January-September 1856

The Collected Letters, Volume 31


TC TO LORD ASHBURTON ; 19 July 1856; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18560719-TC-LOA-01; CL 31: 126-127


Chelsea 19 july, 1856—

Dear Lord Ashburton,

In regard to Education, you have often heard me say (and yet perhaps you know not how serious I am) that the essence of all doctrine on the matter, the real summary of whatever I belie1 to be wisest on the subject, is set forth, symbollically, not unintelligibly, in Goethe's Wilhelm Meister.2 This is deeply my opinion, and has become ever more so, for the last five-and-twenty years or more. And continues to deepen, tho' I cannot fairly get one human creature to share it; in fact I believe it to be the very gospel of the matter:3—and in you, I must say, I find very many affinities to it, far more than I have done in any other person. The vain preaching I have had, and fruitless recommending of that doctrine to this and the other man of likelihood, is almost surprising to me! Nobody will understand it; for the sad reason, I believe, that nobody will give the due meditation to it,—or has any clear sky in his mind for a quite new idea to print itself upon: London Fog is a far commoner material for minds! Of whom there is no hope.

However that may be, it is a fact that if I had prizes to give for Education, and could hope by prizes or otherwise to bring the English fairly on the way towards understanding that Doctrine of Goethe's, and translating it (even beginning to translate it) into practical methods and endeavours suited to our “dialect” of things (so let me name it, “dialect”), I should feel quite certain, “Omne tuli punctum, I have done what ever of best was doable”;4—and wrought a revolution in Education, the blessed issues of which (putting continents of traditionary fatal mistake, whh we might even call deadly universal nightmare, and worse than mistake, to inevitable flight by and by) are beyond computing!—

To propose a Prize for interpreting Goethe's Book, I am well aware, would be a most sad speculation;—not by any means a thing to be entered upon, or recommended in the present state of matters.

But this, it strikes me, I may do, since you honour me by asking my advice: I will seriously suggest that, before writing anything on the subject, you do fairly possess yourself of that Book and its Doctrine,—read it well over (the whole Book, in the solitude of the Highlands, will be well worth reading) and meditated till you are satisfied your eyes see in some fair degree what Goethe's saw when he wrote it:—really I think I am safe in recommending that, as a thing that cannot but help in the shaping of your Prize-questions and all other attempts.— — If I am wrong, forgive me. This is all, today. Brigadier Mackenzie (an Indian military martyr) has been here, and has stolen all my time.

Last night two unfortunate men5 came in upon me at the wrong time; I got (after shaking them off) up as far as Hyde Park on my way to Bath House; but found it was then 20 m. past 10,—clearly too late,—and had to turn home.

Today I know not whether my Wife will come or not. Tomorrow I flatter myself with walking out to Addiscombe, if I am able at all; but the truth is I am in the last degree of abject weakness, and good for next to nothing.

Yours ever truly /

T. Carlyle.

Will you or My Lady read Brigadr Mackenzie's Adventure at Bolarum (in the Deccan), if I send or bring it?6— The man is really notable; and the thing ought to be known, in high places especially. Every word of the man's uttering can be safely taken as truth.