"A Letter of Introduction" to the illustrations of "Sartor Resartus"

Edmund J. Sullivan

October 27th, 1898.


NOW that my holiday task is over, I wish to do myself the honour of dedicating it to you in memory of certain nights that we spent together with our feet in your fender, and our heads somewhere among the stars. The faces in your fire were always of the friendliest.

It is appropriate that a labour of love, as this is, should be dedicated to you; the good wish is the greater part of a gift: and I beg your acceptance of my little drawings as the token of much goodwill. [vi/vii]

It has always been a wonder to me that " Sartor Resartus " should never have been illustrated: and I addressed myself to the undertaking because I saw in it an opportunity to make drawings almost entirely for their own sake, as a holiday from the conditions that so often bind the modern artist to the prettinesses and trivialities of the moment; and, quite apart from my love of the book itself, I was attracted to the illustration of it because the subject left so much elbow-room. Was I a realist? I could be as realistic as I chose. Was I an idealist ? I could idealize to the top of my bent. A caricaturist? Who could complain ? In fact, the subject was the history of mankind, and his relation to infinity: his greatness and his nothingness.

In the conception of an idea no bounds are set yet in its execution the limits are most grievous. The large conception dwindles to nothing in its execution.

An illustrator who cared to devote himself entirely to the realistic or quasi-realistic passages in " Sartor" would find abundance of subjects ready to his band. The village of Entepfuhl, the mysterious stranger, the Blumine episodes, and the rest all make subjects which contain delightful possibilities. But then, the chief characteristics of the book are hardly to be found in these passages; they are the clothes-pegs only: and the [vii/viii] more important part of the book would have been untouched.

Again, I set a limit on my work by rejecting the illustration of many of the most vivid passages: for instance, lovers of "Sartor," on opening this book, will probably turn first of all to see what has been made of the famous passages, opening with "Often in my atrabiliar moods," concerning Royal Ceremonies and the House of Lords: and be astonished to find absolutely nothing by way of illustration.

So far from accepting the blame for what will probably be called a sin of omission, I may claim a little credit for my restraint : since everyone sees the subject so luminously for himself that in my view an illustration is unnecessary, and would probably clash with the reader's own con- ception. And again, while the subject to be pre- sented is " Indecorum," the limits imposed upon the illustrator would of necessity reduce the draw- ing to a representation of the very opposite-for all the world as decorous as a County Council swimming bath.

I confess that, in my sketch book, a skit may be found of my Lord Duke of Windlestraw, clothed as described in the book, with the small additions of an eye-glass and the order of the garter: upon which the " Honi soit qui mal y pense " seemed to me appropriate enough. [ix/x]

As to the treatment, the German accent of the book is mimicked more or less in the, drawings: I have pretended here and there that clothes were the serious business of the book: a thin pretence of Carlyle's own: sometimes I have adhered to the text, sometimes only to the general spirit of the book, and the fancies stirred by it; in some cases, perhaps, the drawings may be considered obscure or far-fetched: the drawings themselves must apologize as best they can.

With all best wishes,

Believe me, my dear Doctor,
Yours always sincerely,


Dr. John Colborne.

Created 29 September 2001

Last modified 7 January 2020