The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 9 March 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210309-TC-JAC-01; CL 1:338-340.


Edinr9th March 1821—

My dear Jack,

I have wasted this whole blessed evening in reading poetry and stuff, while I should have been writing a substantial life of Necker, out of materials accumulated two days ago; and now that 11 o'clock is struck, I may as well devote the remaining hour to your gratification, and my own, in this new mode, which, if equally idle with the mode it succeeds, has at least the merit of amusing two at once. Your letter & your half-letter both came to hand;1 and before this reaches you the answer to them will also have come, and relieved you, I trust, from the pain which my late spiritless communications naturally inflicted on you. The invitation you give me, and the affectionate eloquence you enforce it with, touched me to the quick: and tho' I still hope to get through without that last resource, it is most gratifying to see it in store for me should Necessity require it. But I must not yield so heartlessly: it is a shame and a misery to me at this age to be gliding about in strenuous idleness,2 with no hand in the game of life, where I have yet so much to win, no outlet for the restless faculties, which are thus up in mutiny and slaying one another for lack of fair enemies. I must do or die, 3 then, as the song goes: and Edinr with all its drawbacks is the only scene for me. In the country I am like an alien—a stranger and a pilgrim from a far-distant land— I wander in a kind of waking dream 4 and make no progress in gaining relief from it. In summer I must endeavour most sternly, for this state of things cannot last; and if health do but revisit me (as I know she will) it shall ere long give place to a better. If I grow seriously ill, indeed, it will be different; but when once the weather is settled and dry, exercise and care will restore me completely. I am considerably clearer than when I wrote Sandy, the day before yesterday, and I should have been still more so had not this afternoon been wet, and so prevented me from breathing the air of Arthur's seat, a mountain close beside us where the atmosphere is pure as a diamond, and the prospect grander than any you ever saw. 5 The blue majestic, everlasting ocean, with the Fife hills swelling gradually into the Grampians behind it on the north; rough crags and rude precipices at our feet (‘where not a hillock rears its head unsung’) 6 with Edinburgh at their base, clustering proudly over her rugged foundations, and covering with a vapoury mantle the jagged, black, venerable masses of stone-work, that stretch far and wide and shew like a city of fairy-land— There's for you man! I saw it all last evening—when the sun was going down—and the moon's fine crescent (like a pretty silver creature as it is) was riding quietly above me. Such a sight does one good; tho' none be there to share it, except the Jurisconsult—‘poorest of the sons of Earth.’ 7

But I am leading you astray after my fantasies—when I should be inditing plain prose. It is painful for me to learn that you already begin to experience the effects of too close application. Let it be a warning, My dear Jack, I solemnly charge you; or the issue will make you repent it bitterly, when it cannot be remedied. Why do you sit so constantly poring over books? Go out, I tell you; and talk with any mortal to relieve your mind rather than converse perpetually with the imagination. What would you be at, man? Your learning is advanced most respectably; and depend upon it there is a learning more available often than the learning of books, the learning of the ways of men, which cannot be acquired except from conversing with them and observing them. Speak with all honest men then—enter into their views—and be one of them. I have suffered deeply from ignorance of this counsel, which I offer you with all the warmth of fraternal affection. Do not disregard it. I would advise you also to bethink you of some Profession, on which to fix your endeavours; for it is an unlucky thing to be drifting on the waves of Chance as I am now, and must long be, without companion or guide on my track, which for aught I know may lead me into whirlpools or breakers after all. What think you of the Church? or of Medicine? or can you teach for a livelihood? Consider this matter, and write me about it fully. In fact you must study to be more copious in your details henceforth. Is not paper cheap, the postage nothing? And what need for caring how you write to me. Tell me every thing—whether you are merry or sad—busy or idle—your whole manière d'être et d'existes [way of being and existence]. Is Waugh still with you? Remember me to the luckless. Are you teaching Ben? Is Davie teaching you? How do you like Maro? How are they at Mainhill? &c &c &c

There has been a duel at London as you would see by the Scotsman. It has made and is making a great noise here; keeps all jaws tinkling and all tongues wagging—for it is political, Scott having been a Whig and Lockhart the forlorn hope of our Tories. The latter has taken to bed, I hear; and well he may.8— Then we have Kenilworth (but that is getting stale) to speak about, and Captain Brown,9 and an elephant's tooth they have dug up, and a stone-tree, and Andrew Thomsons motion,10 and the bad weather. We are rich you see in topics, and ‘reason elevate.’11

But hark! the lugubrious chant of our Watchman—‘haaf-paast twelve!’ So Good night my boy. Go to Mainhill on Saturday, and say that my heart thanks them for all their kindness; and that if I do not get quite well in a week or two, I will profit by it. My love to them all nominatim [by name]. I remain,

Your affectionate brother, /

Thomas Carlyle

Excuse my pen— Long service has made it a very stump.