The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 25 January 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210125-TC-JAC-01; CL 1:312-314.


Edinburgh, 13. Arthur-street, / 25th January 1821—

My dear Jack,

Tho' circumstances, I daresay of a very pressing nature, have prevented you from writing to me by the opportunity of George's box1; I comfort myself with the hope that you are going on as usual to exercise your pedagogic functions, and augment your acquaintance with Latin and other scholar-like attainments. The indefatigable jurisconsult—to whose visit this day you are indebted for my present effusion—complains sorrowfully that you have not sent him any letter, and bids me renew the request or stipulation he already made with you in regard to that matter. I am not friendly to long-winded epistles especially when destitute of meaning; and I think a young person may easily find better employment than scribbling the clack of a little burgh or speculating on the history of its most slender and obscure inhabitants: but at the same time, I have found by experience that there is such a thing as too exclusive a devotion to reading; and a command of the pen, not to be acquired without practice, is often a more saleable acquisition than large stores of knowledge, which remain locked up within our own heads and incapable of being exhibited in a permanent shape. Besides, man, you cannot live by books alone. You have a heart as well as a head; and that heart has little trifling desires after sociality and merry communication—which it will have gratified, or else make you smart for it. Write then to this poor boy—if you think it worth while—as short a letter as you like. To me, you know, your letters are always welcome visitants: and I give you a standing commission to write me concerning all your affairs, your studies, feelings difficulties delights—certain of ever finding an affectionate listener, and if not an experienced, at least a warm and honest adviser. Yet let not my correspondence be a task to you: write only when you can conveniently write; but on those occasions, give the slip to reserve and punctilio; put down whatever you feel, in whatever shape you feel it, shew me your winnow-cloth2 fearlessly. If not to your brother, to whom can you unbosom freely?

I trust you get forward with Caesar. Do you follow his narrative on any map? Have you the use of a Lempriere?3 I wish you had mine: but I think I left Aadan4 Roman Antiquities, which if you diligently consult it, will go near to compensate for the want of Lempriere in many respects. One general advice I have often given you and now repeat: it is to let nothing pass uncomprehended; the practice may detain you sometimes, but it is the shortest mode at the long run. I would have sent the Virgil, but Fergusson has not brought it back. You shall get it, if possible, by Farries.— Go on! my brave boy, and prosper! After all this literature is a grand and glorious thing. It is the life-blood of the mind; and mind is the sovereign of Nature. Kings [who] have it not go down to dust and are forgotten; [those] who [have] it influence the world, and spread their own brief [thinki]ng over many generations of their fellow men. Go on then to improve! And yet for God's sake be careful of your health! You know not what a jewel, how inestimable a thing it is, you will never know I trust.

For my own affairs, I have nothing important to say. The date of this sheet will inform you that I have changed lodgings: I am soon to change again I expect—to a spot called Warriston Place on the north side of the new town—where I shall enjoy better air and better attentions, the landlady being strongly recommended to me. This raw open weather is against me somewhat; and bodily disorder—embodied now in a most refractory state of the digestive process—cramp my exertions and almost entirely forbid study. In a little time, I hope to be quite stout. If spring were come, I am going to bathe in the Forth &c &c. The Hibernian pupil has never returned since Christmas. I shall enquire about the slut5 one of those days. From London I learn that ‘Schiller6 was translated some years ago.’ This project is done then. I have others in store, but no room to detail them here. Geo Johnstone writes for me some hours every day. We are upon Sismondi7 at present.

Give my heart's love to all at Mainhill: and write me liberally whenever you have an opportunity. I shall be well I know by and by—and we shall then remember with joyful thoughts these days of trial. Vale et me Ama [Farewell and love me]!

Thomas Carlyle