July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


TC TO JOHN STERLING; 28 July 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18370728-TC-JOST-01; CL 9:266-269.


Scotsbrig, Ecclefechan, 28th July, 1837—

My dear Sterling,

Every time the Boy, these last two weeks, has returned from the village Post-office, I have looked expectantly for some trace of your handwriting; but there comes none.1 I may well say, it was one of my greatest regrets in quitting Babylon when I did, that I was not to meet with you there. Alas, there are so few people one cares to meet anywhere, so few whose speech is not a jargon and an affliction to one! Where are you, my good Friend? Is it appointed that you return over seas without seeing me, depart and make no sign? My Wife writes of you copiously, but in the lyrical rather than the historical style; except these notices of hers I have none; and indeed can have none, having ceased in these weeks to write Letters to any mortal. I know you are not at Knightsbridge, but at some one of the sundry “Cliftons” there are in this Isle: pray tell me which of them, what your humour and position is, what your plans are.2 I would right gladly see you, and would even make an active effort that way, impossible as effort seems at present. At all events write me a Letter or Line, specifying your orbit for the next weeks, and where the minimum of distance and impediment between us may be expected to lie. I dare not promise to myself that I will do anything considerable in consequence of knowing; but I should like to know it. The sum of the matter is, write if you have any time for such a thing; if not, behold I have asked you to do it; you shall live well and voyage well, remembering me as one by whom you are always like to be remembered.

And now having stated this, I ought to consider my actual enterprise complete. To write of myself, which is the only subject in this quarter, were at present one of the saddest Essays on Nothing; unprofitable to do, distressing to see done. “Silence”: to how many thousand things in this world of ours, in this life of mine, is that the only word I can utter without fault! In fact, I have thoughts some day of writing one of the powerfullest discourses I can on Silence: all speech, even a seraph's, is a triviality compared with it; our age has entirely lost feeling of it, or all but entirely, and is become empty, and of the nature of a drum; &c, &c: all this I have had thoughts of writing; how much more in my present interlunar condition ought I to practice it! There is no idler, sadder, quieter, more ghostlike man in the world even now than I. Most weary, flat, stale3 seem to me all the electioneerings and screechings and jibberings that the Earth is filled with, in these or indeed in any days. Men's very sorrows, and the tear one's heart weeps when the eye is dry, what is in that either? In an hour, will not Death shake it all still again?— Nevertheless the old Brook, Middlebie Burn we call it, still leaps into i[t]s “Caudron” here, gushes clear as crystal thro' the chasms and dingles of its “Linn”; singing me a song, with slight variations of score these several thousand years; a song better for me than Pasta's!4 I look on the sapphire of St Bees Head and the Solway mirror from the gable-window; I ride to the top of Blaweary and see all round from Ettrick Pen to Helvellyn, from Tyndale and Northumberland to Cairnsmuir and Ayrshire: voir c'est avoir [to see is to possess]: a brave old Earth, after all;—in which, as above said, I am content to acquiesce without quarrel, and at lowest hold my peace. It is what one ought to do. One night, late, I rode thro' the village where I was born. The old “Kirkyard Tree,” a huge old gnarled ash, was rustling itself softly against the great Twilight in the North; a star or two looked out; and the old graves were all there, and my Father's and my Sister's: and God was above us all. I really, as I said, have no words to speak.

I read little or nothing, hear of little or nothing. I brought Müller's History (Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft) with me: a work of endless research, of great talent; but unsuitable for me; unedifying, with its high Tacitus-philosophy and classicality, not without a touch of pedantry. I am still in the third volume. On the other hand, I did read—Pickwick! what of it I could get; one whole day; Buller having recommended it in the Review.5 Thinner wash, with perceptible vestige of a flavour in it here and there, was never offered to the human palate: I will henceforth call Buller not the worst critic in Britain, but a critic whom I will not be led by. On the whole, however, is it not to be considered that I, for instance, did read Pickwick, and have not yet read Johannes von Müller? I sat almost a whole day reading it. Ought there not to be Books of that kind? It is not certain Yes; and yet not certain No: the Turks endeavour “to combine exercise with total passivity of indolence”; the human constitution has many wants. Requiescat [Let rest] Pickwick!—

I am for Annan this afternoon, whither I sometimes go seabathing; I am sure of the ride at all events: your Letter can go in my pocket; by steam or horse-power, I calculate, it will find you out, and bring a welcome response to me. I have seen nothing of Blackwood6 or the verses which my Wife pronounces beautiful.7 Tell me what you are doing: for I suppose it to be something. Tell me whether you are still for Pisa, or have been persuaded towards Rome.8 My Brother spoke [of] a Letter he had got from you; of a hope he still had that you might be his neighbour? Where is Anthony, when you heard of him? On the Righiberg, or rusticating at some Unterlachen?9 May good be with him wherever he is.— I send you my heart's wishes, my dear Sterling; and am always

Your affectionate /

T. Carlyle.