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NINETEENTH CENTURY LETTERS

"It is usually assumed that even the best of the letter-writers of the nineteenth century are inferior to those of the eighteenth, that they fall short of the standard set by Lady Mary, Walpole, Gray, Cowper, and their contemporaries in the 'golden age of letter-writing.' Inasmuch as we are not altogether clear as to the particular desiderata which we should demand in a letter, such a judgment as to the respective products of the two centuries is venturesome.

"Without question the changes that took place during the nineteenth century in the method of disseminating public information wrought in some degree to an enrichment in the content of letters. In the older time, the correspondent was in duty bound to furnish the kind of news which, at a later day, the newspaper conveyed more satisfactorily; he often loaded his pages with matter which no grace of manner could invest with charm, and he left little room for discussing, what now interests us most, himself and his little, immediate world.

"Often, indeed, the eighteenth century letter-writer was quite disinclined to say much either about himself or about his immediate world. Until fairly late in the century he was likely to be a man untouched by romanticism, unaccustomed to introspection, and inattentive to Nature. Whatever the affectations and excesses to which the Romantic Movement led, it made possible, in the happier instances, an absorbing self-portrayal; and, no less important, it opened the eyes of men and women to the beauty of flower and tree, of mountain and torrent, of soughing wind and gleaming star, to all the incredible pageantry of the physical world which Wordsworth and Coleridge and Shelley and Keats knew and interpreted. As the crest of the romantic wave passed, the egotism that had at times been portentous was relieved by a growth in the power of self-criticism, and by an increase in appreciation of the value of perspective. Men seemed less inspired but more normal. They acquired a taste for looking at things from more than one point of view. Still subjective, still observant, they became more tolerant and more urbane. In no type of literature is the effect of these changes more noteworthy than in the letter; in no form of writing is there a clearer or happier reflection of the state of literary taste and feeling that resulted from the rise of romanticism and its subsequent gradual adjustment to everyday human life. Without wishing to be dogmatic, or to underestimate the achievement of a remoter past, one is surely warranted in regarding many of the letters of the latter part of the nineteenth century as eminently felicitous examples of epistolary correspondence. To read the letters of Edward FitzGerald, of George Meredith, and of Robert Louis Stevenson is to feel the subtle and lasting charm that is induced by blending in one genre deftly-depicted personality, a comfortable sense of intimacy, and the alert urbanity of cultivated society. Whatever the future development of the letter may be a development that the postal card, the telegraph, the telephone, and the typewriter will probably affect but slightly it is scarcely conceivable that there should be for generations to come a significant and satisfying letter-literature which will not owe its salient merits to the heritage bequeathed by letter-writers of the nineteenth century."

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1 From Introduction to Nineteenth Century Lellers, by B. J. Rees.

THOMAS CARLYLE

TO THOMAS DE QUINCEY

CRAIGENPUTTOCK, 11th December, 1828. My dear Sir,

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Having the opportunity of a frank, I cannot resist the temptation to send you a few lines, were it only to signify that two well-wishers of yours are still alive in these remote moors, and often thinking of you with the old friendly feelings. My My wife encourages me in this innocent purpose she has learned lately that you were inquiring for her of some female friend; nay, even promising to visit us here fact of the most interesting sort to both of us. I am to say, therefore, that your presence at this fireside will diffuse no ordinary gladness over all members of the household; that our warmest welcome, and such solacements as even the desert does not refuse, are at any time and at all times in store for one we love so well. Neither is this expedition so impracticable. We lie but a short way out of your direct route to Westmoreland; communicate by gravelled roads with Dumfries and other places in the habitable globe. Were you to warn us of your approach, it might all be made easy enough. And then such a treat it would be to hear the sound of philosophy and literature in the hitherto quite savage wolds, where since the creation of the world no such music, scarcely even articulate speech, had been uttered or dreamed of! Come, therefore, come and see us; for we often long after you. Nay, I can promise, too, that we are almost a unique sight in the British Empire; such a quantity of German periodicals and mystic speculation embosomed in plain Scottish Peatmoor being nowhere else that I know of to be met with.

In idle hours we sometimes project founding a sort of colony here, to be called the "Misanthropic Society"; the settlers all to be men of a certain philosophic depth, and intensely sensible of the present state of literature; each to have his own cottage, encircled with roses or

thistles as he might prefer; a library and pantry within, and huge stack of turffuel without; fenced off from his neighbours by fir woods, and, when he pleased, by cast-metal railing, so that each might feel himself strictly an individual, and free as a son of the wilderness; but the whole settlement to meet weekly over coffee, and there unite in their Miserere, or what were better, hurl forth their defiance, pity, expostulation, over the whole universe, civil, literary, and religious. I reckon this place a much fitter site for such an establishment than your Lake Country - a region abounding in natural beauty, but blown on by coach-horns, betrodden by picturesque tourists, and otherwise exceedingly desecrated by too frequent resort; whereas here, though still in communication with the manufacturing world, we have a solitude altogether Druidical-grim hills tenanted chiefly by the wild grouse, tarns and brooks that have soaked and slumbered unmolested since the Deluge of Noah, and nothing to disturb you with speech, except Arcturus and Orion, and the Spirit of Nature, in the heaven and in the earth, as it manifests itself in anger or love, and utters its inexplicable tidings, unheard by the mortal ear. But the misery is the almost total want of colonists! Would you come hither and be king over us; then indeed we had made a fair beginning, and the "Bog School" might snap its fingers at the "Lake School" itself, and hope to be one day recognized of all men.

But enough of this fooling. Better were it to tell you in plain prose what little can be said of my own welfare, and inquire in the same dialect after yours. It will gratify you to learn that here, in the desert, as in the crowded city, I am moderately active and well; better in health, not worse; and though active only on the small scale, yet in my own opinion honestly, and to as much result as has been usual with me at any time. We have horses to ride on, gardens to cultivate, tight walls and strong fires to defend us against winter; books to read, paper to scribble on; and no man or

thing, at least in this visible earth, to make us afraid; for I reckon that so securely sequestered are we, not only would no Catholic rebellion, but even no new Hengist and Horsa invasion, in anywise disturb our tranquillity. True, we have no society; but who has, in the strict sense of that word? I have never had any worth speaking much about since I came into this world: in the next, it may be, they will order matters better. Meanwhile, if we have not the wheat in great quantity, we are nearly altogether free from the chaff, which often in this matter is highly annoying to weak nerves. My wife and I are busy learning Spanish; far advanced in Don Quixote already. I purpose writing mystical Reviews for somewhat more than a twelve month to come; have Greek to read, and the whole universe to study (for I understand less and less of it); so that here as well as elsewhere I find that a man may "dree his wierd" (serve out his earthly apprenticeship) with reasonable composure, and wait what the flight of years may bring him, little disappointed (unless he is a fool) if it brings him mere nothing save what he has already a body and a soul

more cunning and costly treasures than all Golconda and Potosi could purchase for him. What would the vain worm, man, be at? Has he not a head, to speak of nothing else a head (be it with a hat or without one) full of far richer things than Windsor Palace, or the Brighton Teapot added to it? What are all Dresden picture-galleries and magazines des arts et des métiers to the strange painting and thrice wonderful and thrice precious workmanship that goes on under the cranium of a beggar? What can be added to him or taken from him by the hatred or love of all men? The grey paper or the white silk paper in which the gold ingot is wrapped; the gold is inalienable; he is the gold. But truce also to this moralising. I had a thousand things to ask concerning you: your employments, purposes, sufferings, and pleas

ures.

Will you not write to me? will you not come to me and tell? Believe it,

you are well loved here, and none feels' better than I what a spirit is for the present eclipsed in clouds. For the present it can only be; time and chance are for all men; that troublous season will end; and one day with more joyful, not deeper or truer regard, I shall see you "yourself again." Meanwhile, pardon me this intrusion; and write, if you have a vacant hour which you would fill with a good action. Mr. Jeffery [sic] is still anxious to know you; has he ever succeeded? We are not to be in Edinburgh, I believe, till spring; but I will send him a letter to you (with your permission) by the first conveyance. Remember me with best regards to Professor Wilson and Sir W. Hamilton, neither of whom must forget me; not omitting the honest Gordon, who I know will not.

The bearer of this letter is Henry Inglis, a young gentleman of no ordinary talent and worth, in whom, as I believe, es steckt gar viel. Should he call himself, pray let this be an introduction, for he reverences all spiritual worth, and you also will learn to love him. With all friendly sentiments, I am ever, my dear sir, most faithfully yours,

T. CARLYLE.

To EMERSON

CHELSEA, LONDON, 8 December, 1837. My dear Emerson,

How long it is since you last heard of me I do not very accurately know; but it is too long. A very long, ugly, inert, and unproductive chapter of my own history seems to have passed since then. Whenever I delay writing, be sure matters go not well with me; and do you in that case write to me, were it again and over again again unweariable in pity.

I did go to Scotland, for almost three months; leaving my Wife here with her Mother. The poor Wife had fallen so weak that she gave me real terror in the spring-time, and made the Doctor look very grave indeed: she continued too weak for travelling: I was worn out as I had never in my life been. So, on the

longest day of June, I got back to my Mother's cottage; threw myself down, I may say, into what we may call the "frightfullest magnetic sleep," and lay there avoiding the intercourse of men. Most wearisome had their gabble become; almost unearthly. But indeed all was unearthly in that humour. The gushing of my native brooks, the sough of the old solitary woods, the great roar of old native Solway (billowing fresh out of your Atlantic, drawn by the Moon): all this was a kind of unearthly music to me; I cannot tell you how unearthly. It did not bring me to rest; yet towards rest I do think: at all events, the time had come when I behoved to quit it again. I have been here since September: evidently another little "chapter" or paragraph, not altogether inert, is getting forward. But I must not speak of these things. How can I speak of them on a miserable scrap of blue paper? Looking into your kind eyes with my eyes, I could speak: not here. Pity me, my friend, my brother; yet hope well of me: if I can (in all senses) rightly hold my peace, I think much will yet be well with me. SILENCE is the great thing I worship at present; almost the sole tenant of my Pantheon. Let a man know rightly how to hold his peace. I love to repeat to myself, "Silence is of Eternity." Ah me, I think how I could. rejoice to quit these jarring discords and jargonings of Babel, and go far, far away! I do believe, if I had the smallest competence of money to get "food and warmth" with, I would shake the mud of London from my feet, and go and bury myself in some green place, and never print any syllable more. Perhaps it is better as it is.

But quitting this, we will actually speak (under favour of "Silence") one very small thing; a pleasant piece of news. There is a man here called John Sterling (Reverend John of the Church of England too), whom I love better than anybody I have met with, since a certain sky-messenger alighted to me at Craigenputtock, and vanished in the Blue again. This Sterling has written; but what is far bet

ter, he has lived, he is alive. Across several unsuitable wrappages, of Churchof-Englandism and others, my heart loves the man. He is one, and the best, of a small class extant here, who, nigh drowning in a black wreck of Infidelity (lighted up by some glare of Radicalism only, now growing dim too) and about to perish, saved themselves into a Coleridgian Shovel-hattedness, or determination to preach, to preach peace, were it only the spent echo of a peace once preached. He is still only about thirty; young; and I think will shed the shovel-hat yet perhaps. Do you ever read Blackwood? This John Sterling is the "New Contributor" whom Wilson makes such a rout about, in the November and prior month: "Crystals from a Cavern," &c., which it is well worth your while to see. Well, and what then, cry you? - Why then, this John Sterling has fallen overhead in love with a certain Waldo Emerson; that is all. He saw the little Book Nature lying here; and, across a whole silva silvarum of prejudices, discerned what was in it; took it to his heart, and indeed into his pocket; and has carried it off to Madeira with him; whither unhappily (though now with good hope and expectation) the Doctors have ordered him. This is the small piece of pleasant news, that two sky-messengers (such they were both of them to me) have met and recognized each other; and by God's blessing there shall one day be a trio of us: call you that nothing?

And so now by a direct transition I am got to the Oration. My friend! you know not what you have done for me there. It was long decades of years that I had heard nothing but the infinite jangling and jabbering, and inarticulate twittering and screeching, and my soul had sunk down sorrowful, and said there is no articulate speaking then any more, and thou art solitary among stranger-creatures, and lo, out of the West comes a clear utterance, clearly recognizable as a man's voice, and I have a kinsman and brother: God be thanked for it! I could have wept to read that speech; the clear

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