January 1829-September 1831

The Collected Letters, Volume 5


TC TO DAVID AITKEN; 26 January 1830; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18300126-TC-DA-01; CL 5:59-62.


Craigenputtoch, 26th January, 1830—

My Dear Sir,

Your very kind Letter arrived here in due time;1 and shortly afterwards, the Packet it had announced; containing (if I have counted rightly) 16 volumes of Rassmann,2 6 of the Co[n]versations-Lexicon,3 with Gleim and Koch;4 all of which were highly welcome, and shall be properly cared for, and, I hope, turned to use in their season. No less valuable to me were your friendly offers of farther help; and your counsels and indications, which agree perfectly with my own views on the matter, so far as I yet have any views. That your good wishes may be turned forthwith into good deeds, I purpose applying to you again; and often, as I proceed in my little enterprize, which for me will be great enough.

The ‘History of German Literature,’ for which I only bargained finally last Wednesday,5 is to consist of Four small volumes, and ought to include whatever, at this epoch, is most interesting to us of England in the past and present condition of that wide province; not, of course, a minute chronicle-detail, of the Eichhorn fashion, for which neither I nor my readers are in any measure qualified; but views of the more prominent and as it were universal features (Welt-historisch) of that huge subject; wherein it will be most of all important that they be real views, seen into with my own eyes (tho' from this distance), not hallucinations, and hearsays, and Trugbilder [apparitions], seen into with other people's eyes, perhaps never seen into at all. I propose, like Rabelais' Ram, to commencer par la commencement [begin at the beginning];6 not omitting even the Mährchen of primeval centuries, about Etzel and Dietrich of Bern; still less the Heldenbuch and Nibelungen Lied, or the Minnesänger, or Meistersänger, or any other picturesque or characteristic aspect of the German mind. Judge then if I shall welcome your antiquarian Collections, whether printed or manuscript, in this my almost total dearth of information on those matters! Pray let me have all that you can spare: the Nibelungen; Tieck's Schwabischen Zeitalter, of which I understand the Preface is highly instructive; the Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum [Letters of Obscure Men]; Reinike [sic] de Vos [Reynard the Fox]; and everything else that your Charity can furnish.7 Flögel's History of Comic Literature I must contrive to get:8 the era of the Reformation will of course be one of the very highest ‘culminations’ of the subject; and, indeed, on other grounds I have long been striving (with little success) to represent it to myself under all possible points of view. If Flögel cannot be had in Edinburgh, I have little hope of it in London, and must send for it to Germany, were this frost once away. Koch seems to be an excellent person of his kind: I fear you have not the second volume, which I find was published two years later, and completes the poetical department of his task. Eichhorn, whose terrific farrago now lies beside me, is surely the most unspeakably stupid man of Learning that has lived in modern centuries: ‘like an ass whose back with ingots bows,’9 he is no richer than if he carried pot-metal, and cannot buy himself the smallest necessary. I hope and trust, Bouterweck will prove a little better.10

You perceive, I am casting myself altogether on your discretion; leaving you not only to provide me with help, but to judge also what help I shall most need. Since you have ‘unrolled your pack’ before me, in such courteous style, I can only request you to choose for me, by your own skill; with the assurance, hardly necessary in this case, that too much can produce no inconvenience, and too little may cost me serious trouble. If besides the Works you have mentioned, regarding the Reformation-period, and prior (to which, if it were not shameless to ask them, your own Notes and Extracts would be a valuable accession), you can think of anything else that would prove instructive, I shall receive it, and employ it, with true thankfulness. Luther, I think, must terminate the first Volume; before wh[om] come all the Fablers, and Satyrists, and Swabian Minnesingers, and Nürnberg Mastersingers; a motley horde which I do pray devoutly I had marshalled into something like clear order. A work, or even the name of a good work, on the Meistersängerei would be a special blessing to me: I can find none but one of Grimm's, which I fear will be but a shallow one. Do you know Docen's and Hagen's Hist. of German Poetry? I have seen it in the Edinr College Library, but read only a few pages of it.11 Or Büsching's Hans Sachs, and whether there is a Life prefixed to it?12

But I must draw bridle here; for the Paper is exhausted, to say nothing of your Patience. You will have the ‘luxury of doing good’13 for your reward of all this trouble; other reward I dare not for the present promise you. Alas, I am a sorely straitened man! This same History, the first Volume of it, was to go to press in April; and here am I with empty bookshelves, and head ‘to be let unfurnished’!14 But guild-brethren will prove kind, in the loan of tools, which our brave Speditions-handler [shipping agency] of Bankstreet with [sic: will] faithfully forward me; and for the head, we may sweep if we cannot garnish it. So allons [forward]!

The Brown cann,15 or a perfect resemblance of it, is still here; and will hold itself bound to perform, in first order, for an old friend. You positively must not let this summer slip without an expedition hither. The scene, it is true, belongs to the class of Bog and Hill scenery, and has little but heath and whinstone and peat-pits to recommend it: nevertheless it is a scene; under the everlasting Vault, and has two hearts that honestly take interest in you, and always remember you with affection. Consider this, and fulfil your purpose. Meanwhile, write to me when[ev]er you have leisure: nay, for the present you have real ‘business’ to write on. Also, be careful of your health in these wild winter months; and be well when I come to Minto, which I mean to do the very first time I am in Edinr. Mrs Carlyle bids me ‘be sure to send her love.’ I remain always—

Most sincerely Yours, /

T. Carlyle

You do not mention your Post-town, and I see Hawick on your Letter: however, Melrose found you last time; so wollen wir beym Alten bleiben [let us thus continue the previous arrangement].16

Mr Aitken17 will probably send me a Parcel on Tuesday week,—to be here on Wednesday, which is our market and packet day: of posts we have one other on Saturday, and that is all.