The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO WILLIAM TAIT; 22 August 1826; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18260822-TC-WT-01; CL 4:e8.


Scotsbrig, Tuesday [22? August 1826]—

My dear Sir,

I have sent up my last packet of sheets to honest Mr M'Corkindale, the most faithful and best of Printers; with directions to give you the Revise of the Preface and Title-page; which so soon as you have satisfied yourself about it, they can fold up (uncut) in the shape of a letter, and send me by post, to look at once more before it go to press.

I bow without repining to your condemnation (if irrevocable) of this unhappy Title; judging you to understand far more about it than I. Nevertheless, if we except “German Novelists with” &c, which was the Title I had all along in my head, I cannot think of any better, or even of any other that shall express the gist and purpose of the Book. The present one undoubtedly is hard and heavy; but it has this first and most indispensable quality; and to my own mind, it does not appear altogether uninviting of investigation, or unlikely to attract the better class of readers. Its hardness of intelligibility, provided it be really at last intelligible, may perhaps rather provoke curiosity than satisfy it. A reader often wondering what the deuce it means, will look into the Preface for information; and be tempted, who knows, (consummation devoutly to be wished!)1 to table his cash, and take the Book home in his pocket! Such was my view of it: but as I said, it is the view of one who can pretend to none but theoretical knowledge on the matter. For the rest, do not think that I like this Title; on the contrary I rather dislike it, and have chosen it only as the bad best; as expressing (the former one being forestalled) the object of the Book in plain rugged and firm language, and distinguishing our Novelists at a glance, from all the Roscoe, Gillies & Company fraternity,2 beyond the possibility of confusion. I confess however that I rather have a pique at dandyism both in men and books; and so perhaps rather an undue tolerance for the opposite excess. “Highways and Byeways,” for instance, is a book which I should never buy, or care for looking into; and I am too apt to forget that many others might.

One other thing I may add: “Romances,” “Tales,” “Novels” &c should not (unless in the very last extremity) be the Title of your work. First, because it is a Title which promises nothing, and has been used already by many men and women, Holcraft (Gillies), Cruikshank (?) &c &c.3 Secondly because the Book is not of Novels but of Novelwriters, or at the utmost of Novel-writing. I think you should keep this steadily in view.

After all, I believe, the Title is of very little real moment in the long run; for if the Book is a ragwort no name of rose or lavender will keep it from offending the nostril; and vice versa also. Therefore do you and Mr Ballantyne take solemn counsel together; read over the Preface, and settle the whole according to your best judgement: I shall scarcely object, I think, be the result what it may. All I want is that it were settled: yet let not this hurry you too much, for I can wait.

I have sent Mr Buchanan's books, which have long been lying on my conscience: be so good as return him my best thanks along with them, and real regret that I should have so overstretched his goodness. Desire him also from me to direct you how to pay Perthes & Besser if he can; I am very anxious that the debt were cancelled.4

My engagements at present are not at all of a literary sort: and I promise or threaten you that you are likely to have the refusal of my next literary enterprise, be what it may. The “Literary Gazette”5 is a thing I am still by no means disinclined to, provided I could in any way see how it was to be managed and gone thro' with; more especially, as I intend taking up my abode in Edinr next winter at a hearth of my own. I wish you would study the project maturely, and have some decisive news of it to tell me when I see you.

I declare I am absolutely wae to take leave of the good M'Corkindale[;] thank him from me for all his punctuality and clearness of judgement, unexampled in my previous experience of printers, and tell him that I hope soon and often to meet him again.

Believe me always,

My Dear Sir, / Truly your's

Thomas Carlyle—

Your [boo]ks (German ones) I design sending by the first opportunity of a carrier. I expect you will sell them without difficulty, at least when our as yet nameless work is out.