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- Pages from a Journal with Other Papers - 1/29 -

Transcribed from the 1901 T. Fisher Unwin edition by David Price, email


Contents: A Visit to Carlyle in 1868 Early Morning in January March June August The End of October November The Break-up of a Great Drought Spinoza Supplementary Note on the Devil Injustice Time Settles Controversies Talking about our Troubles Faith Patience An Apology Belief, Unbelief, and Superstition Judas Iscariot Sir Walter Scott's Use of the Supernatural September, 1798 Some Notes on Milton The Morality of Byron's Poetry. "The Corsair" Byron, Goethe, and Mr. Matthew Arnold A Sacrifice The Aged Three Conscience The Governess's Story James Forbes Atonement My Aunt Eleanor Correspondence between George, Lucy, M.A., and Hermione Russell, B.A. Mrs. Fairfax


On Saturday, the 22nd of March, 1868, my father and I called on Carlyle at 5, Cheyne Row, Chelsea, with a message from one of his intimate friends.

We were asked upstairs at once, and found Carlyle at breakfast. The room was large, well-lighted, a bright fire was burning, and the window was open in order to secure complete ventilation. Opposite the fireplace was a picture of Frederick the Great and his sister. There were also other pictures which I had not time to examine. One of them Carlyle pointed out. It was a portrait of the Elector of Saxony who assisted Luther. The letters V.D.M.I.AE. ("Verbum Dei Manet in AEternum") were round it. Everything in the room was in exact order, there was no dust or confusion, and the books on the shelves were arranged in perfect EVENNESS. I noticed that when Carlyle replaced a book he took pains to get it level with the others. The furniture was solid, neat, and I should think expensive. I showed him the letter he had written to me eighteen years ago. It has been published by Mr. Froude, but it will bear reprinting. The circumstances under which it was written, not stated by Mr. Froude, were these. In 1850, when the Latter-day Pamphlets appeared--how well I remember the eager journey to the bookseller for each successive number!--almost all the reviews united in a howl of execration, criticism so called. I, being young, and owing so much to Carlyle, wrote to him, the first and almost the only time I ever did anything of the kind, assuring him that there was at least one person who believed in him. This was his answer:-

"CHELSEA, 9th March, 1850.

"MY GOOD YOUNG FRIEND,--I am much obliged by the regard you entertain for me; and do not blame your enthusiasm, which well enough beseems your young years. If my books teach you anything, don't mind in the least whether other people believe it or not; but do you for your own behoof lay it to heart as a real acquisition you have made, more properly, as a real message left with you, which YOU must set about fulfilling, whatsoever others do! This is really all the counsel I can give you about what you read in my books or those of others: PRACTISE what you learn there; instantly and in all ways begin turning the belief into a fact, and continue at that--till you get more and ever more beliefs, with which also do the like. It is idle work otherwise to write books or to read them.

"And be not surprised that 'people have no sympathy with you'; that is an accompaniment that will attend you all your days if you mean to lead an earnest life. The 'people' could not save you with their 'sympathy' if they had never so much of it to give; a man can and must save himself, with or without their sympathy, as it may chance.

"And may all good be with you, my kind young friend, and a heart stout enough for this adventure you are upon; that is the best 'good' of all.

"I remain, yours very sincerely,


Carlyle had forgotten this letter, but said, "It is undoubtedly mine. It is what I have always believed . . . it has been so ever since I was at college. I do not mean to say I was not loved there as warmly by noble friends as ever man could be, but the world tumbled on me, and has ever since then been tumbling on me rubbish, huge wagon-loads of rubbish, thinking to smother me, and was surprised it did not smother me--turned round with amazement and said, 'What, you alive yet?' . . . While I was writing my Frederick my best friends, out of delicacy, did not call. Those who came were those I did not want to come, and I saw very few of them. I shook off everything to right and left. At last the work would have killed me, and I was obliged to take to riding, chiefly in the dark, about fourteen miles most days, plunging and floundering on. I ought to have been younger to have undertaken such a task. If they were to offer me all Prussia, all the solar system, I would not write Frederick again. No bribe from God or man would tempt me to do it."

He was re-reading his Frederick, to correct it for the stereotyped edition. "On the whole I think it is very well done. No man perhaps in England could have done it better. If you write a book though now, you must just pitch it out of window and say, 'Ho! all you jackasses, come and trample on it and trample it into mud, or go on till you are tired.'" He laughed heartily at this explosion. His laughter struck me--humour controlling his wrath and in a sense ABOVE it, as if the final word were by no means hatred or contempt, even for the jackass. " . . . No piece of news of late years has gladdened me like the victory of the Prussians over the Austrians. It was the triumph of Prussian over French and Napoleonic influence. The Prussians were a valiant, pious people, and it was a question which should have the most power in Germany, they or Napoleon. The French are sunk in all kinds of filth. Compare what the Prussians did with what we did in the Crimea. The English people are an incredible people. They seem to think that it is not necessary that a general should have the least knowledge of the art of war. It is as if you had the stone, and should cry out to any travelling tinker or blacksmith and say, 'Here, come here and cut me for the stone,' and he WOULD cut you! Sir Charles Napier would have been a great general if he had had the opportunity. He was much delighted with Frederick. 'Frederick was a most extraordinary general,' said Sir Charles, and on examination I found out that all that Sir Charles had read of Frederick was a manual for Prussian officers, published by him about 1760, telling them what to do on particular occasions. I was very pleased at this admiration of Frederick by Sir Charles . . .

"Sir John Bowring was one of your model men; men who go about imagining themselves the models of all virtues, and they are models of something very different. He was one of your patriots, and the Government to quiet him sent him out to China. When he got there he went to war with a third of the human race! He, the patriot, he who believed in the greatest-happiness principle, immediately went to war with a third of the human race!" (Great laughter from T.C.) "And so far as I can make out he was all wrong.

"The Frederick is being translated into German. It is being done by a man whose name I have forgotten, but it was begun by one of the most faithful friends I ever had, Neuberg. I could not work in the rooms in the offices where lay the State papers I wanted to use, it brought on such a headache, but Neuberg went there, and for six months worked all day copying. He was taken ill, and a surgical operation was badly performed, and then in that wild, black weather at the beginning of last year, just after I came back from Mentone, the news came to me one night he was dead."

On leaving Carlyle shook hands with us both and said he was glad to have seen us. "It was pleasant to have friends coming out of the dark in this way."

Perhaps a reflection or two which occurred to me after this interview may not be out of place. Carlyle was perfectly frank, even to us of whom he knew but little. He did not stand off or refuse to talk on any but commonplace subjects. What was offered to us was his best. And yet there is to be found in him a singular reserve, and those shallow persons who taunt him with inconsistency because he makes so much of silence, and yet talks so much, understand little or nothing of him. In half a dozen pages one man may be guilty of shameless garrulity, and another may be nobly reticent throughout a dozen volumes. Carlyle feels the contradictions of the universe as keenly as any man can feel them. He knows how easy it is to appear profound by putting anew the riddles which nobody can answer; he knows how strong is the temptation towards the insoluble. But upon these subjects he also knows how to hold his tongue; he does not shriek in the streets, but he bows his head. He has found no answer--he no more than the feeblest of us, and yet in his inmost soul there is a shrine, and he worships.

Carlyle is the champion of morals, ethics, law--call it what you like-- of that which says we must not always do a thing because it is pleasant. There are two great ethical parties in the world, and, in the main, but two. One of them asserts the claims of the senses. Its doctrine is seductive because it is so right. It is necessary that we should in a measure believe it, in order that life may be sweet. But nature has

Pages from a Journal with Other Papers - 1/29

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