The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 26 January 1820; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18200126-TC-JAC-01; CL 1:223-225.


Edinr26th January 1820.

My dear Jack,

I have read over your letter1 with great satisfaction; and I devote the short while, which yet remains before Geordie's departure, to scribble this half-sheet by way of reply to it. I ought in the first place to ask your pardon for misdirecting you about the latin book you were to read. The volume in question is not, I find, at Mainhill, but here: I shall send it down in the box, and if you can manage it—well; if not, send me word, and I shall not fail to get you another edition of it, with notes and a glossary, which you will find quite intelligible.

You do well to proceed with the Latin: it can in no case be quite useless to you; it may eventually be of great service. The understanding of one's own tongue is at all times an important matter; and no way is so completely efficient for that purpose as the study of Latin, which it is mainly grounded on & derived from. But particularly attend to your penmanship; neglect, no night, to write a copy—longer or shorter. I approve very much of your remarks upon David Hume. Sandy tells me that you and he are in the habit of attending chiefly to the manners, opinions & general features of the different periods, which you Read about. This is the true way of proceeding in the study of history. It is good, surely, because it is pleasing, to know about battles & sieges and such matters—and these things ought carefully to be stored up in the mind; but a person who gathers nothing more from the annals of a nation, is not much wiser than one who should treasure up the straw of a threshing-floor and leave the grain behind. You are right to attend to dates; do not neglect the geography of the countries. In a short while you will find some of your old friends whom you met with in Charles V.2 I am very glad that Alick & you are going fairly to get thro' Hume: it is a task which very few accomplish, notwithstanding its pleasantness & utility. No one without it can be said to understand the first principles of the laws, church-government or manners of his own country.

I was a good deal diverted by your account of the Radical conspiracy at Ecclefechan.3 No doubt the 'Squire of Kirtletown4 would experience considerable chagrin at the total failure of his well-meant efforts to support the constituted authorities. Such things happen everywhere in these suspicious & distracted times: but no plot has yet reached me of a more Ludicrous nature than the one which you relate.

There is nothing new here; at least nothing that penetrates my secluded abode. The common people are in great distress; tho' for several reasons that distress is less severely felt here than in manufacturing districts. The substantial burghers and other idle loyalists of the place are trainin[g] themselves to the use of arms for the purpose of suppr[es]sing the imaginary revolts of the lower orders. When [I see] one of those heroic personages, with his buff-belts, his cartouche-box and weapons of war, obstructing the progress of his Majesty's subjects along the streets, I can scarce suppress a bitter smile at the selfishness, & stupidity of men. In fact ‘steel pills,’ tho' a very natural, are a very ineffectual remedy, for a decayed ‘constitution.’

There has been some mistake made about the letter which was to go to Ruthwell. Mitchell tells me it was charged 8½d. 5 You had better ask the bearer of it to Annan, how he managed the affair: most likely, he would give it in to the post-office, and tell the man of authority that it came from Edinr. However there no great matter—only to know again. You must write at great length next time: send me all the news in any degree or even no degree interesting. Mind your reading—that is an account of it for my inspection. I am

My dear Brother, /Your's affectly /

Thos Carlyle