The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 19 February 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210219-TC-AC-01; CL 1:326-329.


Kirkcaldy19th Feby 1821—

My dear brother,

No doubt the last mournful intelligence, received from me, must have made you somewhat anxious about my state; and as I am here in a situation where the voice of your feelings cannot reach me, it becomes a duty which I owe your friendship, and which I gladly pay, to give you some notice of my actual condition and history up to this date. I know you will be obliged to me rather than otherwise for this effort, and I gratify my own heart while at the same time I do my best to satisfy yours. My dear Alick, your cares about me are very kind, but I assure you they are also superfluous. I am getting fast round again; indeed nothing in the slightest degree dangerous ever ailed me; and if my health were once fairly reestablished, I have little or no fear that in process of time—in a short process of it too—I shall yet be enabled to make remuneration for all the generous and hearty support I have experienced at the hands of my relations. But the truth is, Edinr is so lonely and desolate a place to me as yet, that, when any thing affects the outward man, the inward gets so gloomy and desponding on the subject as you never saw: then I write letters home of the most sable complexion—all is up—quite finished—and I myself feel quite as miserable as could be expected. This disorder in the stomach too is one of the most overwhelming that afflict the feeble race of man. There is nothing immediately dangerous to life in it; but the effects of it upon the soul are more appalling than I can well describe. It chains down the fiercest spirit, and lays it prostrate in a dungeon built of the blackest materials which imagination can furnish. So that you see I have no reason to love this complaint; and the less so, as I feel (without vanity, I may say it to you) that but for its puny interference, I should run little risk of attaining the object of my wishes—a settlement in life, and the power to reward and gratify my benefactors. I know there is within me something different from the vulgar herd of mortals; I think it is something superior; and if once I had overpassed those bogs and brakes and quagmires,1 that lie between me and the free arena, I shall make some fellows stand to the right and left—or I mistake me greatly. Then what a thing it will be! How bright and balmy to the mind, when I shall come trolling down to Annandale, and find ‘Polwarth’2 on his own farm, turning the glebe like a free subject of Nature—when I (being a noted man then) shall deliver myself up to all manner of talking and blathering and outpouring of the heart; and all of us shall rejoice because all of us—if not blessed—are contented, and footing our journey thro' this transient country, with the firm pace and erect countenance of honest men!3 I tell thee, boy, it will do rarely; and we shall all live to see it yet.

But I am spending your nine-pence-half-penny on that which profiteth not. Better for me to tell you about my health, as was the first design. I think I continued getting better of the sickness ever after writing to you; but as the digestive organs still continued faithless, and hence the whole body very weak, George Johnstone (my most faithful sick-nurse) began to advise me very strenuously to make arrangements for spending a month or six weeks in the country. I myself was at length beginning to contemplate the pleasure of riding about perpetually on the back of Dumple,4 I thought of drinking warm new-milk, and of a nursing-mother, and casting all cares at my back for the space of five weeks or so: but on the other hand Edward Irving advised me to the contrary, and warmly seconded all the objections (but too many, alas!) which I had to offer against this arrangement. So after all was done, we partly compromised the matter: I accompanied Irving over here on Saturday last, took up my abode [at] the Provost Swan's—and as on all hands they kindly invite me to continue, I have allowed Irving to return (he went back some hours ago) and having made some arrangements about the private teaching—it is finally settled that I am to continue here for a few days till my bowels shall have recovered in some degree their original tone. I must be back before Friday again; but even already the sea-breezes are acting beneficially on me; and in two or three days I expe[et] they will have set me in such a case that zealous exercise will keep me [m]oderately well in that old smoky city—the smoke of which [I] sicken at—even while viewing it across the pure azure frith of Forth. You know this ‘long town’; and you can easily conceive with what emotions of melancholy pleasure, of joy and sadness, I traverse all the well-known turnings of it.5 There is something mournful in the view of a half-forgotten scene, associated with many of our pains and pleasures, something that reflects back on us the rapid never-ceasing flight of time, and makes us solemn or pensive even tho' our recollections may be mostly of sorrows that we are now escaped from. I view Kirk[c]aldy like an old acquaintance that is fast forgetting me, that I am fast forgetting: yet there are some people in it whom I could wish to remember and be remembered by. They are not many; they are the more valuable for that. Tom Grieve6 I saw to-day. He is very poorly or rather has been—but is getting better slowly. He is an hone[st] body; and I rejoice to see him prospering in his own small way. Swan speaks of sending the boy7 over to Edinr to live with me, that is next winter. I expect Jack will be there too; but we have made no arrangements yet. I have been partly spiering out some private teaching for Jack, and think I may succeed.

I had some translations &c &c on the carpet for myself; but I have heard no more word of them—every one of my concerns having been stationary for two weeks past. I have other plans beside, my boy; and I want nothing but health to execute them—which upon the whole, I have little doubt of regaining shortly. But I must be done here—for an obvious reason. You will excuse my chit-chat style of writing and my no-information thus communicated. I have written in the Provost's parlour—with a dull (not aching) head and boys running round like merry-andrews. Send word to my trusty Jack how I am. Give my affection to all the family about Mainhill—forgetting none. God bless you every one!

Your brother, /

Thos Carlyle

I expect to find a letter or many letters from you when I return to Edinr—on Friday—or so.