Tuesday, July 07, 2009

a kind of modern-antique American gymnosophist

On this day in 1848, Thomas Carlyle wrote his wife about his trip to Stonehenge with Emerson:
Thomas Carlyle to Jane Welsh Carlyle

Amesbury, 7 july, 1848 —

My Dear, — It cannot be supposed that I have much to tell thee since morning, and indeed the day has passed over without accident at all; but being relegated here to a most lonesome and rather dilapidated bedroom, with no perceptible desire still to sleep, I have borrowed from Emerson a sheet of Note-paper, and from the people of the Inn a pen and inkbottle; and will vent a portion of my sorrows upon poor Chelsea before I go to bed. Eheu [Alas], am I not right to stay at home? The world holds in it no man to whom travelling is such a labour, under any and all conditions! —

We got along happily enough to Bishopstoke today, — except that it appeared, the little Forster-and-Dickens Publichouse did not lie on our road at all, but lay on the road of some Coach, which, at some unknown hour, would (had we known of it) have taken us off the S. Western railway, and landed us sooner at Salisbury or at least at Stonehenge: however, the damage was not great, and at any rate there was then no help. We did get to Salisbury, all right however, about three o'clock: all right as far as a poor wretch could be right, who could not get his lips closed, but was obliged to talk all the way; and had not slept the night before! — At the Salisbury Station we leapt straightway into a kind of Gig (inferior to the Derbyshire ones),1 and were rapidly driven to this ancient village, some 8 miles further; here we, after some confused consulting, discharged our Gig-apparatus; got some wretched dinner, of whale-blubber mutton and old peas; and then in the grey windy evening set forth to walk towards Stonehenge over the bare upland; found it, saw it: — a wild mournful, altogether enigmatic and bewildering sight; — dreadfully cold too (in my thin coat), and after about 2 hours came our ways home again to Amesbury, an enchanted-looking village, very appropriate to the neighbourhood. Stonehenge and the uplands far and wide were utterly solitary; a vast, green, wavy tract of sheep-pasture, all studded with (what they call “barrows”) the tombs of extinct nations, and that huge mass of dark, meaningless, gigantic dislocated stones; of which no creature will ever tell us the meaning, except that it is the extinct temple of an extinct people (seemingly sunk very deep in error), and the prey now of Pedants and doleful creatures whose whole element seems one of emptiness and error! The grim windy evening, spent amid those grim remains, in a mood such as mine, will probably long continue memorable to me. And that hitherto seem all the conquest I am like to get from it.2

Returning to Amesbury, which seemed already sunk into sleep (about 9 o'clock) or almost into death, we got Tea, the worst in nature, without cream, nay without milk except about half-a spoonful — no help! The place is one of those Coach villages that have been ruined by railways: once the great road from Exeter to London, 12 Coaches a-day, and half a dozen “families” (i.e. posting carriages), now left sad and silent, the big inn rotting, and not even milk to be had! We leave tomorrow morning early for Wilton (past Stonehenge again) in a Dog cart, the only attainable vehicle; and after a day of Wilton House, and Salisbury and Clarendom, hope to meet poor Helps at Bishopstoke, and attain a little cream to our tea, — attain at least the hope of soon ending such an expedition!3 Goodnight, my own poor Jeannie—ah me!— T. Carlyle

I wonder how your Chopin prospered; how your concert-tickets &c!4 — Emerson is healthy; full of cheerfulness, at least of unsubduable placidity: if I could get a little sleep, I should do well enough yet.
Why art thou then cast down my soul;
What should discourage thee?5
Good night, Dearest. /

T. C.

Footnotes by the editor of Carlyle's letters:

1. Which they had taken the previous summer.

2. After seeing Stonehenge they spent the night of 7 July at the George Inn, Amesbury, 1½ mi. W of Stonehenge and 8 mi. N of Salisbury. For Emerson's account, see “Stonehenge” in his English Traits (Boston, 1856) ch. 16, and Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks 10:334–36, 432–42.

3. In his Journal TC wrote: "Morrow morning [8 July], Dogcart across the downs to Wilton: Down or ‘Plain,’ an expanse of waving bare ground, resembling a Scotch moor, only that it is without brooks, and of much more fertile character. Scandalous to see it lying vacant in the heart of such an England as ours at present is. … then country road to Wilton; … then full inspection of Sydney Herbert's house [Wilton House], which is princely: Bust of Cato: A. Dürer's Picture; fairy ‘luncheon’ by Mrs. Wager the Housekeeper. Salisbury Cathedral and City. Old Sarum, the day before. — A. Helps caught us at Bishopsgate on the railway: home with him till the morrow (sunday) which poured a deluge of rain. To Winchester in the afternoon nevertheless. Cathedral there; first, St. Cross there. Home to Chelsea about 10 p.m. — Emerson called next day, and is now off, towards Liverpool, or Coventry &c; to sail for home on Saturday. Valeat—eheu [Let him be gone—alas]!" — See also Froude, Carlyle 3:440–41. The ruins of Clarendon Palace are ca. 2½ mi. E of Salisbury. Sidney Herbert (1810–1861; DNB), politician, second son of 11th earl of Pembroke. The Hospital of St. Cross, founded 1136 for thirteen poor brethren, is ca. 1 mi. S of Winchester Cathedral and is the setting of Trollope's The Warden (1855). Emerson records that TC cursed "the priest who received £2000 a year, that were meant for the poor" (English Traits 288).

4. Chopin gave his second matinée musicale, 7 July.

5. Cf. metrical Ps. 43:3.


A couple of days later, Carlyle wrote his friend James Marshall:
Chelsea, 10 july, 1848—

My dear Sir,

. . . . .

I have just returned from a visit to Stonehenge in the Wiltshire Downs, with a certain Transatlantic Friend, R. W. Emerson, who, after some months' sojourn in these parts, is on the point of turning homewards again. A man of genius and worth in his American way; somewhat moonshiny here and there in the Results he arrives at, but beautiful in speculation if you leave practice out, — in fact a kind of modern-antique “American Gymnosophist,” for whom we are bound to be thankful. He and his affairs keep me very busy this day: so without more writing, except to offer my kind regards to Eckermann, and best thanks to Dr Weissenborn above, I subscribe myself, with true remembrances from both parties here,

Yours sincerely /

T. Carlyle

{Amesbury in 1903; source: jtfuller.btinternet.co}

{Salisbury Meadows by Constable, 1831; source: clem.mscd.edu}

{Watercolour, Stonehenge, close up view from E, [c 1830], by James Bridges; source: wilshireheritagecollections.org}

{Barrows near Stonehenge; source: annanddave.org}

{Wilton House: source: jeff.sedley.org}

Gymnosophist: is a name for practitioners such as the Indian yogis. See Gymnosophist (wikipedia)

{A yogi; source: wikipedia}

Main source:

Thomas Carlyle; the Collected Letters, Volume 23, edited by Ian M. Campbell et al (Duke University Press , 2009)

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