The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 12 January 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220112-TC-AC-01; CL 2:7-10.


3. Moray-street, Saturday-evening [12 January 1822].

My dear Alick,

I received your letter—one of the longest and best you ever sent me—with the same feelings of thankfulness and pleasure which I always experience on hearing from you; and tho' getting very misty by this long sederunt [sitting], I design to fill this sheet for you before I give up. You do well to persevere in Cobbett: perseverance is a cardinal virtue—the support of every other, and the habit of it cannot be acquired except by making a point of exercising the quality as yet new to us, upon every honest undertaking we engage with. A man without perseverance—tho' bright as the sun—is useless as a Jack o' Lanthorn. The small worm on the coasts of the Mediterranean perforates a rock of flint by continued application; your fiery tiger would crunch his teeth to pieces on it instantly, and go off howling, without even breaking the surface. For the sake of perseverance, therefore, persevere; and still more for the sake of what your perseverance is directed to. Grammar in writing is like fingers and arms in a manual trade; many who have them work indifferently, none who has them not can work at all. It makes me very glad to see what proficiency you are making daily. If once this grammar were mastered, you would write with a fluency and ease before unknown. I predict that this will surely happen; and that your letters will be among the most manly and spirited I read. Frank and independant like a true man's, sarcastic and humorous and rational—all this is before you if you like. As to the exercises,1 you must wait till next opportunity: in the mean time you cannot do better than for the sake of practice, to take up any book—the Spectator say—and strike into some sentence of it, and apply your rules for parsing it. Take even this scrawl of mine: try if you can say what part of speech this word is, what part that; why they are so not otherwise; what they agree with, govern or are governed by. Consult Jack or me whenever you are in doubt. Your spelling approaches fast to perfection: I notice the word ackward; it should be awkward: but there are scarcely any more such instances.

I have told my Father and Mother almost all that is worth telling and unknown to you in my situation here. I was at Kirkcaldy the week before last; and spent two days jannering [talking idly] and eating dinners with the good people. Mr Martin 2 the minister offered me the Editorship of a Dundee Newspaper—£100 a-year, and a percentage on the profits;3 but my ambition to become a Knight of the Paragraph was very small, and I had nae wull o' t [no inclination toward it]. The minister is a kind man, and true stuff to the core. After returning I set to a criticism on Faust,4 which the Review people were wanting. They have now agreed to pass it till next number, and I go on more leisurely. I shall send it whenever it is printed; tho' it will be very poor, being written on a subject which I have never expressed myself about before, and hence with no small difficulty. It will be far too good however, for the place it is going to. The dogs have paid me nothing yet—nothing but smiles, and fair words, which being hollow are worse than none.

While I was busy with this, Irving's letter came; about their Tutorship—for which see my Father and mother's letters. I accepted of it the same night; I mean the trial of it. He would get my answer to-day. I have some hopes from the thing: but we can do either way. Irving is to be in Annan, I understand, very shortly. He seems to have raised the waters yonder; they like him as well as you and Ben Nelson do.5

My Father asked about Johnstone; but I have no tidings of him. I wrote “as soon as I was settled”—under cover to D. Hope—for I knew James' address imperfectly, requesting an immed[iate] answer. None came: and whether Johnstone is out of the body or in the body I cannot at present tell. I suspect the latter, tho' laziness makes it inconvenient for him to say so.

As to Waugh,6 he is certainly to the fore. Daily in the college-yard (which I visit about once a quarter) he is to be seen trailing his carcase along, heavy any way—and now heavier by the addition of a tartan dreadnought, which at all hours, in every weather, sunshine as well as storm, he bears about with him. When I saw him last with it, he stooped very much and was so broad above, he looked like a walking pair of bellows, or a shoulder of mutton set out to travel on its shank-end. Poor Waugh! I pity him from the bottom of my heart. His money I fear is almost vanished again; and his medical diploma is not likely to be forthcoming. He has few vices, many virtues: but not a jot of prudence. I spent three hours in advising him to take one of the pupils from me—the one between 11 and 12, whom I cannot get attended any longer for the pressure of writing &c: and even yet tho' Waugh has no prospect but that of being pennyless, and no objection to the offer, he palters and will not move. He has much to suffer, poor fellow; before he can learn wisdom. But I must leave him and all things, for my paper is clean gone. Adieu My dear Brother! Write to me at great length, next chance. I remain always,

Your affecte brother, /

Thomas Carlyle

Excuse me earnestly to my valued correspondents, Mag and Jamie & Mary. I am behind my hour, and cannot write for the heart of me. Next time for certain.