“To my friend I write a letter, and from him I receive a letter. It is a spiritual gift, worthy of him to give, and of me to receive.” — Emerson
“What the writer did actually mean, the thing he then thought of, the thing he then was.” — Carlyle
Concord, 1 July, 1842
My Dear Carlyle, — I have lately received from our slow friends, James Munroe & Co., $246 on account of their sales of the Miscellanies, — and I enclose a bill of Exchange for L51, which cost $246.50. It is a long time since I sent you any sketch of the account itself, and indeed a long time since it was posted, as the booksellers say; but I will find a time and a clerk also for this.
I have had no word from you for a long space. You wrote me a letter from Scotland after the death of your wife’s mother, and full of pity for me also; and since, I have heard nothing. I confide that all has gone well and prosperously with you; that the iron Puritan is emerging from the Past, in shape and stature as he lived; and you are recruited by sympathy and content with your picture; and that the sure repairs of time and love and active duty have brought peace to the orphan daughter’s heart. My friend Alcott must also have visited you before this, and you have seen whether any relation could subsist betwixt men so differently excellent. His wife here has heard of his arrival on your coast, — no more.
I submitted to what seemed a necessity of petty literary patriotism, — I know not what else to call it, — and took charge of our thankless little Dial, here, without subscribers enough to pay even a publisher, much less any laborer; it has no penny for editor or contributor, nothing but abuse in the newspapers, or, at best, silence; but it serves as a sort of portfolio, to carry about a few poems or sentences which would otherwise be transcribed and circulated; and always we are waiting when somebody shall come and make it good. But I took it, as I said, and it took me, and a great deal of good time, to a small purpose. I am ashamed to compute how many hours and days these chores consume for me. I had it fully in my heart to write at large leisure in noble mornings opened by prayer or by readings of Plato or whomsoever else is dearest to the Morning Muse, a chapter on Poetry, for which all readings, all studies, are but preparation; but now it is July, and my chapter is rudest beginnings. Yet when I go out of doors in the summer night, and see how high the stars are, I am persuaded that there is time enough, here or somewhere, for all that I must do; and the good world manifests very little impatience.
Stearns Wheeler, the Cambridge tutor, a good Grecian, and the editor, you will remember, of your American Editions, is going to London in August probably, and on to Heidelberg, &c. He means, I believe, to spend two years in Germany, and will come to see you on his way; a man whose too facile and good-natured manners do some injustice to his virtues, to his great industry and real knowledge. He has been corresponding with your Tennyson, and editing his Poems here. My mother, my wife, my two little girls, are well; the youngest, Edith, is the comfort of my days. Peace and love be with you, with you both, and all that is yours.
— R. W. Emerson
In our present ignorance of Mr. Alcott’s address I advised his wife to write to your care, as he was also charged to keep you informed of his place. You may therefore receive letters for him with this.
Chelsea, London, 19 July, 1842
My Dear Emerson, — Lest Opportunity again escape me, I will take her, this time, by the forelock, and write while the matter is still hot. You have been too long without hearing of me; far longer, at least, than I meant. Here is a second Letter from you, besides various intermediate Notes by the hands of Friends, since that Templand Letter of mine: the Letter arrived yesterday; my answer shall get under way today.
First under the head of business let it be authenticated that the Letter enclosed a Draft for L51; a new, unexpected munificence out of America; which is ever and anon dropping gifts upon me, — to be received, as indeed they partly are, like Manna dropped out of the sky; the gift of unseen Divinities! The last money I got from you changed itself in the usual soft manner from dollars into sovereigns, and was what they call “all right,” — all except the little Bill (of Eight Pounds and odds, I think) drawn on Fraser’s Executors by Brown (Little and Brown?); which Bill the said Executors having refused for I know not what reason, I returned it to Brown with note of the dishonor done it, and so the sum still stands on his Books in our favor. Fraser’s people are not now my Booksellers, except in the matter of your Essays and a second edition of Sartor; the other Books I got transferred to a certain pair of people named “Chapman and Hall, 186 Strand”; which operation, though (I understand) it was transacted with great and vehement reluctance on the part of the Fraser people, yet produced no quarrel between them and me, and they still forward parcels, &c., and are full of civility when I see them: — so that whether this had any effect or none in their treatment of Brown and his Bill I never knew; nor indeed, having as you explained it no concern with Brown’s and their affairs, did I ever happen to inquire. I avoid all Booksellers; see them rarely, the blockheads; study never to think of them at all. Book-sales, reputation, profit, &c., &c.; all this at present is really of the nature of an encumbrance to me; which I study, not without success, to sweep almost altogether out of my head. One good is still possible to me in Life, one only: To screw a little more work out of myself, my miserable, despicable, yet living, acting, and so far imperial and celestial self; and this, God knows, is difficulty enough without any foreign one!
You ask after Cromwell: ask not of him; he is like to drive me mad. There he lies, shining clear enough to me, nay glowing, or painfully burning; but far down; sunk under two hundred years of Cant, Oblivion, Unbelief, and Triviality of every kind: through all which, and to the top of all which, what mortal industry or energy will avail to raise him! A thousand times I have rued that my poor activity ever took that direction. The likelihood still is that I may abandon the task undone. I have bored through the dreariest mountains of rubbish; I have visited Naseby Field, and how many other unintelligible fields and places; I have &c., &c.: — alas, what a talent have I for getting into the Impossible! Meanwhile my studies still proceed; I even take a ghoulish kind of pleasure in raking through these old bone-houses and burial-aisles now; I have the strangest fellowship with that huge Genius of DEATH (universal president there), and catch sometimes, through some chink or other, glimpses into blessed ulterior regions, — blessed, but as yet altogether silent. There is no use of writing of things past, unless they can be made in fact things present: not yesterday at all, but simply today and what it holds of fulfilment and of promises is ours: the dead ought to bury their dead, ought they not? In short, I am very unfortunate, and deserve your prayers, — in a quiet kind of way! If you lose tidings of me altogether, and never hear of me more, — consider simply that I have gone to my natal element, that the Mud Nymphs have sucked me in; as they have done several in their time!
Sterling was here about the time your Letters to him came: your American reprint of his pieces was naturally gratifying him much. He seems getting yearly more restless; necessitated to find an outlet for himself, unable as yet to do it well. I think he will now write Review articles for a while; which craft is really, perhaps, the one he is fittest for hitherto. I love Sterling: a radiant creature; but very restless; — incapable either of rest or of effectual motion: aurora borealis and sheet lightning; which if it could but concentrate itself, as I [say] always! — We had much talk; but, on the whole, even his talk is not much better for me than silence at present. Me miserum!
Directly about the time of Sterling’s departure came Alcott, some two weeks after I had heard of his arrival on these shores. He has been twice here, at considerable length; the second time, all night. He is a genial, innocent, simple-hearted man, of much natural intelligence and goodness, with an air of rusticity, veracity, and dignity withal, which in many ways appeals to one. The good Alcott: with his long, lean face and figure, with his gray worn temples and mild radiant eyes; all bent on saving the world by a return to acorns and the golden age; he comes before one like a kind of venerable Don Quixote, whom nobody can even laugh at without loving!…
My poor Wife is still weak, overshadowed with sorrow: her loss is great, the loss almost as of the widow’s mite; for except her good Mother she had almost no kindred left; and as for friends — they are not rife in this world. — God be thanked withal they are not entirely non-extant! Have I not a Friend, and Friends, though they too are in sorrow? Good be with you all.
— T. Carlyle.
By far the valuablest thing that Alcott brought me was the Newspaper report of Emerson’s last Lectures in New York. Really a right wholesome thing; radiant, fresh as the morning; a thing worth reading; which accordingly I clipped from the Newspaper, and have in a state of assiduous circulation to the comfort of many. — I cannot bid you quit the Dial, though it, too, alas, is Antinomian somewhat! Perge, perge, nevertheless. — And so now an end.
— T. C.
Chelsea, London, 29 August, 1842
My Dear. Emerson, — This, morning your new Letter, of the 15th August, has arrived; exactly one fortnight old: thanks to the gods and steam-demons! I already, perhaps six weeks ago, answered your former Letter, — acknowledging the manna-gift of the L51, and other things; nor do I think the Letter can have been lost, for I remember putting it into the Post-Office myself. Today I am on the eve of an expedition into Suffolk, and full of petty business: however, I will throw you one word, were it only to lighten my own heart a little. You are a kind friend to me, and a precious; — and when I mourn over the impotence of Human Speech, and how each of us, speak or write as he will, has to stand dumb, cased up in his own unutterabilities, before his unutterable Brother, I feel always as if Emerson were the man I could soonest try to speak with, — were I within reach of him! Well; we must be content. A pen is a pen, and worth something; though it expresses about as much of a man’s meaning perhaps as the stamping of a hoof will express of a horse’s meaning; a very poor expression indeed!
Your bibliopolic advice about Cromwell or my next Book shall be carefully attended, if I live ever to write another Book! But I have again got down into primeval Night; and live alone and mute with the Manes, as you say; uncertain whether I shall ever more see day. I am partly ashamed of myself; but cannot help it. One of my grand difficulties I suspect to be that I cannot write two Books at once; cannot be in the seventeenth century and in the nineteenth at one and the same moment; a feat which excels even that of the Irishman’s bird: “Nobody but a bird can be in two places at once!” For my heart is sick and sore in behalf of my own poor generation; nay, I feel withal as if the one hope of help for it consisted in the possibility of new Cromwells and new Puritans: thus do the two centuries stand related to me, the seventeenth worthless except precisely in so far as it can be made the nineteenth; and yet let anybody try that enterprise! Heaven help me. — I believe at least that I ought to hold my tongue; more especially at present.
Thanks for asking me to write you a word in the Dial. Had such a purpose struck me long ago, there have been many things passing through my head, — march-marching as they ever do, in long drawn, scandalous Falstaff-regiments (a man ashamed to be seen passing through Coventry with such a set!) — some one of which, snatched out of the ragged rank, and dressed and drilled a little, might perhaps fitly have been saved from Chaos, and sent to the Dial. In future we shall be on the outlook. I love your Dial, and yet it is with a kind of shudder. You seem to me in danger of dividing yourselves from the Fact of this present Universe, in which alone, ugly as it is, can I find any anchorage, and soaring away after Ideas, Beliefs, Revelations, and such like, — into perilous altitudes, as I think; beyond the curve of perpetual frost, for one thing! I know not how to utter what impression you give me; take the above as some stamping of the fore-hoof. Surely I could wish you returned into your own poor nineteenth century, its follies and maladies, its blind or half-blind, but gigantic toilings, its laughter and its tears, and trying to evolve in some measure the hidden Godlike that lies in it;—that seems to me the kind of feat for literary men. Alas, it is so easy to screw one’s self up into high and ever higher altitudes of Transcendentalism, and see nothing under one but the everlasting snows of Himmalayah, the Earth shrinking to a Planet, and the indigo firmament sowing itself with daylight stars; easy for you, for me: but whither does it lead? I dread always, To inanity and mere injuring of the lungs! — “Stamp, Stamp, Stamp!” — Well, I do believe, for one thing, a man has no right to say to his own generation, turning quite away from it, “Be damned!” It is the whole Past and the whole Future, this same cotton-spinning, dollar-hunting, canting and shrieking, very wretched generation of ours. Come back into it, I tell you; — and so for the present will “stamp” no more….
Adieu, my friend; I must not add a word more. My Wife is out on a visit; it is to bring her back that I am now setting forth for Suffolk. I hope to see Ely too, and St. Ives, and Huntingdon, and various Cromwelliana. My blessings on the Concord Household now and always. Commend me expressly to your Wife and your Mother. Farewell, dear friend.
— T. Carlyle
Concord, 15 October, 1842
My Dear Carlyle, — I am in your debt for at least two letters since I sent you any word. I should be well content to receive one of these stringent epistles of bark and steel and mellow wine with every day’s post, but as there is no hope that more will be sent without my writing to signify that these have come, I hereby certify that I love you well and prize all your messages. I read with special interest what you say of these English studies, and I doubt not the Book is in steady progress again. We shall see what change the changed position of the author will make in the book. The first History expected its public; the second is written to an expecting people. The tone of the first was proud, — to defiance; we will see if applauses have mitigated the master’s temper. This time he has a hero, and we shall have a sort of standard to try, by the hero who fights, the hero who writes. Well; may grand and friendly spirits assist the work in all hours; may impulses and presences from that profound world which makes and embraces the whole of humanity, keep your feet on the Mount of Vision which commands the Centuries, and the book shall be an indispensable Benefit to men, which is the surest fame. Let me know all that can be told of your progress in it. You shall see in the last Dial a certain shadow or mask of yours, “another Richmond,” who has read your lectures and profited thereby. Alcott sent me the paper from London, but I do not know the name of the writer.
As for Alcott, you have discharged your conscience of him manfully and knightly; I absolve you well… He is a great man and was made for what is greatest, but I now fear that he has already touched what best he can, and through his more than a prophet’s egotism, and the absence of all useful reconciling talents, will bring nothing to pass, and be but a voice in the wilderness. As you do not seem to have seen in him his pure and noble intellect, I fear that it lies under some new and denser clouds.
For the Dial and its sins, I have no defence to set up. We write as we can, and we know very little about it. If the direction of these speculations is to be deplored, it is yet a fact for literary history, that all the bright boys and girls in New England, quite ignorant of each other, take the world so, and come and make confession to fathers and mothers, — the boys that they do not wish to go into trade, the girls that they do not like morning calls and evening parties. They are all religious, but hate the churches; they reject all the ways of living of other men, but have none to offer in their stead. Perhaps, one of these days, a great Yankee shall come, who will easily do the unknown deed.
The booksellers have sent me accounts lately, but — I know not why — no money. Little and Brown from January to July had sold very few books. I inquired of them concerning the bill of exchange on Fraser’s Estate, which you mention, and they said it had not been returned to them, but only some information, as I think, demanded by Fraser’s administrator, which they had sent, and, as they heard nothing again, they suppose that it is allowed and paid to you. Inform me on this matter.
Munroe & Co. allow some credits, but charge more debits for binding, &c., and also allege few sales in the hard times. I have got a good friend of yours, a banking man, to promise that he will sift all the account and see if the booksellers have kept their promises. But I have never yet got all the papers in readiness for him. I am looking to see if I have matter for new lectures, having left behind me last spring some half-promises in New York. If you can remember it, tell me who writes about Loyola and Xavier in the Edinburgh. Sterling’s papers — if he is near you — are all in Mr. Russell’s hands. I played my part of Fadladeen with great rigor, and sent my results to Russell, but have not now written to J. S.
Chelsea, London, 19 November, 1842
My Dear Emerson, — Your Letter finds me here today; busied with many things, but not likely to be soon more at leisure; wherefore I may as well give myself the pleasure of answering it on the spot. The Fraser Bill by Brown and Little has come all right; the Dumfries Banker apprises me lately that he has got the cash into his hands. Pray do not pester yourself with these Bookseller unintelligibilities: I suppose their accounts are all reasonably correct, the cheating, such as it is, done according to rule: what signifies it at any rate? I am no longer in any vital want of money; alas, the want that presses far heavier on me is a want of faculty, a want of sense; and the feeling of that renders one comparatively very indifferent to money! I reflect many times that the wealth of the Indies, the fame of ten Shakespeares or ten Mahomets, would at bottom do me no good at all. Let us leave these poor slaves of the Ingot and slaves of the Lamp to their own courses, — within a certain extent of halter!
What you say of Alcott seems to me altogether just. He is a man who has got into the Highest intellectual region, — if that be the Highest (though in that too there are many stages) wherein a man can believe and discern for himself, without need of help from any other, and even in opposition to all others: but I consider him entirely unlikely to accomplish anything considerable, except some kind of crabbed, semi-perverse, though still manful existence of his own; which indeed is no despicable thing. His “more than prophetic egoism,” — alas, yes! It is of such material that Thebaid Eremites, Sect-founders, and all manner of cross-grained fanatical monstrosities have fashioned themselves, — in very high, and in the highest regions, for that matter. Sect-founders withal are a class I do not like. No truly great man, from Jesus Christ downwards, as I often say, ever founded a Sect, — I mean wilfully intended founding one. What a view must a man have of this Universe, who thinks “he can swallow it all,” who is not doubly and trebly happy that he can keep it from swallowing him! On the whole, I sometimes hope we have now done with Fanatics and Agonistic Posture-makers in this poor world: it will be an immense improvement on the Past; and the “New Ideas,” as Alcott calls them, will prosper greatly the better on that account! The old gloomy Gothic Cathedrals were good; but the great blue Dome that hangs over all is better than any Cologne one. — On the whole, do not tell the good Alcott a word of all this; but let him love me as he can, and live on vegetables in peace; as I, living partly on vegetables, will continue to love him!
The best thing Alcott did while he staid among us was to circulate some copies of your Man the Reformer. I did not get a copy; I applied for one, so soon as I knew the right fountain; but Alcott, I think, was already gone. And now mark, — for this I think is a novelty, if you do not already know it: Certain Radicals have reprinted your Essay in Lancashire, and it is freely circulating there, and here, as a cheap pamphlet, with excellent acceptance so far as I discern. Various Newspaper reviews of it have come athwart me: all favorable, but all too shallow for sending to you. I myself consider it a truly excellent utterance; one of the best words you have ever spoken. Speak many more such. And whosoever will distort them into any “vegetable” or other crotchet, — let it be at his own peril; for the word itself is true; and will have to make itself a fact therefore; though not a distracted abortive fact, I hope! Words of that kind are not born into Facts in the seventh month; well if they see the light full-grown (they and their adjuncts) in the second century; for old Time is a most deliberate breeder! — But to speak without figure, I have been very much delighted with the clearness, simplicity, quiet energy and veracity of this discourse; and also with the fact of its spontaneous appearance here among us. The prime mover of the Printing, I find, is one Thomas Ballantyne, editor of a Manchester Newspaper, a very good, cheery little fellow, once a Paisley weaver as he informs me, — a great admirer of all worthy things.
My paper is so fast failing, let me tell you of the writer on Loyola. He is a James Stephen, Head Under-Secretary of the Colonial Office, — that is to say, I believe, real governor of the British Colonies, so far as they have any governing. He is of Wilberforce’s creed, of Wilberforce’s kin; a man past middle age, yet still in full vigor; reckoned an enormous fellow for “despatch of business,” &c., especially by Taylor (van Artevelde) and others who are with him or under him in Downing Street…. I regard the man as standing on the confines of Genius and Dilettantism, — a man of many really good qualities, and excellent at the despatch of business. There we will leave him. — A Mrs. Lee of Brookline near you has made a pleasant Book about Jean Paul, chiefly by excerpting. I am sorry to find Gunderode & Co. a decided weariness! Cromwell — Cromwell? Do not mention such a word, if you love me! And yet — Farewell, my Friend, tonight!
I will apprise Sterling before long: he is at Falmouth, and well; urging me much to start a Periodical here!
Gambardella promises to become a real Painter; there is a glow of real fire in the wild southern man: next to no articulate intellect or the like, but of inarticulate much, or I mistake. He has tried to paint me for you; but cannot, he says!
Chelsea, London, 11 March, 1848
Dear Emerson, — I know not whose turn it is to write; though a suspicion has long attended me that it was yours, and above all an indisputable wish that you would do it: but this present is a cursory line, all on business, — and as usual all on business of my own.