TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL; 18 October 1814; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18141018-TC-RM-01; CL 1:25-30.
TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL
Mount-Annan, 18th Octr 1814.
My Dear Mitchell,
When I look at the date of your last, elegant and endearing letter, I feel a throb of something approaching to remorse for the suspicion of ingratitude and inconstancy which you (if you thought of me at all) must have entertained of me, for my apparently unaccountable neglect of a correspondence which I had been the first to sollicit, and the most eager to cultivate.1 I hope, however, that when you shall have heard ‘the story of my woes’—that is, my history for the last four months, you will be ready to grant me your forgivenness, and to recieve me once more into your good graces.—
—Some three or four days after I recd your lucubrations,2 an advertisement appeared in the Newspapers, for a Mathematical Teacher in the Annan Academy;—the place is worth about £70. a-year—and is respectable enough, my friends therefore, were anxious for my becoming a candidate: having been favoured with a letter of recommendation from Mr. Leslie3 I did apply, and was informed that the candidates must undergo a comparative trial at Dumfries, in the course of a few days—and that, in course, I must repair thither. Not to detain you with all the tribulations and heart-burnings, I went thro', it will be sufficient to inform you that I and another man having been examined by Mr. White,4 I was preferred—and told, I must enter on my office next day.— This you see was quick work—but you have not heard all. Genl Dirom5 came to reside at Mt Annan, towards the end of June, and two of his boys learning Greek Latin and Mathematics were consigned to my care.— You can co[nceive] the hurry and trepidations attendant on obtaining, and entering upon a new situation—you can concieve me just thinking of a subject for a reverie for your perusal, & a new engagement knocking all my reveries6 on the head—and telling me that for four months, I must lead the life of a Mill-horse:—you can conciev[e] all this[,] and can you help pardoning me? The truth is—scarcely a day, these three mont[hs,] has passed over my head, but I have reproached myself of ingratitude to my friend, to the companion of my studies, my speculations and perpendings (sweet bygane times!); and, strange as it may seem, every day, I have again put off. ‘Procrastination is the thief of time’7 and I am perswaded that nothing but the fear of your quitting my correspondence in disgust, could have aroused me. I have at length determined ‘tho' it were when I should sleep’8 to write you—and here am I scribbling away at midnight your most humble servant.
My Dear Mitchell, I entreat you to [enter?]tain this excuse; for indeed none of the circumstances are exaggerated,—and to rest assured that the frien[d]ship of a son of genius—of similar pursuits— of kindred sentiments and co[n]genial spirit with myself is too highly prized, to be even apparently neglected, excep[t] upon the most imperious necessity.9— Believe me I shall be most unhapp[y] if this excuse don't satisfy you—and will come under any terms rather than forfiet my right to a letter directly.— After this long preamble you are not to expect that I, all jaded as I am, can even attempt to amuse you this bout; but My Dear boy, send me a letter informing me that you are reconciled & I'll warrant you recieve a letter full of quirk and oddity10—covered thick and threefold with mirth, humour, wit [wit underscored twice] and the several other appendages requisite for forming an unexceptionable mourçeau d'eloquence et d'esprit [an eloquent and spirited piece]:—but at present—’tis out of the question, to expect any thing more spirited than a last will [underscored twice] or more witty than a Methodist tract [underscored twice].11— But let me get forward as I may—
In seriousness, your Mathematical investigations are excellent. Your demonstration of the property of the circle is really neat (I at least should think so, for on reading your enunciation, I set to work and brought out a demonstration of the property—which I was both disappointed and pleased to find the same as yours [underscored twice]): but it is the trisection of the are that I admire: it is indeed acutely and beautifully handled— ‘But Thereby hangs a tale.’12 I did not tell you that when I left Edinr for Dumfries, I put your paper in my pocket— and whilst my right worthy compagnons de voyage (for I came in the Mail from Moffat) were sunk in politics, post-horses, farming &c &c. I took out my friend's theorem, and leaving the base clod-hoppers to welter on among drains and dunghills and bullocks and balances of power— I entered Dumfries wholly disengaged from sublunary things; and well nigh perswaded that an angle might [underscored twice] be trisected. I went next morning to brea[k]fast with Mr. White—and in the course of our conversation, happening to mention the trisection of an angle, ‘I have in my pocket’ said I ‘the result of an ingenious young friend and fellow student's attempts on that subject—’Tis here.’ Mr. W. had no sooner cast his eye upon your diagram than, starting up and uttering a wildly-accented ‘aye!!’ he left the room.— He soon dissipated the mistery by returning with an armful of dun aged manuscripts, he desired me to look at one of them and I was surprised to see the same property. He complained bitterly that Mr. Leslie had shewed it you and never mentioned his [underscored twice] name! I assured him that it was an original on your part, but in vain— ‘Tis impossible!’ was his reply: I could not but feel rather vain, that I had a friend who had found out properties of which a veteran like White was proud.
By the way, could not we, think you, contrive to continue this mode of interchanging our lucubrations?’ Tis a project, I like vastly, and from which I had promised myself much instru[c]tion as well as entertainment. I have on hand (I should rather say in head) an explanation of the rainbow, together with some other bagatelles which I could send you—if I could think of any mode of conveyance. Could you devise no plan of regular communication? In winter, at least, they could be conveyed to and from Edinr free of expence, in some honest student's box— Let me have your ideas on the subject. Our College comarades—honest Davie,13 and the son of cat-gut 14 [underlined twice]—where are they? I had a hint and only a hint, that Davie had beaten his forceps into pitchforks—and his scalpells into pruning-hooks—that is to say—had commenced plough-man! Pray tell me, is it true? And has Andrew quitted Corstorphine?15— On a visit to Clint who is married and has commenced practice at Loch-maben,16 I had the pleasure of a conversation with the encomium-passing alla quod tu dis-je17 [the foreign words underscored twice] but really the Cameronian18 is … most saturnine andg[r]avissimous19 kind of animal, there's no doing with him[.] Dull as an Indian Sachem, and shallow as a Lochmaben Laird, the poor fellow is quite spoiled.— Were it not that it would interrupt this tutorship at Major Gordon's, I am of opinion that his dispositions would be vastly bettered by exposure for a year or two, to the action and reaction of that sect of Philosophers who have sprung up in these latter ages of the world—and are by the vulgar, denominated—Merryandrews: but it is to be doubted he is incorrigible.—
What Books have you been perusing—and how did you like Sha[ke]spea[re]?— Since I saw you I have toil'd thro' many a thick octa[vo]—many of them to little purpose. Byron's and Scott's [Poems I have read] and must admire—tho' you recollect, we used to give Campbell a de[cided] preference—and I still think, with justice. Have you ever seen Hoole's Tas[so?] I have among many others read, it, Leonidas, The Epigoniad, Oberon, Savage[e's] Poems &.c. Miss Porter's Scottish Chiefs20 and Waverl[e]y have been the principal of my Novels— With regard to Waverl[e]y I cannot help remarking t[hat] in my opinion it is the best novel that has been published these thirty years. The characters of Ebenezer Cru[i]ckshank[s] mine host of the garter, the Reverend Mr. Gowk-thrapple and Squire Bradwardian display a Cervantic vein of humour which has seldom been surpassed—whilst the descriptions of the gloomy caverns of the Highlands, and the delineations of the apathic Callum Beg and enterprising Vich Ian Vohr show a richness of Scottean colouring which few have equalled. Give me your opinion of it if you have read it;—and if not—endeavour by all means to procure it.21
My sermon is pretty much in the same stile as yours was at th[e] date of your last letter—with this difference—I don't know quite so wel[l] in what part of the Bible it is.22 My sentiments on the Clerical profession are like yours mostly of the unfavourable kind. Where would be the harm, should we both stop? The best concerted schemes o mice an' men—gang aft aglee!23 I intended to have said something of the bigotted scepticism of Hume,—but as I am convinced you see thro' his specious sophisms and detect his blind prejudice in favour of … infidelity, I shall defer it.—at any rate I have not room—and therefore must wait.
Now my dear Bob, let me see you behave as you ought and send me a long letter and I promise it shall be answered punctually if I keep my health. In sooth, I shall expect an answer to this Chaos of a letter (which hurry &c. and your good nature will excuse) within fourteen days from the date hereof: so be punctual.
Pray do write me directly, an account of all your transactions, adventures, misfortunes, loves and hates.— I am close upon the bottom of my sheet, otherwise I would say some fine thing on the ‘Charms of Friendship;’ but I trust, my Dear Mitchell we can both feel, the joys arising from the commerce of kindred sentiments—and congenial minds.
Need I add how sincerely I am
My Dear Mit, / yours /
Direct to me at Annan Academy—quick