TC TO THOMAS MURRAY; 17 June 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230617-TC-TM-01; CL 2:379-382.
TC TO THOMAS MURRAY
Kinnaird House, 17th June, 1823—
My dear Murray,
In due time I was favoured with your letter,1 the first I had received since my arrival; the first tangible proof, that in removing from the country of all my friends, I had not also removed from their recollections. Finding the commissions you had undertaken all discharged with your accustomed kindness and fidelity, I had nothing farther to do but abandon myself to the cheerful feelings, with which your articles of news and speculation and other curious and pleasant matter naturally enough inspired me. Your letters have a charm to me independently of their intrinsic merit; they are letters of my first and oldest correspondent; they carry back the mind to old days—days in themselves perhaps not greatly better than those now passing over us—but invested by the kind treachery of Imagination with hues which nothing present can equal. If I have any fault to find with you, it is in the very excess of what renders any correspondence agreeable; the excess of your complaisance, the too liberal oblations which you offer at the shrine of other people's vanity.2 I might object to this with more asperity, did I not consider that flattery is in truth the sovereign emollient, the true oil of life, by which the joints of the great social machine, often stiff and rusty enough, are kept from grating and made to play sweetly to and fro; hence that if you pour it on, a thought too lavishly, it is an error on the safe side, an error which proceeds from the native warmness of your heart, and ought not to be quarrelled with too sharply, not at least by one who profits tho' unduly by the commission of it. So I will submit to be treated as a kind of slender genius, since my friend will have it so: our intercourse will fare but little worse on that account. We have now as you say known each other long, and never I trust seen ought to make us feel ashamed of that relation: I calculate that succeeding years will but more firmly establish our connection, strengthening with the force of habit and the memory of new kind offices what has a right to subsist without these aids. Some time hence, when you are seated in your peaceful manse, you at one side of the parlour fire, Mrs M. at the other, and two or three little M's, fine chubby urchins, hopping about the carpet, you will suddenly observe the door fly open, and a tall meagre care-worn figure stalk forward, his grim countenance lightened by unusual smiles, in the certainty of meeting with a cordial welcome. This knight of the rueful visage will in fact mingle with the group for a season; and be merry as the merriest, tho' his looks are sinister. I warn you to make provision for such emergencies. In process of time, I too must have my own peculiar hearth; wayward as my destiny has hitherto been, perplexed and solitary as my path of life still is, I never cease to reckon on yet paying scot and lot on my own footing. Like the men of Glasgow I shall have “a house within myself”3 (what tremendous abdomina we householders have!) with every suitable appurtenance, before all is done; and when friends are met, there is little chance that Murray will be forgotten. We shall talk over old times, compare old hopes with new fortune; and secure comfort by Sir John Sinclair's4 celebrated recipe, by being comfortable. These are certainly brave times: would they could only be persuaded to come on a little faster!
But I must quit empty imagining, and set before you some specific “facts.” You want to be informed how I spend my time here, and what novelties I have discovered in the country of the Celts. As to my time, it passes in the most jocund and unprofitable manner you can figure. I have no professional labour to encounter that deserves being named; I am excellently lodged, and experience nothing but suitable treatment in all points. There are plenty of books too, and paper and geese; there are mountains of mica-slate, and woods and green pastures and clear waters and azure skies to look at: I read, or write and burn, at rare intervals; I go scampering about on horseback; or lie down by the grassy slopes of the Tay, and look at Schiehallion and Bengloe5 with their caps of snow, and all the ragged monsters that keep watch around them, since the creation never stirring from their post; I dream all kinds of empyrean dreams, and live as idly as if I were a considerable proprietor of land. Such work of course will never do, at the long run; and pity that it will not, for it passes very smoothly: but I strive to still my conscience when it murmurs, by persuading it that “the poor man is getting back his health.” An arrant lie! for I am not getting back my health, I do not think I shall ever more be healthy: nor does it matter greatly. By and by I shall have learned to go on very quietly without that convenience. I am fast training to it; already I can for hours abst[ract] myself from all remembrance of the beastly process of digestion, and work [as] if nothing ailed me. In consequence of this invaluable art I am getting recon[ciled] to this thrice cursed stomach; as a man gets accustomed to a scolding wife with whom, tho he hates her with all his soul, he must contrive as best he can to jog on in company till they reach their journey's end. I design accordingly to keep this miserable organ in me (not to tear it out and scatter it to the winds, as I once purposed) all the days of my appointed time: when I have done with it, I should strongly recommend that it be given as a rich legacy to the Devil with injunctions to employ it constantly, an arrangement that could not fail very greatly to heighten the charms of that ancient gentleman's manière d'etre. This is ungrateful, and impious were it seriously meant. I am in fact much healthier than I was, and gathering strength, tho' slowly and with frequent relapses. One of these I am at present labouring under; and that makes me talk so wildly.
You must come and see this Country the first month, you have at your own disposal. Dunkeld is about the prettiest village I ever beheld. I shall not soon forget the bright sunset, when skirting the base of “Birnam-wood”6 (there is no wood now) and asking for “Dunsinane's high hill,”7 which lies far to the eastward, and thinking of the immortal link-boy who has consecrated these two spots which he never saw with a glory that is bright peculiar and forever,—I first came in sight of the ancient capital of Caledonia, standing in the lap of the mountains, with its quick broad river rushing by, its old grey cathedral, and its peak-roofed white houses peering thro' massy groves and stately trees all gilded from the glowing west—the whole so clear and pure and gorgeous as if it had been a city of fairy-land, not a vulgar clachan where men sell stots, and women buy eggs by the dozen. I wandered round and round it, till late, the evening I left you. You must come and see this spot, if you should go no farther.
My paper is done, or I was going to have told you multitudes of things besides. I beg you will write me soon, some leisure hour, and let me have another chance at talking. I have still some hopes of seeing you in Edinr, before you leave it—perhaps before the end of July. Mean time I long for news, of you and it and every thing. Nothing but dumb silence here, and the chicking is heard no more. What are you doing or about to do? What writing, or what studying? How is it with the Earl of Stair,8 and with the world in general? Except for a Dumfries Courier and a daily Times, I might as well be living in the fifth Belt of Jupiter. Adieu!— Truly your's