The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO WILLIAM GRAHAM; 12 June 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210612-TC-WG-01; CL 1:363-366.


Edinburgh, 12th June, 1821

My dear Friend,

But for some such opportunity as Irving's parcel affords, I should never have thought of disturbing your repose today; when biliousness and nervousness and sadness and dullness have brought me within a few degrees of absolute zero, in the scale of men. I am about as fit to write as “dog distract or monkey sick”1 would be. Nevertheless I cannot omit to express the high satisfaction I derived from perusing your long, humourous and all too kind letter: and tho' I know these preliminary excuses of mine will be looked upon as the preamble of bad singers,—whose liability to catch cold has long been proverbial; still I must onward and obey my stars; for it has stood written on “the iron leaf”2—as you may see—that on this twelfth of June, above all other days, I should extend my nightmare influence even to the city of Glasgow, and to a burgher of it who deserved from me a far different service.

It was not without a lively pleasure that I followed your graphical description of the tour to Fintrey.3 I hope in time to know the good parson of the place; but I can scarcely hope (not being of the clan-Grahame) to participate in the feelings of astonished curiosity which you must have experienced at sight of those long massy spokes of flesh4 projected from the brief hammock of our friend, whose lamentable case I have often since contemplated in vision with a keen sympathy. The “roof and rafters,”5 too!—poor rafters!—but then their quaking was only for a time; they deserve less pity. Certainly I shall go to visit Dundaff;6 and execrate as deeply as I can, the low rat-catcher who now profanes the Keep of my early friend Sir John the Graham.7 I recollect him well—the tight, little, true hearted fellow. At the age of seven I scraped acquaintance with him—when perched upon honest Jamie Beattie's8 loom, I yelled forth the hymns of Blind Harry,9 from my small lungs, with the voice and spirit of a sybil—to overcome the jingling racket of four shuttles and twice as many treadles: and tho' I reverenced the Laird of Ellerslie10 the most, his faithful squire came nearest to my heart. You shall buy Dundaff undoubtedly, and make a smart affair of it too, in due season. I will even let you entail it—if you be a guid bairn: but all depends upon that.

The excellent Irving delights in making all about him happy: a miserable creature in his neighbourhood is to him like a disease of his own. He came here lately to try his hand upon me; and so East Lothian was the world.11 I need not describe this excursion. The Palinurus12 himself will have told you how sick I was, what work he had to overcome my taciturnity, and then how captious and sophistical I grew, and withal how happy. This world, I am told, is all a scene of illusions: pity that it is all so! Since my return, I have been busily engaged in that important thing, Doing nothing. It is so fine to wrap yourself up in the bright bespangled webs of the Imagination, to let the good creature have care of you herself, and rock you and lull you as she lists! Prudence “her choppy finger laying on her skinny lips”13 looks wonderfully grave at this. She need not: all is over soon; a few short hours, and the dull, grating din of this low world awakes you from your trance, and changes all the purple of fiction into the grey plaiden14 of reality. Prudence may save herself the pains.

It is very friendly in you to keep so sharp an eye upon the book. But alas! my dear Sir, do but consider. How am I, poor grasshopper as I am, to make my small chick be heard, among the many Bulls of Bashan15 that on every side fill the vallies with their lowing? The thing is barely possible, if I had health and friends and capital—all of which I want. At the present my ideas are like a flock of geese, which a man was driving orderly, with a long pole and bladder half-full of peas at the end of it, across some common, to the Market;—when lo! Dyspepsia, the ugly ragged trull, comes hallooing into the midst of them, and scatters the poor geese to the four winds—gather them again who will! It is a hard case, in fact, this same distemper. A malady of the soul one can embellish and dignify a little by enduring: but this carries with it the indellible stamp of nastiness and lowness; do what we may, it seems to pollute the very sanctuary of our being; it renders our suffering at once complete and contemptible. The invisible mind, you say, can dignify anything. Condemn Cato to keep the college Infernals clean—and look for his dignity then! I believe I am destined to get better, however, or surely it were uphill work with me at present. I am far happier for the last three months; so I abide in hope, and in the meantime I live idly and “trifle with life's falling leaf”16—as best I can. There are books to read; and things to write (such things!) but I mind not that. Life is but a kind of tragicomedy at best: If I play a mute's part in it, what matter. The Great Scene-shifter will hush up all, in a little while. Then “hoity-toity!” where is the Emperor? Where is the shoeblack? Both quiet.17

I am to see you about the first of August, and discuss all things with you, I hope. It is a heartfelt pleasure to me to learn that your affairs begin to wear a better aspect: I knew it would be so. These storms which have been and still are so hard to bear, will do you good in the long run. Adversity is useful sometimes—in spite of all the foolish stuff they have preached in favour of it. May it prove so with you—may it drive from your heart nothing but what has a right to be there—above all not the friendship with which you honour,

Yours most faithfully, /

Thomas Carlyle

Recollect I am to see you in August: to hear from you long long before. I am tortured a little by way of punishment, for sitting such a time—or I had a thousand things to say. Give me another chance: and soon. My congratulations to the Magnanimous Hope. It is not meet for man to be alone. I shall see his beloved when I come?18