Emerson and Carlyle

Review: Emerson and Carlyle
Reviewed Work(s): The Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1834-1872 by Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson
Review by: Edwin P. Whipple

Bacon says of private letters, that “such as are written from wise men, are, of all the words of men, in my judgment, the best; for they are more natural than orations, public speeches, and more advised than conferences or present speeches.” This remark, frequently quoted by Emerson, is evidently true of the letters which passed between him and Carlyle from 1834 to 1872. They are natural, in the sense of expressing the inmost natures of the correspondents, and are thus thoroughly sincere. But the sincerity of Emerson was that of a sweet, serene, hope ful, tolerant, wholesome, and aspiring nature ; the sincerity of Carlyle was that of a nature harsh, unquiet, despondent, intolerant, despairing, and unhealthy. Both of the correspondents were eminently strong men ; it was impossible that either could be swayed from his predetermined course by fear or flattery, by social ostracism or social favor, by the apprehension of poverty or the seduction of wealth ; but the strength of Emerson was ever calm, while that of Carlyle was oftentimes spasmodic. Emerson relying on his intuitions was sublimely indifferent to the received opinions and accredited reputations which Carlyle savagely assailed. The difference between the two was not merely a difference of character and experience, but a difference in respect to physical health. Brought up to receive, as absolute truth, the austerest doctrines of Scotch Presbyterianism, professed by a father whom he held to be the best of men, Carlyle was ” destined ” for the ministry. There can be little doubt that, had his reason accepted the dogmas he was to preach, he would have been a preacher greater than Chalmers. The trouble was that his culture made him doubt the truth of the dogmas he was expected to

expound. In a great many instances the young students of theology glide over what offends them at first sight, in the rigid articles of their creed, and become clergymen by relative super ficiality of mind and character, without imagination enough to realize the terrible consequences of the articles to which they subscribe in the laudable desire to “make a living.” They wish to be married ; they wish to do good in practising their profession ; and, happy in a wife and family devoted to them, they preach in the morning the doctrine of divine wrath to the children of men, and then, in the evening, mingle cheerfully with their flock, and are the most genial, entertaining, instructive, helpful, and humane of the company they call together. Their humanity triumphs over their theology ; they insensibly modify the harsh elements of their theoretical creed when they are in actual contact with the practical needs of their congregations ; and no fair-minded person, who has a large acquaintance with our towns and villages, could think of the abolition of our Chris tian churches and pastors without a shudder of apprehension for the prospects of our civilization. Whatever may be the special creeds which the clergymen profess, they resolutely stand for absolute principles of ethics in practical life, and for larger ideas in philosophy than obtain in their respective parishes. But Carlyle, after endeavoring to realize to his reason, heart, and imagination, the dogmas of the religious creed in which he had been brought up, came to the conclusion that he could not accept it, and became a man of letters in despair of submitting his intelligence to the stern doctrines of the Church of Scotland. The struggle, in a mind so vigorous and a character so strong as his, between what he wished to believe and what he found he could not believe, was accompanied by agonies of spiritual experience, similar to the experience through which Luther and Bunyan passed: but Carlyle came out of his spiritual struggle an incurable dyspeptic; while, in the case of Luther and Bunyan, we are not informed that the disturbances in their souls left any permanent derangements in their digestion. Carlyle became dyspeptic, not only in his stomach, but in his brain and heart ; and his whole view of life, here and hereafter, of history and of contemporary annals, was discolored and distorted, from the fact that his indigestion extended to the very center of his spiritual being. Existence was to him a questionable blessing; for his will, his genius, his conscience, and his poverty exacted

from him the duty of constant labor ; and labor brought him, according to his own account, none of the sweet compensations of labor. He had in him a certain barbaric force,? a force compared with which all civilized energy appears comparatively weak ; but he was an invalid barbarian, on whom the culture of Europe had been lavished; and the sick giant wailed, and mourned, and growled, and sometimes almost blasphemed, during the whole period in which he resolutely toiled. He preached the gospel of work, and acted up to its severest requirements; but the gospel gave no joy to the workman. In his utmost stress of poverty, he wrote to Emerson: “Me Mammon will pay or not, as he finds convenient; buy me, he will not.” One is reminded of Dr. South’s statement that ” it is hard to maintain truth, but still harder to be maintained by it.” Emerson, on the contrary, had no experiences in his early life at all resembling those of Carlyle. He was born in a family where the fear of God was absorbed in the love of God. His soul was infused with cheer from his infancy. He entered and passed through college without a blemish on his name. He became by ” natural selection ” a Unitarian minister, and did his appointed work to the entire satisfaction of his parish. No clergyman was ever more heartily loved than he by those who listened to his discourses, and were favored with his Christian companionship. He brought cheer and hope into every house hold where he appeared. There are many unpublished memorials celebrating the effect which the sweet and unaffected sanctity of his character produced in towns remote from Boston, when he ” exchanged” services with his brother clergymen. One letter, written by the most cultivated and self-sacrificing woman then living in Massachusetts, testified that the Unitarian Association had sent, for one Sunday, to the Northampton Unitarians, an angel when the latter only asked for a preacher. But Emerson found in the Unitarian body some rule which he considered to limit his entire independence, and he quietly abandoned his connection with the denomination, and retired to his country home to think and to study freely, without any association qual ified to call him to account for heresy even with respect to the doctrines of Unitarianism. All this was done without any shock either to his soul or to his digestion. He never lost his physical health ; and remained to the last perfectly serene in all spiritual as well as in all practical matters. No man loved and reverenced God more than he, or feared him less. He is an extraordinary instance of a man of religious genius, passing through religious changes, without being submitted to any stress and storm of religious passion. This was the Emerson who, at the age of thirty, visited, for one day, Carlyle at his lonely residence of Craigenputtock. He staid but for a day ; but the impression he made, both on Carlyle and his wife, was permanent, and led to a life-long friend ship. Years afterward, Mrs. Carlyle wrote that she could never forget the visitor who had descended ” out of the clouds, as it were,” into their desert, “and made one day there look like enchantment for us, and left me weeping that it was only one day.” Carlyle himself reckoned only three ” happinesses ” that had occurred to him in the year 1833?the first two of which were trivial, but the third of memorable importance ; for the third happiness was the visit of Emerson, who appeared both to Jane and himself as “one of the most lovable creatures they had ever looked on.” On Emerson’s return to the United States, the correspondence between the two began by a letter from Emerson, dated May, 1834, in which he welcomes ” Sartor Resartus,” glories in the brave stand that the author has made for Spiritualism, but is repelled by the oddity of the vehicle chosen to convey ” this treasure,” and looks forward to the time ” when the word will be as simple, and so as resistless, as the thought.” Indeed, Emerson was, for many years, dissatisfied with the strange liberties which his friend took with the English language. He wrote, in 1835, that he cherished a ” salutary horror of the German style of ‘ Sartor Resartus.’ ” It was only long after this letter that, in recommending Carlyle’s ” Cromwell “to a friend, he was met by the ordinary objection to the writer’s style. ” Read him for his style,” was Emerson’s emphatic rejoinder ; and indeed, if the excellence of a style be judged according to the felicity with which it expresses and embodies a peculiar individual nature, the style of Carlyle is unobjectionable. It is only when his imitators write in Carlylese, that we perceive how pernicious that dialect of the English tongue is as a model, and how ridiculous it becomes in other hands than his own. It would be difficult to select a sentence of Emerson in which its peculiarities appear. Yet, while Emerson protests against the ” grotesque Teutonic apocalyptic strain” of the book, he admits that it may be inevitable that the strange

jargon, as it seems to him, is Carlyle’s most natural method of utterance; “for,” he declares, “are not all our little circlets of will as so many little eddies rounded in by the great Circle of Necessity? and could the Truth-speaker, perhaps now the best thinker of the Saxon race, have written otherwise ? And must we not say that Drunkenness is a virtue rather than that Cato has erred?” Is it possible to conceive that recognition and reproof could be more genially and gracefully combined? This letter led to a correspondence between the two friends which was continued, with intervals of silence, for forty years. In richness and fullness of matter, there is nothing superior, nothing? one is prompted to say? equal to it in literary annals. The sentences which a reviewer would be inclined? to quote are so numerous that, if he indulged his inclination, he would be in danger of infringing the law of copyright. There will, of course, be a wide immediate demand for the book from that large por tion of cultivated readers who are stimulated by mere intellectual curiosity; but the volumes so swarm with striking thoughts, and, in old Ben Jonson’s vernacular, are so “rammed with life,” that we can confidently predict they will be read a century hence with delight. They are specially interesting as recording the intimate communion of two of the most original minds, and two of the most contrasted individualities, which our century has produced. It would seem, at the first glance, that it was impossible for two such men to be bound together in a vital friendship,?a friendship which the lapse of time and frequent disagreement in opinion and action only rendered more close and indissoluble. The difference, indeed, between the two men impresses the reader on almost every page. Emerson was the champion of the Ideal; Carlyle asserted the absolute dominion of Fact. Emerson declared that Truth is mighty and will prevail ; Carlyle retorted that Truth is mighty, and has prevailed. Emerson looked serenely at the ugly aspect of contemporary life, because, as an optimist, he was a herald of the Future ; Carlyle, as a pessimist, denounced the Present, and threw all the energy of his vivid dramatic genius into vitalizing the Past. Emerson was a prophet ; Carlyle, a resurrectionist. Emerson gloried in what was to be ; Carlyle exulted in what had been. Emerson declared, even when current events appeared ugliest to the philanthropist, that ” the highest thought and the deepest love is born with Victory on his head,” and must triumph in the end ; Carlyle, gloomily surveying the present, insisted that high thought and deep love must be sought and found in generations long past, which Dr. Dryasdust had so covered up with his mountains of mud, that it was only by immense toil he (Carlyle) had been able to reproduce them as they actually existed. Look up, says Emerson, cheerily ; “hitch your wagon to a star”; “look down,” growls Carlyle, ” and see that your wagon is an honest one, safe and strong in passing over miry roads, before you have the impudence to look up to the smallest star in the rebuking heavens.” The practical value of Emerson’s friendship was proved by his strenuous efforts to disseminate Carlyle’s works in the United States, and by pledging his own credit to pay the expenses of their republication. In this way all the profits of the volumes, less the publisher’s commission for selling them, were sent to Carlyle. That magnificent prose epic, ” The French Revolution,” fell almost dead on the English public; while in the United States it was so warmly welcomed that the author obtained the remuneration for writing it principally from his admirers in this country, inspired by Emerson’s enthusiasm for the lone, unappreciated creator of an immortal work. But there is something comical in the business relations between the two friends. Neither understands book-keeping, or has penetrated into the mysteries of an account current. Emerson is always doubtful as to the question whether he has got his money’s worth from the publishers, but still sends scores of pounds sterling to the famishing author ; Carlyle gladly pockets the coin, but is more help less than Emerson himself in understanding whether he has been cheated or not. To Carlyle, all publishers are “hideous ;” but he thinks that Fraser (of “the sand magazine”) is less hideous than the others, because he has become more accustomed to him. At last Emerson, by calling into the conference one of the ablest of Boston merchants, together with the American representative of Baring Brothers, and the cashier of a Boston bank, finds that the publishers are about right. But it is ludicrous to think of such great experts in accounts brought in to decide upon a matter of a few pounds and shillings. Meanwhile, Carlyle had ” become a name.” A New York book-selling and publishing firm, dissatisfied with the terms on which they could purchase Carlyle’s books, and finding that it would pay to reprint them, began or threatened to issue them in cheaper editions. This they had a perfect legal right to do, whatever may be said of the “courtesy” title, which was afterward, by the leading publishing firms, accorded to the first American reprinter of a foreign author’s works. If any English writer had a right to complain of the absence of inter national copyright, it was Dickens ; for his popularity in this country was so immense that if an American friend had under taken to do for him what Emerson did for Carlyle, and his claim had been admitted by the book-sellers, the gains of Dickens would have been scores of thousands of dollars from the United States alone. Emerson, however, seems to have considered Carlyle an exception. No decent publisher, though he made but a few hundred dollars by the transaction, should dare to touch his special rights by unauthorized reprints. The result was a number of indignant letters between the friends, in which all the resources of ingenious invective were lavished on the unhappy “pirate.” When “Past and Present” was on the eve of publication, Emerson suggested an arrangement with his irascible friend, to have the volume issued simultaneously in England and in this country. Carlyle replies: “The practical business is: How to cut out that New York scoundrel, who fancies that, be cause there is no gallows, it is permitted to steal ? I have a distinct desire to do that, altogether apart from the money to be gained thereby. A friend’s goodness ought not to be frustrated by a scoundrel destitute of gallows.” Then follows a letter in which he prophesies that ” the gibbetless thief in New York will beat us after all”; and Emerson despairingly answers, “you are no longer secure of any respect to your property in our free booting America.” Now all this ” Much Ado About Little” came from the simple fact that one prominent bookseller quarreled with another on a question of the proper discount to be made from the retail price of one or two books of necessarily limited circulation. Emerson made the mistake of insisting that the retail dealer in Carlyle’s works should have the most beggarly commission on the volumes he displayed on his counters. He thus checked the sale of the writings he most desired to circulate. Who would venture to order twenty copies of a book, without being pretty sure that he would not lose by the bargain, in case he sold only twelve ? It is well known that Emerson’s appreciation of the fine genius and beautiful character of A. B. Alcott was as true as it was intense. He considered him the most inspired converser in the country ; but he also affirmed that what he wrote and published gave but the slightest indication of his powers,?that, with him, the tongue was a more potent instrument of expres sion than the pen. Indeed, Mr. Alcott was a born idealist, unflinchingly applying the principles of his philosophy to the ordinary practical concerns of life. There is a story current of a certain sturdy politician, who remained faithful to his party and sect until his death in extreme old age. It was alleged that, in a minute after his birth, he exclaimed, ” Now, I want all you people fooling round here to understand that I am born a Jefiirsonian Dimmicrat in politics, and aUnivarsalist in religion; and don’t you forgit it.” The legend goes on to say that he would not take a sip of mother’s milk until the rigid conditions on which he condescended to accept existence were complied with. One can imagine that the infant Alcott might have an nounced as peremptorily that he was to be brought up as a Pythagorean in diet and a Platonist in philosophy. At any rate, he was the sweetest, the most serene, the most humane of human beings ; and even when he carried his ideas to extremes in conduct, all who knew and loved him had the widest toleration for his eccentricities. When Mr. Alcott went to Europe, in 1842, Emerson com mended him to Carlyle in a characteristic fashion : “Let the stranger, when he arrives at your gate, make a new and primary impression. Be sure to forget what you have heard of him ; and if you have ever read anything to which his name is attached, be sure to forget that. You may love him, or hate him, or apathetically pass by him, as your genius shall dictate ; only I entreat this, that you do not let him go quite out of your reach until you are sure that you have seen him, and know for certain the nature of the man.” And, in his next letter, he adds : ” My friend Alcott must have visited you before this, and you have seen whether any relation could subsist between men so differently excellent.” Indeed, that was the exact relation between Carlyle and Emerson. Emerson must have feared the impression which the optimis tic Alcott would make on the somewhat cynical pessimist, the literary Diogenes of the Despotism of Letters, as contrasted with the old time ” Republic ” of the same name. Carlyle tried ” to be good,”?the phrase which his wife used when his irritable temper was softened by friendship, or by a dinner which oppressed his stomach less than usual,? and he wrote back to Emerson, that his friend was found to be “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 me. 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 venerable Don Quixote, whom nobody can even laugh at without loving.” Emerson replied: “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.” Alcott was evidently disappointed with his reception. It was rumored, at the time, that he wrote to Emer son in these words : ” I accuse T. Carlyle of inhospitality to my thought.” At any rate, he must have felt, to employ one of his own phrases, that Carlyle ” was not iws-pirate, but d^s-perate.” He brought back to New England a follower or two, whom Car lyle styled Aleott’s “English Tail”; and he implored Emerson to avoid it. ” Bottomless imbeciles,” he wrote, ” ought not to be seen in company with Ealph Waldo Emerson, who has already men listening to him on this side of the water. The l Tail’ has an individual or two of that genus, and the rest is mainly undecided. For example, I know old-myself ; and can testify, if you will believe me, that few greater blockheads (if 4 block head may mean exasperated imbecile,’ and the ninth part of a thinker) broke the world’s bread in his day. Have a care of such!” It must be admitted that the “Tail” of the returning philosopher did him no honor, and led him into some absurdi ties ; but such mistakes were merely chance incidents in a life which has been devoted to all noble and honorable ends. Emer son’s shrewdness and good sense saved him from any participa tion in the follies of the ” Ta?.” Thomas Carlyle had a wonderful power of sketching, in a few words, physical and mental portraits of the men he met, somewhat resembling the skill of Thomas Nast in the grotesque caricatures he has contributed to ” Harper’s Weekly.” The two Thomases had this in common, that every peculiarity of face, feature, shape of the head, color of the hair, movement of the body, or any other merely physical characteristic, was made significant of mental or moral qualities in the person delineated. Nast contributed, more than anybody else, to the overthrow of “the Tweed Ring” which ruled, robbed, and might have ruined New York, and he did it by his marvelous appeals to the eye of the ordinary honest voter, who was perhaps incompetent to form a rational opinion of rascalities through words addressed to his reason and imagination. “Oh, them picters !” groaned Tweed ; “that was what wrecked us!” Carlyle’s portraits by the pen are similar to those of Nast by the pencil, inasmuch as they agree in connecting physiology with psychology, and making a man’s inward nature correspond to the exaggerated traits of his bodily organization. Carlyle could not restrain this tendency of his mind, even in characterizing his friends. Much as he delighted in Emerson’s books, he complained that his thoughts, though full of soul, lacked body. His own thinking, even on the highest themes, tended to embody itself in palpable forms ; and, except in the vague background of his word-pictures, where the Eternal came in, his imagination really ” bodied forth ” that which his spirit ual eye discerned. In the moods in which he appeared as a humorist and satirist,?as distinguished from his loftiest moods in which he appeared as a thinker and seer,?his wit and humor rushed by instinct into forms truly Rabelaisian. In particular, he cannot help letting his mind run riot in picturing individuals. Thus he speaks, in 1837, of his friend, Miss Martineau, as ” a genuine little poetess, buckramed, swathed like a mummy into socinian and political-economy formulas ; and yet verily alive in the inside of that ! ” In a letter, dated November, 1838, he invites Emerson to visit England, and after mentioning several men who will welcome him, he adds that ” old Rogers, with his pale head, ?white, bare, and cold as snow,?will work on you with those large, blue eyes, cruel, sorrowful, and that sardonic shelf-chin.” He met Webster in England, in 1839, and he writes to his friend : ” Not many days ago, I saw at breakfast the notablest of all your notabilities, Daniel Webster. He is a magnificent specimen ; you might say to all the world, ‘ This is your Yankee Englishman; such limbs we make in Yankeeland.’ As a logic-fencer, advocate, or par liamentary Hercules, one would be inclined to back him at first sight against all the extant world. The tanned complexion, that amorphous, crag-like face ; the dull, black eyes, under their preci pice of brows, like dull anthracite furnaces, needing only to be blown; the mastiff-mouth, accurately closed,?I have not traced as much of silent Bersekir-rage, that I remember of, in any other man.” After this comes a portrait of Walter Savage Landor : “A tall, broad, burly man, with gray hair, and large, fierce-roll ing eyes ; of the most restless, impetuous vivacity, not to be held in by the most perfect breeding,?expressing itself in high-col ored superlatives, indeed, in reckless exaggeration, now and then in a short, dry laugh, not of sport, but of mockery ; a wild man, whom no extent of culture had been able to tame.” Landor was the original of Dickens’s Boythorn, in “Bleak House”; but is there not much of Boythorn in Carlyle’s own wild diatribes against things and persons ? Milnes, one of the English friends who most appreciated him, he describes as ” a pretty, little robin redbreast of a man.” How cruel this is! Sumner told the present writer that, about the time when Carlyle wrote this to Emerson, he was a guest at one of Rogers’s breakfasts, and had occasion to mention, with great warmth, the merits of Carlyle as a writer and thinker. He found not the slightest response from the many eminent men present ; and Milnes, who sat near him, whispered in his ear that he perfectly agreed with him, but that he was the only Englishman present who sympathized with Sumner’s admiration of the great man. Tennyson was another friend of Carlyle. The latter liked him as a companion, but often lectured and hectored him on the folly of writing in verse. He is described in these volumes (1844) ” as one of the finest-looking men in the world. A great shock of rough, dusty-dark hair ; bright, laughing hazel eyes ; massive, aquiline face?most massive, yet most delicate; of sal low-brown complexion, almost Indian-looking; clothes cynically loose, free-and-easy ; smokes infinite tobacco. His voice is music ally metallic, fit for loud laughter and piercing wail, and all that may lie between ; speech and speculation free and plenteous : I do not meet, in these late decades, such company over a pipe.” Tennyson, if he chose, could tell strange stories of the many controversies in which the two smokers engaged, which the soothing influence of tobacco could not prevent from occasion ally assuming an irritating and almost furious form of disagree ment. A friend of both was once present at a conversation between the two, in which Carlyle apologized for the horrible cruelties inflicted by William the Conqueror on his Saxon sub jects, as minutely narrated by Tennyson. The discussion waxed warm between the accuser and the defender of the accused; Carlyle becoming all the more exasperating from the pitying way in which he condescended to inform Tennyson that he did not know how savage populations should be governed, when their government was intrusted to a firm hand, utterly regard less of Exeter Hall philanthropy and the sentimentality of writers of verses. In 1867, Carlyle writes to Emerson that he and a lady friend had read Tennyson’s ” Idyls of the King ” ” with profound recognition of the finely elaborated execution, and also of the inward perfection of vacancy, and, to say truth, with con siderable impatience at being treated so very like infants, though the lollipops were so superlative. We gladly changed for one of Emerson’sL English Traits,’ and read that, with increasing and ever increasing satisfaction every evening, blessing Heaven that there were still books for grown-up people too.” There is really something subtle in this criticism, exaggerated as its tone of con demnation is ; and most readers of the ” Idyls” must feel its force, however much they may like the poems. Amid all the clash of arms, and the heroic deeds of Tennyson’s heroes, they must have a feeling of that “inward vacancy” of the true knightly spirit. It would be difficult to define in what this inward vacancy consists ; but it is not felt by the reader of Scott’s heroic romances, or of Carlyle’s ” Heroes and the Heroic in History.” Nothing injured Carlyle more, in the opinion of those Amer icans who most admired and appreciated his genius, than the position he took in regard to negro slavery. Before our civil war broke out, he had declared his conviction that ” Quashee ” must be compelled to work even by the stimulus of the lash. He always raved whenever he spoke of the lazy African ; and he always spelt negro with two g’s. He appeared absolutely insane, or inhuman, whenever the “nigger” question came before his judgment for settlement. Some thirty years ago, a radical club was established in Boston, composed of members representing every variety of political, religious, and philosophi cal dissent. The walls of the room where the members assem bled were lined with photographs of the most prominent foreign and domestic champions of things as they ” ought to be.” On one evening, Emerson made some remarks on a purely intel lectual topic, having no possible relation to slavery, except the slavery of even the educated mind of the country to routine, and Carlyle was referred to as one of its most earnest oppo nents. Then Garrison rose from his seat, glared through his spectacles at the portrait of Carlyle, and said that no club

of humane and hopeful men could look at that face without horror and disgust, and he trusted that the moral sentiment of those present would demand, not that the portrait should be taken down, but that it should be turned to the wall, so that the hateful lineaments of that enemy of freedom might not affront the eyes of any honest reformer. Of course the advice was not followed; but it showed the intensity of hatred which the great leader of the abolitionists felt for the cynical defender of the policy which would scourge the negro to his daily task, if he would not go to it willingly. The truth is that Carlyle was him self whipped on by his sense of duty to undertake work in which he found little enjoyment and much pain; and he considered that others should be made to do by outward compulsion what he did, against the grain, by inward strength of will. One of the most striking epistles in this correspondence, is the letter to Emerson, in August, 1849, in which he furiously inveighs against the pauperism of Ireland. Nearly one half of the whole population, he says, receives ” Poor-Law rations,” while the land is uncultivated, and the landlords are hiding from bailiffs. “Such a state of things was never heard of under this sky before. . . . L What is to be done ? ‘ asks every one. . . . L Black lead these two million idle beggars,’ I sometimes advised, ‘and sell them in Brazil as niggers,?perhaps Parliament, on sweet constraint, will allow you to advance them to be niggers ! “‘ Of course, this burst of wrath, if taken as an expression of opinion, would rather befit the King of Dahomey, after he had imbibed a more than usual amount of “fire-water,” than a civilized human being ; but through all this grotesque exaggera tion there runs this principle, that all persons who will not work for a living should be either forced to work for it, or should cease to live. He detested all philanthropy which saved lazy people from the consequences of their laziness. ” Let them work or die,” seems to have been his austere motto ; ” and the sooner they die, the better. Clean the earth of these unclean things who have the impudence to declare their right to #r-ist, while they depend on the charity of real laborers to sw?-sist.” When he applied this principle, that pauperism was the worst of crimes, to our civil war, he was met by the obvious objec tion that about all the work done at the South was done by “niggers”; that the owners of these niggers devoted most of their time to that constitutional palaver which he held in special

abhorrence ; and that, as ” captains of industry,” they did little or nothing to promote, advance, or increase the remuneration of Labor. A New Englander invented the cotton-gin; they stole the invention, starved the inventor, and then were care less of almost all other improvements by which one machine does the work of a hundred men. They necessarily made the South poor; and then went to war because they conceived that the poverty of the South was owing to the encroach ments of the North on their constitutional rights. During the war, Carlyle was on the side of the Confederates ; and the warm feeling with which Emerson regarded his friend palpably cooled. Meanwhile Carlyle’s fiercest libels on the North were not con tained in letters to Emerson. Some were published in organs of English opinion; some were uttered to Americans who called upon him at his Chelsea home ; and there is a rumor that he condensed his opinion on the whole matter to the accomplished editor of these volumes in the following words, delivered in his broadest Scotch accent : “And as for your war, it seems to me simply this : that the South said to the nigger, ? God bless you, and be a slave ‘ ; and the North said, ‘ G-d-you, and be freeman ! ‘ ” After the war was closed, Emerson tells him, in 1870, “Every reading person in America holds you in excep tional regard. . . They have forgotten your scarlet sins before or during the war. I have long ceased to apologize for or explain your savage sayings about America or other republics, or publics, and am willing that anointed men bearing with them authentic charters shall be laws to themselves, as Plato willed.” Indeed, would seem that the American mind has a very feeble memory : a few years roll on, and benefactors and traducers are alike for gotten; and the animosities of the past slip out of the public heart and brain, intently engaged as both are in the Present and the Future. As almost every letter of this unique correspondence suggests topics on which a reviewer is tempted to comment, it is difficult to stay the hand while writing about it. The letters of Carlyle represent him both at his best and his worst ; the letters of Em erson throng with thoughts and experiences, and the style is as compact and brilliant as that of his published essays. These friends write to each other because they have something to say and they say it with >all the care and labor in composition which they would have exerted in works directly written for the eye. The perfect sincerity of each is preserved; every reflection and sentiment is genuine and true to character ; yet the form of expression displays none of the diffuseness and slovenliness common to the familiar correspondence of even eminent men. Perhaps this brief notice of a book which is destined to last for a century or two, at least, cannot be more appropriately brought to an end than by referring to a single incident which brought the hearts of the two strong men into close and pathetic com munion. Emerson lost ” the hyacinthine boy,” the subject of his ” Threnody.” He had, he writes to Carlyle, other children,” but a promise like that boy’s I shall never see. How often I have pleased myself that one day I should send to you this Morning Star of mine, and stay at home so gladly behind such a repre sentative. I dare not fathom the Invisible and Untold to inquire what relations to my Departed ones I yet sustain. Lydian, the poor Lydian, moans at home by day and night. You, too, will grieve for us, afar.” This letter reached Carlyle when he was in Dumfries, called thither by the intelligence of the death of his wife’s mother. ” It is many years,” he replies, ” since I have stood so in close contact face to face with the reality of Earth, with its haggard ugliness, its divine beauty, its depths of Death and of Life. Yesterday, one of the stillest Sundays, I sat long by the side of the swift river Nith ; sauntered among woods all vocal only with rooks and pairing birds. The hills are often white with snow-powder; black, brief spring-tempests rush fiercely down from them, and then again the sky looks forth with a pale, pure brightness, ?like Eternity from behind Time. The sky, when one thinks of it, is always blue, pure, changeless azure ; rains and tempests are only for the little dwellings where men abide. Let us think of this, too. Think of this, thou sor rowing mother ! Thy boy has escaped many showers.”

~Edwin P. Whipple.

Source: The North American Review, Vol. 136, No. 318 (May, 1883), pp. 431-445
Published by: University of Northern Iowa
Accessed: 18-12-2016 18:17 UTC

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