The Collected Letters, Volume 25


TC TO THOMAS STORY SPEDDING ; 31 May 1850; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18500531-TC-TSS-01; CL 25: 87-89


Chelsea, 31 May, 1850

Dear Spedding,

Your Letter was very welcome to me; as any friendly, I may almost say as any human word, amid this barking of dogs deserves to be.1 I perceive you still stand on the doubting side, and have hopes in “toleration,” in things mending of their own accord, &c. &c. But you do not wish the Devil to take me in this dangerous solitary course of mine; and that, as matters go, is something considerable.— I am very sick and very busy; and cannot write except to say, Thanks and good luck to you. The day your Letter came, I snatched first one bit of paper (unfortunately not blank on both sides), then another bit; and splashed down some words in response to your objections: here they are, if you can read them;2—they are then fit for the fire; and I ready for another Note when the good fit takes you.

It is uncertain whether there will, in all, be eight or twelve or even ten of these Pamphlets: one thing is certain, I am bound by every consideration, human and divine to get done as soon as possible; and seek some quiet place of refuge, should I go across the sea to find it. I am truly very ill;—and not likely soon to be better, I am afraid.

It is written, “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion”;3 certainly that woe for one is not mine! I find Zion, this Zion of ours, a most delectable Devil's Dungheap built as high as the very stars over all of us, which calls on every son of Heaven to fire redhot shot thro' it, according to ability! With or without shot, I see it shaking towards rapid destruction now, and believe the Abyss will get it in one form or other before many years,—and carry Russell along with it: that is my comfort.

Adieu. Yours ever truly,

T. Carlyle

Chelsea, 23 May 1850

1. The Devil doesn't quite get possession of this world because certain souls live in continual horror and terror of his doing so;—thus too, the thrifty labourer does not die of bankruptcy or starvation, because he sees continually the imminency of it, and by thrift and toil continually staves it off. The Souls that live in continual vigilant survey of the Advent of the Devil are not a kind of souls much to be envied in their generation; and if making life, for the moment, comfortable to oneself and neighbours were the end of living, these poor souls might be defined as undoubted failures. In fact, they are an unhandy set of fellows, often spoiling pleasant company; and have provoked eupeptic persons many a time to start up suddenly, and hang them, or crucify them, or in some way end them out of one's road. Nevertheless, if the number of such shd unfortunately diminish below par,—it were like the Labourer's thrift and daily toil diminishing; and rapid destruction wd ensue.

2. Quam parvâ sapientiâ [How little wisdom]: Oxenstiern,4 himself a supremely wise man, had no doubt seen with continual sorrow and protest how far reality fell short of the Ideal Pattern, in his time; as unluckily it does and will do in all times. The peculiarity of certain times is that they lose the very Ideal, and consider it moonshine or a dream of the speculative mind; and wise men, like T.S., express themselves content with a stuffed sack for chief governor, and declare that he and a street constable will do! These latter seem to me very peculiar, and also very alarming times—quite difft from any that Oxenstiern ever dreamt of; and, indeed, unexampled under the Sun, except in England since the “Nell-Gwynn Defender of the Faith”5 made out his “glorious Restoration” to these parts; certainly one of the damnablest cargoes that ever arrived here. Said extraordinary “Defender” (O God, Almighty Maker, how can any of us laugh at such a thing!) has introduced new products and manifold elements not dreamt of in English or human History before. To refrain from bursting into profane swearing (which, perhaps, is sacred swearing), I hurry on, and say only, Hell's Fuel, so far as I understand it, is, was, and always will be, precisely such unideal practices and ages as those introduced by said extraordinary “Defender.” As if an age should say to itself, “Sin agt God's Laws was always prevalent: Let us give up the notion of anything else but sinning agt them.”

3. There is no doubt but silence is the best earthly corrective of Folly; and I invite T.S. to reflect farther on it till he measure it fully. Folly done is a small matter; and instantly finds its correction. Once speak your folly, it is like sticking a lighted torch into piles of bituminous combustibility which lay harmless otherwise.6— God help us all! and me in partr, who am very unwell just now!— T.C.