April-December 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 18


TC TO JAMES DODDS ; 11 July 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440711-TC-JADO-01; CL 18: 120-121


CHELSEA, 11th July, 1844

MY DEAR SIR,— You are probably right in your determination towards London; at least I will by no means say you are wrong. Your description of Edinburgh life has much in it that agrees with my own experience and observation there, and certainly the patience with which you have seen and admitted all that, and silently gone on with it, and are still ready to go on with it, in manful diligence under such conditions as there may be, is of good augury for you here or elsewhere. “Go where we will, we find ourselves again in a conditional world.”1

Of Law in London I know nothing practical. I see some few lawyers in society at times, a tough, withered, wiry sort of men, but they hide their law-economies, even when I question them, very much under lock and key. I have understood that the labour is enormous in their profession, and the reward likewise; the successful lawyer amasses hundreds of thousands, and actually converts himself into what we might call a “spiritual speldrin,”2 no very blessed bargain! On the whole, I would not prophesy for you the first prizes in such a course, nor like you the worse that you went without prizes at all in it. But there is much here besides Law; Law is a small item here.

The great question is: Dare you, Must you? It is an awful enterprise that of London, but also full of generous results if you have strength. Strength to look chaos and hell in the face; to struggle through them toward the Adamantine Isles! For a literary lawyer, I should say Edinburgh was far preferable. Success in Law here is totally incompatible with Literature. This you should reflect on before starting.

On the whole, if you have the offer of a clerkship that will secure you subsistence, there can be no harm in coming up to take a view of us, and to try what kind of chaos we are. There is much here to interest a brave young Scotchman, to expand him, to repress him, and in many ways instruct him, if he have strength to learn. If he will not learn, they will kill him here in one way or other.

You may depend very certainly on my omitting no opportunity that may arise to further you in this matter. If my power equalled my inclination you were very safe in it. If your present half-certain outlook end in nothing, pray apprise me of that, and I will at least speak to some persons about it.

And so I will wish you a wise resolution, wise and genuine as in the sight of God your Maker, which indeed is wishing you all. The heedless clamour and babble of our fellow-creatures do but bewilder us. “Thou must be a great man,” they cry, “or we will not be flunkies to thee!” “Who wants you for flunkies? I will be a small man!”— Believe me, yours very sincerely, T. CARLYLE