The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO JOHN FERGUSSON; 12 June 1820; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18200612-TC-JOFE-01; CL 1:263-265.


Mainhill, 12th or 17th June 1820—

Dear Fergusson,

I have been taken, as they say, completely at a disadvantage. When I received your short but satisfactory note,1 this day week, I expected to have abundant time for writing you a long letter; and I confidently anticipated the pleasure of unfolding a great variety of curious matter to your patient and friendly eyes: but the carrier with his wonted indecision is about to set off early on Monday-morning; and this intelligence, which I received, about half past seven, along with a letter from Waugh, compels me to postpone all those agreeable anticipations, and to content myself with writing or rather scribbling a most hurried epistle—which I beg you to pardon in consideration of these circumstances—

You are not a friend to ‘preambles’ it would seem; and I am endangering your calmness of soul on that score again. To the point, then, while the game is good— In good truth, I would not have troubled you with this large bundle of books, if I could have avoided it but I know not Waugh's lodgings—he dates ‘City of the North’; and to whom can I apply? If you can get them exchanged to-day, I shall be very glad: if you have not time, let them lie in your chamber till some opportunity (within a fortnight) occurs of carrying them to the library—or of delivering them to the dextrous individual above mentioned, who has voluntarily bound himself to undertake such tasks for me. I shall inclose the list and the receipts, or numbers at least. Let it rest then at present.

I have not seen Dixon,2 and cannot conjecture whether he is returned to Annandale or still in your city: consequently I have not got the letter you promised; but I hope the return of Farries will put into my hands a long account of all your proceedings, independent of any such contingency. Really I feel some lively paroxysms of curiosity to know what you are following—and how time flows with you. Is medicine getting more agreeable? or are you to buffet the ocean in your own solitary bark—unaided by compass or by convoy? What are you studying, thinking, hoping? My dear Sir, you should write me all those things down upon paper. It would interest me, and do good to yourself. Black and white is the thing for clearing and arranging ones ideas upon any point. It affords a stimulus— But I have now no room for philosophy—less for philosophy falsely so called. Again, what is becoming of John Wilson's chair? Consider I see no Edinr paper, scarcely a scotch one indeed; and I would not be ignorant of such matters. Dr. Irving3 I hear is Advocates' librarian; but what are the patricians & knights of the literary commonwealth doing? Any thing new? any thing special? as the Yankees say.

It may seem to you a strange metamorphosis, that, I the frigid disregarder of all things should so suddenly be changed into the inquisitive quid-nunc [a man always asking, “What now?”]. I do not certainly desire you to think me a news-ferret, or any creature of that genus: but in truth I have no company here or very little—and tidings, however unimportant, from a scene which, consider it as we may, is deeply interwoven with many thoughts and recollections—are a kind of event to a rusticating person such as I[.] How is it that the heart, sated & withered—frequently experiences pain from the want of objects, the possession of which has long ceased to yeild any perceptible delig[ht?]

Upon the whole, I rather incline to think that I am improving in health—and I have no doubt that my spirits are better since I left Edinr. The former would be good but for those ill-fated intestines of mine. Cannot you in your great medical acumen succeed in prescribing for me. I try all kinds of food—and why should I complaine? If I walk enough, I am well enough. However, I study next to none—or rather absolutely none. Soaring and hovering in the cloudy regions of German metaphysics is not study. No more is reading about ‘Cornlaws’4 Quakers or the ‘city of the Plague.’5 By the way—can you spare me the first volume of Pascal—his life?6 Do not—if you are using it at all. Can you get me any life of Necker. His daughter's performance,7 which you see here, is a tearful scutcheon hung upon his tomb—no portrait of his life and conversation.— Did you see Irving during the general assembly?—strange question!— see Hartley8 on ‘association of ideas,’ who I trust will likewise teach you, that, some agre[e]able thoughts are associated with the name of,

My dear Fergusson, / Your sincere Friend, /

Thomas Carlyle.