July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


TC TO DAVID LESTER RICHARDSON; 19 December 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18371219-TC-DLR-01; CL 9:372-375.


5 Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London, / 19th December 1837.

My dear Sir,

Your courteous Gift,1 with the Letter2 accompanying it, reached me only about a week ago, tho' dated 20th June, almost at the opposite point of the year[.] Whether there has been undue delay or not is unknown to me; but at any rate on my side there ought to be no delay.

I have read your volume—what little of it was known to me before, and the much that was not known—I can say, with true pleasure. It is written, as few volumes in these days are, with fidelity, with successful care, with insight and conviction as to matter, with clearness and graceful precision as to manner: in a word, it is the impress of a mind stored with elegant accomplishments, gifted with an eye to see, and a heart to understand;—a welcome, altogether recommendable Book. More than once I have said to myself and others, How many parlour firesides are there this winter in England, at which this Volume, could one give credible announcement of its quality, would be right pleasant company! There are very many, could one give the announcement! But no such announcement can be given; therefore the parlour firesides must even put up with——, or what other stuff Chance shoves in their way, and read, tho' with malediction all the time. It is a great pity; but no man can help it. We are now arrived seemingly pretty near the point when all criticism and proclamation in matters literary has degenerated into an insane jargon, incredible, unintelligible, inarticulate as the cawing of choughs and rooks;—and many things, in that as in other provinces, are in a state of painful and rapid transition. A good Book has no way of recommending itself except slowly, and as it were accidentally from hand to hand. The man that wrote it must abide his time. He needs, as indeed all men do, the faith that this world is built not on falsehood and jargon, but on truth and reason; that no good thing done by any creature of God was, is, or ever can be lost, but will verily do the service appointed for it; and be found among the general Sum-total and All of Things after long times, nay after all Time, and thro' Eternity itself. Let him “cast his bread upon the waters,” therefore, cheerful of heart; “he will find it after many days.”3—I know not why I write all this to you, it comes very spontaneously from me. Let it be your satisfaction, the highest a man can have in this world, that the talent intrusted to you did not lie useless, but was turned to account and proved itself to be a talent; and the “publishing world” can receive it altogether according to their own pleasure, raise it high on the housetops, or trample it low into the street-kennels; that is not the question at all; the thing remains precisely what it was after never such raising and never such depressing and trampling; there is no change whatever in it. I bid you go on and prosper.

One thing grieves me: the tone of sadness, I might say of settled melancholy, that runs thro' all your utterances of yourself. It is not right, it is wrong; and yet how shall I reprove you? If you knew me, you would triumphantly [see] for any spiritual endowment bestowed on a man, that it is accompanied, or one might say preceded as the first origin of it, always by a delicacy of organisation which in a world like ours is sure to have itself manifoldly afflicted, tormented, darkened down into sorrow and disease.4 You feel yourself an exile in the East; but in the West too it is exile. I know not where under the sun it is not exile. Here in the Fog-Babylon, amid mud and smoke, in the infinite din of “vociferous platitude,” and quack outbellowing quack, with Truth and Pity on all hands ground under the wheels,—can one call it a home, or a world? It is a waste chaos, where we have to swim painfully for our life. The utmost a man can do is to swim there like a man, and hold his peace. For this seems to me a great truth, in any exile or chaos whatsoever, that sorrow was not given us for sorrow's sake, but always and infallibly as a lesson to us from which we are to learn somewhat; and which, the somewhat once learned, ceases to be sorrow. I do believe this, and study in general to “consume my own smoke”5—not indeed without very ugly out-puffs at times! Allan Cunningham is the test; he tells me that always as one grows older, one grows happier: a thing also which I really can believe.

But as for you, my dear Sir, you have other work to do in the East than grieve. Are there not beautiful things there, glorious things; wanting only an eye to note them, a hand to record them? If I had the command over you, I would say, Read Paul et Virginie then, read the Chaumière Indienne;6 gird yourself together for a right effort, and go and do likewise or better! I mean what I say. The East has its own phases; there are things there which the West yet knows not of; and one Heaven covers both.7 He that has an eye let him look! I hope you forgive me this style I have got into. It seems to me on reading your Book as if we had been long acquainted in some measure; as if one might speak to you right from the heart. I hope we shall meet some day or other. I send you my constant respect and good wishes; and am and remain,

Yours very truly always /

T. Carlyle.