- The Journal of Sir Walter Scott from the Original Manuscript at Abbotsford (Appendix II) by Sir Walter Scott
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The Journal of Sir Walter Scott from the Original Manuscript at Abbotsford
Appendix II

by Sir Walter Scott

Letter from Mr. Carlyle referred to in vol. ii. p. [526]

[526] It is much to be regretted that Scott and Carlyle never met. The probable explanation is that the admirable letter now printed in extenso, coming into a house where there was sickness, and amid the turmoil of London life, was carefully laid aside for reply at a more convenient season. This season, unfortunately, never came. Scott did not return to Scotland until June 3d, and by that time Carlyle had left Edinburgh and settled at Craigenputtock. He must, however, have seen Scott subsequently, as he depicts him in the memorable words, "Alas! his fine Scottish face, with its shaggy honesty and goodness, when we saw it latterly in the Edinburgh streets, was all worn with care—the joy all fled from it, and ploughed deep with labour and sorrow."
Mr. Lockhart once said to a friend that he regretted that they had never met, and gave as a reason the state of Scott's health.

EDINBURGH, 21 COMELY BANK, 13th April 1828.

SIR,—In February last I had the honour to receive a letter from Von Goethe, announcing the speedy departure, from Weimar, of a Packet for me, in which, among other valuables, should be found "two medals," to be delivered "mit verbindlichsten Grüssen" to Sir Walter Scott. By a slow enough conveyance this Kästchen, with its medals in perfect safety, has at length yesterday come to hand, and now lays on me the enviable duty of addressing you.

Among its multifarious contents, the Weimar Box failed not to include a long letter—considerable portion of which, as it virtually belongs to yourself, you will now allow me to transcribe. Perhaps it were thriftier in me to reserve this for another occasion; but considering how seldom such a Writer obtains such a Critic, I cannot but reckon it pity that this friendly intercourse between them should be anywise delayed.

"Sehen Sie Herrn Walter Scott, so sagen Sie ihm auf das verbindlichste in meinem Namen Dank für den lieben heitern Brief, gerade in dem schönen Sinne geschrieben, dass der Mensch dem Menschen werth seyn müsse. So auch habe ich dessen Leben Napoleon's erhalten und solches in diesen Winterabenden und Nächten von Anfang bis zu Ende mit Aufmerksamkeit durchgelesen.

"Mir war höchst bedeutend zu sehen, wie sich der erste Erzähler des Jahrhunderts einem so ungemeinen Geschäft unterzieht und uns die überwichtigen Begebenheiten, deren Zeuge zu seyn wir gezwungen wurden, in fertigem Zuge vorüberführt. Die Abtheilung durch Capitel in grosse zusammengehörige Massen giebt den verschlungenen Ereignissen die reinste Fasslichkeit, und so wird dann auch der Vortrag des Einzelnen auf das unschätzbarste deutlich und anschaulich.

"Ich las es im Original, und da wirkte es ganz eigentlich seiner Natur nach. Es ist ein patriotischer Britte der spricht, der die Handlungen des Feindes nicht wohl mit günstigen Augen ansehen kann, der als ein rechtlicher Staatsbürger zugleich mit den Unternehmungen der Politik auch die Forderungen der Sittlichkeit befriedigt wünscht, der den Gegner, im frechen Laufe des Glücks, mit unseligen Folgen bedroht, und auch im bittersten Verfall ihn kaum bedauern kann.

"Und so war mir noch ausserdem das Werk von der grössten Bedeutung, indem es mich an das Miterlebte theils erinnerte, theils mir manches Uebersehene nun vorführte, mich auf einem unerwarteten Standpunkt versetzte, mir zu erwägen gab was ich für abgeschlossen hielt, und besonders auch mich befähigte die Gegner dieses wichtigen Werkes, an denen es nicht fehlen kann, zu beurtheilen und die Einwendungen, die sie von ihrer Seite vortragen, zu würdigen.

Sie sehen hieraus dass zu Ende des Jahres keine höhere Gabe hätte zu mir gelangen können. Es ist dieses Werk mir zu einem goldenen Netz geworden, womit ich die Schattenbilder meines vergangenen Lebens aus den Lethes-Fluthen mit reichem Zuge herauszuforschen mich beschäftige.

"Ungefähr dasselbige denke ich in dem nächsten Stücke von Kunst und Alterthum zu sagen."

With regard to the medals, which are, as I expected, the two well-known likenesses of Goethe himself, it could be no hard matter to dispose of them safely here, or transmit them to you, if you required it, without delay: but being in this curious fashion appointed as it were Ambassador between two Kings of Poetry, I would willingly discharge my mission with the solemnity that beseems such a business, and naturally it must flatter my vanity and love of the marvellous, to think that, by means of a Foreigner whom I have never seen, I might now have access to my native Sovereign, whom I have so often seen in public and so often wished that I had claim to see and know in private and near at hand.—Till Whitsunday I continue to reside here; and shall hope that some time before that period I may have opportunity to wait on you, and, as my commission bore, to hand you these memorials in person.

Meanwhile I abide your further orders in this matter; and so, with all the regard which belongs to one to whom I in common with other millions owe so much,—I have the honour to be,

Sir, most respectfully your servant, THOMAS CARLYLE.

Besides the two medals specially intended for you, there have come four more, which I am requested generally to dispose of amongst "Wohlwollenden," Perhaps Mr. Lockhart, whose merits in respect of German Literature, and just appreciation of this its Patriarch and Guide, are no secret, will do me the honour to accept of one and direct me through your means how I am to have it conveyed?

Translation of the Letter from Goethe.

"Should you see Sir Walter Scott, be so kind as return to him my most grateful thanks for his dear and cheerful letter,—a letter written in just that beautiful temper which makes one man feel himself to be worth something to another. Say, too, that I received his Life of Napoleon, and have read it this winter—in the evening and at night—with attention from beginning to end. To me it was full of meaning to observe how the first novelist of the century took upon himself a task and business, so apparently foreign to him, and passed under review with rapid stroke those important events of which it had been our fate to be eye-witnesses. The division into chapters, embracing masses of intimately connected events, gives a clearness to the historical sequence that otherwise might have been only too easily confused, while, at the same time, the individual events in each chapter are described with a clearness and a vividness quite invaluable.

I read the work in the original, and the impression it made upon me was thus free from the disturbing influence of a foreign medium. I found myself listening to the words of a patriotic Briton, who finds it impossible to regard the actions of the enemy with a favourable eye,—an honest citizen this, whose desire is, that while political considerations shall always receive due weight, the demands of morality shall never be overlooked; one who, while the enemy is borne along in his wanton course of good fortune, cannot forbear to point with warning finger to the inevitable consequences, and in his bitterest disaster can with difficulty find him worthy of a tear.

The book was in yet another respect of the greatest importance to me, in that it brought back to my remembrance events through which I had lived—now showing me much that I had overlooked, now transplanting me to some unexpected standpoint, thus forcing me to reconsider a question which I had looked upon as settled, and in a special manner putting me in a position to pass judgment upon the unfavourable critics of this book—for these cannot fail—and to estimate at their true value the objections which are sure to be made from their side. From all this you will understand how the end of last year could have brought with it no gift more welcome to me than this book. The work has become to me as it were a golden net, wherewith I can recover from out the waves of Lethe the shadowy pictures of my past life, and in that rich draught I am finding my present employment.

I intend making a few remarks to the same purpose in the next number of Kunst und Alterthum. [527]
[527] This purpose Goethe seems to have carried out, for in the "Chronologie" which is printed in the two-volume edition of his works, published at Stuttgart 1837 (vol. ii. page 663), the following entry is found:—"1827. Ueber neuere französische Literatur.—Ueber chinesische Gedichte.—Ueber das Leben Napoleon's von Walter Scott."

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