Sunday, September 23, 2007

Coventry's Angel

[Thomas Carlyle to Coventry Patmore]

Gill, Cummertrees, Annan, N.B.,
31 July, 1856.

My Dear Sir,

I have received your beautiful little Book, "The Angel in the House," Book II., some time ago; and reserved it for a good opportunity, which I saw ahead. I brought it with me into these parts, the only modern Book I took that trouble with; and last night I gave myself the pleasure of a deliberate perusal. Upon which, so favourable was the issue, I now give you the superfluous trouble of my verdict — prior to getting in the Solway for a little swim, the sound of which I also hear approaching.

Certainly it is a beautiful little Piece, this "Espousals"; nearly perfect in its kind; the execution and exception full of delicacy, truth, and graceful simplicity; high, ingenious, fine, — pure and wholesome as these breezes now blowing round me from the eternal sea. The delineation of the thing is managed with great art, thrift and success, by that light sketching of parts; of which, both in the choice of what is to be delineated, and in the fresh, airy, easy way of doing it, I much admire the genial felicity, the real skill. A charming simplicity attracts me everywhere: this is a great merit which I am used to in you. — Occasionally (oftenest in "the Sentences") you get into an antique Cowleian vein, what Johnson would call the "Metaphysical" a little; but this too, if well done, as it here is I like to see, — as a gymnastic exercise of wit, were it nothing more. Indeed, I have to own, the whole matter is an "ideal"; soars high above reality, and leaves the mud of fact (mud with whatever stepping stones may be discoverable therein) lying far under its feet. But this you will say is a merit, its poetic certificate — well, well. Few books are written with so much conscientious fidelity now-a-days, or indeed at any day; and very few with anything like the amount of general capability displayed here. I heartily return many thanks for my share of it.

I am here in a kind of "retreat" for four or three weeks, in the most silent country I could get, near my native Solway, and apart from all mankind, — really a kind of Catholic "retreat" minus the invocations to the Virgin, etc . . . I am about ten miles from my Birthplace, know all the mountain tops 50 miles round since my eyes first opened; and I do not want for objects of a sufficiently devotional nature, sad and otherwise. But the tide is in' or nearly so: time and tide will wait on no man!

Yours with many thanks and regards,
T. Carlyle
-from Memoirs and Correspondence of Coventry Patmore / Basil Champneys (London: G. Bell & Sons)

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