The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 19 July 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210719-TC-JAC-01; CL 1:370-374.


Edinr19th July 1821—

My dear Jack,

I got your letter1 about an hour ago as I was sitting down to tea; and read it with great avidity, finding it an excellent relish to that meal to hear so precise an account of persons who are always so dear to me, and of whom I have remained in considerable ignorance for several weeks. It is pity that the carrier disappointed you in regard to the letters you intended for me: but every human purpose, it has long been known, is liable to similar crosses; and in the present case there is less room for regret as I expect soon to have the felicity of ascending Bitty's2 stairs in person, and eliciting from you at greater length by word of mouth the whole class of matters which your pen could hardly suffice even to give a sketch of. I do not precisely know what week I shall be down; but it cannot easily be beyond the third or so from this date.

As to my health, which you inquire so affectionately after, it cannot be said to be perfect yet; but it has considerably improved of late. Sea-bathing I follow pretty diligently, and would more diligently follow it, were not the frith at such a distance, the roads so dusty and the days so hot. Of walking I have enough: indeed I think I am apt to err in excess in that particular; the last three days I have walked very little, and yet have not felt so whole for some months. I am going to ride continually when I get home; it is better than walking: and often as I have been baulked, I am not without hope of finding permanent benefit from the operation. At all events I must try: without some improvement in the constitution, I am as good as dead in the eye of law already; good for nothing but lolling about the room, reading poetry, imagining and fancying and fretting and fuming—all to no purpose earthly. I have studied none or written none for many days. Nevertheless I am moderately comfortable or even happy at present. My confidence in Fortune seems to increase as her offers to me diminish. I have very seldom been poorer than I am or more feeble or more solitary (if kindred minds form society); and yet I have at no time felt less disposition to knuckle to low persons, or to abate in any way of the stubborn purposes I have formed, or to swerve from the track—thorny and desolate as it is—which I have chosen for journeying thro' this world. I foresee much trouble before me, but there are joys too: and, joy or not joy, I must [go] forward now. When you launch a boat upon the falls of Niagara, it must go down the roaring cataract, tho' rocks and ruin lie within the profound abyss below: And just so if a man taste the magic cup of literature, he must drink of it forever, tho' bitter ingredients enough be mixed with the liquor. A good firm heart—and—observe this—sound health, will keep one up under any thing: therefore, Jack, I am of good cheer myself, and I bid thee be of good cheer likewise. What is there to fear, indeed? With health and liberty and the love of truth, poverty, if it must accompany, may be endured: and when a man ‘goeth to his long home’3—whither he will soon go, it is a proud thing to go with a free and generous spirit, with ‘thoughts that wander thro' eternity’4 and a heart that does not fear to follow them—or need not fear. What will the poor King5 they were crowning yesterday and shouting and jollifying about over all the empire, inherit of his lordships shortly. A coffin with gold nails, and some square yard of space within the cells of Windsor. Will the tears of good men moisten his pall? Will the memory of his name kindle one generous emotion in the mind of any living creature? Who envys him? The poorest peasant may work out for himself a far nobler destiny, if he please: the poorest peasant need not envy him. Go on then, my bold Tongleg, let nothing daunt thee! By firm and prudent conduct, thou wilt acquire respect and competence every way here, I doubt not; and for the Hereafter, these qualities are—useful also.

But I am preaching, when I should be recording or inquiring. I pray you therefore, by way of returning from my digression, most earnestly pray you Jack, to be careful of that inflammation6 which has so importunately visited you again. Do not work too hard, do not work at all, when you feel yourself uneasy at the task. Never mind progress; you are doing wonders in that respect already: be easy, I tell you, be easy. And do not too proudly look down upon the society you can find around you in Annan. Believe my sad experience, that is a sad error. I know well enough your comrades are ‘a feeble folk’; but still they are a folk; and depend upon it, you will repent this gloomy seclusion of yourself from their accustomed haunts how barren and beaten soever—if you persist in it.7 There is no real happiness, Jack, out of the common routines of life. Happy he who can walk in them daily, and yet ever be casting his eye over the sublime scenery which solicits us from the far and elevated regions of philosophy! I have missed this rare combination, you observe, and I am paying for it. Do not you do likewise! Be social and frank and friendly with all honest persons: Practice will soon make it easy, and the reward is wholesome and abundant. Go out, I bid you, from the camera obscura of Bitty Geel; go out frequently, and talk—talk even with the Jurist, Fergusson, Irving or any of them.

When I get home, I am going to exhibit all this more at larg[e and] in more luminous order—appealing to myself, as I may well do: for proof experimental of a theory which I can so easily demonstrate a priori. Muster all your counter arguments before my appearance. And when will that be? So soon as I have got that beggarly article the Netherlands (for which I can find next to no materials) off my hands, and I began working at it some days since. Irving & I spoke of travelling by the west somewhere: we have not arranged it yet. But this Netherlands is the main bar; I have no pluck in me for such things at present—yet it must be clampered together in some shape, and shall if I keep wagging. Tell David Fergusson that I am charmed with his manuscript; it is the prettiest ever was written for the Encyclopedia, and perfectly correct. I shall give you enough to write in harvest—at present I have nothing.8

Tell Sandy how I am pressed for time, & how I cannot get written to him. I expect his long and long-looked-for letter by Farries. My Mother and my Father you do not mention particularly: I trust however they are well. Of the Former indeed I dare but trust so comparatively, I have got more acquainted with her past & present state, last winter than ever. Be kind to her I conjure you all.

They need hardly send me any thing in the box—I shall be off so soon. I want it merely to stow my luggage in. The fresh butter is done, the salt I cannot eat now—it is got musty. But there is good enough stuff to be had at hand, and I use little.— About my health I advise you to be under no concern: I have undoubtedly told you the very worst, perhaps something more. To look me in the face you would say nothing ailed me: and in fact what is it—but a given quantity of pain and obstruction, without any the least immediate danger.— My love to all at Mainhill, including Nancy9 our cousin if she be with you still. Adieu!

Your Affecte Brother, /

Thomas Carlyle.

(I teach again at a difft place between 10 and 11 a.m.)