The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO WILLIAM GRAHAM; 30 October 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18221030-TC-WG-01; CL 2:190-193.


3 Moray-Street, 30th October, 1822.

My dear Friend,

If I have been somewhat dilatory in fulfilling the engagement which I volunteered to contract at our parting in Annandale, you must be careful not to impute this conduct to anything like forgetfulness of my duties to you or carelessness of what concerns you. The privilege of communicating with you is one which I am ever ready to improve, and the more direct the means of doing so the greater is my readiness. In fact I would have written long ago, but for two or three reasons which I am sure even you will admit to have been conclusive. In the first place, I have been excessively occupied since we parted,—teased with regulating the formalities of my new situation—with arranging hours and studies and devising plans to quicken indolence and repress levity: in the second place I have lived almost a total stranger to the whole world since that period, and so have had no shadow of what is called news to tell anyone: while in the third place the state of my own feelings has been so exceedingly pitiful and wishy-washy, that I could not in conscience determine to afflict any Christian person with the smallest description of them. All which circumstances taken together form, I think, a very cogent exculpatory proof; and being peculiar to my own case, no one of them I trust will be of any service in yours, or at all extenuate your guilt should you (feloniously and traitorously) determine to treat me according to the lex talionis.

I am getting acquainted with the Bullers; and I like them and the place they have given me quite as much as I anticipated. They are very good people, I conceive; particularly good, considering all things. The more I see of their mode of life, however, the more thankful I am that Providence did not create me a “person of quality”: I verily believe if it had been so, I should have gone entirely distracted long ago. The back, they say, is made for the burden; but really I do not think mine could ever have sustained the labour of existing in such a ceaseless round of insipid formalities, of concealed disquietudes, of strenuous inanities as that unhappy portion of our species is born to. It is really astonishing to think how much is done—and to how little purpose; how great a sacrifice there is of effort, how very small a return of real enjoyment. I am perfectly positive at present that with three hundred pounds a year, I could be far happier—all other things being equal—than three-fourths of the people that have a hundred times the sum.

From the benignant sympathy which I am here expressing for the sufferings of my fellow creatures, you may possibly infer that my own sufferings are on the decrease: I rather incline to think that it is my Christian charity which is growing. One thing at least is certain, I am very unhappy at present. I feel called upon by a voice of terror to bestir myself, to be up and doing while it is called to-day; and a thousand miserable causes—indecision, ignorance, dyspepsia, &c., &c., &c., keep me rivetted to the spot: I cannot advance, I cannot stay; I am certainly the weakest of the weak. I believe I shall sit down at last, and eat beef like other people—contented with the idea that I was born a dolt; and acquiescing cordially in the celebrated fiat of the Middlebie Laird. He was listening to a parson, who having but a moderate power of delivery, found it difficult to advance beyond the very words of his text, & accordingly kept singing and bawling in a variety of notes these remarkable expressions, and nothing more, “he that is unholy, let him be unholy still”; whereas the indignant clodhopper clapping on his broad-brimmed hat stalked forth of the Kirk repeating with a corresponding intonation and more bitter emphasis, “he that is a stupid Jackass, let him be a jack-ass still!” A word is enough to the wise!1

Some time ago I had a line from Irving,2 wherein due mention is made of “William Graham that best-hearted of men, and most intelligent of merchants.” I rejoice to think that the generous soul is prospering as he should, and likely to realize all our hopes in London. His sermon, Gordon tells us, has been reviewed somewhere, and favourably: he could not mention where. I have heard a great deal about this “farewell address”—a proof at least that it is no common performance. All people seem agreed in applauding the delineation he gives of his intercourse with the poor of St. John's; almost (but not altogether) all in condemning large masses of the rest. Irving will redeem what is faulty and make good what is defective, all in due season, beyond a doubt.3

This letter of mine, you must already have discovered, is the most barren and languid and desultory of letters: it has been written in the midst of hurry and distraction; and was meant only to accomplish one object—in which I do hope it will still be successful—the drawing forth of an early letter from you in return. I need not say how much I long to hear your news; to learn how it fares with you, and to obtain a passing glimpse of the many kind people and interesting events which your city has in store for me. What is to be the result of your chemical inventions? I trust they are already beginning to be rewarded: but if not, you know too well how many obstacles there must be to retard the fulfillment of such a scheme—to lose heart about the success of this, however it may stand at present. I long to have before me everything you are engaged in—what you do,—feel, hope for. I fear I shall not see Glasgow for a long while; when are you to be in Edinburgh? There is the same accommodation for you here as ever; the same readiness on the part of honest Wilkie, the same sincere tho' inefficient anxiety on my part. Brother Jack is with me, and desires me to send his most respectful compliments. If you do not write to me soon, I shall—write to you (and if possible far more stupidly) again, one of these days: so look to yourself. Remember me kindly with explanations &c., to Mr. Hope: Have Mr. & Mrs. Johnstone come? If so deliver my best respects. Excuse this blundering letter, and believe me to be at all times; my dear Friend,

Most truly yours, /

T. Carlyle.