The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 8 March 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230308-TC-AC-01; CL 2:301-303.


3. Moray-street, 8th March, 1823.

My dear Alick,

I have just perused your most welcome letter; and having, by what is rather a rare chance with me, a moderate quantity of leisure at command, I am going to give you all my news in detail. They will amuse you some evening when you come in wearied from ploughing and sowing.

Jack's account of my health, I assure you, was rather over than undercharged; he gave you the whole truth, and that in a somewhat darker colouring than I should have given it. Certainly I was driven aslant a little from my customary path, and felt uncomfortably at times; but I had the best excuse for doing so, and you will rejoice to learn that with the cause the effect also has ceased. There never was such weather in my time as these six weeks about newyeardsay [sic]; you could not go out of doors without getting your fingers frostbitten and your face cracked by the pinching blast; your feet too were kept in continual dampness by the snow, and you momently ran the risk of rushing down to the level of the pavement, and so breaking your bones or at least sustaining the laughter of all the by-standers. It was quite dispiriting to feel all this; and to look about you and see all the Earth as it were wrapt up in its winding-sheet and dead and gone did not mend the matter. Besides I scarcely got a night's good sleep in the week, often instead of rest my bed afforded the most copious supply of pitiful and tormenting disquietudes. If I had possessed unlimited power I would have brought on the spring two months sooner, and perhaps strung all the milliners1 of the Universe upon a spit and hung them up like as many herrings to dry in the chimney corner; but no such faculties were given me, and it was better not. If one had nothing to suffer and to vanquish, where would be the merit of existence? “Time and hours wear out the roughest day.”2 I struggled thro' as I best could, and here I sit delivered from all these tortures. The atmosphere has cleared up, I see the bright Fife hills out of the window, and feel the kindly breath of the west, whenever I sally forth; the needlewomen (whom the old one is sure to get yet for the plagues they cost me) the small needlewomen are also gone to rest—I have not heard their footsteps for a fortnight. Under all these advantages, how can I help recovering? I am better than I have been for many years: I get off daily with a certain constant portion of sufferable pain, and keep up my heart with diligent exertions and the hope of being quite delivered in due season. I have even almost given up the use of drugs entirely: I trust the ensuing summer will recover me quite, and then this bitterest season of my earthly pilgrimage will make me satisfied with any appointment which it may please Providence to unite with health of body and assign me. There is no fear whatever. You know how much of the Cat I have in me; how much I resemble that noble animal in quickness of movement and fierceness of temper: it ought to strike you likewise that we cats have all nine lives: I have eight of mine beforehand yet, and so I fear nothing.

You are very nobly employed, my dear Alick, in studying to improve your character and store your mind with knowledge an[d] every useful accomplishment. It will be [a] pity if your faculties have not fair play: there is in you a sharpness of judgement a hard sarcastic sagacity, a general clearness of view, united with tastes for what is pure and worthy of a man, that I expect no little of. Do not regret too much that you want time for improving yourself by Books. Wisdom is not gathered by reading alone, but infinitely more by reflection. Study to investigate every problem of life and manners that comes within your reach, to gather knowledge from books and observation & every other source, and to apply it all to the practical business of life. You will yet be an honourable, well-informed, thoroughgoing, upright, clever, independent fellow, I have no grain of doubt; and on Earth there is nothing so desirable for a son of Adam, nothing that deserves to be named along with it. I often think of our hard and laborious but hearty upbringing under our parental roof, and I feel a pride in reflecting how mind can conquer matter, how the true spirit of virtue and manly worth can illuminate the humblest destiny, and bring forth from the smoky walls of a cottage men that are void of fear and of reproach, men that are more to be prized in the eye of reason than most that stand on the high places of the Earth. Often when I see the Bullers straining in strenuous idleness3 to compass their tinselly enjoyments, conversant alone with the most shallow feelings, aiming at little higher than dining or being dined,—when I see their sons bred up in ignorance of all that is truly majestic in human nature, envying those that are richer, paying tribute to those that are more powerful, looking forward only to balls and fêtes and outward shews, the mere chaff of existence, which tho' served up in gilded covers is chaff not the less,—I often think of my brother in his coarse substantial apparel, grasping the hilts of his plough with sinewy arms upon the hill side—going forth upon a real object, beneath the clear canopy of Heaven, with a true man's-heart in his bosom, alive to all the genuine feelings of nature, discharging his part with calm fidelity, hurting or hating no man, and never dreaming that he should blanch or truckle before any creature that treads upon God's Earth! I think of this, and I am proud of it: I feel that independently of all natural considerations, we should rejoice that we are our Father's sons, not those of some squirelet or Lording, that might have given us money, but could not give us that which money will not buy. I beg of you to be contented, my brave boy; for things will all turn out as we would have them yet. For your earthly fortunes take not too much thought, we shall in time be able to help one another at a pinch, and shame befall the head of us that hesitates to do it! I had much, much more to say, but it must not be just now. Write to me largely. I am ever Your's

Th: Carlyle—