The Collected Letters, Volume 27


TC TO WILLIAM WHITE ; 22 March 1852; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18520322-TC-WW-01; CL 27: 73-75


Chelsea, 22 March, 1852—

Dear Sir,

Accept my acknowledgements for the kind Gift you have been pleased to send me: two of the prettiest volumes I have seen for a long time;1 and arriving as if from the skies, without merit of mine;—surely I must welcome such a Gift, and am much obliged by all the honour you do me.

Of the Shelley business I had heard nothing except vague distant rumour, till your Pamphlet2 set it in a clear light for me. The silly writer in the Athenaeum seems to me to have been only hunting for a joke (in the way of duty, poor soul) when he made that ill-mannered allusion to Curll: nor had I gathered from the Newspaper paragraph, which was all I knew of him or it, that even he intended to convey any imputation against your procedure in the business, or fix the smallest shadow of suspicion on you:3 but certainly, if he did, it is now annihilated, and the whole matter, down to the bottom of it, is rendered transparent for those who have curiosity in such things. The ambiguous “Mr Byron,” of whom I had heard nothing for several years, proves to be a very singular fellow; and has struck out a filial relation of the most unexampled kind!4 We will thank him for Browning's Essay,—till the Treadmill or Gallows have time to do its duty:—that is likely to be all the benefit we reap from your and other people's troubles and losses by him. The Letters themselves, if never so genuine, seemed to me intrinsically to have no value whatever.

All you say of the condition of Periodical Criticism, and the thing men worship in these times by the name of “The Press,” I believe to be too true: indeed there are many reasons in the nature of things why this department of our affairs must, as it expands rapidly in superficies, dwindle about as rapidly in depth and in every sort of worth,—why, in short, the “Printed Talk” of the Public should sink daily more and more to the level of its spoken Talk, the proper definition of which has never been very high! As time is precious, and as Ragfair or the Knackers yard is not the eligible place to loiter in, I suppose there are many serious persons who have fallen on the one course open in regard to all that, namely the negative one, to read next to nothing of it,—which plan, I confess, is mine, this long while back!—

Your object in this new Periodical is beyond question laudable; and, perhaps nobody alive would rejoice more to see it effectuated than myself: but of that result, I must frankly own to you, I can be by no means sanguine; nor in fact, without immense expenditures of labour, money-capital, patience, talent, and every species of human virtue and acquirement, is success so much as conceivable to me. And for myself,—in spite of the great honour you do me, of which you may be assured I am very sensible,—it is at once clear that I cannot undertake any active function in the business, nor indeed, except by wishes which are good for nothing, assist you in it at all. This is the sad truth, essentially and even vitally coherent with my actual way of life; and I owe it to your frankness, and to my respect for Mr Costello5 and the other Gentlemen, to say so with all distinctness and without any delay.

If, on those terms, you care to walk so far as Chelsea for the purpose of talking farther to me on this subject (which, however, I should rather, in prudence, advise you to abandon), you may find me accessible almost any day from half past 2 to 3 p.m.,—and tho', alas, I cannot promise you the smallest useful counsel or practical furtherance, you shall decidedly have my regret for the want of it.

With many thanks and regards in the meanwhile

I remain / Yours very sincerely

T. Carlyle