January-July 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 14


TC TO JOHN GIBSON LOCKHART ; 5 April 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18420405-TC-JGL-01; CL 14: 122-123


Templand, Thornhill, 5 April / 1842—

Dear Lockhart,

Your Letter is very kind and friendly; thanks to you for it.1

We are not much richer even in money by our good Mother's death, which has made us poorer in so many other ways: a small peculium once hers is now ours, and might in case of extremity keep the hawks out of a poor Author's eyes (which is a blessing too): but henceforth as heretofore our only sure revenue must be the great one which Tullius speaks of by the name Parcimonia,—meaning abstinence, rigorous abnegation, Scotch thrift, in a word!2 Not so bad a vectigal [income], after all. Really the Scotch are a meritorious people. They make wholesome pottage by boiling oatmeal in water; savoury soup of a singed sheep's head. They teach a poor man to understand that he is verily to live on bread and water, or even to die for want of bread and water, rather than beg, and be another's bondsman. They say, with their rigorous stoicism, and Calvinism which is Hyper-Stoicism: απέχõυ, ανἑχõυ; suffer, abstain; thou art there to abstain and endure! Honour to them, poor fellows. It is really the lesson which Destiny itself teaches every man, in the great inarticulate way, throughout this Life; and if the man be not a blockhead and unteachable, he learns it, let him be born in a peasant's hut or a king's palace.

We growl much about Bookseller-servitude; worse than Algerine;—and yet at bottom we are but a foolish folk. Consider you, for example, how many of your good things you would perhaps never have taken the trouble to write at all had there been no such servitude! Servitude was a blessing and a great liberty, the greatest that could be given a man! So the shrewd little De Staal, on reconsidering and computing it, found that the place where of all places ever known to her she had enjoyed the most freedom was the Bastille.3— As to me, I have dragged this ugly millstone Poverty at my heels, spurning it and cursing it often enough, ever since I was a man; yet there it lagged and lumbered on: and at length I was obliged to ask myself, Had they cut it for thee, sent thee soaring like a foolish tumbler-pigeon, like a mad Byron! Thank the millstone, thou fool; it is thy ballast, and keeps the center of gravity right! In short we are a foolish people, born fools—and it were wise perhaps, at present, to go and smoke a pipe in silence under the stars.—————

The mountain-tops are a-glow like so many volcanoes: it is poor tarry shepherds4 burning their heather, to let the grass have a chance. Sirius is glancing blue-bright like a spirit,—a comrade of mine these twenty years. Penpont smoke-cloud and Drumlanrig Castle5 have alike gone out. In the North is an Aurora,—footlights of this great Theatre of a Universe, where you and I are players for an hour. God is great; and all else is verily altogether small.

These last days, the rustics and factors driven out of my way, have been altogether like a kind of Sabbath to me,—different enough from Agnew's.6 Unhappily they are now to end: in the beginning of next week come packers, carpenters; on the thursday it all ends in an uproar of Auctioneers &c: I before that am far off, never to return hither. Back to your Whirlpool, I suppose, in some few days more. Adieu, dear Lockhart; many good nights.

Yours very truly,

T. Carlyle