The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO JOHN FERGUSSON; 3 June 1820; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18200603-TC-JOFE-01; CL 1:256-259.


Mainhill, near Ecclefechan, 3d June 1820—

My dear Fergusson,

After the candid profession of indolence, which you made previously to my departure from Edinr, it may occassion some surprise too see a creature once so dilatory and deficient in epistolary matters thus bestirring him to perform tasks of supererogation in that line; and unless the aspect of those five guineas pointed to a different conclusion, you might think me wonderfully improved in generosity and all the kindred virtues since we parted. I am sorry to admit that your secondary idea will be the better one. But for the business relating to that cash and about to be laid upon your (I hope) not very reluctant shoulders, it is any thing but certain that I should so far have vanquished sloth, melancholy and the other powers of darkness as to make any successful efforts towards renewing our correspondence, however profitable and pleasant. Time, and the discontinuance of these eastern blasts which sweep our unsheltered district afflicting man and beast and herb (Edinburgh with its double and triple vortices of dust and rubbish must be a paradise even now!) would certainly have done the business at last; but to the affair, which I must now explain, you certainly owe an acceleration of the trouble and pleasure that the perusal & answering of a sheet from me may happen to cause.

I ought to begin with a certain decent quantity of excuses and apologies for troubling you, and so on: but after all, the trouble would still remain; and you I fear would not be better convinced of my gratitude, than if I let the matter rest in silence. Let it rest there then and wait—till I can oblige you—for a proof of my thankfulness. The matter is shortly this— George Johnstone, for whom you were kind enough to take out several freights of medical books last summer, charged me before his departure to procure for him an Infirmary ticket—that by help of it and another winter's attendance in Edinr after his return from Greenland, he might be enabled to obtain a diploma in the spring of 1821.1 Circumstances of not much importance prevented me from satisfying this request before I left you; and his Mother, a very meritorious widow, having called upon me to express great anxiety and regret on this head, I made bold to comfort her by saying that if the money were remitted to you, out of your great goodnature and benevolence you would not fail to transact the matter in a satisfactory way. If I have not miscalculated, you will therefore proceed so soon as you find it convenient to the Infirmary Janitor, and tell him to get a ticket for Mr George Johnstone, pay him the money and send the article down with letters and what not (by George Farries Ecclefechan carrier) directed to me thro' the care of Mrs Dr Johnstone in the village already mentioned. Farries puts up, as he calls it, at Mrs Reid's candlemaker row;2 and if his porter do not call for the packet, I will take it very kindly in you to find means of giving it to the landlady or the carrier's own hands—for he is terribly stupid—as the instance of my ill-fated trunk, arrived but yesterday, sufficiently evinces. I do not expect that you will get the ticket on the very day of your receiving this: yet if possible you must send me a letter tho' it should contain but the words ‘I received your parcel safe.’ The carrier will be back in about a fortnight. I am hurried and stupid—but I hope you will comprehend all this, and excuse it and fulfil your part of it, if you can.

When I dipt my pen, for the first time, I had no suspicion that this Cock and Bull story would occupy so large a portion of my sheet: I thought the first leaf would serve. This it is to reckon without our host—without estimating the confusion and prolixity of our own brain. As matters stand I had as lief call this thing an invoice as a friend's letter: and at the very last corner, it is too late to think of mending. Wait till the next opportunity, and I shall tell you about the Radicals and Antiradicals of Glasgow—the punch is better than the politics of the latter—about the inkleweavers3 of Paisley, the battle of Drumclog, the ironworks of Muirkirk, and all the other ravishing objects that I saw and felt and handled on my tour.4 I will not criticise Goëthe's Faust—but I will tell you that I love and admire the Author. My other books have closed their weary lips—leave them to repose! As to my writing— The thing on terrestrial magnetism is not even worthy of being despised very heartily—and for Mohs5 with his simple and compound forms—his first second and third pyramids—‘May the Lord put an end unto all’6 such writing & reading as soon as may be! When I write again, I will tell you more fully about all this—and whether I am happy or miserable here—which I cannot well decide at present. Wait—your patience is not deeply, it will not be long, called for. But tho' I content myself with such surface work, your letter (with the ti[c]ket—at farthest) must be infinitely more minute. You must tell me all your views and studies[—]your maniere d'être [way of life] in short and all about it. Then you must give a ful[l] detail of the Moral philosophy election, the resignation (declination, fool!) of Sir Jas M'Intosh and the rival claims of Hamilton and Wilson.7 I see no paper but an old Examiner8—strong meat—an Olla podrida, high-flavoured, but coarse and na[u]seous to a sentimentalist. Is the fish-monger, think you, actually going to seat himself in Dugald Stewart's chair?9 I must also have an account of Waugh and Francis Dixon(make my compliments to both)—and above all an excuse for this tissue—on consideration of its being from (My dear friend)

Yours most sincerely,

Thomas Carlyle