The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 17 December 1818; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18181217-TC-MAC-01; CL 1:151-155.


Edinburgh, Thursday17th Decr 1818.

My dear Mother,

I expected that the Carrier would have been here before this time, and that consequently I should have had it in my power to give you notice of my condition, without putting you to the expense of postage. But as there is now little probability of his arriving this week, I can no longer delay to answer the letter which I received from my Father a considerable time ago. Few things in the world could give me greater pleasure than to learn that you are all in good health, and that your affairs are in a somewhat prosperous condition. I trust they still continue so. The boys deserve my thanks for the alacrity with which they explored the condition of that same unfortunate box. I call it unfortunate, for upon calling at the person Kay's in the Grass-market here, I found it ill-used in every particular. In the first place, tho' the carriage, as appeared by the marks upon the lid, had been paid—the poor dog Beck had contrived to make Kay (as a Porter testified) pay it again, inadvertently—and he stoutly refused to part with it, unless he were reimbursed. This, by the way, was the reason why it had never come to Kirk[c]aldy; all the carriers refusing to take it because they must first pay the carriage to Edinr which was marked as paid already. So the poor box was left standing for six weeks, in a damp cellar, without any one to claim it. I was forced to comply with Signor Kay's requisition—and upon paying him the 2/10, had my articles brought home at last. The socks fit me well, and altogether are admirable things. The butter also was there undamaged: but the shirts—which your kindness had incited you to make for me—those shirts I was enraged to find all spotted & sprinkled with a black colour—which the body Davie here says is mellemdew1—and which will never come out, according to the same authority. I have had them washed; but the blackness remains. Much of it is about the breast and if it be true that it cannot be erased, I must make night-shirts of them. This cannot be remedied, and therefore ought not to be regretted; but the creature Smith should refund his carriage-money at the least. I find living here very high. An hour ago, I paid my week's bill which tho' 15/2 was the smallest of the three which I have yet discharged. This is an unreasonable sum when I consider the slender accom[m]odation, and the paltry ill-cooked morsel which is my daily pittance. There is also a schoolmaster right over my head, whose noisy brats give me at times no small annoyance. On a given night of the week, he also assembles a select number of vocal performers, whose music (as they charitably name it) is now and then so clamourous, that (when studying a Mathematical theorem) I almost wished the throats of these sweet singers, full of molten lead, or any other substance which might stop their braying, for the time. Yet neither can this be avoided. I was through about 50 rooms the other day—only one was offered cheaper and that greatly inferior— So I shall be content till the spring. There is nothing very tragical in all this: yet it is the worst side of the picture. I ought not to forget, that I am more healthy than I have been this twelvemonth. I have plenty of time to read, and am not destitute of good society—that of Irving—James Brown a truly good lad, who was at Mainhill once—Francis Dixon &c. Also I have three hours of private teaching—at two guineas a month for each hour. The first two hours I got 3 weeks ago. A young man had been directed to Irving to get lessons in Astronomy— Irving not finding it convenient to supply him, sent him to me: and I engaged immediately. His name is Robertson2—he is an officer in the East India compy and I find him a pleasant youth. I am only sorry that he must leave this place, in a short time, and thus cut off my salary. The other hour, which I undertook ten days ago, is devoted to teach Geometry to an old English (or Jersey) Gentleman, called Saumarez, who asked Irving one day in the Natural history class, which I also attend, if he could recommend a mathematical teacher—and was immediately introduced to me. He is a most amusing creature—and the space between 8 and 9 o'clock which I daily spend with him, no less than the arguments we have together in the class, about Newton and natural philosophy—is often the most diverting of the day— He lives at the north end of the new town, above a mile from this place; and this walk for me, before breakfast (which is of porridge) is another advantage. Robertson lives with his mother, much in the same quarter—I go thither between 10 and twelve o'clock. Then comes a walk with Brown or Dixon—or else a bout at reading till two; next the natural history class till 3; then dinner of fish or mutton & roots;—and reading till midnight. This is a picture of my life; and notwithstanding a fair proportion of anticipations & forebodings, I am not at all uncomfortable. I saw the Professor Leslie twice or thrice, since I wrote to you. He requested me to attempt a most difficult problem which he was going to put into a book that he is publishing. He had not time for it himself. I wrought at it for a week; and, notwithstanding several advances, could not do it. The Day before yesterday, he advised me to let it alone a while—which I was willing to do; and then to try it again, which I also intend to do. “Upon the whole,” said this curious philosopher, “I see nothing so eligible for you as to learn the engineer business; and then go to America— Great business there— Swiss Gentleman, went lately—making a large fortune—many bridges and canals— I must have you introduced to Jardine.” This Jardine3 is an engineer of this city; and came from Millhousebridge near Lochmaben—report says he is a conceited disagre[e]able person. You will start, My dear Mother, at the sound of America. I too had much rather live in my own country; and lay my bones in the soil which covers those of my Fathers. Nor do I despair of getting a comfortable situation, for the exercise of my talents—somewhere within this sea-girt isle. On monday I received a letter from Mr Duncan of Ruthwell4—containing three notes of introduction —one to a certain Bailie Waugh, a bookseller of this place who wishes to employ me as a writer in some review which he is about to commence. I had half an hour's pleasant chat with this Bailie, left my address with him, and went on my way. What the upshot may be I cannot guess. A second letter I delivered to Dr Brewster, Editor of the Edinr Encyclopaedia. He received me kindly—took my address—talked with me a while on several subjects—and let me go. The kind Minister of Ruthwell had, I understand, written about getting me to write in the Encyclopaedia—the Dr said nothing on that head. No matter. The third letter is to J. A. Henderson Esqr Advocate, which I have not yet delivered. Perhaps he will inform me about the lawyer business. This law I sometimes think is what I was intended for naturally[.] I am afraid it takes several hundreds to become an Advocate. But for this, I should commence the study of it with great hopes of success. We shall see whether it is possible. One of the first Advocates of the day, Forsyth,5 raised himself from being a disconsolate Preacher to his present eminence. Therefore I entreat you, My Mother, not to be any way uneasy about me. I see none of my fellows with whom I am very anxious to change places. They are mostly older than I by several years—and have as dim prospects generally as need be— Tell the boys to read, and not to let their hearts be troubled for me. Tell them, I am a stubborn dog—and evil fortune shall not break my heart—or bend it either, as I hope. I must write to them and to my Father before long.

I know not how to speak about the washing which you offer so kindly. Surely you thought, five years ago, that this troublesome washing and baking was all over; and now to recommence! I can scarcely think of troubling you— Yet the clothes are ill washed here, and if the box be going and coming any way—perhaps you could manage it.

The report of several mournful accidents has reached me from Annandale. Saml Richardson, Preacher's mother has been burnt to death in her own house in your neighborhood! melancholy for poor Samuel! Old Johnston of Ha'bank has at length it would appear, ended his brutal career upon the floor of an alehouse! A shocking lesson to the drunkards of that district. A nephew & namesake of Dick Graham's of Annan expired here of a fever, which he had been labouring under in the south, and which a ride hither on the roof of the coach brought back with new vigour. He was my school-fellow—and junior. I mourn for his untimely fate. These things tell me, and every one, loudly, to remember that this is not the place of our rest. Why then repine at the poor events of this fleeting life? A few brief years, and the unmeasured periods of eternity shall pass over us forever— Be ye also ready6—each of us ought to say for himself— But my paper is done. I add only, that with a heartfelt wish for the happiness of you all, I remain My Dear Mother,

Your affectionate bairn /

Thomas Carlyle

P.S. I know not whether I mentioned that Mr Martin the minister of Kirk[c]aldy, of his own accord, gave me, at my departure a most consolatory certificate—full of encomiums upon talents, morals &c which gratified me not a little. He was always kind to me. The favourable opinion of such a man is worth the adverse votes of many ignorant persons. The poor people of Kirkdy are ill off I hear for a dominie. Charles Melville was here upon the scent lately. There are many good men amongst them— I wish they had a right school.