The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO GOETHE; 18 April 1828; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18280418-TC-G-01; CL 4:363-367.


Edinburgh, 21. Comley Bank, 18th April, 1828—

Respected Sir,

Your Letter of the 1st January reached me in due course of Post; awakening the gladdest anticipations, which however there was little hope of soon seeing fulfilled; for, owing to the state of the Elbe, our Hamburg Shippers seldom sail in winter; and in this case, no vessel was to be expected till the beginning of the present month. A second Letter, enclosing the Certificate I had requested from you, found me, some ten days ago, in the Country: and last week, after my return hither, the so long wished-for Box did at length actually arrive, with all its contents in perfect entireness and safety. It is now my duty and privilege to acknowledge so many favours, yet with regret that I have done and can do so little to deserve them. Our best thanks are heartily yours: and with this may all be understood that could not in many words be expressed; for feelings of such a sort are at no time capable of being rightly translated into speech. To give glad hours to those that love us, tho' “over the Sea,” must be the truest happiness; and here surely it is yours.

To Sir Walter Scott, who is at present in London, I have already written; announcing so delightful a message; and even transcribing for him what you say of his Life of Napoleon; a friendly criticism which, from such a quarter, must gratify him highly, contrasted as it is with the frequent censure he has had to suffer on this head both from foreign and domestic readers. Already we have even a second Life of Napoleon,1 also by a man of talent, where an altogether opposite spirit prevails; and which, if I may judge from appearances, must have been considerably applauded.2 Ere long, I expect to see Sir Walter, and present him your Medals in person. I know not whether you are aware that he too is a reader of German; nay that at the entrance of his literary life, he translated your Götz von Berlichingen, to which circumstance many of his critics attribute no small influence on his subsequent poetical procedure.3

The other four Medals I shall also endeavour not rashly but worthily to dispose of. One I already think of bestowing on Mr Lockhart, Sir Walter Scott's Son-in-law, whose love of German Literature, and debts to you in particular he has omitted no opportunity of acknowledging. And here I must not forbear to mention that Mr Lockhart certainly did not write that Essay on the “State of German Literature” in the Edinburgh Review; as indeed he has never written aught in that Journal, and could not well write aught, being Editor of the Quarterly Review, a work directly opposed to it, and organ of the Tory party, as that other is of the Whig, or Liberal. If you have not already forgotten our dim notions on the “State of German Literature,” it must gratify me much to say that they are, in this instance, due to myself. The Editor of the Edinburgh Review,4 who himself wrote the Critique on Wilhelm Meister, and many years ago admitted a worthless enough Paper on your Dichtung und Wahrheit,5 is thought hereby to have virtually recanted his Confession of faith with regard to German Literature; and great is the amazement and even consternation of many an “old stager,” over most of whom this man has long reigned with a soft yet almost despotic sway. Let it not surprise you if I give one of your Medals even to him; for he also is a “well-wisher,” as one good man must always be to another, however distance and want of right knowledge may, for a time, have warped his perceptions, and caused him to assume a cold or even unfriendly aspect.

On the whole, our study and love of German Literature seem to be rapidly progressive: in my time, that is, within the last six years, I should almost say that the readers of your language have increased tenfold; and with the readers, the admirers; for with all minds of any endowment these two titles, in the present state of matters, are synonymous. In proof of this, moreover, we can now refer not to one but to two Foreign Journals, published in London, and eagerly if not always wisely looking towards Germany: The Foreign Quarterly Review, and the Foreign Review, with the last of which I too have formed some connexion. Number First contained a sketch of your unhappy Zacharias Werner from my hand: and here, since I began writing, has No. II. arrived, with a long paper in it, from the same unworthy quarter, on the Interlude Helena, with the promise of a still longer one, by the next opportunity, on your Works and Character in general!6 Nor am I without hope that these Criticisms, set forth with the best light and convictions I had, may meet with a certain tolerance from you. It is not altogether, yet it is in some degree with mind as with matter, in this respect; where the humblest pool, so it be but at rest within itself, may reflect faithfully the image even of the Sun. For the rest, there must be more Menaechmi7 among us than was supposed; seeing no one of those three Papers, mentioned in your Letter, was by me, and no two of them by the same person. That Article on Hoffmann was written by Sir Walter Scott; the two others by young men of this city, one of them Editor of the Work;8 the other (Schulze's Critic) a translator of Wallenstein, and my acquaintance.9 A worthless bookseller-dispute, now terminated, gave rise to this division into two Reviews, which therefore to a certain extent, at least in the eyes of their Publishers, appear as rivals; tho' among the Editors and Writers there seems to be no quarrel; and our English readers, deriving only benefit from this competition, view it with indifference or even satisfaction.

But I must not neglect to speak of Mr Des V[o]eux' “Translation” of your Tasso,10 concerning which you honour me by asking my opinion. Sorry am I to be forced unequivocally to call it trivial, nay altogether unworthy. No English reader can here obtain any image of that beautiful Drama; or at best, such an image as the rugged, bald and meagre school-versions of Homer may give him of the Iliad. More than once I had to turn to the original even for the meaning; nay in some instances the Author himself seems not to have known it; for ich soll [I shall] is rendered (p. 69.) by I will, thus expressing a purpose instead of an obligation; and (p. 78) erreicht is mistaken for darreicht, and translated not attains, but presents; to say nothing of wacker everywhere translated by valiant which means only kühn; and klug by shrewd (properly scharf, scharfsinning); Faun (p. 60) by fawn (Rehkalb, probably a misprint); and (p. 77) meine Hand! Schlag'ein! by My hand to shake (literally and properly, Hier ist meine Hand—zu schütteln!). Instead of general observations, I once thought of drawing your attention to some single passage; for example, to Antonio's truly graceful character of Ariosto, in Act I., to show in detail how the fine spirit has evaporated in the transfusion, and nothing remains to us but such a caput mortuum [dead issue] as “source of love or child of glory,” “talent's power”; “spirit-forms &c—yet in person”; and worst of all, “in juggle formed [formed underscored twice] by sportive Cupid,” which indeed is a ne-plus-ultra both in sense and expression. But I have already occupied you too long with such a matter, concerning which nothing but your request could have authorized me to say one word. In short, this Translation is like our common Translations from the German; works which no reader of that language ever willingly looks into; passable, or at least only mildly condemnable when they deal with Kotzebues and Hoffmanns; but altogether sacrilegious when they fix on Fausts and Tassos.

The Kunst und Alterthum,11 already known to me in part, I purpose to read and study from beginning to end: much surely there will be, profitable to myself; and perhaps, as you anticipate, thro' me “to my nation.” Neither shall I ever cease to value this your Testimonial, which I keep as a prouder document than any patent from the Heralds' College. On some future occasion it may avail me; tho' for the present it was too late, and yet indeed early enough. Too late, because the Election had already terminated; early enough, because not even this, or any other earthly proof of mere merit, could have made it terminate differently. But enough for once! I shall again and still again hope to hear from so honoured a Friend; being now and ever,

Most heartily and gratefully Your's,

T. Carlyle.

[In margins:] A Captain Skinner called here lately with your Card; and delighted us by singing Kennst du das Land in a style which might almost have done honour to Meister's Artist on the Laco Maggiore. My Wife often plays it for me on the Pianoforte.

No. II of the Foreign Review, which arrived here today, will reach you in Weimar, as I hope, in a few days after this Letter.

Your next Letter will find me, if directed thus: Thomas Carlyle Esqr, of Craigenputtock, Dumfries, Scotland; for after Whitsuntide (the 26th of May) we go to reside permanently on that little Property of ours, among the Mountains 70 miles to the South of Edinburgh.— The 74th Regiment is not here at present: yet Mr Wolley12 may be found, if in it, elsewhere; and is already written to.13

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