The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JAMES JOHNSTON; 7 December 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18221207-TC-JJ-01; CL 2:222-226.


3. Moray-street, 7th December 1822.

My dear Johnstone,

I received your letter with joy; and read it over alas! with a very different feeling. It inspired me at once with sorrow and indignation. The scene of dreary canting and petty tho' galling vexation, which you so vividly describe to me, is one which it is painful to contemplate: I need not say how earnestly I long for your deliverance from its evils, or how gladly I would contribute to that most desirable result. My heartfelt sympathy you already have; my advice, so far as my imperfect acquaintance with the circumstances of the case permits me to form an opinion, I shall now endeavour to communicate to you.

In the first place, then, I cordially approve your purpose to “do nothing rashly”—to meditate every step of the business—to lay down a plan embracing all the important elements of the question, and then to adhere to it with modest but inflexible firmness.1 This resolution, which is prudent and rational at all times, is more particularly so in the present instance—situated as you are—in the pressing want of employment; recommended to this office by the kindness of a friend, who at least meant to serve you, and proved his meaning by pledging his credit for you; and in the absence of your principal employer, and the presence of such delegates as he has left behind him. Be cautious, therefore, above all; consider well how you act, that there be no flinching in your conduct: the only way of reaching your object is to avoid all wavering in your proceedings; the only way to avoid wavering is to consider well and maturely before you act at all.

I cannot at all understand on what footing you are with regard to Mr Erskine, whether he is to pay you any fixed salary, what influence he can exert upon your success in getting scholars, what degree of patronage in short he means to give you in return for all the sacrifices which his representatives demand of you. If as I suspect he intends to give you nothing but a house and the sanction of his name, you can have little difficulty in discerning the proper line of conduct. Your great patron must in that case be the Public, and the pleasing of that Public your great object. Redouble your diligence and watchfulness as a Teacher; be peaceable, courteous, unwearied;—you will also be successful; your natural qualities put forth in this mode will gain you a sure and permanent footing in the esteem of the people, which their self-interest will tend strongly to fortify and secure: you may then view with composure the contradiction of Tabernacle shoemakers2 and Captains and dowagers, the general voice will overrule them, and protect you from all danger.

However it may be—even at the hazard of cutting all connexion with the Erskines—I think you have done well positively to decline any interference with their propagandâ3 purposes. Your feelings of honesty and personal dignity alike call upon you to stand aloof from that rabble altogether in your public functions—to tell them calmly but distinctly that you have no intention to teach theology at all under any conceivable shape; that your documents which you can produce will shew you to have been engaged only to teach more humble and palpable branches of learning and by these you mean to abide—if upon the fruit of your labours they wish to superadd any accompaniment of a religious kind, they must find another person to take charge of it, he shall sustain no hinderance and find no help from you. You ought also to remove from Crispin's4 place of residence without delay.

Acting upon these principles at once mildly and stedfastly, I would counsel you likewise to avoid as much as possible all jarring and broils with your Methodist patrons. Do not vex yourself at their proceedings, or engage in hopeless attempts to bring them to a better way of thinking. Shew them plainly that you will not plough with their team, that you understand your own place and duties, and will maintain the one and discharge the other; but at the same time study to avoid afflicting them needlessly, endeavour to extend to them that toleration which they cannot extend to you. I know those unhappy people, and how hard it is for flesh and blood to endure their inquisitions, their sentences, their condemnation. To be judged and branded before such a tribunal excites a mingled feeling of contempt and agony which is next to insupportable; to feel that you are honest and yet be reckoned guilty, to see truth and reason and integrity of mind hunted down by imbecillity, cant and delusion—the sentence passed against you without appeal, because ignorance gives the force of more than a mathema[tical] certainty to the most infatuated of their decision[s]; and the [damage is in]flicted without mercy, because conscience goes along wi[th pi]ty and every low selfish feeling to sanction the inflicting of it;—all this is difficult to bear, it tempts one often to rise and vindicate the insulted majesty of Wisdom, by scourging those drivelling quacks out from the porches of her Temple which their presence contaminates and profanes. Yet this is not the right way: there is often a fundamental worth in these poor people which it becomes a liberal man to detect and to honour however it may be disguised; and independently of this, one's own quiet, not to be lightly foregone, is a blessing inconsistent with such a manner of proceeding. The gnats that sting us on a summer's evening are not to be beaten down with staves and weapons of war; we must conquer them by Patience. Just so, my dear Friend, is it necessary to proceed with your present most disquieting neighbours. You must walk with them for a time; so try to be on civil terms with them. Let them know that you decline the competency of their judgement in matters of religion, that you will neither pass nor receive sentence on that head: they will learn to respect your stern forbearance, and if they think you lost for the next world, they will at least discover that they cannot molest you with impunity in this. Finally, My dear Johnstone, study to improve the time which is passing over you so unpleasantly, that with all its unpleasantness it may not pass for nought. Having secured yourself in the most quiet and comfortable lodgings you can find, assemble round you all the apparatus of learning, wrestle with Lexicons, grammars and gymnasiums, become a perfect scholar, and if Broughty-Ferry prove intolerable to you, it may be given to the winds without reluctance. No year passes in which some highly eligible School is not offered to the competition of the public, and the principle of detur dignissimo [let it be given to the worthiest] is daily becoming more common. There is Shaw of Kirkpatrick has established himself at Hamilton without any influence but that of talent: what advantages had he which you have not? Be diligent, patient, persevering; and fear nothing. You must succeed if you cease to fluctuate. Should you happen, like many of the worlds best denizens, to want at any time the humble but needful assistance of ready-money, draw upon my small resources without backwardness. Fear nothing! Keep still in your situation if you can by any means—at least till you have got completely furnished and equipt with Greek and Latin; then leave it for a better—which will not [fai]l to offer itself whenever you are ready for it. Esperance! Fe[lici]té! Esperance!5

I am always your fai[thfu]l Friend, /

Th: Carlyle—

Brother Jack participates deeply in your feelings: he will write to you ere long. Are you to be here at Christmas? Write as you promised “almost by return of Post”; we long to hear of you. Irvings address is: Revd &c 19. Gloucester-st. Queen's Square, Bloomsbury, London. Communicate with him frankly without ceremony or fear: do not call him “Sir”—or stand shying at a distance, but consult him as a friend, for such he is.