The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL; 12 February 1817; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18170212-TC-RM-01; CL 1:89-93.


Kirkcaldy, 12th Feby 1817.

My Dear Sir,

I yesterday received a letter from our friend Johnston, who tells me, that you are greatly astonished at my long silence. And in truth you have some reason; but you are wide of the mark, in the hypothesis which you have formed to account for the phenomenon. I am certainly much dissatisfied with your conduct; but this could only have induced me to write with greater vehemence and celerity. The truth is, I began you a letter about three weeks after my arrival in this place, and had proceeded a great way—when some stupid business or other interrupted me—and the paper was thrown by for ten days. I began another with renovated zeal, and had actually got to the last page, when your letter from Edinr arrived—and struck me dumb with grief & surprise. I was in a sad taking. To think, that my very last employment before leaving home was writing to you—that I had calculated the weeks and days that must elapse, before the month of March could bring us together to hold a solemn conference touching all that should concern us;—and then to hear in the midst of my calculations, that tho' during a fortnight you were with[in] ten miles of me—that tho' in two hours from any given point of time you might have been transported to my habitation—you came not near me!1 It was a dog's trick Mitchell. Little prevented me from throwing down my implements, and crossing the salt sea to seek you—had I known to what corner of the great city my search must be directed. All that remained for me then, was, by writing a most abusive letter, to shew you how much ‘the galled jade will wince.’2 But alas! no sooner had I collected my energies for this entreprise than a sore-throat seized me—and (after a protracted struggle on my part) confined me nearly a whole week to my room. My heart died within me at the sight of the gargles & boluses & blisters with which I was assailed: and till two days ago, I was able to think of nothing but the sickness & sorrow to which mortal man is subject in this miserable planet.— This is the reason of my silence. You will perceive that the blame rest[s] with you & fortune[.] I am faultless—or nearly so. Still I am in a very considerable rage against you. Whether ‘mine anger shall abate’3 upon consideration of a long letter speedily sent me, I know not—but I wish you would make the experiment.

Johnson will have told you all about my condition and operations in this long and dirty town; and it would but fatigue you to repeat the statement. I am sufficiently comfortable; and feel considerably less spleen & ennui than I used to do at Annan. My habits have been so much deranged by change of place, that I have not yet got rightly settled to my studies. I have read little since I saw you: and of that little, I doubt, I have not made the best use. Have you seen Playfairs introductory essay in the Encyclopedia?4 I am sure you will like it. It is distinguished for its elegance & perspicuity. I perused it some weeks ago, and thought it greatly preferable to Stewarts. Indeed I have often told you, that I am somewhat displeased with myself because I cannot admire this great philosopher, half as much as many critics do. He is so very stately—so transcendental—and withal so unintelligible, that I cannot look upon him with the needful veneration. I was reading the second volume of his ‘Philosophy of the human mind,’5 lately. It is principally devoted to the consideration of Reason. The greater part of the book is taken up with statements of the opinions of others; and it often required all my penetration to discover what the Author's own views of the matter were. He talks much about Analysis & Mathematics, and disports him very pleasantly upon geometrical reasoning; but leaves what is to me the principal difficulty, untouched. Tell me if you have read it. You have no doubt seen the ‘Tales of my Landlord.’ Certainly Waverl[e]y and Mannering and the Black Dwarf were never written by the same person.6 If I mistake not—Dr M'Crie's strictures7 are a little too severe, on some occassions—and his love of the Cameronians8 too violent. The Worthy Doctor's humour is as heavy as lead— I am afraid you are tired of this—

It is very comfortable that you and Samuel Cowan go on so lovingly together. I am unacquainted with your lucubrations; for I have not seen a ‘Courier’ since I left Dumfriesshire. Long ago when I was in Edinr, I had demonstrated a theorem for your behoof—but I have nearly forgot it now. I think it may be enunciated thus. ‘If the diameter of a circle be divided internally & externally in the same ratio, the straight lines drawn from one of the points of section to the extremities of the chord passing thro' the other, will make equal angles with that diameter.’ It bears some analogy to one of Matthew Stewart's. You will get the demonstration well enough.9 Johnson tells me that Mr Duncan has engaged a certain M'Darmaid10 to assist him in conducting the paper. I think I have heard of this person's speeches in the forum—and also that his wit was very great. I hope in his hand the torch of eloquence will burn bright—and shed a strong ray of intellectual light over the whole district.

I have not been in Edinburgh since you left it; and therefore, I can give little news from that quarter. Your countryman Frank Dixon11 came into the town a few days ago; and I believe he intends to remain, if he can obtain employment. He was in this place last week visiting Edward Irving.12 He is a fellow of infinite jest:13 and spares no pains to keep his company in convulsions. A variety of works have been begun about the new year (as is the fashion) in the ‘periodical line.’ A weekly newspaper the Scotsman14 has reached the third number. I have seen them all—a little violent in their Whiggism; but well enough written in some places. Pillans & Jeffrey & Moncrieff15 and many others have been respectively named as the Editor. There is also a weekly essay ‘The Sale Room’16 begun about six weeks ago—by whom, I know not. The writers are not without abilities; but the last numbers seemed to indicate that the work was about to give up the ghost.17— I understand you had the famous Dr Spurzhiem18 among you lately, examining the head of George Ross.19 What said the sage cranioscopist about this wonderful being? And what do you think of his doctrine of skulls? For myself—having never been within the sphere of his influence there is little merit in being sceptical. I own his system seems to me, to be a mass of crude hypotheses with a vile shew of induction about it—calculated only to impose upon the lazy & the wonder-loving— I say shew of induction, for it seems from the nature of the case to require a number of experiments almost immense to establish any one of its positions. There are it seems three & thirty bumps upon eve[ry] human head-piece, which the Doctor says are faculties. Now any peculiarit[y of] character may have originated from one of these or from two of them or fr[om more] or from the whole together— Calculate the combinations that can be made of thirtythree bumps & allow for the original constitution of the mind, and you will require, I believe, millions of instances to prove the title of one single bump to the name of organ— Tell me what you think of this—

I am very much afraid that you will think this letter dull— I think it so myself—but what can I help it— Be as content with it as you can. I am longing greatly to hear from you. Let me know all that you are reading and saying & thinking— Stand not upon ceremonies,—but send me a very long close-written letter, with all the speed imaginable— Remember me kindly to Mr & Mrs Duncan; & to all about the Manse that care for me. Write soon— Good night my old Friend— I am in a hurry for the post hour is nearly come—

Thomas Carlyle—

What sort of a story was that of Murrays in the Courier lately?