The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 8 December 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18211208-TC-JAC-01; CL 1:404-406.


Jamaica-street, 8th December [1821]

My dear Brother,

I had been meditating very often lately to write you a most circumstantial and luminous account of all my proceedings and feelings since I left our native dale; but some paltry obstacle or other still came in the way, and, but for the opportune arrival of your letter1 to-day, it seems rather doubtful if I should have effected my purpose till the ensuing week—if even then. I am very blameable or very unfortunate or both: but I cannot help it now, and it may be some palliation of my offence to mention the fact, that I have not written a single line to any creature except Mainhill people since my arrival, and that hence if my negligence has originated from unkindness, I may be inferred to have totally lost the feeling of friendship for any man or woman. “But this is absurd, and therefore”— According to the usual mode in indirect demonstrations, a thing well known to you. A more satisfactory way of putting the matter, however, is to resolve resolutely that such a case shall not occur again: and certainly as the cause is not likely to reappear shortly, my force of will has some likelihood of coming off victorious on this occasion. In truth, my Dear Jack, I have need of small volition in the matter of writing to you: it is a thing so grateful to the inner man, that really resolving that I will write to you is little better than resolving that I will consume a dish or two of tea tomorrow morning. So long as I continue in the world I shall be hungry in the mornings to a certainty; and to an equally emphatic certainty I shall feel as hungered in the soul when difficulties and distress beset it, and long to apply the only remedy—the sympathy of a true and brotherly heart, which I am sure Jack will always bear towards me. If things prosper with us, boy, we shall be a rare treasure to each other. How many kings would offer all their diadems in vain for one single friend! I myself have more than one, who will never, never fail me.

Nor am I any way dubious, Jack, about our ultimate success in life. Things are beginning to wear a somewhat brighter aspect with me; and I sometimes think the bitterest of life (it has been bitter enough!) is already past. As for you, the road is plainer. You have a brother before you to make it smoother, or at least to warn you of its roughness; your mind is of a more solid stoical cast; and your capacity of perseverance might set you above fear—with even the most mediocre talents. Jack's talents, however, are not mediocre. I have examined many minds and I do not recollect of seeing one against which I would fear to match his. This is not to make you vain; but simply to console you, when shallow persons treat you with some disrespect, with the persuasion that a day is coming. For the rest, it is not necessary that you should habitually be conscious of your intellectual worth. Study as if you were duller than a Dutchman; and act and walk in ordinary cases with a similar modesty. People will love you far better, and honour you but a very little less only, within the secret cell of your own heart, know that you are made for something finer than to eat and drink and teach Arithmetic. Let this conviction be as a lamp to your path, when gloomy weather is perchance upon it, or when low temptations are on this side of it and that. I give you advices tediously; but I have no fear that they will be greatly needed: you are a quiet good boy; and al[l] will turn out well.

Be sure to keep your resolution of writing to me very frequently. Believe me Jack, I get scarcely any letter which I like to see as well as yours. You are vastly improved in the epistolary art, since last year: but this is a smaller consideration. When you write to me, take no thought what you shall say. Nonsense will do as well as any thing—if it be honest nonsense coming from the heart. I wish you had seen how I enjoyed your epistle of to-day. Our excellent parents!—how I do rejoice in the thought of making them happy even for a moment! Be good to them Jack: there is nothing, as you well say, equal to “doing one's parents a pleasure.”2 Remember our Mother in particular. Keep her at the tea: it does her good, and who deserves it better?

I have said nothing about my own goings, which are in fact very unimportant. I am thinking to take another hour of teaching (mathematics) on Monday: it is between 10 and 11 o'clock, and so just succeeds the present one between 9 and 10. Some delay has taken place about Legendre;3 nevertheless I am thinking of beginning it. I am still clear for the stated hours you recommended. I shall begin forthwith; having now got a desk (for 25/ —this is the first sheet ever was on it) and all my other et ceteras. Then my own book, Jack, my own!

Now you must be doing with what you have got here; and write again very soon. I forgot to speak of health: but my very silence would have told you that I ailed little. I have not been so well for a year. My love to all at Mainhill— Tell them to write. Ever your's

Thos Carlyle.

I have written to our Alick in a very beggarly style. Say to him so, and have me excused.— Alas! for the gerund-grinding Biggar!4 Terque quaterque infelix [Three and four times unhappy]! was there no might in his greasy arm to smite prostrate the wretched Publican? Pudet! pudet! [For shame! for shame!] Write by the Post: it is scarcely dearer (this place lies so far away) and far speedier and surer. The room (Sherlock's) will do I think. How come you on with Duncan?5