July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


TC TO KARL AUGUST VARNHAGEN VON ENSE; 31 December 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18371231-TC-KAVE-01; CL 9:382-385.


5 Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London: December 31, 1837.

My dear Sir,—Will you accept, after too long delay, my hearty thanks for your kind and estimable gift,1 which, a good many weeks ago, on returning hither out of Scotland, I found awaiting me here? The name Varnhagen von Ense was long since honourably known to me; in the book ‘Rahel's Gallery,’2 as in a clear mirror, I had got a glimpse of the man himself and the world he lived in; and now, behold! the mirror-image, grown a reality, has come towards me, holding out a friendly right hand in the name3 of the ever dear to both of us! Right heartily I grasp that kind hand, and say again and again, ‘Be welcome, with thanks.’

If it were suitable or possible to explain amid what complexity of difficulties, engagements, sicknesses, I struggle to toil along here, my slowness in answering would not seem inexcusable to you. I wished to read the book first. A book unread is still but the offer of a gift; I needed first to take it into me, and then tell you with proper emphasis that it had in very truth become mine. Not till these late days was the leisure and the mood for such an enjoyment granted me. The two volumes of ‘Denkwürdigkeiten’ remained like a little kindly inn, where, after long solitary wandering in bad weather, I should find repose and friends. Once more I say to you, and now with proper significance, Many thanks.

Insight, liveliness, originality, the hardy adroit spirit of a man who has seen and suffered and done, in all things acquitting himself like a man, shines out on me, in graceful coherence, light, sharp, decisive, from all parts of this as of your other books. It is a great, and to me a most rare, pleasure in these times to find that I agree wholly on all important matters with a writer; that in many highest cases his words are precisely such as I should wish to hear spoken. But, indeed, your view of Goethe being also mine, we set out as it were from a great centre of unity, and travel lovingly together towards all manner of regions. For the rest, nothing pleases me more than your descriptions of facts and transactions, a class of objects which grows continually in significance with me, as much else yearly and daily dwindles away, in treating which a man best of all shows what manner of man he is. I read with special interest your Doctor Bollmann,4 a name not altogether new to me; I could read volume after volume of such autobiography as that you give us—such Halle universities,5 such Battles of Wagram,6 such Fichtes,7 Wolffs,8 Chamissos,9 and the high, tranquil-mournful, almost magical spirit of your Rahel shining over them with a light as of stars! You must not cease; you must continue. That we might see, eyes were given us; and a tongue, to tell accurately what we had got to see. It is the Alpha and Omega of all intellect that man has. No poetry, hardly even that of a Goethe, is equal to the true image of reality—had one eyes to see that. I often say to myself, the highest kind of writing, poetry or what else we may call it, that of the Bible for instance, has nothing to do with fiction at all, but with beliefs, with facts. Go on, and prosper.

If you see Herr Criminal director Hitzig,10 pray remember me very kindly to him. Your friend Chamisso is also one I love. Dr. Mundt11 will mourn with me that the brave Rosen,12 his friend and mine who brought him hither, has been so suddenly summoned for ever away. He is one whom many regret. Do you know Friedrich Rückert? If you stand in any correspondence with him, I will bid you tell him that I got acquainted altogether unexpectedly with his ‘Hariri’ last summer, and rejoiced over it for weeks as over a found jewel.13

No such book had I seen for years; it set me searching, tho' with little effect, thro' Sylvestre de Sacy14 and others; it remains a distinct acquisition for me that I shall never part with.

His Chinese Song-book I have been enjoying in these very weeks.15 He is a man whose heartiest friends must lie wide-scattered in such an era as ours, and ought to speak out as they have opportunity.16

Perhaps you sometimes write to Weimar; if so, pray offer our peculiar regards, my wife's and mine, to Madame von Goethe. I sent Dr. Eckermann a packet and letter, six months ago,17 to which there is yet no answer. His ‘Gespräche’ and your remarks on them were right welcome.

I have been writing a Book on the French Revolution, which will perhaps get to Berlin by and by. German Literature diffuses itself here and in America, rapidly, lustily, without further effort of mine. Its consequences, as I calculate, will be great and beneficial, on the new generation now rising into activity. Deutschland will reclaim her great Colony; we shall become more Deutsch, that is to say more English, at same time.

The Deutsche Stamm [German race] is now clearly in the ascendant; seems as if it were destined to take the main part of the earthly globe, and rule it for a time! Tapferkeit [Valor], their characteristic according to Goethe, deserves to do it.

With true esteem, with thanks and affectionate wishes, I subscribe myself in hopes of meeting again some time, my dear Sir,

Heartily yours /