The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 2 September 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230902-TC-JAC-01; CL 2:422-426.


Kinnaird House, 2nd September 1823—

My dear Jack,

I imagine I cannot better shew my gratitude for the last long, kind and handsome letter you sent me so pointedly, than by writing immediately at equal length in return. So I have shoved Meister aside, snuffed my candles, taken out my best pen, and begun with the greatest alacrity in my very smallest hand. To-morrow is not post-day; but I propose going down to Dunkeld in the afternoon, for the purposes of getting back your watch from the Cleaner, of bespeaking a pair of strong shoes, and, tho' last not least, of persuading the Commercial Banker to give me cash for a draught from Buller of £100, which has lain waiting for a week in my desk. I will take this paper down with me—with all my news.

The first head on which you will require satisfaction will as usual be the state of my thrice despicable health. Happy would it make me and you Jack, could I say that this was as it should be; or even that it was visibly in the road of improvement, compared with the condition you last saw it in. This alas! I can hardly say. I have had various ups and downs since I parted from you; but the day I left Mainhill is still the best in point of bodily vigour that I have since seen. I sleep irregularly here; and feel a little, very little, more than my usual share of torture every day. What the cause is, it would puzzle me to explain, within the limits I could here assign it. I take exercise sufficient daily, I attend with rigorous minuteness to the quality of my food, I take all precautions that I can; yet still the disease abates not. I should be an unreasonable blockhead did I complain of the conduct of Mr or Mrs B. towards me; any arrangement that I could suggest would I have not a doubt be most cheerfully complied with; much trouble they have already had with me: but their good resolutions and enactments required to be executed by a pack of lazy careless and irregular waiting men and women, and often in this wasteful transmission, their good-will comes my length almost void. It is the hundred little petty omissions and commissions of these cannaille, coupled with the small inquietudes and vexations—small but often returning—of my official employments, that chiefly act against me, and render this Kinnaird a worse place for me than Mainhill. Pity that it were so! I might else be very happy. Here am I sitting in this far Highland glen, under a fair autumn night, with my clear fire of oak sticks blazing near me, my books and tackle all around me, and no sound at all, but now and then the faint modest twang of honest James Gow's fiddle, who is solacing his labours by this not usual gratification—partly I suppose because he sees the sky beautiful and mild and kind, and feels in spirits he knows not why. Till eleven o'clock no soul will disturb me, and then only for ten minutes. The boys and old people and all seem to grow in their esteem for me. It is very hard!

But what avails its hardness or softness either? Let us have done with whining on the subject, and consider what steps can be taken to remedy it. Often and long have I meditated that point since I came hither. I have cudgelled my brains till they are sore to seek me deliverance; for like Joseph of Austria,1 par ma tête seule [by my brains alone] must I get help, if I get help at all. This then Jack have I in view at present. The Bullers, I mean the old gentry with Miss Pole,2 are gone to Aberdeen to dance and kick up a racket with some Caledonian Hunt or other, and will not be back for ten days. Against the time of their return, if I am not better than I have been lately, I shall say to them: “My very noble and approved good Masters, allow me to ask what you purpose doing thro' the winter with your boys? If to go to Edinr, can I be any way accommodated there so that I shall have the entire command of my eating and drinking, sleeping waking and general regimen? If so, then I shall be very glad to serve you. To stay here as you once proposed? The plan I doubt not may be attended with a thousand benefits; but for my poor share of it, I have distinctly ascertained that my kerkage cannot stand it without manifest and permanent injury, and therefore with the most profound “dorsoflexions” [bows] I beg leave to wish you all good morning, as soon as may be.”

So here you see the matter rests. I care not the tossing of a half-penny whether I go or stay. If I go I have money enough to keep me for a year or two; I can obtain plenty of literary tasks, and get them done about five times as effectually as now. If I stay, I shall gather a hundred or two additional pounds, and have the privilege of living for the winter in Edinr, where my engagements call me to be at any rate; I shall leave it in Spring with books and pens and fresh undertakings; we shall get some accommodation furbished up at Mainhill (the old peat-house or some hole), where by the aid of Bardolph3 and my faithful Mother I am nearly certain I can quite recover my health; I shall be very busy; and we shall all live together as merry as maltmen. So I cast my cap into the air in defiance of all things yet: for the spirit that is in me is still unbroken, as the spirit of that old lame duck you have at home, who trusts, tho' at present winged and mashed in both her limbs, that she shall yet by the blessing of Providence lay above five shillings' worth of eggs, and be useful in her day and generation.

Meanwhile, my good Jack, you will be happy to know that I am not a moment idle here, that I can help being so. Boyd pressed me to go on with Meister; so I re-commenced it, and have employed in the business every hour that I could spare from teaching and riding. Ten pages a day were my task; but I have never yet any day made it wholly good. Do as I will it is six in the evening before I can get begun. We meet (my boys and I) at half pas[t] eight; I rarely get a ride before this, but in return, we now breakfast with [the] family near ten, and that answers equally well. I then trot about from one till almost three, then dine, then out at half-past five for another walk or ride, then in for tea or porridge (which however they make very ill, and the last two nights for the want of meal, not at all—the tea however I make myself), and then write till I am fairly tired. I start and fidget about the bed some time between half an hour and two hours, and then sleep with several strange and sometimes several nasty things to occupy my fancy, till seven in the morning summons me to new consciousness and new toil.

But is there nothing in me save sheer egotism, everlasting talk about my most pitiful self? I meant to send you some counsels and encouragements and all the rest some memorials of my love. The space is done now; and happily they are not needed. Go on with your materia medica, your German, your general reading; and tell me all all about it next time you write. Study a profession my brave fellow that may set you (and who knows but me too?) above the fear of want; then you can devote your superfluous time to any sort of mental culture, without the demons of poverty and cleanness of teeth eyeing you askance every step you take in any such pursuit. There is stuff in that monstrous jobbernowl [head] of thine, and thou hast a true heart, boy; so Heaven prosper thee, and make thee in time the man thou mayest yet become! I ask nothing more.

Tell our brave Alick that I wait anxiously for his letter—the first very first spare hour or two he has. Let him tell me his jobbings (if any) and all his concerns in his own rugged but strong and graphic way. He is yet to be a man of note in his way I entertain no doubt. My heart's love to all the others from the worthy spinster Mag (and Nancy4 if she is there) down to wee Jenny the seeker of eggs. I have heard no word of Johnston, nor indeed written to him. Irving's Book is come three days ago—Mrs Buller bought it. I have read but one oration—for it is rather dull to my sense. I fear it will hardly do. There is a fierce and very spiteful review of it and him in the last Blackwood; he has also been meanly and badly dealt with by some wretches in the Liberal, the Times &c &c.5 I dread also that he is standing a-tiptoe on the summit of Fortune's wheel; so if it turn, smash he comes with his nose first upon the causeway! Poor Irving! and yet he is a good fellow, a true friend as breathes. What do you think in proof of the latter quality, he had done with that “Life of Schiller” which I should only have exchanged against blackman? Delivered it to Taylor, who is clear for publishing it in the guise of a Book—will give fair terms &c! I have not written to Irving yet; they want me to invite him hither. Basta [Enough]! My dear Jack, I am ever your's

Th: Carlyle.

Forget not my most affectionate and dutiful rememberances to our Father and Mother. Tell the former by way of news that no blade of crop is cut here yet, nor as I think till within a day or two in any part of Perthshire. Tell the latter that I do not take my tea strong, and am ever her grateful son. Letters from both! In the wet days of harvest.

Write instantly—put on the newspaper your alles geht wohl [all goes well], whenever you remember, and can. Respects to the Child of Misfortune;6 send him to Dumfries sine mora [without delay].

4th Septr—Yesterday I did not go; to-day Arthur drives me down in the gigg. I had a sleep of 8½ hours last night, and feel rather in heart to-day. Do not fail to write immediately. Your Paul7 &c is not to be printed till Octr, but n'importe [no matter]!

It is now twelve; Pole and his equally slender Cousin, a Buller and “an Oxford scholar”8 (Heaven bless him!) are sound [asleep] an hour ago. Good night. Delay not! Stint not!