July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


TC TO JOHN STERLING; 8 June 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18370608-TC-JOST-01; CL 9:221-229.


Chelsea, London, 9[?8]th June, 1837—

My dear Sterling,

There came to my Wife a brave Letter1 the other day; which was read by us both with great pleasure. Your Father and Mother have it in their hands this very morning, as I calculate; reading it down at Ascot Races, whither they are all gone. Said Letter is not the cause of my writing at present, for I had long meditated that; but it perhaps accelerates me; surely it does not retard. By the bye, I wish you would write oftener, without waiting for answer and return of post; believe always that plenty of answers are flying towards you invisible thro' the air, and write when your Daemon bids you, and there lies a pen ready. Is not that a modest request? I wish at present all manner of good men would speak to me by post or otherwise, and require no answer but a Turkish bow.

We rejoice to believe and see that you are much better in spirits and health than you were; shaking off the winter sediments; clearing yourself up into Life with the new Summer. Blackwood's Farrago shall be notable to me when the Table of Contents indicates any of those things.2 Otherwise for the last seven years I know little of Blackwood. One Number solely, by some accident, fell into my hands last winter: of entirely ditch-water character; Wilson himself weltering about in it like a thing that had been. His palaver about “Mrs Gentle”3 and so forth and the whole story he had to tell, struck a kind of damp into me: Seven years are come and gone, and there still art thou palavering, palavering; growing older, but not otherwise in growth! Reviews and Magazines and the other Egyptian Plague of what is called literature do in these days fill me with a kind of sacred horror. Equal at least to the Plague of Frogs and worse ones;4 intrusive into your very bread-oven! But as Corporal Nym says: Pauca verba [Few words]5!—— Seriously however I am heartily glad to know you [are] writing; publishing in this vehicle or the other. One must take such vehicles as there are. Lay thy manna on the dog's-meat tray, since there is no other; and let the Hawker hawk it among his quadrupeds; if by chance a biped pass that way, he will snatch it and appropriate it thou knowest not how. Mill, whom I fell in with yesterday, was charmed to hear of your half-purpose of writing for him, on Shelley or what else it might be; and prayed that it might become a whole purpose and a performance.6 In a word my dear brother John there is a decided faculty in you, which you are bound imperatively as your life's task to get out of you; which you will never get out, except, as you are doing, by effort after effort growing more perfect: try to do a thing if thou wouldst learn to do it. Let us see your Shelley therefore with such despatch as may be. Let us see all your thoughts on all kinds of things with despatch.7 And yet not with too much despatch: for there, close by your best excellence lies one of your worst dangers, according to me: concentrate the “sheet lightning” into a bolt, my brave brother; that is it!— And so shall we not work a little in our generation; seen, or perhaps still better unseen? Ach Gott, the time is so short; the end is so unutterably great! “One waited a whole Eternity to be born, and now a whole Eternity waits to see what one will do when born.”8 Verily this whole world grows magical and hyper-magical to me. Death written on all, yet everlasting Life also written on all. How Homers and Mahomets and Bulwers and “snuffy Socinian Preachers”9 and all people and things that sojourned on Earth go marching, marching, towards the Inane; till, as your boys say, Flop!10 they are not, they are alike forgotten; the blue Azure has alike swallowed them all!— Pauca verba once more! The words we have for such things are worse than none.

I ought surely to send you a touch of practical terrestrial news before ending. But indeed I have small faculty, and suppose you better supplied already from other quarters. I have done nothing of late but dig earth and brick-rubbish in this little Garden so-called; and walk solitary in the Lanes; rather avoiding than seeking the face of men. Very spectral I am every way. My purpose now is, directly when the weather gets too hot, to fly into Scotland, to my Mother's cottage, and lie buried there for some time. How long I cannot say: ce sera selon [that will depend]. A beautiful hope is that you hold out to me, of rambling in the Pyrenees beside you!11 In very truth, I will inquire at Liverpool what Bourdeaux Ships sail thence, what the cost is, &c, &c; and keep the possibility lying by me, as one of the beautifullest the time offers. Why has one not wings? Why is a despicability of a Purse needed; Purse growing light, long-necked; that at last “will not fly when flung against the wind”?12 Courage! My address in Scotland, for at least six weeks from this is: “Scotsbrig, Ecclefechan N. B.” My Wife continues here, with her Mother who came u[p to] us when the Influenza proved so hard. The poor Dame has a headache this morning; and knows not that I am writing to you, or her love were duly forwarded to all of you: she loves you all, I do know, so as people are not often loved at present here below. We are to lose Anthony;13 which grieves us all. He is a right fellow, with those black eyes of his, so sharp and yet so quiet; a man it would do one good to look upon once daily. Can you explain to me rightly, where did these two fellows John and Anthony come from? They are very singular characters to see in this world in these times. Your Father and I go along very lovingly, with a sudden broadside of Logic now and then, each to shew the other that he does carry gunpowder. We are smoke over the masthead on these occasions; but it seems to purify the air between us, and then we sail along in the sweetest manner, gentle as Babes in the wood. Your Mother looks cheerful and well: it seems to be still uncertain whether she will not go and look at Switzerland with Anthony. I met Maurice in the Strand yesterday. He is growing broader, thicker, and gets a clerical air. I know not why I should not wish him clerical or an English Clergyman, yet I never do. His vehement earnestness in twisting such a rope of sand as I reckon that to be occasions me at times a certain misgiving. Written very legible to my eyes stands the doom of that thing. I will even praise Sterling's ill health which has taken him out of it without damage. Excuse my insolence. But I do think what I say, and more than I say. A man like Sterling cannot stand on cobwebs; O Heavens, no, he must have adamant to stand on, there is so much to front! Quittons cela [Let us leave that].

I cannot say a word to you, of the Book or of the Lectures, except that by the unspeakable blessing of Heaven they are finished.14 My hearers were Mixtiform, Dandiacal of both sexes, Dryasdustical (Hallam15 &c), ingenuous, ingenious; and grew on the whole more and more silent. As to the Book16 I rather avoid hearing about it, what clack there may be about it; of lamentation, admonition: “The style; ah, the style!” These poor people seem to think a style can be put off or put on not like a skin but like a coat! Now I refer it to Sterling himself (enemy as he is), whether a skin be not verily the product and close kinsfellow of all that lies under it; exact type of the nature of the beast: not to be plucked off without flaying and death. The Public is an old woman: let her maunder and mumble.— I have met with an excellent Arabian thing the other day: Hariri‘s Ebu Seid translated into German by Rückert,17 mark it down in your Notebook, and read it the first chance you have. A genuine living soul; fiery-vital in its kind; shining thro' a most exotic Arab vesture: hardly any other kind of reading does me any good. [Turn back to the beginning.— Alas that Paper should have limits!]18

My Brother writes almost every Letter that you ought to winter not at Pisa but at Rome: he declares again and again that Rome were better for you. I know not that he is quite incorrupt in that judgement: he has clearly a deep secret desire to have you near his own dwelling place. Yet do consult him, and take seriously into view what he will urge. He knows about that matter, as well as most do, and is a veracious man, not to be biassed beyond limits by any wish of his own in your case.— O that I were in the Campan valley, Sterling sitting on one crag, I on another, the Pyrenean sky and cliffs overhead, a pipe in one's teeth, the Kensington stick19 at one's feet, and the world with its “vociferous platitudes” a thousand miles off!— Adieu my Friend; may a good Guidance go with you whithersoever you wend. I surely think we shall meet again, often and long, under this sun. Mit Gott.

T. Carlyle.

I saw Lady Lewis20 one night at the Buller's; a most considerate, composed, thoroughly compacted woman and lady: she spoke of one John Sterling by the title of an “Angelic being” I think, or something of that sort. She is to live at Woolwich now.

Our united love to Mrs Sterling; to Teddy the Tiler and the other augmenting Diminutives, especially her with the doll.21 Scotsbrig, Ecclefechan Dumfriesshire, that is the address if you love me. Ohe jam satis est [Hold, it is enough now]. Flop!