The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO MATTHEW ALLEN; 15 September 1820; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18200915-TC-MAL-01; CL 1:271-273.


Mainhill, 15th September, 1820—

My dear Sir,

It was easy for me to understand and excuse the silence for which you apologize. A philosopher engaged in illuminating ‘the various political parties that agitate and divide Great Britain,’1 may well be pardoned for remissness in prosecuting so trivial a correspondence as ours. And had I felt any chagrin at your apparent negligence, the occassion of your present letter could not have failed to reconcile me. I look upon it as another instance of your kind attention, for which I am bound to return my grateful acknowledgements: and whatever be the issue of this matter, your conduct in it can excite but one feeling.

The anxiety, you express, would of itself have induced me to answer your proposal without a moment's delay; and besides this, I have another reason for despatch. During the last four weeks, I have been occupied principally with winding up several small concerns, compilations, translations &c, necessary to be concluded before visiting Edinburgh, whither I intended shortly to proceed once more. This travelling-tutorship2 would, of course, overturn my plans; and as it really seems to be an affair worth examining, I have taken the earliest opportunity to communicate my views of the subject, that it may be finally arranged as soon as possible. I shall speak with all imaginable freedom, and I beg of you to give me a serious and patient hearing.

It is plain that, without farther information, I cannot [co]me to any decision—so much depends on a variety of circumstances, yet unknown to me, which may totally alter the face of the question. If the young Gentleman's disorder is of a gloomy and fretful kind; the perpetual sympathy, the unwearied attention, the boundless patience, which his case would require, might perhaps be faithfully discharged, at the call of friendship, but scarcely for the sake of gain by a man possessing any sensitivity, and, I fear, not at all, by a man possessing none. On the other hand I can conceive an innocent tho' feeble state of mind, which—as it would less frequently afflict our selfish feelings, and oftener address itself to our social affections—one might feel it always tolerable, sometimes even pleasant to strengthen and soothe. I shall therefore desire you to describe, as minutely as you can, what is actually the nature of the Gentleman's situation; what are his age and previous habits; what is the mode of treatment to be adopted with him; where he usually resides, and where he is to travel; with any other particulars which you may think will serve to give me a more accurate idea of the duties required from his Guardian. One circumstance you must not neglect to notice: the proportion of time likely to be consumed in the superintendance. A great part of each day may naturally be reckoned on: but the whole of it is quite a different matter, and certainly some strong consideration would be requisite to make me forego the hope of enjoying a little leisure to devote to those pursuits, which have hitherto constituted my chief solace in the world. I am nearly tired of what is called natural science, mathematics, and the ordinary systems of philosophy; yet this has not prevented me from coasting all summer on the borders of German or Italian literature: and in winter, it was my purpose to spread out ‘sailbroad vans’3 and explore the secrets of those vast seas. Schiller and Alfieri are here, Goethe is but gone, the Dante is daily expected, I am but half thro' Sismondi, and a host of others are not yet begun. The muse Calliope has used me sorrily, indeed; yet still the syren flits before one, beautiful as the morning's eyes; and the light that irradiates her, shews like ‘light from Heaven.’ Tell me if it would be necessary to abandon all this—Scots Law hardly requires so much.

Another point scarce less material is the senior brother's character, and the footing on which he is likely to receive the proposed tutor. I reckon the liberality of opinion, which you mention, an important fact. But more are requisite to shew me whether an inferior shall ever, in the company of this Gentleman, be enabled to forget—I say not transgress—the barriers which discriminate the different ranks of society, and to speak with him as man to man; or whether, being hemmed in every side by invisible fences—tied down like Gulliver in Lilliput by [a] thousand packthreads,—which singly he might break as gossamer, tho' together they are strong as the chains of Prometheus—the poor creature shall lead a life of misery, the more disgusting as it is the more petty. I would especially know this. A life of solitude may or may not be spent with profit—it is sure to be spent with pain; and the pain of populous solitude is worst of all.

Now before you can depict every one of those things to me, with the proper degree of minuteness and fidelity, I am afraid your patience will be found wanting. Yet as they are essential for me to know, I doubt not you will take a clear sheet, adopt a smaller type than usual, and expound the whole matter as it ought. This letter, you will probably see, is intended for your exclusive perusal: when it is answered, I shall send you my determination to be shewn in ‘the proper quarter.’ I have not mentioned salary. It [will] be regulated in some degree by the duties. I recollect £100 was the sum talked [of] when I left Kirkcaldy: but this is not at all the most material part of the bargain. I know you will write to me as soon as convenient—so I do not speak of it. Adieu.

Your's most faithfully, /

Thomas Carlyle.