TC TO THOMAS MURRAY ; 2 April 1841; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18410402-TC-TM-01; CL 13: 71-73
TC TO THOMAS MURRAY
5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea London, 2 April 1841.
Many thanks for your kind assiduity about those Books.1 The Parcel has not yet reached Fraser, as indeed there is usually more delay than one expects in those cases: but it will in all likelihood arrive safe; and shall then be duly welcomed and made use of. I will look at Magapico and the rest, which I have never yet seen but once, for a short while, long ago; and will then, with all convenient despatch, add Baillie to the lot, and pack it up for Edinburgh again. Baillie has been read for some time;—an excellent Book, frightfully misprinted, misedited or unedited; which requires and deserves editing more than anything I have seen of late.
Why I read all these things would not be easy to say. My curiosity about the Puritan Revolt in England and Scotland has always been great; repeatedly in the last twenty years I have made attempts to get some insight into it; and have gone thro' as many dull Books as another: but always hitherto with the smallest possible effect. The Thing remains in the bodily physiognomy of it as good as invisible to me; only the unsufferable jargon and wearisome leaden Babble about the Thing becomes plain! It is a thing I understand the soul of to my own satisfaction long since; but the body of it I doubt is not authentically recoverable at all. Certainly no human writers had ever a more perfect talent of killing whatsoever they wrote upon than those Historians and Memoirists of the Seventeenth Century in Britain! Given the heroic transaction, equal perhaps to the most heroic in the modern world, these are the fellows for touching it with the mace of Death, so that it lie stiff and cold, an unreadable stupifying Stupidity, to be avoided as you would an Infection and Torpedo. Since last Autumn I believe I have read some of the dullest Books ever written by any mortal. Think only of this one thing: Whitlocke2 from beginning to end and no skipping! There are not twenty pages of it that do not deserve to be burnt or banished to the State Paper Office!
I am about writing to Mr Laing some Queries, perhaps this very day. Pray signify to him that I do not write in any Periodical whatever, of late years; that tho' perhaps nobody in Britain will more heartily welcome a good Edition of Baillie than I, it will not be expedient to spend a copy on the chance of my reviewing it;—better to leave me to my own devices and the shops.3
My decided persuasion is that you have done well to continue in Edinburgh; following your course in that known arena, rather than seeking out a new course in this unknown one.4 At the time of life we have now reached, all change becomes irksome, unwelcome, in many senses wasteful. You were nearly certain to have disliked very many things in London; not to have discovered for a long while what of likeable, prizeable and even priceless there lay in it. The place, like England itself, does by no means proclaim its worth; rather proclaims its frightfulness, its braying tumult, the inane-looking whirl of its confusions: from Edinburgh to it is like a change to the Antipodes. Better, I do say, to let well alone!———— As a Printer there lie before you all manner of wholesome honourable prospects; the best and only good prospect included, that of free scope for whatsoever is most valuable in your spiritual activities,—in all acquirements and endowments, literary and other. Great things might be done by a right Printer,—were he ambitious of great things; as perhaps he had better not be! From Aldus to Didot,5 there is a right noble history of Printers. I will wish you the best fortune: A solid road, and free foot to travel on it; the happy goal is not wanting, it is already there.
This morning a certain Thomas Aitken an old fellow-student called on me: wasted, haggard, sadly shattered in all ways; poor Aitken! Yesterday I saw Adair at work in the Museum, with a good coat on his back, with a most flowing head of brown-gray hair.6 I avoided speaking to him, or being noticed by him, He too is one of the unaidables; with “sixteen-thousand epic verses” in his drawer.
Adieu, dear Murray; may all good be with you and yours.
Ever truly /