The Collected Letters, Volume 27


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON ; 14 May 1852; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18520514-TC-RWE-01; CL 27: 116-118


Chelsea, 14 May, 1852—

Dear Emerson,

This day week, by our last Steamer, there went tidings of my successful negociation on the Margaret-Fuller Packet of Papers; and, had my messenger returned fifteen minutes earlier than he did from the Gillies quarter, I wd have despatched him express for John Chapman's in the Strand (the hour still permitting such an enterprise), and you had got the ipsissimum corpus of the Packet, and so had needed, with me at least, no farther correspondence on the subject. That being accidentally or providentially impossible, I engaged at least (by some hurried scrape of the pen somewhere on your Note) to send the Packet off “by next steamer,”—that is, by this which has now its anchor apeak; and which, alas, does not bring you the Packet, but only another set of papers and talking about it. Heaven send, the work do prove to be at last worth all the cry there has been upon it!—

I have the Packet*1 (Loose Package in brown paper, tied with string, and sealed (by M. F.):2 dimensions 10 inches by 3 and by 7½; weight 3 lbs minus 1½ oz.) here safe, and will keep it so till we hear your decision on the subject: but the Misses Gillies, startled still farther by a Note in Mt Fullers hand, which, till they tore off the outer cover (loose cover with their own address on it, and supposed to contain nothing more), they had never seen,—will in nowise consent to part altogether with this Packet so entrusted to them; and indeed appear to be pretty much convinced, in spite of all I can say and argue, that the Papers ought to be burned straightway, and act taken to that effect, and so the matter finished. By the Notes here sent, which are now all I ever got from Miss Gillies, you will perceive how they have got into the field of pious punctilio and “Pike's cases of Conscience” (so to speak),3 and are not likely ever to get quite out of it, except on pressure of gentle violence from the right quarter, if even then. I ought to add that they are most respectable, and even I understand, amiable and intelligent Ladies,—perhaps the very wisest we have of that advanced Progress-of-the species sort, which prudent persons in this country are shy of having much to do with:—Mary Gillies, who came here last Saturday to “burn” those Papers along with me, quite gained our hearts by her mild wise ways and manners; a tall, serene, really beautiful old-maid of five-and-forty; and I understand her sister the Paintress (whom owing to Progress of the Species I have hitherto not seen) is an equally brave gentle and superior lady. To Margaret Fuller's Packet of Papers their conduct has been that of Priestesses towards a sacred relic,—truly such, I do believe;—and it is very clear to me, if Mr Fuller4 wrote them objurgatorily on the subject, it was much undeserved, and ought to be loyally retracted, and replaced by thanks, on the first opportunity. As indeed I have predicted that it would.

To these guardian Ladies I have urged, in writing, orally, and again in writing, with all my eloquence: That M. Fuller's “order” with regard to these Papers (if we will look beyond the mere letter of it, and into the real spirit of it) cannot now be fulfilled by any power human or divine; that there was attached to it a tacit but most vital condition, of silence to be observed concerning it and them, so that complete annihilation might ensue; whh condition having now been irretrievably violated, the very gods cannot “annihilate” these Papers. “Miss Mary and I,” I have urged, “can burn the Papers in 2 minutes or less; any body can so easily destroy the Papers: but who of gods or man can destroy the melancholy Ghost (or wailing, suspecting, imagining Memory) of them, which will walk the world as goblin in a distracted manner till all memory of Margaret herself die?” Her real will can only be complied with now, and her Papers annihilated so far as now possible, by their being competently examined before burning, and pronounced to be of no importance, and to deserve and need the fire. On the whole, her Mother is the true heir of them; her Mother, and such a Council of Friends, Emerson, Channing, Mrs Channing,5 these of all persons discoverable under this sun are the real tribunal to sit in judgt on them: to decide on burning them unseen, or with what degree of sight and examination, it is fit to burn them. I urged also, “Be speedy! The Papers probably are of no moment whatever: if a churchyard spectre is threatening to walk the parish, and developing itself into pale valleys of Jehosaphat and Battles of Armageddon,6—walk instantly up to it, tumble the pole and white sheet about their business, if you wd end it.”

These considerations I have urged with emphasis, I cannot say with much success; at length finding the matter unlike to end that way, and every Note at present costing me a headache,—I announced to Miss Gillies 3 days ago that her sister's final proposal of Saturday last shd be adopted; viz. That the whole matter shd be referred to Margaret Fuller's Mother & her council at Concord; that whatever that venerable Lady, so advised, shd decide upon, I wd endeavour to get done for her (with which I hoped Miss Gs wd cooperate); and that till such decision arrived, there shd be absolute silence on the subject. I gave Miss G. your Address at Concord, and directed all her farther pleadings, if any to go thither: my judgt was quite made up, no Notes or headaches farther needed from me.— — Tell me, then, what to do. I think Mrs Fuller's order will produce compliance from Miss G.; I will try my best to bring it so about; and only yield to some absolute Pike's case, or Female Denunciation fronting me with arms a-kimbo. The Papers, I guess after all, are probably of little or no moment; but my thot is as above that they shd be examined a little in order to annihilate the “ghosts” there too. Do as you find good;—forget not to send back Margaret's scrap of paper to Miss Gillies, and some acknowledgment that she has behaved, been loyally eager to behave, with fidelity and piety in the matter.

I have a vile influenza for the last week; which lames me from all work, especially from all speaking,—or from writing a word beyond what is indispensable. About Fredk the Great and other high matters shortly. Advice dear Friend: good be with you always.

T. Carlyle.