Letters of Thomas Carlyle to John Stuart Mill, John Sterling, and Robert Browning
edited by Frederick A. Stokes Co. 1924. With portraits. 8vo. x+312 pp. $6.00.. New York:
THE letters in this book belong for the most part to a portion of Carlyle’s life that is of engrossing interest. They cover the transition from the prolonged formative period — ended when he was thirty-seven, in his last year at Craigenputtoct — to the years of recognition.
The letters to John Stuart Mill, seventy-seven in number, including two or three to Mrs. Taylor, have only recently become available for publication. They dramatize the relations of two men of antipodal qualities, the mystic and the logician, each the victim of a soul-shaking spiritual crisis, each ennobled by it, drawn together by their ‘common recognition of the infinite nature of truth.’ Intellectually they meet as equals, interested in the ‘friendly conflict of their differences’ — ‘not differing, except in opinion’ as Carlyle once remarked. Otherwise, we have many glimpses of Carlyle’s leaning upon the younger man. He entreats Mill for letters, for visits, for books; again and again he sets before him the current phase of his perennial problem: how a writer, dependent upon editors and publishers, is to win a living and still maintain his integrity of soul. In the same spirit he submits to Mill the germ of his idea of a history of the French Revolution, ‘the grand Poem of our Time,’ and the possibility of residence in Paris, in order that he may visualize his story. Noble are the letters after the loss at Mill’s hands of the first portion of the MS. — noble in their effort to stanch Mill’s remorse and in the dignity with which his gift of £100 is accepted.
The affection for which he yearned and which the self-conscious Mill was incapable of returning to a fellow man — see his half of the correspondence as printed in Hugh Elliott’s volume of ‘ Letters ‘ — Carlyle received without asking and in full measure from John Sterling. Gifted, eager, frail in health, and soon to be seized upon by fatal illness, he is here enfolded by Carlyle in a protecting spirit of love, admonished and sustained with the tenderness of an elder brother.
The letters to Browning are few in number; the best of them is a ringing call of recognition from one man of genius to another.
Again and again in the letters the magic that is all Carlyle’s own, woven by his marvelous faculties of seeing and feeling, puts its charm upon us. Every aspect and mood of Craigenputtock is so rendered; under the same spell we see as if for the first time the beauty of the Gospel of Saint Matthew and the character of Jesus. Essentially the picture that the volume presents is that of a great soul, eager for truth and for friendship, adjusting himself to a stern destiny — that of interpreting life to his fellow men. ‘All the victory we look for is the heart to fight on.’ But if he suffers, he also loves.
HENRY GREENLEAF PEARSON.