The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 9 May 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230509-TC-JAC-01; CL 2:347-349.


3. Moray-street, 9th May, 1823—

My dear Jack,

I had given up hopes of your letter for Wednesday-night, when the Postman knocked his heavy knock, and sent me the wished for tidings, a little after dusk. I was heartily glad to learn that you had reached home so snugly, and found all our kind friends there in such a case. Long, long may they be so! We poor fellows have much to strive with; but there is always some sweetness mingled in our cup, while we have parents and brethren to befriend us and give us welcome with true right-hands.

In pursuance of your order, as well as to gratify my individual inclinations, I have selected one of those long sheets, and placed myself down at the desk to tell you my news, or rather having so few to tell, to scribble for an hour to you, as if you were still sitting by me at tea in the gloaming, and I only obliged to talk with the pen instead of that more unruly member, which in sulky nights used to utter so many hard sayings. I am better humoured this evening; and besides, Jack, we are sundered now by moors and mountains many a weary league, so that chatting together is a more moving business than it lately was. We shall write very often during summer, and to some purpose I doubt not.

Having found such a reception at home, I have no doubt that you will feel reasonably happy during summer, will make no small progress in various useful studies, and what is still better, completely recover your goodly corporeal fabric, which under the sinister influences of this miserable place had certainly begun to suffer somewhat. The only thing, as you well know, which can make and keep a rational creature happy is abundant employment; and this, I feel certain, your sedulous and rather anxious disposition will not let you want. By the time I reach Mainhill, you will read me a leash [a long discourse] of german, give me your opinion of Buffon,1 talk confidently about Anatomy and chemistry, and know all the doses as well as Lavement2 himself did.

This is what may well be called “reading Gregory's Conspectus”:3 there is, you mind, another branch of study, that of “English Composition”; and for this also I have cared. Listen to me. Boyd and I have talked repeatedly about the French novels Elizabeth4 and Paul et Virginie:5 we have at length come to a bargain. I have engaged that you “the Universal Pan”, shall translate them both in your best style (I overlooking the MS, and correcting the Press), and receive for so doing the sum of £20: the whole to be ready about August next. You will get the French copies and the existing translations, by Farries; and then I read [advise] you, betake yourself to the duty with might and main. I have no doubt you will do it in a sufficient manner. You have only to consult the old copy at any dubious point, and never to be squeamish in imitating it. All that Boyd wants is a reasonable translation, which no one can prosecute him for printing. Those already before the public are very good, I understand, particularly that of Elizabeth by Bowles,6 and I need not advise you to read it over carefully before commencing, and study as much as may be not to fall below it. I was happy in getting this task for you, on various accounts. In the first place, it is a very favourable method of training yourself in the art of composition; secondly, it will serve to put some “money in your purse”;7 and thirdly, it will vastly increase your comfort and respectability at Mainhill during summer. This last is what I chiefly look to: a young man of any spirit is apt to vex himself with many groundless imaginations while in such circumstances as yours, to think he is useless and burdensome and what not; for all which, there is no remedy equal to giving him some work to keep his hand in use, and tie the limbs of Fancy, while those of real industry are kept in motion. In this respect I trust the task will not be without its use to you. For the rest, never trouble your heart about the difficulties of it. I saw by your operations last year on Legendre, and I judge by the improvement you have since made, that you are quite equal to such a thing: and at the very worst, I can brush away all the impurities of your work with my critical besom in less than no time. So be content, My good Jack, with this “day of small things,”8 go thro' it calmly and diligently, looking on it as the earnest of better and more weighty enterprizes that are to follow. I expect th[at you] and I are yet to write mighty tomes in concert!

There never was such a blethering bitch as I. Here is the end of [my] sheet, and not one word said about my news or any thing I meant to write about. Tell my ever-kind and dear Mother, that I am in very truth all but quite healthy. There is next to no disease about me, only vexed nerves, which the multiplied irritations of this city vex still farther. I have not tasted drugs since you left me. With quiet usage in the country for six months, I feel confident, I shoul[d] be completely well. And thither we are going soon! The Buller family set out on Thursday first, and I follow them at my leisure a few days after. Since you went off I have been unusually well. The first day I was rather surly or so; but I took to reading vehemently, and the evil spirit left me. I am now quite contented, as I used to be last year. At any rate I have no time to be otherwise: there is such regulating and arranging as you never knew, I am kept busy from morn to night. Wilhelm Meister I have almost engaged to translate: Schiller also is to go on: what scribblings I shall have! I have grown better ever since we parted—to-day and yesterday I bathed: it was very fine.

But I must close this despicable rag of a letter, and engage to send you another before I leave Town. How I long to see all the world at Mainhill! Give my heartfelt love to every one of them young and old. I expect to hear from Alick by Farries, and constantly throughout the season: his late silence I excuse for the sake of his seed-time labours, and well I may. Tell my Mother she must take tea every night. I do not think I shall want any socks; but she shall hear in time if I do. Tell my Father that it is his time to write, he is in my debt and cannot pay me a minute o'er soon. Remember me kindly to Graham: give my services to the poetess9 and all our beloved sisters and brothers nominatim. Excuse this miserable scrawl: I am hurried to death, but always your's

Th: Carlyle.

Get blacker ink next time, and be a canny bairn. Tell Sandy to write and not to send the pony till he hear.10