January 1829-September 1831

The Collected Letters, Volume 5


TC TO MACVEY NAPIER; 23 November 1830; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18301123-TC-MN-01; CL 5:195-197.


Craigenputtoch, Dumfries, / 23d November, 1830—

My Dear Sir,

I am much obliged by your favourable reception of the proposition touching my Brother; and no less so by your wish that I should write something for you in the Edinburgh Review.

I have already written in that Review, and should be very happy to write in it again; as indeed there can be no more respectable vehicle for any British man's speculations than it is and has always been. My respected Friend, your Predecessor had some difficulty with me in adjusting the respective prerogatives of Author and Editor:1 for tho' not, as I hope, insensible to fair reason, I used sometimes to rebel against what I reckoned mere authority; and this partly perhaps as a matter of literary conscience; being wont to write nothing without studying it if possible to the bottom, and writing always with an almost painful feeling of scrupulosity, that light Editorial hacking and hewing to right and left was in general nowise to my mind.

In what degree the like difficulties might occur between you and me I cannot pretend to guess: however, if you are willing, then I also am willing, to try. Occasionally of late I have been meditating an Essay on Byron; which, on appearance of Mr Moore's Second Volume, now soon expected,2 I should have no objection to attempt for you. Of Mr Moore himself I should say little; or rather perhaps, as he may be a favourite of yours, Nothing: neither would my opinion of Byron prove very heterodox; my chief aim would be to see him and show him, not, as is too often the way, (if I could help it) to write merely ‘about him and about him.’3 For the rest, tho' no Whig in the strict sense, I have no disposition to run amuck against any set of men or of opinions; but only to put forth certain Truths that I feel in me, with all sincerity; for some of which this Byron, if you liked it, were a fit enough channel. Dilettantism, and mere toying with Truth, is, on the whole, a thing which I cannot practice: nevertheless real Love, real Belief, is not inconsistent with Tolerance of its opposite; nay is the only thing consistent there with, for your Elegant Indifference is at heart only idle, selfish, and quite intolerant. At all events, one can and should ever speak quietly; loud hysterical vehemence, foaming, and hissing least of all beseems him that is convinced, and not only supposes, but knows.

So much to cast some faint light for you on my plan of procedure, and what you have to look for in employing me. Let me only farther request that if you, for whatever reason, do not like this proposal, you will without shadow of scruple tell me so. Frankness is best met by frankness; the practice presupposes the approval.

I have been thinking sometimes likewise of a Paper on Napoleon, a man whom tho' handled to the extreme of triteness, it will be long years before we understand. Hitherto in the English tongue there is next to nothing that betokens insight into him, or even sincere belief of such on the part of the writer. I should like to study the man with what heartiness I could, and form to myself some intelligible picture of him both as a Biographical and as a Historical figure, in both of which senses he is our chief contemporary wonder; and in some sort the epitome of his age. This however were a task of far more difficulty than Byron, and perhaps not so promising at present.

For Byron, no Books were wanted except Mr Moore's two vo[lumes] to which Galt's might be added:4 except the Plays and Don Juan, which also would be needed, all his Poems are already here.5

Have the goodness to let me know by your first convenience what you think of this; not hesitating to say Fiat or Ne Fiat [Do or Do not]; and believe me always,

My Dear Sir, / Faithfully Your's

Thomas Carlyle—