The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL; 30 April 1814; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18140430-TC-RM-01; CL 1:6-12.


Edinburgh, 30th Apl 1814.—

My Dear Mitchell,

You are perhaps thinking by this time, that I am slow in answering your long-sollicited letter; and before going further, I must beg pardon, and plead the trite excuses of business, indolence &c &c—and let me tell you, you have been such a notorious offender in that way, yourself.—you can't have the impudence to make any complaints.

Were I disposed to moralise, there is before me the finest field that ever opened to the eye of mortal man.— Nap the Mighty,1 who, but a few months ago, made the sovereigns of Europe tremble at his nod; who has trampled on thrones and sceptres, and kings and priests and principalities and powers, and carried ruin and havoc and blood and fire, from Gibralter to Archangel—Nap the Mighty is—gone to pot [gone to pot is underscored twice]!!!— “I will plant my eagles on the towers of Lishbon”; “I will conquer Europe and crush great Britain to the centre of the terraqueous globe”—I will go to Elba—and be coop'd up in Limbo!!! ‘But yesterday; and Boney might have stood against the world; now none so poor as do him rev'rence.’2—‘Strange’ says Sancho Panza ‘very strange things happen in the boiling of an egg.’3—all those fine things, however, and twenty thousand others have been thought, and said by every body who thinks or speaks upon the subject—and so I leave them.

Having got out of this r[h]apsody, I now proceed to consider the contents of your letter.— It gives me the sincerest sorrow, that you did not [not is underscored twice] accomplish that redoubtable undertaking in which you were engaged4 There is a real pleasure attends those same castles which all of us so often build, and tho' ‘like the baseless fabric of a vision,’ they must ‘all dissolve and leave not a wreck behind’,5 still there is enjoyment whilst the illusion lasts.— The trisection of an angle by simple geometry is a complete wild-goose chace, at any rate, and in it disappointments must be relied on. Still your atchievement (even had it come that length) was but like the drop on the bucket to some of my projected exploits—’ Twas but the other day, for instance, that I had got into a sure and expeditious way of boring a hole, right, slap, souse down thro' the centre of the earth we inhabit, and receiving point blanc the productions of New Zealand and the South Sea!!!! as I will be in Edinr at least part of the summer, I cannot but highly approve of the plan you proposed of sending our essays6 to be remarked on by each other. It is impossible that it could do any harm: and since it would afford a very useful exercise at least, it would, I am convinced, be a very profitable way of carrying on our correspondence. I shall expect therefore, in a few days to receive, per Carrier, a paper of yours to peruse, and directions how to proceed, with regard to time &c &c.— Don't be particular as to the choice of a subject—any will do.— It is very likely that I may send you some Mathematical thing or other; seeing I have got Bossut's history of mathematics,7 at this time, where perhaps there may be something new to you—and again, I stumbled the other night upon a kind of a new demonstration of Pythagoras' square of the hypotenuse; and if you don't find it yourself (most likely you will) I will send you it too.— We need be at no loss for subjects, literary, metaphysical mathematical and physical are all before us.— I am sure this would be a very good way of spending a part of the summer; and you who are the projector, will surely never draw back, from what you yourself proposed, and therefore will not fail to send me your production the very next opportunity.

Firmly had I resolved, on the faith of your recommendation, to read Thaddeus, 8 and you may believe me when I declare that it was not for want of exertion on my part, that I have not seen it yet. The truth is, I am acquainted only in one circulating library and there Thaddeus has always been ‘out.’— Getting a book from a strange library is a little troublesome, and [thus?] expecting every day to get it from that where I am known, I made no effort else where. However, I will have it read, if possible before I address you again—which if you stick to promises will not be long.—

By the way, you have heard of Dr. John Leyden,9 the unfortunate author of ‘scenes of Infancy’ &c from (I believe) Roxburgh-shire, who went to India and met an untimely end

Leyden, a shepherd wails thy fate
And Scotland knows her loss too late.


—Well, if I am not much deceived you will thank me, for transcribing you the following poem of his, composed on (Wellington, then) Wellesl[e]y's victory at Assaye, while Leyden was in India.— I met with it in ‘the Spy’10 a kind of periodical thing published the other year in Edinr.

Shout, Britons, for the battle of Assaye;
For that was a day,
When we stood in our array,
Like the Lion's might at bay;
And our battle-word was CONQUER OR DIE
Rouse, rouse the cruel leopard from his lair,
With his yell the mountain rings;
And his red eye round he flings,
As arrow-like he springs,
And spreads his clutching paw to rend and tear.
Then first array'd in battle front we saw,
Far as the eye could glance,
The Mahratta banners dance,
O'er the desolate expanse
And their standard was the leopard of Malwa.
But when we first encounter'd man to m[an]
Such odds came never on,
Against Greece or Macedon,
When they shook the Persian throne,
Mid the old barbaric pomp of Ispahan.
No number'd might of living could tam[e]
Our gallant band that broke
Through the bursting clouds of smoke,
When the vollied thunder spoke
From a thousand mouldering mouths of lurid fla[me]
Hail, Wellesl[e]y who led the mortal fray
Amid the locust swarm,
Dark fate was in thy arm;
And thy shadow shall alarm
The Mahratta at thy name, from this day.
Ah! Mark these British corses on the plain,
Each vanish'd like a star,
'Mid the dreadful ranks of war,
While the women stood afar,
And gaz'd in silent terror at the slain.
Shout, Britons, for the battle of Assaye;
Ye who perish'd in your prime,
Your hallow'd names sublime,
Shall live to ceaseless time;
Your heroic worth and fame shall never die.

Can any thing be grander?—what fire! what energy!—if there is any thing in existence that surpasses this, it must be Hoenli[nden]—but what is like Hoenlinden?11— Tell me in your next, what you think of this piece— Is not, think you, ‘From a thousand mouldering mouths of lurid flame’ misprinted somehow? would ‘smouldering’ do any better?

Poor Davie!12 I am really sorry for him. He was rejected at Surgeon's Hall, the other day, in Pharmacy. He has the consolation, however, of thinking that he is not alone; out of eleven who made the attempt, only 5 succeeded. He will be in town again inAugust, to try once more.

On Friday, I heard Dr. Barclay conclude his course, by a lecture on the vital principle or soul of man. After disproving a number of wild theories advanced on the subject, he set himself to prove one of the wildest ever hatched in the brain of poor deluded mortal. Would yo[u] believe i[t,] the soul is communicated at the act of geniture; and the habitation of this ‘e[arth']s God’ is—[in] the testicles [underscored twice]!!! Perhaps, I might be mistaken; but I could understand [his] express[ions and] argumentations in no other light.13

Your summer classes begin on Tuesday first. It is probable I may attend the natural history again, seeing I will not be throng.

Do not neglect to write me immediately, and send me your essay—no matter what about. Tell me too, how you come on, in your sermon:—mine (‘good [e]asy man’)14 is not begun, and I don't know when it will—but I have a long year before me, till it be required.

I have thus, my Dear Bob, sent you a sheet filled with very close and small [ma]tters, as you desired, and whether there be any thing in it or no—still it is full. Pay me directly I repeat it. Meantime I am, till I hear from you,

My Dear Sir / Yours truly /

Thomas Carlyle

Have you read Shakespear? If you have not, then I desire you, read it directly, and tell me what you think of him—which is his masterpiece—. He is always excellent—