The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO JOHANN PETER ECKERMANN; 9 December 1828; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18281209-TC-JPE-01; CL 4:425-429.


Craigenputtoch, Dumfries, Scotland / 9th December, 1828—1

My Dear Sir,

I certainly seem to owe you some apology for so long neglecting to answer your friendly Letter,2 which has now lain in my hand for several months. The incessant bustle, from a thousand causes, which involves all householders at the outfit of a new establishment, joined to various retardments arising from ill health and the like, must plead my excuse with you. For you are not to doubt but I feel greatly flattered with this my introduction to you, obtained in so gratifying a way; and shall always reckon the correspondence of such a man, whether it be to me or from me, one of my most pleasing concerns. A young German3 of my acquaintance lent me your Book,4 about a year ago; so that, on your own footing, you are not unknown to me; to say nothing of your close connexion with a man, who gives an interest of a quite peculiar sort to whatever or whomsoever he may be related with.

Your promised publication on the three national Criticisms of Helena cannot fail to be an object of great curiosity to me: Helena I reckon to be a piece of that depth, and genuine life, that it will yield a new significance almost from every new point of sight; and, as in the case of all true Creations, the Critic in judging it, never so faithfully, will not so much exhaust and completely depict its whole spirit and purport, as depict his own. Viewed under a national aspect, the comparison of these Criticisms may give rise to many important considerations. Meanwhile let me thank you for the kind judgement you express of my poor labours in this matter: it were foolish enough in me, did I subscribe literally to your encomiums but I see, the truth of my Endeavour is recognised, and these things are meant for my encouragement, in which sense I gratefully accept them. My own obligations to Goethe have been such as they are to no other man; a truth which, as a well-wisher to my brethren of this age, mostly in need of similar help, I hold myself bound, on all fit occasions, to make known: but that he should in any wise concern himself with my exertions was a thing I had not hoped for, the more delightful therefore, now when it actually occurs.

As to the reception which Helena has met with generally in England I can say little. The Newspaper Critics in most quarters, as I have understood, declared their dissatisfaction with me at least, and I suppose, by implication, with my original. These, however, are a class of persons from whom next to no light is to be obtained; except it were on the length to which Triviality has extended its empire over the British printing world, where indeed we knew already that, as in most other countries, it reigns well nigh supreme. The aspects of our Literature at present, had one a weak Faith, are in fact discouraging enough: our real Poets, Wordsworth, Coleridge driven into silence by the state of public taste; and the air filled with nothing, as it were, but the chirping of ten thousand grasshoppers, each firmly believing that it is a mighty Singer. Politics also take up far too much attention, even with the best heads; as if a man were alive in the world not to live, but forever and ever to mend his house for living in. Thomas Moore is nothing better than one of your Heinses, or other Kraft-männer [affected strongmen]; he has published an Epicurean,5 resplendent with gold-leaf and Bristol diamonds, and inwardly made of mere Potter's-clay. Walter Scott manufactures Novels. Peace be with them! But the spirit of England is not dead, only asleep; neither, as I firmly believe, is the day distant when these men will be for most part swept into the lumber-room, and quite another scene enacted.— In your Germany too, I grieve to say, I can see less encouragement, for the coming time, than I once did. Were it not for Goethe, who is himself a nation, one might ask where are your Schillers, Herders, Wielands; your Kants and Fichtes and Jean Pauls? Schelling and Tieck are still with you, and I hardly know another. But time is still rich; neither is it my part to be difficilis, garrulus laudator temporis acti.6 Nay perhaps, according to your wise adage, the case is only that I ‘cannot see the wood for the Trees.’ Show it me, and you will do me a real service.

I must not omit to mention that I have myself been slinging a smooth stone from the brook against certain of your Philistines.7 There will be a short Paper in next Foreign Review, entitled German Playwrights, which I recommend to you in some tolerant hour. It turns on Grillparzer, Klingemann,8 and Dr Müllner:9 I wrote it unwillingly, by earnest “request of friends”;10 and promise for a long time to steer clear of these unfortunate people. The mischief was that some other persons among us were violently recommending Müllner and Company, as the true pillars of German Literature; for human Stupidity is infinite. But next time, I mean to write on Novalis, and not in the style of mockery, but in the true ‘mystic’ vein, which is thought to be peculiar to me. For you must know that I pass here generally enough for a ‘Mystic,’ or man half-drowned in the abysses of German speculation; which, considering everything, is all, in my opinion, exactly as it should be. I confess I begin to grow tired of Reviewing; but whether there is any force in me to produce an original work is a question which I am still agitating, and I believe, shall never leave at rest, till I have practically tried,—and too probably got answer in the negative.

You inquire kindly about our household arrangements here. I may say that [I] reckon this position at Craigenputtoch quite an original one for a Philosopher and lover of Literature; as it were, a sort of Crusoe's Island, where the whole happiness or sorrow depends on the Islander himself. We are busy making clean gravel-roads, digging gardens for the planting of many a flower and shrub in Spring. These grim moors are all ice-bound for the present, and doubly stern and solitary. Nevertheless we bolt the door against Frost, and utterly defy him with blazing fires. By day, I lop trees for exercise, or gallop down the valley on an Irish nag; and at night, when the curtains are all drawn, and the hearth swept, and the fire bright and strong, it is even a luxury to listen to the piping of the tempests, and think that far and wide the black winter is looking in on us in vain. I read or write all morning; for two hours every evening, my Wife and I are learning Spanish; we have already finished the first volume of Don Quixote. From time to time also, we have real Literary visiters, men from the ‘Modern Athens’ as Scotchmen fondly denominate Edinburgh; and then there is an expounding and a canvassing de omni scibili [concerning everything knowable],11 such as, to a certainty, was never heard in these desarts before. Often we speak of Weimar, and oftener think of it: a half mournful wish lies in us, which sometimes rises into a faint hope, one day to visit that little city, which in our view is for the present before all other cities of the world. When this wish is to be gratified, or whether ever, is still too uncertain. Meanwhile, let us be thankful that we can send Letters thither, and hope for answers to them. I have a Brother, perfecting himself in the study of Medicine in your Country, whom I expected home this winter with fullest tidings from the Dukedom: however he has left München, not for Edinburgh, but for Wien, and does not return to us till Spring. I expect he will come by Prag, Dresden and Weimar. Are you ever coming to Britain? What a scene it would be to have you here! Meanwhile is there any service that I can do you? If so, apply to me without reluctance, for it will give me the truest pleasure. My Wife unites with me in best regards. You will also remember us both, in the most affectionate goodwishes to your illustrious Friend and his household, whom [we never think of but with feelings of an altogether peculiar respect. The third Lieferung] of his Works, and the K. u. A12 I have looked over but must not speak of till next time. The little Nouvelle13 struck me as of high excellences[.] Faust I have yet found time only to read once. But you will write to me again, and I shall answer again, ere long? Meanwhile, believe me ever— Most truly Your's—

Th: Carlyle.

Do you know anything of a Captain Skinner14 who once visited us with compliments from Weimar, to which place he shortly afterwards returned? We heard yesterday, with a sort of vagueness which only increases our anxiety, that he was dead!