The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 12 January 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230112-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:265-270.


3. Moray-street, 12th Jany, 1823—

My dear Friend,

I must congratulate you on your safe passage thro' the Ancient History: you have really done very cleverly in this matter. If you continue the same sort of exertion for a little longer, I shall cease to have any doubts respecting your ultimate success. Are not the pleasures of successful diligence superior to all others? You will find this more emphatically true, the longer you make the experiment. In the mean time, do not let the alleged imperfection of your memory discourage you too much: it is a universal complaint, and the farther you advance you will feel it the less. No one of our faculties is so susceptible of improvement as this, or so completely dependent on ourselves in all its stages of improvement. Besides the more facts you accumulate, the more relations will you find among them, and hence the more hints to suggest the leading ones, which thus become more easily remembered at every new step of your progress. You should try to fix in your mind the few great events which influenced all the rest; to obtain an indelible impression of their dates and circumstances, and thoroughly to understand them in all their bearings. They stand like beacons in the great sea of history, each commanding a large space all around it: the lesser occurrences naturally group themselves about them, and are held in memory by the simplest of all connections, that of cause and effect. On the whole, I rather think that your memory is a very good one, that you at present retain a greater portion of Rollin's narrative than one out of a hundred ordinary readers would have done, at a first perusal, in a subject so new to them. Be content, therefore; you will get your recollections refreshed as you proceed. Did you go on taking notes, as you began? I imagine this to be a good practice if used in moderation. You should also keep looking at your maps and your Lempriere;1 remember the two windows, chronology and geography: just in proportion to the vividness and distinctness of your original conception of any thing, will be the length of time you recollect it.

I meant to send you Fergusson's Roman Republic; but it is not to be had at present. If you cannot get it quite conveniently, take this Vertot instead: he deserves a perusal on his own account, and Fergusson can be procured afterwards. There are also Roman histories by Hook and Rollin; but they are both rather tedious and sometimes silly. Goldsmith is not worth reading. Unless you are tired of the Greeks, I would also recommend Gillies to you, or Mitford, dull and stiff but not without strength or good information; and the travels of Anacharsis by the Abbé Barthélemi, which is a very lively work. When you are sufficiently grounded in the classical ages, I promise you a rich and various feast in Gibbon—by far the most splendid and trenchant person you have yet become acquainted with. Then we are got down to Charles V, and Russel[l], and Sismondi,2 and the great Italians. You see I cut you out abundance of work: for in truth I begin to count largely on your diligence; and I know you will thank me for pointing out the plenteous harvest of profit and delight, which is here opened before you. To reap it, nothing is required but steadfast tho' moderate exertion, and a self-denial to the poor dissipations of female life—in which, with views and thoughts such as yours, you would find nothing to satisfy you at any rate. Your destination is different, and you must obey it. Never fear the labour; you are equal to ten times as much if you husband your strength: go on! go on! the victory is certain.

I know not whether you are yet delivered from your fardels: at all events you will soon be so. Before tuesday, your Uncle must sit down again to his Lawbooks, and the “cold, prosaic beautiful artificial” lady be engaged in her domestic operations far enough from you. The “agony of patience” will give place to the glow of active effort, and you will advance with more alacrity for this interruption. I do love you for wishing to become a Hermitess in some Highland glen. Yet you must not go without attendance and much preparation: and would you not let me be of the party? Oh what a paradise of a place we should make it!—full of peace and kindness and all sweet and noble thoughts—happy as the first Eden, tho in the grimmest region that the eye of Heaven visits! Seriously, these trammels and vulgar toils and eating cares3 do often grieve one: but it is the common lot; and he is happy who can steal some moments from this Egyptian bondage, and consecrate them to worthy and memorable deeds. This both of us may hope for, both of us do hope for it, and I swear that neither shall be disappointed.

You say I must go on with these Tales. With all my heart, so you go with me. Begin therefore, and proceed at once with spirit and moderation; festina lente,4 and we shall do rarely. In a given number of months we shall have a volume of them; in time we shall come out together, and what a day when our Book is given to the world! Recollect now, it depends upon yourself. In a week I shall have done with these foolish Encyclopedical farragos, and then I am for you. What are you to write about? Never mind how bad the first is: we shall amend them all in concert, make them very decent and quite fit to see company. You have only to obey the impulses of your own genius, to write fearlessly, as you do in your letters, and all will prosper.

What a wicked creature you are to make me laugh so at poor Irving! Do I not know him for one of the best men breathing, and that he loves us both as if he were our brother? Yet it must be owned there is something quite unique in his style of thought and language. Conceive the chords of sensibility awakened by the sound of caller herring! It is little better than the pathos of a great fat greasy Butcher whimpering and blubbering over the calf he has just run his knife into. The truth is, our friend has a radically dull organ of taste; he does every thing in a floundering awkward ostentatious way.5 I have advised him a thousand times to give up all attempts at superfineness and be a son of Anak6 honestly at once, in mind as in body: but he will not see it thus. Occasionally, I confess, I have envied him this want of tact, or rather the contented dimness of perception from which it partly proceeds: it contributes largely to the affectionateness and placidity of his general character; he loves every thing, because he sees nothing in its severe reality; hence his enthusiastic devotion, his fervour on topics adapted to the general comprehension, his eloquence, and the favour he gives to all and so gets from all. I still hope he will improve considerably, but not that he will ever entirely get free of these absurdities. And what if he should not? He has merit to balance ten times as many, and make him still one of the worthiest persons we shall ever meet with. Let us like him the better, the more freely we laugh.

Little Nichol has not seen me, or given me any account of your looks good or bad. What right has Nichol to speak about your looks, to have any picture of them in his little mind at all? My hope is that he will have forgot the subject altogether before he meets me—an event not likely to occur for many days. We speak for ten minutes twice in the six months and that is quite enough. I find no pleasure in these people; they are of the Earth, earthy;7 I would not have them hate me, but our paths lie differently, we have shaken hands and parted long ago. Above all I would not have them speak of you.

But when am I to judge for myself? When shall I see you with my own eyes face to face?— I daresay you are teased with these importunities of mine: but I do not seriously wish you to give any heed to them. I know if I am kept absent from you, it is for good reasons—some of which are not unimaginable to me; I leave the matter in your own disposal. If you see me at all, I often think, it is more than I deserve. If I were an absolute monarch, indeed— But then I am not. You will be here in February?

Tell your friend, that by far the most complete account of Charles I is to be found in Clarendon, his minister, and a deep participator in most of the events he describes. To correct his excessive loyalty the lady should also read Ludlow's memoirs. Ludlow was a republican, and his book is far more easily read than the other: tho' I fear she will tire in either. For more minute information, there are Whitelock's Memoirs, Rushworth, Peck's life of Cromwell, May's history of the Parliament; she may also look at Cromwelliana, a volume [publish]ed some years ago, and consisting of extracts from the Newspapers of the time; it [is] amusing in some parts,—as are likewise the Memoirs of Mrs Colonel Hutchison, a devout lady of the Parliament side, which were printed lately. Oliver Cromwell's life of his great namesake is the stupidest quarto in existence; Thomas Cromwell's I have not seen. On the whole the lady should place her chief dependance on Clarendon; and first read the corresponding part of Hume.8

But I have filled a page with answering this simple question. Ut mos est.9 I must away and leave you—before I begin with any more disquisitions. How do you like Tell and D'Israeli?10 The latter has many more volumes of anecdotes &c which I will send if you like. I have not seen Peveril of the Peak,11 or Moore's loves of the Angels,12 or the second number of the Liberal, with Byron's Heaven and Earth (another “loves of the Angels”) in it. I thought to get the Liberals for you yesterday, but could not. The vice-society is prosecuting for Byron's articles, and men are shy of selling them.13 Mr Bradfute14 I think is the publisher here—you will see them when you come to Town. Now will you write immediately almost? Your letters are among the chief things I delight in at present. Adieu, my own friend! I am always,

Most affectionately your's /

Thomas Carlyle—

My respects to Shandy—and my envy to the pearl necklace. You shall retain both, and do a thousand times better than you wish. For that Dogbolt of a Tale, I pray that I may never see it more. Begin, yourself just now, and you will leave it out of sight. In time I hope to do something worthier of you—if I did not, I should be very wretched. But I will, and that settles it.