The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 14 January 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220114-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:14-16.


3. Moray-street, Leith-Walk, Mrs Wilkie's / Monday, 3 o'clock [14 January 1822]—

My dear Friend,

I finished Faust1 on Saturday; and have not yet had courage to read it over. Nothing but the pleasure, which I am now anticipating, and for which it furnishes a kind of pretext, could have induced me to submit so very insufficient a performance to your perusual. I declare I cannot without indignation behold the paltry rag, and think that it has consumed two whole weeks of incessant labour. It is so ambitious, so bombastic, so jejune. Do not look at it, till you feel in very good humour with me, and then banish it from your memory altogether.

I suppose you think I have been very idle since you left me. But no, I promise you! I was not born to be any thing but miserable in idleness; and by the blessing of Heaven; I shall never be idle more. If I fail to effect any thing in my day and generation, any thing to justify Providence for having called me into his Universe,—the weakness of my ability not of my will shall be to blame. I have much to strive with, much to do: the few conceptions that actually exist within me are scattered in a thousand directions—diffracted, dismembered, without form and void: and I have yet gained no right mastery of my pen, no right familiarity with the public to express them—even if worth expressing—to advantage. Nevertheless I must persevere. What motive have I not, which man can have? The brightest hopes and the darkest fears—on the one side are obscurity and isolation, the want of all that can render life endurable, and “Death sad refuge from the storms of Fate”2—without even an approving conscience to disarm it of its sting; on the other is—!— I tell you, my friend, to be in no pain for me. Either I shall escape from this “obscure sojourn”3—or perish, as I ought, in trying it. The game is deep; but I must play it out: I can no other; so away with fear! Nil desperandum, te duce et auspice te!4

Meanwhile I am not unhappy. It is true I have none to love me here, none that I can love, no companion even whose head or heart can make me do aught but regret every hour I spend in such society; and accordingly I spend very few in it. But I have long been studying the painful lesson to live alone: and the task is easier as I am than it ever was. I enjoy quiet, and free air, and returning health; I have business in abundance for the present; and the future lies before me vaguely—but with some glimpses of a solemn beauty irradiating all its gloom. When I compare the aspect of the world to me now with what it was twelve months ago, I am far from desponding or complaining. I seem to have a motive and a rallying-word in the fight of life: when the battle is waxing fierce without, and the heart is waxing faint within, I shall remember it and do bravely, Alles für Ruhm und Ihr!5

You see how I talk about my own most precious self! It is a copious subject and a safe one: I have not done with it yet. Present my affectionate and grateful rememberances to your excellent Mother; and say I have not in any wise forgotten her most kind invitation. I mean to profit by it sooner than she anticipates. If I had only finished some miserable compilations for their Encyclopedia, I am master of my own time, and then—!— In two weeks, I am with you; unless you declare I absolutely must not. I beg you will not speak of that unfortunate Book. Alas, my dear friend! if one page of it were written, nine tenths of the difficulty would be over. It shall be forthcoming: have I not said it?

If you refuse me, it will be very hard. Irving is speaking about a kind of Tutorship in some great family:6 and if I accept it, my excursions must be greatly circumscribed. The people offer £250 a-year, the chance of travelling, a number of hours per day to myself, and many other advantages, which ought perhaps to induce me. Let me see you before I decide: it may not be so easy afterwards: I have a million of things to say and to ask. I will come some Wednesday evening, and go back on Sunday. You will not say me nay.

This Sardanapalus7 I thought you had not seen, and might wish to see: if it give you an hour's enjoyment—well; if not you will forgive my mistake.— Write two words along with it to say whether[r] I may come. Do not [both words underscored twice] refuse. Adieu!— This is the most egotistic letter I ever scribbled; you know what keeps me from other subjects: excuse me I conjure you—if I have done wrong. Farewell! I am,

Your's per sempre, /

Thos Carlyle.

A blockhead has come in, and I must end abruptly. Forgive all!