The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO THOMAS MURRAY; 4 August 1820; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18200804-TC-TM-01; CL 1:266-268.


Mainhill near Ecclefechan, / 4th August 1820.

My dear Murray,

I received your letter with much pleasure and not without some surprise. Your silence had been so long and, as it seemed, so obstinate, that I despaired, except by unusual good fortune of hearing from you any more, for a number of years. It appears that you have never met with a letter which I took the liberty of writing to you, in June 1819, from the port of Workington.1 Yet the Wigton Skipper (I forget his name and his ship's) promised fair, and seemed a truthful clown: his rude plainness of speech seduced James Johnston into a belief that he would carry you a packet carefully; and James being on the eve of embarking for Acadia, I was persuaded to envelope his adieus in a long sheet— containing nothing definite that I can recollect, but my address and a hope to hear from you on my return to Annandale. Fronti nulla fides [Put no faith in appearances]2 is an old and (under favour of Lavater, Spurzheim3 and the rest) a true adage: the caitiff has lit his pipe with the letters, and infested our minds with dis[a]gre[e]able ideas of one another. I do not think you will grudge the postage of a letter tending to dispel such ideas; and for that reason—strengthened by the view of gratifying myself—I have sat down to write you without a moment's delay.

My dear Sir, how could it get into your head that ‘you stood low in my estimation’? The words that conveyed such an impression must indeed have been ill-chosen—whenever they were used. Graglia's dictionary and the rest came safely as well as timeously to hand;4 and tho' the articles had been entirely destroyed—do you think I would have quarrelled with you about so trifling an affair? It has been my chance to meet with some whose sympathy has brightened, at times, the gloomy labyrinth of life; but not to meet so many, that, I could sacrifice them upon grounds like this. I pray you to put away such thoughts utterly. Our paths may lead us far asunder; but the place will be distant, the period remote, when I forget the calmness and happiness of bygone days, or the amiable qualities that contributed so largely to make them calm and happy. I hope we shall meet together often after all; when the sun is shining more brightly over us both: and I feel a sort of confidence that neither of us will allow his spirit to be sullied or debased tho' ‘disastrous twilight’5 should still overcast both the present and the future.

It gives me pleasure to find that your talents have found a channel, in which it is pleasing and I trust useful for them to flow: I wait with anxiety for the appearance of your volume.6 It is pity, indeed, that your subject had not been one of more general interest: but I expect much from the extensive information you have amassed, and the vivacity of stile with which I know you can detail it. Nor does your canvass, tho' crowded with figures unknown to fame, want individual objects of a higher character. There is something spirit-stirring in the deep and constant enthusiasm which must have animated the labours of your famous synonym;7 the wild and wayward character of Heron8 is not without a kind of moody grandeur; and Dr Brown9—the pure heart and the piercing intellect!—would adorn any page in the annals of literature. I hope for popularit[y]—tho' not without misgivings; but even if my fears be justi[fied, the] pleasure your work has already afforded in the execution has most probably repaid the toil. Be it to study, to conquest, to pleasure, to self-corrosion, our minds must still have scope to display their energies. happy they who are directed rightly!

After Mrs. Church's account of me, it were superfluous to take up your time with discussions upon that topic. My health has been indifferent for the last three years—seldom very bad— I think it is improving; my spirits of course have been various; my prospects are a shadowy void. Yet why should a living man complain? The struggle is brief—there are short yet most sweet pauses in it—something of pride too at times will gild its humble endurance:—and there is all eternity to rest in.— I could tell you much about the new Heaven and new Earth10 which a slight study of German literature has revealed to me—or promises to reveal: but room fails me and time: while ‘twilight gray’11 and certain phenomena within give warning that I should mount the Shelty and take my evening ride. Will you actually come to Annandale? I need not say that I shall have much to tell you. Write if you can find time—or whether or not. Most likely I shall be in Edinr:—in a month—or three—I cannot determine.— I think of putting this letter in the post-office to night. My hour's since morning have been spent in reading Ariosto and ‘Six weeks at Longs.’12 The latter end of this day will thus be better than the beginning.

Faithfully your's, /

Thomas Carlyle