The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO MATTHEW ALLEN; 19 May 1820; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18200519-TC-MAL-01; CL 1:250-253.


Mainhill near Ecclefechan, 19th May, 1820—

My dear Sir,

Accept the sincere expression of my gratitude for your kind letter which, after many wanderings to and fro, found me yesterday morning here at my Father's, on the skirts of Dumfriesshire. I left Edinburgh about the twentieth of April, spent ten days with Mr Irving about Glasgow, and arrived in these parts some two weeks ago. Since my return to Annandale, I have chiefly been occupied with strolling about the fields, revolving most dreamy thoughts—which the fardarting and impetuous character of Faust, delineated in Goëthe's play of that name, did not by any means tend to express; I have also been engaged in writing a very pitiful critique on a german work about the magnetism of the Earth, which you may possibly see in the next number of that pamphlet, honoured with the name of philosophical journal, and conducted by Brewster & Jameson.1 Glad to have escaped the cumbrous task, I proposed to spend this day in visiting and recreation—for the magnetism was despatched yesterday: but the contents of your letter are such as to call for an answer immediately, and my departure is postponed two hour[s] accordingly.

I have not seen Mr Gallaway2 for a month, and I am not in the habit of corresponding with him. Perhaps therefore he may already have engaged with Mr Vicars, and the trouble I am now giving you may prove entirely superfluous. I would not for any considerations interfere with Mr Gallaway's views in such a case: but if he has altogether renounced the situation, I shall beg of you to give me some more definite and circumstantial information about the duties and emoluments connected with it; so that if it really seem of sufficient promise, I may forthwith endeavour to ‘raise the waters,’3 as Launcelot has it,—in other words, to procure all manner of recommendatory letters from Leslie and the rest who inhabit the Olympus of Science, and condescend to ray out some beams of their glory now and then upon certain of such as inhabit the base of the mountain. Eighty pounds a year, if board and lodging are included, is a respectable salary for teaching a mathematical class three hours a-day; and if the lecturing yield an additional emolument in proportion to its difficulty, one might contrive to do very well on such terms, particularly with so estimable a person as you represent Mr Vicars to be. It is true! I hate teaching (this will be a dash of ink among the carmine which you have generously lavished on me) in all its branches; yet what can a solitary person do? The inhabitant of Bridewell hates beating hemp; but he hates flogging still worse. If however, Mr Vicars wants a creature of the usher species, to sit ten or a dozen hours per diem with his boarders, to superintend the washing of their faces, and see them all quietly put to bed each evening—I cannot be of any service. The very word usher vibrates detestably across the tympanum of one's ear. Do you remember poor Oliver Goldsmith?4

I might be happy enough here, if the Enemy would let me. The rustic accom[m]odation of a Scottish farm is amply compensated by the cordial welcome that accompanies it; tho' destitute of philosophers we have four or five intelligent men at no great distance; I could even be delighted with guiding the younger minds of two brothers thro' the pages of Hume and Le Sage. Then there are ‘Persia’, ‘Quake[r]s’ &c &c to write for Brewster, thro' the summer. But after all, one longs for a broader and more brilliant theatre. York is to me like a city of the mind. In my dreams, I have heard the ‘Humber loud that bears the Scythian name,’5 and seen the field of Marston moor with the iron bands of Cromwell, when the genius of England awoke, des[cending?] like reapers to the harvest of death.6 I should like to see [Yorkshire?] with the eye of flesh; I would willingly speak with your countrymen, all of whom I (falsely) conceive to be Allens or little Allens; in short, twenty other longings would be gratified by a respectable establishment in your city. You will write to me therefore—about this situation, if Gallaway have done with it—otherwise, about whatever comes into your head,—only do it soon.

I am not surprised that you have quitted science. The thing designated by that name now-a-days in Britain is little else than a dry bead-roll of facts, good enough for metallurgists and artisans; but tasteless to the [so]ul—as the remainder biscuit of a voyage round the world is tasteless to the body. I have even nearly lost all relish for Mathematics, which some years ago I reckoned the loftiest pursuit of the human intellect. I congratulate you on your approaching entrance into the lists of literature. May the ‘oil’ you pour into ‘the political cauldron,’ suffice ‘to make the gruel thick and slab’!7 at present it is a hideous mess. Are you a prophet of evil or of good? Whilst in the land of radicalism,8 I was struck with the blindness of mind which seems to pervade nearly all the higher classes in that quarter. They are given up to strong delusions— What can make them see the cause of all this evil?—a larger share of it upon themselves? I augur nothing but evil—at least for a great while. I had something to say about the flight of time; but my sheet you see is on the point of ending. May the sun long run quickly on with you! Sieze the earliest of his revolutions, and devote an hour of it to,

My dear friend,/ Yours most sincerely /

Thomas Carlyle