July-December 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 30


TC TO JOHN STUART BLACKIE ; 11 November 1855; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18551111-TC-JSB-01; CL 30: 110-111


Chelsea, 11 Novr, 1855—

Dear Blackie,

I read your Pamphlet last night, with lively entertainment and satisfaction; with perfect assent to all that you advance on the lost and abject state of what is called “University” Education in Scotland.1 You have told the poor Public there a good few home truths, such as they are not nearly often enough in the habit of hearing,—nay have not heard at all for a couple of generations back; the more is their misfortune, poor potbellied blockheads, drinking “the Cause of Education” at public dinners, and asking all men, “Did you ever know such a Country for Education?” In a way disgusting to behold. For what I got in Scotland from my Father and Mother I am grateful, beyond all other gratitude, while the breath of life, or the power of reflexion remains in me: but as to my Scotch Schools and Schoolmasters, from Edinburgh downwards, I deliberately say, If one will avoid denunciation and execration, there is nothing to be said! A more inconceivable “University” than Edinburgh then was to me I have never heard tell of. Altum silentium [deep silence]! Expressive in silence alone can meditate its praise, as I then knew it: enough, enough!

So far I go with you; and thank you with all my heart for the useful, unpleasant, and (I warn you!) even dangerous service you have done. Of which I will, by and by, hope some results. The thickest coat of whale-blubber does yield at last to harpooning long continued in that style, and the point at last brings blood;—I leave you to think, with what humour on the whale's part! Take care of the whale withal; that is needful for you withal.

For the rest, I own to you, Germany, with its abstruse Hermeneutics, mountains of classical marine stores, and high-towered Edifices built of metaphysical bladders, is by no means the result I want to rival in matter of education.2 Oh Heaven, no, nimmermehr [never more]. A more entirely worthless flaccid specimen of the genus “Solemnly Ineffective Blockhead” is not to be met with than in common German Universities. Oh, their Books, their Histories, that I have had to read by the cartload in past years: Chaos and Limbus Patrum [limbo of the fathers], that is the home of such Books, and such Intellects, and ways of looking at God's Universe!—

Nay, deeper still, and almost fearful to contemplate, I have often asked myself, Whether the next set of really good Schoolmasters the world got wd not perhaps be altogether silent ones,—of the rhadamanthine drill-serjeant nature?— But I will not speak of this. I will with all my heart wish you speed in this charge upon the enemy (who is mine and all men's), and thank you very much for what you have done.

Yours sincerely from of old

T. Carlyle

P.S. I wish you would not say “ripe” “unripe” &c, or at least not often, in reference to boys and men.3 “A scholar and a ripe one”: I could hardly quite pardon that when I first heard it; and now it has been so handed about among the street populace, and flung in one's face, it smells of rotten apples & worse. That is really my unfortunate feeling. Verbum Sapienti[ae] [a word to the wise].