1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO GEORGE BOYD; 1 January 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250101-TC-GBO-01; CL 3:e6.


23. Southampton-street, / Pentonville, / London. / 1st Jany, 1825—

Dear Sir,

It is long since I had any direct tidings of you; only, by the Newspapers, I observe that you are going on with as much alacrity [as] ever, in the great business of illuminating this lower world. I trust your shelves are by this time nearly clear of Meister, and ready for some new adventure. The reception of the work has on the whole considerably surpassed my expectations; and I believe more confidently than ever that ultimately it will come into much wider circulation. Exactly in the ratio of any man's faculties, and experience with literature and life, do I find his verdict favourable. Smalls of every description flout at it; call it absurd, and wicked, and so forth; while every truly thinking man of my acquaintance (with scarcely one exception) pronounces quite an opposite opinion. I have read such “reviews” of the work!— As if a fly were to, light upon the top of St Giles' steeple, and paint a panoramic view of Edinburgh! But, poor devils! They must live as well as other people; let them have their palaver, it will harm no one.— From Goethe himself I had lately a very pleasant letter, with two little books, sent hither by Lord Bentinck. He is bright as ever; has more in him than any other score of men in Europe.

But it was of a fresh project I meant to write; not of me [one] already executed. At the present time I am printing for Taylor & Hess[e]y a book entitled ‘Schiller's Life’ with extracts &c, the greater part of which appeared some time ago in their Magazine; and ever since I began to work at it, I have been meditating a scheme of giving to the world a complete Translation of all Schiller's Works, historical philosophical and dramatic. Excepting Goethe, Schiller is undoubtedly the greatest man among the Germans; in this country he is considered the greatest without any exception. Of his works not one line (excepting Wallenstein by Coleridge) has been tolerably translated; many of them not at all, tho' their names and hearsay merits have long been familiar to us thro' the medium of De Staël. Coleridge's Wallenstein is about to go to press for a second edition: it lay twenty years unnoticed, and now bids fair to retrieve itself.1 The dramatic works I observe have lately been published in five handsome volumes at Paris, translated into French prose.2 On the whole, I have little doubt that properly seconded by a publisher, this enterprise would be a profitable one.

At the same time it is one which requires spirit and capital; and knowledge of business also, for it may be managed in a great variety of ways. Schiller's works in the original amount to twelve octavo volumes (as large as those of Meister, almost exactly); of which about seven are in poetry, or perhaps eight; the rest in prose. The poetry (nearly all plays) if well rendered could scarcely fail of being instantly popular; the same also to a less extent might be said of the Histories (works of sterling talent, tho' less adapted for this flimsy period); while the philosophic writings (tho' the deepest and most truly novel and important of any) would require an introductory half volume and a copious commentary before any person would properly comprehend them. They treat of Kant and his system; which must in the long run meet with at least an examination in this country, and a rational rejection or acceptance.

Now these things might be published separately or not as one judged best; perhaps the dramatic works first, in a form corresponding to this Life of Schiller, of which you are like to receive a supply of copies by the next (the Feby) arrival. It is a good enough book of its kind; and had you published it, might very soon have sold. It contains scenes from various of the plays; which any one curious on the subject may consult as specimens of my manner of translating. I rather think I shall not put my name to it: but if I engaged in the present business, I could announce it at the end of this Life, and refer to the Life again in our advertisements.

Now the question is: Do you think this in any shape a plausible speculation? If you do, be so good as let me have your ideas on the subject, and we will try to make a bargain. The advantage of an active Publisher, at least in regard to present comfort, is a thing which I have proved by a little experience of late: to higgle and chaffer about bargaining; and then besitate and loiter and dally in performing, is a thing which I cannot endure, and which I should not have to fear with you.

[This] is a subject, this project of mine, in which I have hardly [yet] spoken to any one. If you see meet, you may of course consult your literary friends in the matter; but further, you need not be told, that publicity is not desireable [sic]. I expect to hear from you as soon as possible. Nothing detains me fixedly here but the printing of this book: it is very likely that in some few weeks I may be in Edinr.

I have written in great haste, that I might not lose a post: you will answer me without the smallest necessary delay.

I remain, / Dear Sir, / very truly yours /

Thomas Carlyle—