January 1835-June 1836

The Collected Letters, Volume 8


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON; 13 May 1835; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18350513-TC-RWE-01; CL 8:118-124.


5. Cheyne Row Chelsea, London / 13th May, 1835—

Thanks, my kind friend, for the news you again send me. Good news, good new friends; nothing that is not good comes to me across these Waters. As if the “golden West,” seen by Poets, were no longer a mere optical phenomenon, but growing a reality, and coining itself into solid blessings! To me it seems very strange; as indeed generally this whole Existence here below more and more does.

We have seen your Barnard: a most modest, intelligent, compact, hopeful-looking man; who will not revisit you without conquests from his Expedition hither. We expect to see much more of him; to instruct him, to learn of him: especially about that real-imaginary Locality of “Concord,” where a kindly-speaking Voice lives incarnated, there is much to learn.

That you will take to yourself a Wife is the cheerfullest tidings you could send us.1 It is, in no wise, meet for man to be alone;2 and indeed the beneficent Heavens, in creating Eve, did mercifully guard against that. May it prove blessed, this new arrangement! I delight to prophecy [sic] for you peaceful days in it; peaceful, not idle; filled rather with that best activity which is the stillest. To the future or perhaps at this hour actual Mrs Emerson, will you offer true wishes from two British Friends; who have not seen her with their eyes, but whose thoughts need not be strangers to the Home she will make for you. Nay, you add the most chivalrous summons: which who knows but one day we may actually stir ourselves to obey! It may hover for the present among the gentlest of our daydreams; mild-lustrous; an impossible possibility. May all go well with you, my worthy Countryman, kinsman, and brother Man!

This so astonishing reception of Teufelsdrockh in your New England circle seems to me not only astonishing, but questionable; not, however, to be quarrelled with. I may say: If the New England cup is dangerously sweet, there are here in Old England whole antiseptic floods of good hop-decoction; therein let it mingle; work wholesomely towards what clear benefit it can. Your young ones too, as all exaggeration is transient, and exaggerated love almost itself a blessing, will get thro' it without damage.3— As for Fraser, however, the idea of a New Edition is frightful to him; or rather, ludicrous, unimaginable. Of him no man has inquired for a Sartor: in his whole wonderful world of Tory Pamphleteers, Conservative Younger-brothers, Regent-Street Loungers, Crockford Gamblers,4 Irish Jesuits, drunken Reporters, and miscellaneous unclean persons (whom nitre and much soap will not wash clean), not a soul has expressed the smallest wish that way. He shrieks at the idea. Accordingly I realised these four Copies from, all he will surrender; and can do no more. Take them with my blessing. I beg you will present one to the honourablest of those “honourable women”;5 say to her that her (unknown) image as she reads shall be to me a bright faultless vision, textured out of mere sunbeams; to be loved and worshipped: the best of all Transatlantic Women! Do at any rate, in a more business-like style, offer my respectful regards to Dr Channing, whom certainly I could not count on for a reader, or other than a grieved condemnatory one; for I reckoned tolerance had its limits. His own faithful long-continued striving towards what is Best I knew and honoured: that he will let me go my own way thitherward, with a God-speed from him, is surely a new honour to us both.— Finally, on behalf of the British World (which is not all contained in Fraser's shop) I should tell you that various persons, some of them in a dialect not to be doubted of, have privately expressed their recognition of this poor Rhapsody, the best the poor Clothes-Professor could produce in the circumstances: nay I have Scottish Presbyterian Elders who read, and thank. So true is what you say about the aptitude of all natural hearts for receiving what is from the heart spoken to them. As face answereth to face! Brother, if thou wish me to believe, do thou thyself believe first: this is as true as that of the flere and dolendum;6 perhaps truer. Wherefore, putting all things together, cannot I feel that I have washed my hands of this business in a quite tolerable manner? Let a man be thankful; and on the whole go along, while he has strength left to go.

This Boston Transcendentalist,7 whatever the fate or merit of it prove to be, is surely an interesting symptom. There must be things not dreamt of, over in that Transoceanic Parish! I shall cordially wish well to this thing; and hail it as the sure forerunner of things better. The Visible becomes the Bestial when it rests not on the Invisible. Innumerable tumults of Metaphysic must be struggled thro' (whole generations perishing by the way), and at last Transcendentalism evolve itself (if I construe aright), as the Euthanasia of Metaphysic altogether. May it be sure, may it be speedy! Thou shalt open thy eyes, O Son of Adam; thou shalt look, and not forever jargon about laws of Optics and the making of spectacles! For myself, I rejoice very much that I seem to be flinging aside innumerable sets of spectacles (Could I but lay them aside,—with gentleness!) and hope one day actually to see a thing or two. Man lives by Belief8 (as it was well written of old); by Logic he can only at best long to live. Oh I am dreadfully afflicted with Logic here, and wish often (in my haste) that I had the besom of destruction9 to lay to it for a little!

WHY? and WHEREFORE?— God wot, simply THEREFORE!

Ask not WHY; 'tis SITH thou hast to care for10.”

Since I wrote last to you (which seems some three months ago), there has a great mischance befallen me: the saddest, I think, of the kind called Accidents I ever had to front. By dint of continual endeavour for many weary weeks, I had got the first volume of that miserable French Revolution rather handsomely finished: from amid infinite contradictions I felt as if my head were fairly above water, and I could go on writing my poor Book, defying the Devil and the World; with a certain degree of assurance, and even of joy. A Friend borrowed this Volume of Manuscript, a kind Friend but a careless one; to write notes on it, which he was well qualified to do. One evening about two months ago, he came in on us, “distraction (literally) in his aspect”:11 the Manuscript, left carelessly out, had been torn up as waste paper, and all but three or four tatters was clean gone! I could not complain, or the poor man (… )12 seemed as if he would have shot himself: we had to gather ourselves together, and show a smooth front to it; which happily tho['] difficult was not impossible to do. I began again at the beginning; to such a wretched paralysing torpedo of a task as my hand never found to do: at which I have worn myself these two months to the hue of saffron, to the humour of incipient desperation; and now, four days ago, perceiving well that I was like a man swimming in an element that grew ever rarer, till at last it became vacuum (think of that!), I with a new effort of self-denial, sealed up all the paper-fragments, and said to myself: In this mood thou makest no way, writest nothing that requires not to be erased again; lay it by for one complete week! And so it lies, under lock and key: I have digested the whole misery; I say, If thou canst never write this thing, why then never do write it: God's Universe will go along better without it. My Belief in a Special Providence grows yearly stronger, unsubduable, impregnable: however, you see all the mad increase of entanglement I have got to strive with, and will pity me in it. Bodily exhaustion (and “Diana in the shape of Bile”) I will at least try to exclude from the controversy. By God's blessing, perhaps the Book shall yet be written; but I find it will not do, by sheer direct force; only by gentler side-methods.13 I have much else to write too: I feel often, as if with one year of health and peace I could write something considerable;—the image of which sails dim and great thro' my head. Which year of health and peace God, if He see meet, will give me yet; or withhold from me, as shall be for the best.

I have dwelt and swum now for about a year in this World-Mahlstrom of London; with much pain, which however has given me many thoughts, more than a counterbalance for that. Hitherto there is no outlook, but confusion darkness, innumerable things against which a man must “set his face like a flint.”14 Madness rules the world, as it has generally done: one cannot, unhappily, without loss, say to it, Rule then; and yet must say it.— However, in two months more I expect my good Brother from Italy (a brave fellow, who is a great comfort to me): we are then for Scotland to gather a little health, to consider ourselves a little. I must have this Book done before anything else will prosper with me.

Your American Pamphlets15 got to hand only a few days ago; worthy old Rich had them not originally; seemed since to have been oblivious, out of Town, perhaps unwell. I called one day, and unearthed them. Those papers you marked I have read. Genuine endeavour; which may the Heavens forward!— In this poor Country all is swallowed up in the barren Chaos of Politics: Ministries tumbled out, Ministries tumbled in; all things (a fearful substratum of “Ignorance and Hunger” weltering and heaving under them16) apparently in rapid progress towards—the melting pot. There will be news from England by and by: many things have reached their term; Destiny “with lame foot”17 has overtaken them, and there will be a reckoning. Oh blessed are you where, what jargonning soever there be at Washington, the poor man (ungoverned can govern himself) shoulders his axe, and walks into the Western Woods,—sure of a nourishing Earth and an overarching Sky! It is verily the Door of Hope to distracted Europe; which otherwise I should see crumbling down into blackness of darkness.18— That too shall be for good.

I wish I had anything to send you besides these four poor pamphlets; but I fear there is nothing going. Our Ex-Chancellor has been promulgating criticalities (significant as novelties, when he with his wig and lordhood utters them) against the Aristocracy; whereat the upper Circles are terribly scandalized.19 In Literature, except a promised or obtained (but to me still unknown) Volume of Wordsworth,20 nothing nameworthy doing.— Did I tell you that I saw Wordsworth this winter? Twice, at considerable length; with almost no disappointment. He is a natural man (which means whole immensities here and now); flows like a natural well yielding mere wholesomeness,—tho', as it would not but seem to me, in small quantity, and astonishingly diluted. Franker utterance of mere garrulities and even platitudes I never heard from any man;—at least never, whom I could honour for uttering them. I am thankful for Wordsworth as in great darkness, and perpetual Skyrockets and coruscations one were, for the smallest clearburning farthing candle.— Southey also I saw; a far cleverer man in speech; yet a considerably smaller man. Shovelhatted; the Shovel-hat is grown to him: one must take him as he is.

The second leaf is done; I must not venture on another. God bless you, my worthy Friend; you and her who is to be yours! My Wife bids me send heartiest wishes and regards from her too across the Sea. Perhaps we shall all meet one another some day—if not Here, then Yonder!——Faithfully always,

T. Carlyle.