The Collected Letters, Volume 28


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON ; 13 May 1853; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18530513-TC-RWE-01; CL 28: 135-138


Chelsea, 13 May, 1853—

Dear Emerson,

The sight of your handwriting was a real blessing to me, after so long an abstinence. You shall not know all the sad reflexions I have made upon your silence within the last year.1 I never doubted your fidelity of heart; your genial deep and friendly recognition of my bits of merits, and my bits of sufferings, difficulties and obstructions; your forgiveness of my faults; or in fact that you ever would forget me, or cease to think kindly of me: but it seemed as if practically Old Age had come upon the scene here too; and as if upon the whole one must make up one's mind to know that all this likewise had fallen silent, and could be possessed henceforth only on those new terms. Alas, there goes much over, year after year, into the region of the Immortals; inexpressibly beautiful, but also inexpressibly sad.2 I have not many voices to commune with in the world. In fact I have properly no voice at all; and yours, I have often said, was the unique among my fellow creatures, from which came full response, and discourse of reason:3 the solitude one lives in, if one has any spiritual thought at all, is very great in these epochs!— The truth is, moreover, I bought spectacles to myself about two years ago (bad print in candle-light having fairly become troublesome to me); much may lie in that! “The buying of your first pair of spectacles,” I said to an old Scotch gentleman, “is an important epoch; like the buying of your first razor.”—“Yes,” answered he, “but not quite so joyful perhaps!”— — Well, well, I have heard from you again; and you promise to be again constant in writing.4 Shall I believe you, this time? Do it, and shame the Devil! I really am persuaded it will do yourself good; and to me I know right well, and have always known, what it will do. The gaunt lonesomeness of this Midnight Hour, in the ugly universal snoring hum of the overfilled deep-sunk Posterity of Adam, renders an articulate speaker precious indeed! Watchman, what sayest thou, then? Watchman, what of the night?5

Your glimpses of the huge unmanageable Missisippi, of the huge do Model Republic, have here and there something of the epic in them,—ganz nach meinem Sinne [wholly to my liking]. I see you do not dissent from me in regard to that latter enormous Phenomenon, except on the outer surface, and in the way of peaceably instead of unpeaceably accepting the same.6 Alas, all the world is a “republic of the mediocrities,” and always was;—you may see what its “universal suffrage” is and has been, by looking into all the ugly mud-ocean (with some old weathercocks atop) that now is: the world wholly (if we think of it) is the exact stamp of men wholly, and of the sincerest heart-tongue-and hand-“suffrage” they could give about it, poor devils!— — I was much struck with Plato, last year, and his notions about Democracy: mere Latter-Day Pamphlet saxa et faces7 (read faeces, if you like) refined into empyrean radiance and lightning of the gods!—I, for my own part, perceive the use of all this too, the inevitability of all this; but perceive it (at the present height it has attained) to be disastrous withal, to be horrible and even damnable. That Judas Iscariot should come and slap Jesus Christ on the shoulder in a familiar manner;8 that all heavenliest nobleness should be flung out into the muddy streets there to jostle elbows with all thickest-skinned denizens of chaos, and get itself at every turn trampled into the gutters and annihilated:—alas, the reverse of all this was, is, and ever will be, the strenuous effort and most solemn heart-purpose of every good citizen in every country of the world,—and will reappear conspicuously as such (in New England and in Old, first of all, as I calculate), when once this malodorous melancholy “Uncle-Tommery” is got all well put by! Which will take some time yet, I think.— And so we will leave it.

I went to Germany last Autumn; not seeking anything very definite; rather merely flying from certain troops of carpenters, painters bricklayers &c &c who had made a lodgement in this poor house, and have not even yet got their incalculable riot quite concluded. Sorrow on them,—and no return to those poor premises of mine till I have quite left!— In Germany I found but little; and suffered, from 6 weeks of sleeplessness in German beds &c & c, a great deal. Indeed I seem to myself never yet to have quite recovered. The Rhine which I honestly ascended from Rotterdam to Frankfurt was, as I now find, my chief conquest: the beautifullest river in the earth, I do believe;—and my first idea of a World-river. It is many fathoms deep, broader twice over than the Thames here at high water; and rolls along, mirror-smooth (except that in looking close, you will find ten thousand little eddies in it), voiceless, swift, with trim banks, thro' the heart of Europe, and of the Middle Ages wedded to the Present Age: such an image of calm power (to say nothing of its other properties) I find I had never seen before. The old Cities too are a little beautiful to me, in spite of my state of nerves; honest kindly people too, but sadly short of our and your despatch-of-business talents,—a really painful defect in the long run. I was on two of Fritz's Battlefields, moreover: Lobositz in Bohemia, and Cunersdorf by Frankfurt on the Oder: but did not, especially in the latter case, make much of that. Schiller's death-chamber, Goethe's sad Court-environment; above all, Luther's little room in the Wartburg (I believe I actually had tears in my eyes there, and kissed the old oak-table, being in a very flurried state of nerves), my belief was that under the Canopy there was not at present so holy a spot as that same. Of human souls I found none specially beautiful to me at all,—such my sad fate! Of learned professors, I saw little; and that little was more than enough. Tieck at Berlin an old man, lame on a sofa, I did love, and do;9 he is an exception, could I have seen much of him. But on the whole, Universal Puseyism seemed to me the humour of German, especially of Berlin, thinkers;—and I had some quite portentous specimens of that kind,—unconscious specimens of 400 quack power! Truly and really the Prussian soldiers, with their intelligent silence, with the touches of effective Spartanism I saw or fancied in them, were the class of people that pleased me best.— — But see my sheet is out! I am still reading, reading, most nightmare Books abt Fritz; but as to writing—Ach Gott! Never, never.— Clough is coming home, I hope.10— Write soon, if you be not enchanted! Yours ever T. Carlyle