The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO MATTHEW ALLEN; 22 January 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210122-TC-MAL-01; CL 1:310-312.


Edinr, 22nd January 1821—

My dear Sir,

It was one of the expectations awakened by your last letter that the debt I am now paying would have been more agre[e]ably discharged by ‘oral communication’ during your projected visit to this our northern city. Why did you not come at Christmas? Why not go with me to Glasgow and see all the spinning-mills and Lunatic Asylums and preachers and philosophers of the famous West? Examine your head, I pray you; and if you do not find a great (temporary) depression in the organ of Will—then burn your Spurzheim and throw your stucco model into the deepest pool of Ouse.1 Seriously you should have come: Irving would have felt as he ought on the occasion; and Dury or Drury or whatever his name is—your correspondent and fellow labourer—bade me tell you that all kinds of accom[m]odation were in readiness for you whenever you pleased to honour him with using them. Is the M.D. quite vanished though? I am still here, and would be happy to see you.

I called this letter a debt or rather the discharge of one, intimating thereby that I was to entertain you with some friendly communication in return for your last favour. It is fair to confess however that my diligence on this point has been quickened by different considerations; and I grieve to say that but for a certain boon, which I have now to ask of you, perhaps I might yet a little while have yielded to the calls of laziness or ill-health; and you would not now have been perusing my effusions. Yet be patient; for I will pay you all to the uttermost farthing in due season: meanwhile I beg of you to consider this letter as a mere plain matter-of-fact, business one; and to answer it with all the despatch and prosaic fidelity proper in such cases.

The boon I have to ask is this. You asked me lately if I ‘would really take your secretary's place?’ And tho' I felt all the kindness implied in this question; and tho' my prospects here are not the most brilliant, my situation not the most comfortable; I should not have experienced very much hesitation in answering No. Literature is like money, the appetite encreases by gratification: the mines of literature too are unwholesome and dreary as the mines of Potosi; yet from either there is no return—and tho' little confident of finding contentment—happiness is too proud a term—I must work, I believe, in those damp caverns—till once the whole mind is recast or the lamp of life has ceased to burn within it. I cannot come to York then in my present humour: but for all that like a true grasping greedy Scot, I am not going to let your offer pass me altogether without effect. There is a young man2 now beside me, about to gain a Surgeons diploma, for [whom] I feel anxious on every account, that what of your interest is unengaged might be exerted in this matter. I am ignorant entirely about the thing, I know not how the office is to be filled, I know not even if it is vacant; and therefore I need not trouble you with a long description of this young man's many excellent qualities. It will be enough to observe that he writes a very superior hand, has shewn great diligence and perseverance in the discharge of all his duties hitherto, and can produce the most unequivocal testimonials of a pure moral character. I may add for your own private information, that in the event of his coming to fill the situation, you would find much entertainment and gratification in his company, which from the modest intelligent and upright character of the man as well as from the general nature of his pursuits, I think you could not fail to relish highly. He is about two and twenty years of age; ‘has sailed upon the dark blue sea’; speculated on physiology and religion, studied medicine (as I have hinted) and read very miscellaneously.

Now if you can do any thing in this matter, I sh[all take] the [liberty] of requesting you for my sake to do it with all [your] might. [I] feel much interest in this young man, much respect for him, and much sympathy with his widowed and most meritorious Mother. It was I that proposed making this application too; and tho' this is nothing, it ought to be mentioned for the sake of justice.— If you cannot move in this project, I beg you will let us know immediately: indeed I must beg to hear from you immediately whatever be the state of affairs—some arrangements depend on your answer which cannot be neglected even a few days without inconvenience—not a week without very great and permanent detriment. I expect your answer then by return of post.

Does this dull intrusive memorial need apology? I have none to give but the innocence of my own wishes, and the compliment I have paid you in supposing that it would yield pleasure to your mind to forward the views of a young man deserving your most active patronage—even tho' he were not the friend of your friend. You must write then, fully, explicitly, by the very first opportunity. I shall reply to you I hope in a livelier strain. At present I must be done.— Sincerely your's,

Thomas Carlyle

I am about to change my lodgings—whither, I shall tell you next time—for then, I shall know. Direct ‘to the care of Mr Johnstone, Mrs Burrows, 21 E. Richmond-street[’]—