July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


TC TO JOHN BULL; 16 October 1836; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18361016-TC-JBU-01; CL 9:72-74.


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, 16th Octr 1836

My Dear Sir,

I have read the first two Cantos of your Poem. Being a bad hand at reading Manuscript, and also very busy at present, I prefer writing before I read it out. Would it were in my power to say some guiding word to you! It is very evident you are struggling vehemently on steep perplexed paths, where a little light were of all things the most valuable.

One discerns without effort in this Merton1 the impress of a mind possessing great sensibility, simplicity, clearness, piety; a fine sense for whatever is beautiful, a just way of thinking on men and things; in short, a harmonious, humane, gifted mind. Whether Poetry, in times so prosaic as ours, might be the sole or even preferablest mode of utterance for such a mind, may indeed remain undecided. But it is very clear, the mind has found a certain degree of utterance by that mode. The versification is throughout of a highly respectable kind; the language natural, simple, transparent: in the vehicle of that Spenser-Stanza a variety of true lively thoughts emotions and delineations have found egress for themselves. My main criticism would be that the Biography of Merton, so far as I yet see, has almost no body or incidents; that the Poem should rather have Merton clean weeded out of it, and be called “London,” or some such thing, after the nature of Cowper's Task.

As to the question of publishing, however, I could say at once that I have seen things with not tenth-part of the merit of this put in Print and applauded there. So that if you know of a Publisher that will undertake to print it without loss to you, then I would advise, since it is written, let it be printed. But there is an if in that, as you see; and it hangs all by that if.

For if you know of no Publisher, then I surely would not advise you to have your heart grieved within you, and your mind withdrawn from useful work, in the miserable task of hawking about to seek one. I know the loathsome trade, and how you would feel in it! Also I think you would give it up in disgust before you sped in this instance. It seems to me farther that, in any case, as times go, all hope of pecuniary profit from such a Publication were chimerical. Favour you might find with a certain class of readers; or even you might fail to find it: in a word there seems to me no prospect sufficiently solid to authorize your setting out in a disgusting, tedious and probably fruitless search of this kind; it were better to let your Soul's-fruit lie, waiting for clearer days. As for me I have quitted all trade with the thing called Literature, except it be in the way of deep protest against it: for example, I have sat these thirty months writing literally almost the life out of me, over a Book; which I am to have printed, and for which I really do not calculate on ever getting one penny, or any kind of advantage (censures and stolidity are far likelier) to purse, person of character: solely, it is a thing I could do, and thought right to do, and so would do—to my cost. But now bread being necessary for a man, I must look elsewhere than Literature for it; or else fail to find it. The Bookseller Fraser is to print this thing for me: I have not spoken to another Bookseller for a considerable number of years.

But what then are you to do? Must your gift lie hid, buried in painful death-life; the insupportablest feeling man's soul can have? Not so; even if all I conjecture be true. You must be hopeful, you must be still and steadfast; and if this road be shut, try others, try many others. My opinion is that you could write useful and acceptable things, and give your mind course, in quite other fashion than this of Verse. The only things that are paid for, so far as I understand, are Articles in Periodicals. These may be of what grade you will: despicable, deserving only to be burnt; or they may be true [and] genuine, deserving to be honoured and preserved [or they] may even be poetical, according to my notion of that. The only condition is that they must be written in the shape of prose; and under certain conditions as to length.— Did you ever attempt a little Prose Article? It requires a greater compression of thoughts than the other species; but, on the whole, that thought be there,—that is, for both species, and for all writing whatsoever, the one thing needful. If you thought of such a thing, I should reckon it a hopefuller method than this of Poems in our day: perhaps I might be able to lend some assistance in opening the way for you here; and surely it would be with right good-will that I would do it.

On the whole, you must come down to me, and explain in speech whereabouts you are. It will do you good to speak, even tho' I could do nothing but listen. I am at home every day till about two o'clock or later, and go out to walk at that hour: we could walk towards Kilburn together thro' Kensington Gardens. Or every night, we have tea at six. Tuesday night for example at that hour.

Good be with you, my dear Sir!

Yours with true esteem, /

T. Carlyle—