The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 7 April 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220407-TC-JAC-01; CL 2:79-82.


3. Moray-street, 7th April 1822—

My dear Jack,

I this day fell in with your provost—R. Dickson;1 and having learned that he designs returning to Annan on Tuesday morning, I gladly profit by the opportunity of scribbling a line or two for you, without causing any cost to either of us. I have the worst pen in Nature, as you see; but never mind. I am very stupid too—but also, never mind.

Your letter2 with the inclosed five pounds came to me in due time: I was much pleased with your punctuality—tho' just what I expected. When you want the money again, let me know. I calculate that I have now as much as will serve me till the Bullers come, when I shall get more; and I beg you will not be in any strait without applying to me—not only for your own (if I should be so negligent as to need being applied to)—but for any sum within the extent of my resources.— Waugh the bookseller I caused pay me; and he has done it like a scurvy person—with fifteen pounds, where there should have been fiveand twenty. “The Review has so limited a sale; the” &c &c— I design writing no more for him, unless driven to it by a necessity harder than I like to anticipate. Yet I give him no rude words—both because rude words generally degrade the person who employs them as much as the person who endures them, and because not knowing what may turn out in the future, I consider that “better a wee bush than nae bield”3 and even Waugh's Review may be of use to me. At any rate I doubt not the “limited sale” is a very sufficient excuse for his parsimony. My own wonder is that there exists any “sale” at all. If it were not that Providence is a rich provider—furnishing nourishment for all the animated tribes of the universe, one could not a priori expect a single purchaser far less a reader for this literary mooncalf. Peace be with it! and with all the hashes [blockheads] that contribute to create it! They have each a right to a certain portion of the beef slaughtered within this city, and to a certain portion of the oxygen gas that floats around it: far be it from me to wish their privileges curtailed.

The translation of Legendre puzzles me a little. I had finished about four or five sheets of it long ago; but the people are getting clamorous for it now, and I not only find no kind of pleasure in the task, but cannot even perform it at all without sacrificing considerable prospects of a far more alluring kind. I have thoughts of giving it up in favour of John Waugh. Could you do it, Jack? Have you time & spirit for it, I mean? If you think so—I wish you would try a portion and let me see; the beginning of the fifth book, for example: write it out in a legible hand (no matter how ugly) and send it up by the first opportunity. This idea struck me about a minute ago: consider of it seriousl[.] If the work did not too much destroy your time, it would pay very well, and such things do not always occur when one wants them. I am confident, I could make you do it well if I had you here. Say what you think of it—if you think any thing.

I am anxious to get all these mechanical things off my hand; so that I may be able to embark fairly in some more honourable enterprise. I have had a faint purpose for some weeks of writing some “Essay on the genius & character of Milton”—if I could. It is not quite the subject I should like, but better than none; so I am still thinking of it, and determined at least to read the works that relate to it. I am already through “Clarendon's history of the Rebellion”;4 tomorrow I shall try to get hold of “Ludlow's Memoirs”5 or some other of them. My condition is rather strange at present: I feel as if I were impelled to write—as if I had also a very little power to do it; but at the same time as if I had altogether lost the faculty of exerting that power! It is “thaas coorsed nervous disaarders.”—thrice and four times coorsed. If [underscored twice] I had strong health—!!— But what is the use of talking? If [underscored twice] I had a supereminent genius, the end would be still better attained; and the wish is perhaps just about as reasonable. Should I never be healthy again—which seems possible enough—it will not aid me to complain, to sit and long vehemently—and “whine, put finger i' the eye and sob,”6 because my longings are not gratified. Better to do what I can while it is called to-day—and if the edifice I erect be but a dog-hutch, it is more honourable to have built a dog-hutch than to have dreamed of building a palace. Therefore, Jack, I mean to try if I can bestir myself. Art is long and life is short;7 and of the three score and ten years allotted to the longest liver how small a portion is spent in any thing but vanity and vice if not in wretchedness and worse than unprofitable struggling with the adamantine laws of Fate! Alas! My poor Jack, I am wae when I think of all this. But it cannot be helped.

It is time for me however to quit those airy speculations. I want a long letter from you, as soon as possible—including all your experiences, [all] your hopes. Send me large batches of news; let every thing be fish that [comes] within your net. How do you go on with Ben? I meant to write him very long ago: my purpose is still in being, but that is all. Present to him my best respects any way. Also to the Hitchill people,8 whom I hope you see often. What is Johnstone doing? and what heart is he in? There is a project of a School for him but I fear it will hardly succeed.9 Edwd Irving has been trying to provide for him, and the letter which I suppose decides it is lying here unopened. Tell Johnston that I desire greatly to hear from him. Can you tell me any tidings of Geo: Johnston the Doctor? Get me his address at all events: I would send him a letter if I knew where he kept.— Irving is here just now—or rather in Fife at this hour, and to be here tomorrow morning. He has yet got nothing decided about his going to London. There are few better fellows living. What a contrast between him and Geordie! Yet Geordie means to be honest, therefore let him pass.10 I have said nothing about your old crony Waugh, because I had nothing definite to say. He is still here, clinging as it were to the last plank of his shipwrecked fortunes, pennyless or more, without comfort in the present or the past, but still drawing largely as ever on the rich and royal future. He means to graduate, if he can find funds. There is no man in the world so unfortunate & fatuous as Waugh, with so little criminality. He seems as if he were becoming crazed at times, he speculates so absurdly on the ways of this Earth. Tell no one of him: it only sets silly tongues o'wagging; and Waugh is too worthy for such.

I am going to inclose the critique on Faust. You may shew it to Ben, if he cares for it; and then let them have it at home. I hope you go often up to Mainhill—and take little nic-nacs with you sometimes to our invaluable mother. Carry my love to her and our worthy father, and all the rest of them. Remind Polwarth, and my other correspondents of their epistolary duties. Farewell my good Jack; it is bed-time, and I am tired enough, and feeble tho' still, Your affectionate brother,

Thomas Carlyle—

They need not send me any more butter from home, for a long while. I am pretty well “i' the health part o't”—beginning to feel the effects [ef underscored twice] of spring—without any violent pain or disorder anywhere; the bowel[s] themselves being rather very weak than greatly disordered. Th[ey? words missing] live in quiet some hours every day.