The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JAMES CARLYLE, THE ELDER; 2 April 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230402-TC-JCE-01; CL 2:321-323.


3. Moray-street, 2nd April, 1823.

My dear Father,

I was just sitting down to my work this morning, when your letter a few minutes ago was handed in to me. I lay aside my author-craft, and willingly betake me to another sort of writing. The sight of a letter from you is always among the welcomest: it transports me back to friends and home, and scenes of humble peace and freedom—scenes which, tho' chequered with inquietude as all our life is, one still looks towards with a peculiar pleasure.

I feel thankful to learn that you are still in moderate health, having little to complain of except the weariness of increasing years, and being supported under the feeling of this by such comforts as it has been your care in life to lay up. To all men journeying thro' the wilderness of the world,1 religion is an inexhaustible spring of nourishment and consolation; the thorns and flinty places of our path become soft when we view them as leading to an Everlasting City, where sorrow and sin shall be alike excluded. To a religious man and to a mere worldling the frailties of age speak in very different tones: to the last they are the judgement voice that warns him to an awful reckoning, a dark and dreary change; to the first they are as the kind assurances of a father, that a place of rest is made ready, where the weary shall find refreshment after all their toils. Judging from your years and past and present health, I expect that we shall yet be all spared together for a long long season, shall live and see good here below; but it gives me real pleasure to know that you have such approved resources against the worst that can befall. I often think of death, as all reasonable creatures must; but with such prospects there is little in it to be feared. I have many a time felt that without the expectation of it, life would be in its brightest station, a burden too heavy to be borne. But these are topics too serious for this light handling. We are in the hands of an Allmerciful Father: let us live with hope in Him, and try to fill rightly the parts He has assigned us! Here is “an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast”;2 by this let us abide—and vex ourselves with no needless fears.

There is no change whatever in our outward state since Jack and I wrote last time. We are moving about in our several provinces just in the old way. The approach of summer is giving rise to projects for the manner of passing it; but nothing has hitherto been determined for either of us. Jack has frequently been canvassing the various advantages of Edinr and Mainhill as places of residence, and seems to have made up his mind for continuing where he is, that he may have more undisturbed possession of his time and faculties, which he is violently inflamed with the desire of consecrating to study. I have tried occasionally to help him with considerations pro or con; but with little success: he is very touchy in the matter of independence of mind, and too apt to see in my counsels only my willingness or unwillingness to have him what he calls “a burden on me.” The Boy does me wrong in that matter; he should know that I have few things so comfortable to me as the thought that I am able to help him forward into life: but I can well pardon these scruples of his; remembering how I used to be devoured with them myself. On the whole, however, I agree with him that Edinr will have many advantages. It is better for books and study—better for every thing but health and friendly society. Jack shall decide for himself entirely. It is but a short period that he can devote to mental acquirements; and it would be poor thrift to gain a few pounds by cramping the usefulness of a man for life. Jack, poor Jack, I feel convinced is going to make a figure yet: he inherits a good head and an honest heart from his parents; and no bad habit of any kind has perverted these invaluable gifts. His only faults at present are his inexperience, and the very excess of his good qualities. Our only subject of disagreement is the relative importance of worldly comforts and mental wealth. Jack decides as a worthy fellow at twenty will always decide, that mere external rank and conveniences are nothing, the dignity of the mind is all in all: I argue as every reasonable man of t[w]enty-seven, that this is poetry in part—which a few years will mix pretty largely with prose. And there we differ, and chop logic—an art for which Jack has been famous from his very cradle. Sometimes I make free to settle him with your finisher “thou Natural!” But on the whole he is getting more rational, and has picked up a good deal one way and another since he came to Edinr. His jolly presence has been of no small benefit to myself on many sad occasions. I have often absolutely wondered at the patience with which he has borne my black humours when bad health and disturbances vexed me too much. He is certainly a prime honest “Lord Moon”3 with all his faults. I believe the Bullers would give half their kingdom to have such for their son.

Since I began writing, I have got a stupid clout of a letter from Waugh.4 They are going to sell his Books here, and he wishes me to buy some of them up for him. He is absolutely a born Ass. In place of stirring Earth and sea to get some money raised, he has spent the last month in adjusting points of honour with his Bookseller now out of patience with such work, and appears by this present epistle to be at last almost fully convinced that David Brown5 has used him ill! It is certainly a splendid result—but it will not pay the piper, will not save his Library from the talons of the auctioneer! I am really disgusted with such stupidity. I know not well what to do in regard to the books: but one thing I know—I have other things to do with my hard earnings than present them on such occasions to such people as he. If I make any purchases, I shall know well how.— But the time and the sheet are alike exhausted. Give my love to all and sundry at Mainhill; and believe me to be, My dear Father, Your affecte Son,

Th: Carlyle