The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 17 September 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230917-TC-JAC-01; CL 2:428-431.


Kinnaird House, 17th September, 1823—

My dear Jack,

I got your letter last Friday, on returning from a roe-hunt, which we had all been assisting at in the wood of the hill beside us. A sorrier piece of entertainment, I may observe, is not to be met with in this kingdom. They went hallooing and beating the bushes and talking gaelic; the gun-men standing at certain determined points with their pieces ready; and I driving on Mrs B. and a wretched old clout of a white pony she was riding on, or doing my best to keep her in talk while we sat for hours in open places among the health. In the course of the day they got two fawns, about as large as your longeared Warlock;1 in value somewhere about sixpence a-piece; and thought it royal sport. Reginald de la Pole shot them both, and never was victor at the olympic games more charmed with his laurels: Richard Buller2 the other “Oxford Scholar” declared on the first occasion he would have given “a sovereign for that shot”; after the second, he became chop-fallen and spoke little more for four and twenty hours. Sic itur ad astra [Thus one rises to the stars].3

I came away in the middle of it, and found your kind and honest letter waiting on my table. I know not what I should do if I had not Mainhill, and some one to talk with there. It absolutely consoles me very greatly to get a letter from home, or to send one. I have only to request that you will persevere as diligently as you have begun; letting no ten-days escape without some such present. Write about any thing or every thing, no matter what.

I might have been in better trim for answering you; but if I delay any longer you may become anxious about me. So you shall have your epistle, before going to the sermon—if you like to call for it—as you had last time. I am sorry that I have not better news to send you: there has still been no very marked improvement in my state of health; and I find the Bullers are determined to stay here with us all winter. If I had any quiet place to retire to, I believe I should be tempted to throw up my commission to-morrow, and set forth to try the voyage on another tack as I must ere long do at any rate. But there is none! Mainhill must be full of bustle and confusion and disquietude at this time—unfit for the purposes of literary labour, and so incapable of yielding me any permanent solace, or advantage even in the matter of health. Of Edinr, of living in lodgings there with Manties4 and stenches and horrors more than tongue can tell to drive me to despair, I cannot think without a cold shudder, which scarcely the prospect of the gallows could bring over me. Many a man I am sure has been tried by fifteen5 of his peers and fairly doomed and hanged and quartered by the doctors, with less torment than I have suffered in that fatal city, for no cause at all. Thither therefore I will not go, on such terms—unless I absolutely cannot help it. What then shall I do? In days when wrecked with want of sleep and all its infernal etcetera's I am sometimes within an inch of writing to Buller to signify my resolution of departing—I know not how or whither. But their kindness to me, and the reflection of my inability to mend the matter certainly, and the risk I run of making it considerably worse, always shuts my mouth. Next day perhaps I shall sleep better, and become as lively as a hawk, and think I might exist here long enough very comfortably. Thus I vary and vacillate; most probably it will long be so. It seems likely that I shall just thring [press] on here till I get very desperate some day, and cut and run.

Meanwhile I make a point of going on with Goethe. Ten pages I find more than I can almost ever execute; for it is very hard; and I scarcely ever get fairly into the spirit of it till I must leave it off. If I take tea at night I am lively for three or four hours; but I sleep none, and next day I could eat the wind. If I take porridge which I almost always do, the chances are that I shall succeed in sleeping, “to a certain extent”; but it gives me headache, and makes [me] stupid as a fatted pig. Besides it is six o'clock at night before ever I get begun. So that I seldom exceed seven or eight pages. One day, when left altogether to myself, I scarcely exceeded eighteen. Nevertheless I gar mysel [make myself: underscored twice] (as our Father would do) go on with this thing: and accordingly my keep-lesson is travelling slowly but surely thro' poetry and prose to the end of the volume. I am now more than half thro' the first: it will all be ready long ere spring. You and I could do it in four weeks, if we had quiet quarters, and the fiend would give me any respite. I am sometimes tempted to sally off and get it done so, then have it printed in winter, then take to something different and better—down to Mainhill—to work and toil, and work and toil as if I were a brownie not a man, till I have conquered all these mean impediments that hem in the free-bond heaventending soul. I say Jack thou and I must never faulter. Work, my Boy, work unweariedly: for I swear that all the thousand miseries of this hard fight, and ill-health the most terrific of them all shall never chain us down. By the River Styx it shall not! Two fellows from a nameless spot in Annandale shall yet shew to the world the pluck that is in Carlyles. Fear not! Tire not! In due time we shall reap if we faint not.

I am writing in an awful hurry; for my time is almost expired, and this is post-day. When you write again (let it be instanter!), I will answer you more at large. Push on with your studies; and get us a piece of bread that our souls may live. Are you going on with German? Are you in the Materia medica? Have you done with Buffon? Tell me all and sundry that you are doing and intending. Also take abundant bodily exercise. Do not—do not (for the love of God!) get this baleful distemper fixed upon you: it hangs like a mill-stone round the neck; all but the strongest swimmer it will sink to the bottom, and bury in fathoms five of oozy mud. Festina lente [Make haste slowly]! Be a prudent as well as ardent Doil, and all will turn out rightly. Your Books6 are not to be printed till winter; and Boyd will not offer payment till then. Never mind; take what you need from Alick or write to me and you shall have a draught for plenty— which latter plan I think will be the better; for I want Alick to carry on his traffic, and I long to hear the details (tell him) of what he has already done in that way.

Bardolph7 is doing very well: I have been upon his back every day (except just two) since he came hither; yet I do not get him ridden sufficiently—for my own benefit whatever I may do for his. The roads are such that I never venture on them without longing to have all the celtic road-makers (road-marrers rather) bound up in one large halter that I might hang them all at a swing. Broken bottles would be soft and smo[o]th compared with many pieces of this turnpike.

Your harvest must look very ill at present. It began raining on Saturday night, and rained in floods till yesterday. The mercury is up now, and we again anticipate good weather. Nothing here is cut worth speaking of; much still is green. Tell our father and above all our Mother not to drudge and hurt themselves in this untoward season. Crops and the value of crops may be valued in money, and replaced by it; but health never, never.— But I must now be going: they have saddled my pony; and I must out to ride. The post will be here in a few minutes. I shall look for a letter immediately. Remember me in unalterable affection to one who never forgets me, my good true-hearted Mother. May God b[l]ess her and all of you! Tell Alick that I long to hear from him about all his merchandize. My Father I meant to write to ere this: but it little matters who gets my letters, for they are a common good—or common evil unless they mend in the news they bring. My heart's love to all our brothers and sisters—all. I am ever your's

Th: Carlyle

Write directly and very much at large. The post comes on Thursdays and Fridays—for the rest of the week only on alternate days. The Courier is done? Could we not get another? If you like.