January-September 1856

The Collected Letters, Volume 31


TC TO ROBERT BROWNING ; 27 January 1856; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18560127-TC-RB-01; CL 31: 13-15


Chelsea, 27 jany, 1856—

Dear Browning,

Many thanks for the pleasant, welcome, and useful Letter I had from you the other day; one of the welcomest I have read for a long time. You have answered my questions in a most complete and successful way,—the answers turning out agreeable, too, on their own score;—and they were still perfectly “in time”:1 alas, my bewildered tortoise-pace, in this sad Prussian element, is slow enough for any delay! The truth is, I had, on such glimmering evidence as there was, taken Du Châtelet2 for the man he turns out to be; and old Tally's blownup grandfather3 came in but as a passing phenomenon, herald of the Battle of Fontenoy,4 and could be turned on any side as the issue might come out. Pleasant and useful now to know that these two are who they are, and related to us, in this next Century, in the way we see! I will freely apply to you again, if I need the like service. Meanwhile, when you write again, please give me the full Titles &c of those two Books (Dictionaries, or whatever they are) which you have drawn from;5 their Price especially, and where they can be had on sale: the London Library, if one's own is too poor, ought to have a Copy of such Books.

I have also, in obedience to your generous order, written to Chapman for a Copy of Men and Women;6 hope to have it in a day or so farther; and will certainly read it with attention,—as I may well do; as indeed I perceive all manner of intelligent people are diligently doing. Such is the fact; beyond doubt, in this bottomless, shoreless, vilely fermenting mud-lake and general reservoir of Human Nonsenses, which is called the “Literary Public,” I can very well see you too have got an understanding audience scattered up and down; and it may be a satisfaction to reflect on that, in certain moods. “The great soul of this world,” in spite of its outer nonsenses, “is just.7 One has occasion to remember that, now and then; and the higher mount the floods of nonsense, the fact becomes the more sternly sacred to one. Courage, Courage! Brutal Delirium only seems to be the King of this world; and is not in reality,—much as he bothers poor fellows, from time to time.

We were at a Country House in Hampshire, during Christmas time; and the entertainment of two evenings, much the best two that turned up, was reading (superlatively well-done) out of Browning's Men and Women. The Old Corregidor (“How it appears to a Contemporary”), that Devils “Bishop and Gigadibs”:8 we sat (being intelligent creatures, all) in rapt attention, with the little ruffles of assent (chiefly nasal, laughter being prohibited as it were), and understood everything,—as indeed the melodious clear Voice (Lady Ashburton's) had beforehand taken care to do. Two Evenings, the best two we had; and good hopes there were of more, had not unluckily our reading genius “Caught cold,” and left us eclipsed thenceforth. Her Ladyship has one of the finest strong Lady-voices and also one of finest intellects capable of comprehending big and little; reads, therefore, without being the least of “a reader,” better than any person I have heard.9

You do me far too much honour, dear Browning, when you ask my poor counsel and judgement about these things. I have never been in doubt about the noble spiritual outfit I discerned in you from our first acquaintance, many years back now; and my faith still is, you have got a great deal to tell your poor fellow creatures contemporary and future. But as to the How? this I more and more see to be an infinitely complex question; dependent on individualities, idiosyncrasies; not to be judged by the bystander (who never will completely understand the question): on this what can I say, or what is the use of my saying at this stage? However, you are so loyal, you shall know what my impressions are, by and by.— I wish you lived here, Mrs B. and you, on this side of the sea! Meanwhile, write now & then; and all good be ever with you T. Carlyle