1854-June 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 29


TC TO LORD ASHBURTON; 13 March 1854; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18540313-TC-LOA-01; CL 29: 46-49


Chelsea, 13 March, 1854

Dear Lord Ashburton,

You have come upon a great truth; one of the deepest and most fertile, in reference to all provinces of human affairs;—which has never, I suppose, been expressly controverted by anybody, but which has been forgotten profoundly on all hands,—as we may see everywhere, from Hugo Reid's “ventilation” (attempting to make air circulate by bellows-blasts)1 up to Oxford-University “Education,” and higher! A truly fatal oblivion and ignoring on the part of almost all men. To attempt “educating” in ignorance of this principle produces—what we see among the Educated: Education by cram; really, in many respects, to feeding by cram (instead of by eating with appetite); out of which strange processes no body and no soul ever was, or could be, increased in strength or in health, however much it might be blown up in diameter!— I recommend you much to prosecute that idea; which will lead to great results, in Education especially.

As I said, there is nobody known to me who has ever contradicted the idea; nor could anybody, at least since the notion of Original Sin was, to all practical purposes, tacitly given up;—indeed it is in the notion of Man being originally damned, and only likely to get his salvation by learning to read certain Greek and Hebrew Books that Oxford University and the other Cram Establishments can make a good excuse for themselves; excuse partly valid while that notion lasted. But as to affirming, and expressly setting forth, of this idea, I know nobody who has done so with anything like such faculty as Goethe in the Meister's Wanderjahre;2 which Book I again join My Lady in much recommending to you, as worthy of perusal and re-perusal, till you have completely got into the Author's point of view, which is not easy for an English reader. You will find that no man was ever more completely filled with your notion than Goethe, tho' perhaps he says little of it in express terms; and that his whole Scheme of Education is a beautiful (and truly unrivalled) symbollical preaching of the same. Richter also, whose Levana you know,3 has many good hints on the subject; and in particular, I can remember, pleased me much by inculcating that nothing, no passion, tendency, should be rooted out in a man, but only guided, and the counter-tendency encouraged if necessary; the worth of the man being simply the sum of these and of his wise management of these.

In my own reading I can recollect no Book worth classing in the same list with these, as respects this matter. But I believe there is a good deal about it, under a very inferior but more practical form, in the writings of Pestalozzi;4 most of which, I suppose, are to be had in French, if not in English, out of the original German; and the whole of which are probably worth your attention while occupied in this way. Pestalozzi's Life, I believe, is biographically interesting as well;5 and may be safely recommended, to begin with: you will doubtless get there, best of all, indication of what else he has written in the line that interests you. Fellenberg's Books and Pamphlets might also be examined with good hope:6 a Swiss Baron who set up a School of his own for Peasants, and practically hoed and ploughed with them, for many a year;—indeed you are, as it were, bound to make due acquaintance with such a neighbour and foregoer in this of “Common Things.”— Of our English works on Education I know none even by name, except Locke's Treatise on Educn, and Roger Ascham's Schoolmaster;7 both of which I, in like manner, hold you “bound” to read, tho' probably you will get little out of them for your present objects. Pestalozzi's Life is the first new thing. If in getting it, or getting, or inquiring after, anything else, or all things else, of course I shall be but too happy. And so, right good speed to your Lordship on this new career; and may some of the things you are privileged to see for truths get themselves a little realised into blessed facts among us by the great help you can in various ways give them! Amen. And let us work while it is called Today; for the Night cometh!8

We are a little better in health here; we, and all the world, have made a mighty improvement in weather since you went,—which is really an excellent thing, all other things remaining as they were. I often think what utter fools we are, with our universe of Cant and Delusion, “piled over us to the very zenith, and reaching inwards to the marrow of our bones,”9—with our Doxologies, Theologies, 39 Articles, Bishops of Exeter & Oxford, and Whewell's Plurality of Worlds;10—and how I in particular (poor wretch, the sorriest fool of all) am daily and hourly admonished of that old Teutonic etymology “Gott der Heilige=God the Healthy=God the Holy” (all one thing in very truth!) and how inexpressibly it might have profited me, had men, amid their Hebrew, Roman, Greek and other high Ologies and speculations, duly remembered that one small German fact;—or could I at this late date get it practically “remembered,” for my own poor self; which I cannot, and shall die without being able to do!— I only meant to say that Health is the real basis of all morality and of all Religion; and that I, who am daily admonished of that fact, can as little as another get it reduced to practice in any measure! Alas, Alas!—

I send my homages to my Lady and Sambo; may their promenades be pleasant among the young primroses and opening woods. “Luck be on the house!” as the Scotch say.

Yours ever truly /

T. Carlyle