inadequate mockery of one's poor meaning, is quite a burden to me just now!

Neuberg comes hither sometimes; a welcome, wise kind of man. Poor little Espinasse still toils cheerily at the oar; and various friends of yours are about us. Brother John did send thro' Chapman all the Dante, which we calculate you have received long ago: he is now come to Town; doing a Preface &c, which also will be sent to you, and is just about publishing—Helps, who has been alarmingly ill, and touring on the Rhine, since we were his guests, writes to me yesterday from Hampshire about sending you a new Book of his.10 I instructed him How.

Adieu, dear Emerson; do not forget us, or forget to think as kindly as you can of us, while we continue in this world together!

Yours ever affectionately

T. Carlyle