TC TO JOHN STUART MILL; 28 October 1833; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18331028-TC-JSM-01; CL 7:20-26.
TC TO JOHN STUART MILL
Craigenputtoch, 28th October, 1833—
My Dear Mill,
If this Letter reach you in Paris, it will deserve to be considered as one of the triumphs of human art; a bringing together of what we may call the opposite ends of the world. No two positions, no two manners of existence, could be more different than yours and mine, at this hour. I sit here in the middle of moors, of leafless or red-leaved trees, in the blustering of winds and desolate rain; in the completest isolation; conversing only (thro' heaps of Books) with the absent or the dead; nothing alive in my environment but myself and my coal fire. While you—! But I will not try to picture out your situation in that crackling, sparkling, never-resting chaos; where nevertheless you shall hear my voice, and hold fellowship with me: such feats can five fingers and the four-and-twenty Alphabetic Letters do.
Should I tell you all I have to say, whole reams of paper would not hold it: how then shall a miserable scrap of a single sheet! The Pen too so ill represents the thousand-voiced Thought; which I could not even speak with the smallest completeness; for it is true what Goethe teaches, and every day I feel it truer: “The first word we utter we begin to err.” Ach Gott! But I will keep all that silent (the depth and greatness of Silence also should be known to me); and abide mainly by matters of business; the articulation of which, even in a sheet, is easy. Your patience I know is great, and I apply again without apology.1
Some two weeks ago I determined, by way of practicing myself in Narrative, to write a small historico-poetico Piece on the famous Diamond Necklace. Foreign Quarterly Cochrane declines having anything to do with it;2 I persist all the more freely for this: and now you will answer me, or get me answered where you are, a question or two:— Is it known to anybody, who wrote those Memoirs of Lamotte? There is first one thin volume (1789); then two thicker (1790 perhaps, but they are not here); all three more like the screeching of some plundered rookery than the utterance of an articulate-speaking mortal; falser they seem than any book I ever read. Orleans is by some said to have been at the bottom of them: was there any truth in this? Lamotte interests me as an original; zoologists must dissect even rattlesnakes: but look as I will, she shows all too dim thro' that confusion. It were something if I knew that she wrote those lies, and under what circumstances. Next (when you get back to London), do you know what house it was, what street it was, she alighted from and on, in that last fall of hers? The Book says “near the Temple of Flora,” which I never heard of. Again, what became of her Count; did he perish in those “Horrors of the F. R.”? Was Oliva ever heard of again? It seems Vilette was still alive in Paris, in 1826; by oversight of the Devil, he may be there yet?— Abbé Georgel and Madame Campan are both thought to be true, with the bias natural to each? Nay, if you can learn it easily, tell me even in what street Boehmer and Bassange lived; whether any trace of them yet lingers sub Luna [under the moon].— Some of these questions will make you smile: nevertheless, small as the objects are, they would help me to locate my little story, and be worth the paper they cost. I would ask a hundred such questions about a hundred things, were I in Paris beside you. For the rest, do not plaugue [sic] yourself about these; do not seek far after them, or spend much room in answering them.3
This Necklace affair has wasted so much of my sheet, I must repress a multitude of others. One that still claims mention is of the commercial sort; for there is no end to your variety of functions as my Factotum! It is to buy me for a franc or two some map, about a foot square, of the Environs of Paris. Is there such a thing? A map of the Department Seine et Oise, still better of the old Province Isle de France, would be of real use to me. Perhaps you can procure it. Rolled round a piece of wood, or spread out in some book, it could come to me by Fraser's Parcel. Also, can you get me, cheap, a Henault's Abrégé chronologique?4 I have a duodecimo copy here, a borrowed one, of 1765; a very humble-looking Book, such as might sell for a few shillings: I should like well to possess a similar one. It is one of the worthiest Books I know; were there such another, of England. I would gladly exchange my whole historical Library for it (lingering only over Hume), were there as many Hallams5 as a horse could carry. Lastly, if you can get any such thing as some little supplementary Dictionnaire Neologique, in any shape, pray bring it. I give you leave to spend a sovereign for me, on these three things; but not to harrass yourself searching for them; the map too, observe, is the only one I have really much need of. And now, take breath; for my commissions, this time, are done. Henceforth I do nothing but illudere chartis,6 while there is paper left.
I recognised your criticism of the poor Whig Ministry almost at the second sentence.7 You are sharp enough upon the poor mongrels; but how be otherwise, if one is to speak of them at all? Perhaps there were intrinsically few functions ever baser than the one they have, with their talent, in their place, at this hour to fill. Whigs nevertheless are necessary, tho' daily growing a viler necessity; intolerable to gods, men and columns.8 Unbelieving mediocrity, barren, dead and death-giving, speaks itself forth more and more in all they do and dream. The true Atheist in these days is the Whig; he worships and can worship nothing but Respectability; and this he knows, unhappy man, to be—nothing but a two-wheeled vehicle! The Tory is an Idolater; the Radical a wild heathen Iconoclast: yet neither of them strictly are “without God in the world”: the one has an infinite hope, the other an infinite remembrance; both may be men and not gigmen. Lord pity the poor necessary Whigs, then; as for me the less I say or think of them the better. In last Examiner I recognised (before the “A.B.”) another piece on “Commissions”;9 which also, as the Germans say, I could heartily gelten lassen [give praise to]. Your new thoughts on Art10 shall be still more welcome to me: “it is right that on all hands one shoot out radii, till the circumference rebound him”; the “circumference” is thus at once filled and widened. Your Morpeth philosopher “with spectacles and no eyes” (poor fellow!) is a Hatter, I think: Sir W. Hamilton once spoke of him last winter, but without criticism.11 By the bye, let me here mention that Sir William was not the “old Schoolman” I once spoke of; that Redivivus was another considerably inferior character, whom I twice for some mortal hours exchanged small logic-shot with; a ganz ausgestorbener Mann [completely extinct man]. He lectured on Logic, and thought Logic was to be the salvation of the world.12
Best of all do I sympathize with you in regard to the New Testament.13 Every wor[d I] say is spoken out of my heart. Great, soul-inspiring, unfathomable in significance, is that poor artless Biography by Saint Matthew! Of all Antigigmen too, in any time in any place, the greatest is that divine Hero of St Matthew. A thousand times have his words, even thro' all these impediments, brought life and hope back into my heart: I have wept warm tears, as I thought of him; and how the voice of his Glad Tidings (the gladdest of all; for it was of man's indefeasible divineness) had gone forth to all lands, had reached even the English land and me. “Be of good cheer! I have overcome the world”:14 I!—if you consider that, and who the I was, a whole Gospel lies in it.— St John I regard with you as a kind of didactic Biographer, less taken up with his hero than with what he fancies to be his hero's philosophy; of far inferior value therefore; less artless, perhaps one might say less sincere. On the whole it is the thorough heartiness, the intense and entire sincerity of the Bible that makes it still the Book of Books. In no other Book is there the same quality in such a degree; some touches of it (under circumstances strangely new) I meet with in Goethe, almost alone of the moderns. I advise you to persevere in reading the Bible (in seeing it, through all distances and disguises): that here too you have discarded Dilettantism, and can earnestly look at the Earnest, this is a new pleasure to me.
As for myself, not having “a ream of paper,” how shall I explain what passes with me? I feel in general that I am at the end of an epoch, for good or for ill; if these disquietudes were but “growth-pains,” how gladly should I bear them! All barriers seem overthrown in my inward world; nothing is to prevent, to deter me, but also nothing to direct. I pause over a boundless, unpeopled prospect; ask how I am to walk and work there; nehm' mich zusammen [gather myself together]. One of the questions that oftenest presents itself, is How Ideals do and ought to adjust themselves with the Actual?15 A vast question, as I take it up. On which ground our John Knox and Scottish Kirk is so peculiarly significant for me. A genuine Ideal, that did subsist, in spite of men and devils, with life in it, for a hundred and fifty years! On the same ground too, my value for the Actual (in all senses), for what has realized itself continues and increases: and often I ask myself, Is not all Poetry the essence of Reality (could one but get at such essence), and true History the only possible Epic? What limits my affirmative answer should have, are yet nowise clear.
If to all these internal fermentations you add one's strangely anomalous external position, you have confusion enough. My whole trade is to think and speak; but as the world goes. I have absolutely no permission to speak! Think of poor me and poor Fraser's Magazine! Yet such is my best speaking-mechanism at this moment; for aught I know, it is my only one. With the Reviews I think I have nigh done, or am fast getting done; and as to Books, what Book I could at this moment write and be paid for (be “furnished with meat and tools” for), nay could even get rid of if I had it written,—is quite a problem to me. Bookselling even Effingham Wilson finds to be about dead—of Puffery.16 I do not think it will ever revive; nor perhaps aught satisfactory instead of it for some generations. Me (by God's blessing) the death of it cannot kill; yet it can confuse me, and give me pause. He who has a tongue and has anything that he knows, cannot be kept silent. I think of various things; some of them you shall counsel me in by and by. Meanwhile what a blessing that I can sit here, not forced to speak, for months yet; till the Inward have grown clear; to which the Outward (were it of adamant) must give issue!
Nay one of the best things that has befallen me for years occurs this very winter. A not inconsiderable Library in these parts, collected by a virtuoso deceased now, is given up to my pleasure; I actually this winter have a free command of Books. Once in the three weeks I drive over, and return loaded. Figure me then, say only ten hours a day, with the fiercest appetite; forgetful of all but the thing read of! In this way shall I top-dress my poor understanding with the wonderfullest compost; much need it had of some: thus writing or not writing I can expect a winter much happier, much profitabler than many have been.— On all this, you shall hear enough in future; you have heard more than enough (I fear) at present.
The remedy is write again soon! If you have time in Paris, well; if not, when first you have time. Vale mei memor [Farewell remember me]. / Ever your's truly
My Wife has read Roland with hardly less admiration than myself. That request of Madame's on the way to the Guillotine, “for pen and paper that she might write the strange thoughts she had”—kindles me for her, helps her with me very greatly. For her grand fault was being too conscious; too much of a reasoner, too little of a prophetess (one must put up with these words); but on the verge of Time, she too looks into the Eternal, one can fancy her too inspired. This was my “woman man”; in which, for the rest, I agree with your correction.17— Paper done!