The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO EDWARD IRVING; 14 August 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210814-TC-EI-01; CL 1:377-380.


Mainhill, 14th August, 1821.

My Dear Irving:

All hands being off to the Lamb fair,1 and I sole master of this house, so silent at this hour, I devote the morrow of my return home to discharging a debt which I have calculated on the pleasure of discharging any time these three weeks. Yesterday, from the period of my leaving Edinh to that of my arrival here—from six o'clock in the morning to 11 at night—was a series of fatigues and disappointments and discomforts; but a warm welcome awaited me at the end; and today I have been out breathing the free breeze of my own hills, I have looked at the fields, green as a new-dug emerald; I have seen all things, living and lifeless, happy; and I feel happy myself to bear them company. So I am going to write with great alacrity.

Perhaps for a moment I experienced some shade of regret when you told me of the necessary failure of our travelling project.2 The thousand pleasures I might have enjoyed rushed at once upon my mind, and the recollection that they were gone came along with the idea of them; but a very brief consideration showed me that my own fortune, not yours, was to be blamed in the affair. The truth is if you had not disappointed me, I must have disappointed you; the state of my health was such as to forbid the hope of enjoying anything or letting another enjoy anything in my company. You do not believe in any of these imaginations. My earnest prayer is that you may never believe in them. I was once as sceptical as yourself on that head; till a stern experience convinced me far too well. Such disorders, I now, to my sorrow, feel convinced, are the heaviest calamity, the very heaviest, that the lot of life has in store for mortals. The bodily pain is nothing or next to nothing; but alas for the dignity of man! The evil does not stop here. No strength of soul can avail you; this malady will turn that very strength against yourself; it banishes all thought from your head, all love from your heart—and doubles your wretchedness by making you discern it. O! the long, solitary, sleepless nights that I have passed—with no employment but to count the pulses of my own sick heart—till the gloom of external things seemed to extend itself to the very centre of the mind, till I could remember nothing, observe nothing! All this magnificent nature appeared as if blotted out, and a grey, dirty, dismal vapour filled the immensity of space; I stood alone in the universe—alone, and as it were a circle of burning iron enveloped the soul—excluding from it every feeling but a stonyhearted, dead obduracy, more befitting a demon in its place of woe than a man in the land of the living! I tell you, my friend, nothing makes me shudder to the inmost core—nothing but this.3 One's spirit may be bruised and broken by moral afflictions; but at least it will break like the spirit of a man; moral affections will irradiate its painful strugglings, and the last gleam of being will be pure if it is feeble. But here—I declare I will not speak another word on the subject. I can hardly excuse myself for saying so much—except by trying to suppose that it was intended partly for other purposes than those of a common valetudinarian. It is too true that I have been a very ill-conditioned person for a long while; and you, who least of all deserved it, have not escaped without a share of my ill-humour. You must convince yourself, if possible, that all this proceeded from physical causes: call me an atrabiliar, but not an ingrate. I shall get well here; and then I am persuaded you will reckon me a very decent character. In fact, it is high time I were well—above all if the effect which I have predicted is indeed the consequence of wellness. I have had no leisure for many days to think of anything, the pain has so distracted me; and my faculties have all taken into the wildest courses, the whole inward man has become extravagant, unearthly. I require imperiously to be overhauled and severely castigated every way. If I could so employ my rustication! I shall long for you often, tho' you never censure me— I hardly know another that has any right to do it. “Immaculate man!” you exclaim: not so, sir; but every crime has its proper court. The Quorum, for instance, cannot go beyond five pounds sterling.

I was dreadfully busy for the last five weeks of my stay in Edinh writing day and night, when sleeplessness and so forth had rendered me a fitter inmate for a Bedlam than a study. I was labouring at an account, the weakest in nature, of the Netherlands, Newfoundland,4 etc.—when a new call was made upon me. And from whom? No other than our unforgotten Francis Dickson, crying bitterly for one line from Europe.5 I have not given it him yet; but I will soon. He had kind remembrances to you, of course.

Frank is evidently not happy in his place. He is not healthy; has too much work to manage; and the people, he says, are in the fishing state—not the hunting as other savages—because they have nothing to hunt. He mocks, however, and sneers and swaggers as usual. I feel for poor Frank: he is a kind of bastard genius, and I honour even a natural child of that family. I shall write to him very soon.

Quite a different individual—a friend of ours—was asking for me here lately—William Grahame, of Burnswark. I fear he has left the province; yet I have scouts on the outlook for him all over Lockerby to-day, and still entertain some hope of seeing him. Bid him write, if I fail. “He is the freest, best talker” they say here “excepting”—I shall not mention the exception now.

Noehden's Grammar is gone to Haddington. I saw the fair pupil in Edinburgh. She is certainly the most—fit to read German of any creature I have met with. Take no fear of those people, I tell you.6 They are good men—some are even excellent. Schiller, for example, you most certainly would like. He has all the innocence and purity of a child, with the high talents and strong volitions of a man: a rare union, of which I never but in one instance saw anything like a living example. The trash of Germany, their Kotzebues7 and his spawn, I know little of, very little, and yet enough. We shall eschew them altogether. My paper is done—and I have not spoken the five-hundredth part of my mind. Write to me whenever you want to get a second fraction; it will be a double pleasure to me here. My best regards to your mother and sister.

I am always, / your friend, /

Thomas Carlyle.