October 1831-September 1833

The Collected Letters, Volume 6


TC TO MACVEY NAPIER; 28 April 1832; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18320428-TC-MN-01; CL 6:148-150.


Craigenputtoch, Dumfries, 28th April 1832

My Dear Sir,

If it can gratify any wish of yours, I shall very readily undertake that little piece on Byron: but it will be tacente Minervâ, without inward call; nor indeed am I sure that you have fixed on the right man for your object.

In my mind, Byron has been sinking at an accelerated rate, for the last ten years, and has now reached a very low level: I should say too low, were there not a Hibernicism involved in the expression. His fame has been very great, but I see not how it is to endure; neither does that make him great. No genuine productive Thought was ever revealed by him to mankind; indeed no clear undistorted vision into anything, or picture of anything; but all had a certain falsehood, a brawling theatrical insincere character. The man's moral nature too was bad, his demeanour, as a man, was bad. What was he, in short, but a huge sulky Dandy; of giant dimensions, to be sure, yet still a Dandy; who sulked, as poor Mrs Hunt expressed it[,] “like a schoolboy that had got a plain bunn given him instead of a plum one.”1 His Bunn was nevertheless God's Universe with what Tasks are there; and it had served better men than he. I love him not; I owe him nothing; only pity, and forgiveness: he taught me nothing that I had not again to forget.

Of course, one could not wilfully propose to astonish or shock the general feeling of the world; least of all, in a quiet Dictionary of Arts and Sciences.2 Indeed, I suppose nothing is wanted but a clear legible Narrative, with some little summing-up, and outline of a Character, such as a deliberate man may without disgrace in after times be found to have written down in the year 1832. Whether you dare venture to have his spirit traceable in it, I must now leave you to judge; adding only (if that be necessary) that you are freely left; that I can in no wise esteem it a slight or a disadvantage, should you see good, as perhaps I might do in your case, to employ some other hand.

If, on the contrary, you still persist, then be so good as transmit me your copy of Moore's Life of Byron3 (the second volume of which I have never seen), and word along with it, How many Edinburgh Review pages three or four of the Encyclopedia make. If the Parcel can be in Dumfries about Wednesday come a week, it will not have to lie; I shall be going down to Annadale about that time; will return with it hither, and hope to send back both your Book and the Article before you return to London: somewhat earlier if necessary.

The Cornlaw Rhymes has given some foolish trouble: it had better stay here yet a while and go with the rest. So much for business.

You will find the Literary World of London, and indeed all the worlds of it in a very wonderful condition; too like what Ephraim Jenkinson described long ago: “the World, my Dear Sir, is in its dotage.”4 Heaven send it a speedy recovery, or quiet death!

Wishing you a happy journey and a happy return,

I remain always, / My dear Sir, / faithfully Your's /

T. Carlyle—