The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO THOMAS MURRAY; 7 June 1819; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18190607-TC-TM-01; CL 1:180-182.


Workington, 7th June 1819.

My dear Sir,

I came hither yesterday for the melancholy purpose of convoying Mr Johnston on board the ship Severn, which is to transport him, in a few days, to St John's New Brunswick; and I cannot let slip the opportunity, which his farewell letter affords me, of inquiring after your state, and briefly explaining my own.

Since the arrival of your letter,1 I have received no manner of intelligence respecting the Manx negociation. Are you to go and preach in the island? My ignorance of the circumstances would render my counsel of no value— My best wishes are all that I can give you. Every year, I can participate more and more, in the uncomfortable lonely feeling which you justly describe as the portion of persons without a home. A part of every one's life must be spent in this condition—which, till the experience of a few years has stript our prospects of their glory, is not without its charms. When it becomes irksome, it ought to be remedied rather than lamented. You can judge, better than I, whether the profferred emolument is a sufficient reward for the services to be performed; you will consider likewise whether the obstruction which your settlement in the Island of Man may place in the way of acquiring, what would certainly be more comfortable, the charge of a parish in Scotland, should not induce [you] to suffer, yet a little, the miseries (or vexations rather) of tutorship—grievous as they are. I am persuaded that your determination—if you have yet to determine—will be formed upon wise & honourable principles.

You have not, for a long while, given me any notice of your studies or literary speculations. Our pursuits in that department are not perfectly similar; but you ought not for that reason to suppose that I can view your efforts with indifference. In the biographical line (to speak Merchantlike, in this trading district) I have formed rather high expectations of you. That sort of writing has been very little cultivated in Britain: its uses however, are manifold and obvious; whilst success in it is rewarded by a meed of fame more promptly as well as more plentifully paid—than in other researches where the expense of thought and industry is much greater. The qualifications of a Biographer have sometimes been rated low: but to illustrate human character, to trace the progress of philosophical discovery, to estimate and class the creations of ‘the poet's pen’—to do all this properly, no ordinary talents and diligence in the use of them, are absolutely requisite. A Bower or an Anderson2 can tell when a man of genius was born and died—they can[n]ot write his life.— What have you made of poor Lewis?3 You will not find his adventures capable of giving interest to a minute narrative.4 His genius, tho' rather extraordinary for a Stay-maker, was not of the highest order; his principles were not too rigid, and in practice (poor fellow!) he was any thing but a purist.— By the bye, speaking of poets (this introduction will bring to your mind the celebrated story of a Gun—no matter—speaking of poets) Willm Irving's widow is married lately to one Andrew (if I err not) a school-master about Edinr. I understand her circumstances since the decease of her husband to have been very straitened—of this Andrew I know nothing. But you have enough of this.

With regard to my own history since my last letter, time compels me to be brief. Most probably I mentioned that I designed to spend some months of the summer at my Father's— That design is now in some degree executed. I came home early in May—and have been in Annandale till Saturday last. My health has been improving—before Winter it will be quite reestablished. My studies are scarcely begun; tho' I have half sketched out a plan for my summer's labours— Visits of acquaintance—and more lately our friend's approaching emigration have distracted my attention entirely. My former German teacher is now living in Lockerby [torn] and two or three lessons which I have had from him are (alas!) [not] the least important of my atchievements. What I forecast, how I feel, what I think of my native place after several years of absence &c, you shall hear more particularly next time I write. I need not say that the prospect of being separated from James Johnston—for a long period perhaps forever, has shed a gloom over all my thoughts— It will be but temporary: for I expect he will be happy— Meantime it is very painful. May he find that good fortune, which talents industry & sterling probity should always find!

But I am hurried and interrupted by the arrival of tea. It remains for me therefore only to beg your indulgence for the errors of this poor letter—which I have not time even to read over, to request an answer to it as soon as possible; and to subscribe myself

My dear Sir, / Your's faithfully, /

Thomas Carlyle

Direct to me at Mainhill—near Ecclefechan—and write soon—