TC TO WILLIAM GRAHAM; 21 December 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18221221-TC-WG-01; CL 2:238-242.
TC TO WILLIAM GRAHAM
3 Moray-Street, 21st December, 1822.
My dear Friend,
I was busied for the last week or two in stringing together some trashy prose, and I determined not to allow myself the pleasure of writing to my friends, or taking any recreation, till I had completed it. Thus Charlie Raw, the husbandman of Gedgills, when his hollowbacked garron [small horse] refuses any longer to drag his plough thro' the potatoe-field but lies down sullenly among the furrows,—brings out a sheaf of musty oats which he orders the boy to hold within half a yard of the garron's nose; by which means the garron feels himself reanimated with fresh strength, starts up again, and ploughs for hours in the hope of munching this mess of proviant, which still flits before him untouched till midday. It is well when such expedients will serve the turn. Charlie has in some instances been obliged to set fire beneath the garron's belly, before he could induce him to proceed—urging him forward by terror, when hope had passed away. I do pray that measures so hard may never be required with me or any that I love. As yet, at least, they have never been called into action: for the present, I am done with my purposed task, without the aid of fire, or any fierce stimulant of the kind; allured only by the expectation of the pleasure noticed above—which, having earned it, I now proceed to enjoy.
Your long and most welcome letter reached me duly: I liked it well. There is in it such an honest flow of genial good-heartedness, so much shrewd observation and worldly wisdom mingled with an affectionate enthusiasm rarely compatible with worldly wisdom or the experience necessary for acquiring it, so much to amuse, to console, to instruct,—it brought the picture of yourself very vividly to my thoughts, and made me long doubly for the payment of that visit which you promise so cordially, and which I trust you are now meditating speedily to perform. “Mother Wilkie” you will find the same elastic-minded helpful creature you formerly saw her, free from all moroseness or intemperate passions, tripping about the house like some ancient emeritus Robin Goodfellow, the worst word she gives you, “Oh! yes Sir! ye'll get that.” I admire Mother Wilkie very sincerely.1
It gave me pain, but little surprise, to learn that your projected improvements were still as it were in embryo. You cannot expect, as you rightly remark, that your success should be immediate: Men must have time to consider and see proofs that will subdue their native caution, before untying the strings of that sanctum sanctorum which holds their guineas. In the meantime, what have you to do? Nothing at all, my friend, but to watch the favourable opening; and till it occur, to keep yourself in patience, which tho' but an ineffectual remedy is the only one our meagre pharmacy affords. You have had a sharp struggle; but you may call yourself a conqueror whatever be the issue: you have not lost one friend thro' all the changes of your fortune; nor, what is more, have you 'bated one jot of that consciousness of right and that love for your fellow-men, which I am confident better days are yet coming to reward. Be strong, then, be steadfast yet a little while: “In due time ye shall reap, if ye faint not.”2
You do well in the interim to employ some portion of your leisure in the task of reading. After all, there is no pleasure like those of the mind. Kings may surround themselves with a manufactured splendour, with scepters, sashes, trains and ribbons; may stand among ushers and knights and lords in waiting, in gorgeous halls, and under their canopies of costly state: but what is all their apparatus? A thing to please the eye, and often vainly meant to hide the squalid nakedness of the “Man within.” Our mental faculties, if we would cultivate them, can do better and at less expense. The peasant Burns “that walked in glory on the mountain side, behind his plough”3 could wrap himself in grandeur more than royal when he pleased, could raise around him a world as beautiful as Eden and be alive to all its beauty. If it be happiness to have the mind continually solaced by the presence of noble thoughts and lovely images and inspiring scenery, then make me a poor man that can think and study and imagine, and be a king yourself without these gifts.
“Weak philosophy!” I hear you say, “vain declamation! the chief use of reading and imagining, of fine thoughts, and conceptions of heroical enterprises and beautiful things is but the—death of time!—a book helps us to kill it better.” Well, I will not argue with you; only I advise you to go on. There are stores for you in that kind which you never dreamed of: go rifle them, if you love yourself. Did you ever read Watson's Histories of Philip II and III?4 If not look at it for my sake. Vertot's history of the Knights of Malta? or his revolutions of Rome?5 Voltaire's Charles XII?6 Robertson's America?7 Gibbon's Rome?— For Schiller, you will get his Thirty Years' War translated by Blacquiere8—badly I doubt, but still worth reading: His Gustav Adolp[h]us is about the best specimen of a hero in modern times. I really wish you would fix upon these people: if you did heartily, the weeks of comparative inaction would prove to you among the most profitable of your life.
Now you must excuse me for this schoolmaster display, and also for wasting away your paper in this unprofitable manner. I had a vast deal of things to tell you; but my room is taken up. Is there any intelligence from Irving? He owes me a letter for some months: I have little heart to dun him. Was it you or David9 that sent me that critique on his preaching in the Glasgow Courier? I suppose you laid your heads together; and I thank you both. Irving is going on prospering, it would seem. Long, long may he do so!10 Poor Byers has lost the succession of Annan. I am sorry for this: next to breaking on the wheel, the sufferings of a schoolmaster whom nature has not blest with absolute stupidity, are about the most excrutiating. Poor James Johns[t]on! He has fallen among thorns at Broughty-ferry; devout old women, psalm singing captains, tabernacle shoemakers—a cold heartless hypocritical canaille, that wish him to expound the scriptures and lecture on the reflex act as well as teach reading and accounts—that threaten in short to make him very miserable. I pity poor James: he is as true a soul as lives, and very unfortunate to be so well deserving. Brother Jack is going on here with great alacrity, in statics and caloric and muscular movements: he sends his humble service to you: When will you come and see us? When will you write? Give my kind and respectful compliments to the Laird and Lady Grange:11 is Mr. N. got better?— I am always,
My dear Friend, / Yours most sincerely, /
Will you send me your address that I may write directly in future: at present I have it not.— Gordon, your former host and friend, is doing well. I have only called once since we two were there together. How came the Edinburgh wiseheads to prefer your Muir to him? I have heard Muir: he is nothing but a dandiprat [trickster and dandy] of a person—a little character that wants to turn off his bits of paragraphs neatly: he is very pathetic and prim, but there is no more heart in him than in the deacon of the Taylors. I suspect him to be very fond of tea.12