CONRAD, Joseph (1857-1924). Autograph letter signed ("K.N. Korzeniowski," his Polish name) to [Joseph Spiridion Kliszczewski in Cardiff, Wales]; written during a six-week stay in port at Calcutta on a homeward bound voyage from Singapore, 19 December 1885. 6 pages, 8vo, in dark brown ink, an inch split in a vertical fold, light wear at a horizontal fold, several tiny pinholes (mostly marginal, but one touching a letter); with typed transcript.
"I LOOK WITH THE SERENITY OF DESPAIR AND THE INDIFFERENCE OF CONTEMPT UPON THE PASSING EVENTS"
THIS REMARKABLE LETTER IS THE SIXTH EARLIEST KNOWN CONRAD LETTER AND THE FOURTH EARLIEST WRITTEN IN ENGLISH. The first letter printed in Letters, vol. 1 (1861-1897), edited by F.R. Karl and L. Davies, is one written in 1861 by the five-year-old Conrad to his father; the second is an 1883 letter also in Polish. On a voyage from England to Singapore and back in 1884-5, as a second mate on the sailing ship Tilkhurst, Conrad wrote five letters in English -- his earliest surviving texts in that language -- to Joseph Spiridion Kliszczewski, a member of a family of Polish emigrés living in Cardiff. The first two were written from Singapore (27 September and 13 October 1885); the final three date from Calcutta on the voyage home (25 November and 19 December 1885 -- the present letter -- and 6 January 1886). After this there is a jump to 1889 for the next letter in Karl and Davies.
At the time of this letter to his friend in Cardiff, Conrad had just turned twenty-eight; he would become a British citizen the following year; it would be ten years before his first book, Almayer's Folly, would be published. As Karl notes (Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives, a Biography, New York, 1979, pp.225-6): "Conrad's... letter... is a document of considerable importance, since it reveals political and social corners of his mind as he pondered the 1885 General Election [in Great Britain] from ten thousand miles away. Conrad's extreme reactionaryism becomes plausible only if we understand his opposition to all plans of social improvement. His suspicion of such idealistic schemes, further, can be traced to his roots in Polish politics, the generations of idealism and romanticism, including his father's, leading to greater acts of repression by the conquering country."
Conrad writes: "... Where's the man to stop the rush of social, democratic ideas. The opportunity and the day have come -- and are gone! For the sun is set and the last barrier removed. England was the only barrier to the pressure of infernal doctrines born in continental back-slums. Now there is nothing. The destiny of this nation and of all nations is to be accomplished in darkness amidst much weeping and gnashing of teeth, to pass through robbery, equality, anarchy and misery under the iron rule of a military despotism. Such is the lesson of history! Such is the lesson of common sense logic! Socialism must inevitably end in Cesarism... Truthfully I have ceased to hope a long time ago. We must drift! The whole herd of idiotic humanity are moving in that direction at the bidding of unscrupulous rascals, and a few sincere but dangerous lunatics... I live mostly in the past -- and the future. The present has -- you easily understand -- but few chances for me. I look with the serenity of despair and the indifference of contempt upon the passing events. Disestablishment, Land Reform, universal brotherhood are but like milestones on the Road to Ruin. The End will be awful -- no doubt! Neither you nor I shall live to see the final crash; although we both may turn in our graves when it comes; for we both feel deeply and sincerely. Still there is no earthly remedy for those earthly misfortunes and from above -- I fear. We must obtain consolation -- but no remedy. 'All is vanity!'..." THIS IS THE ONLY ONE OF THESE FIRST CONRAD LETTERS STILL IN PRIVATE HANDS AND THEREFORE THE EARLIEST CONRAD LETTER OBTAINABLE; see Karl and Davies for the institutional location of the others. Printed in Letters, ed. Karl and Davies, vol. 1, pp. 15-17 (the text taken from Jean-Aubry's 1927 edition of Conrad's letters: this original not seen).