The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JAMES JOHNSTON; 21 September 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230921-TC-JJ-01; CL 2:435-438.


Kinnaird House, 21st September 1823.

My dear Johnston,

I have already been guilty of a sin of omission in neglecting so long to send you a letter; I fear I shall now only change it into one of commission by writing to you in the dullest style that ever man used to man. The weather is as delightfully dripping to-day as it has been constantly for the last ten weeks; I am solitary, idle or disgusted with my work; and cheerful, warm and inspiriting as the Greenland Moon. Nevertheless being very anxious to learn how it fares with you, and finding that you will not write till I set you the example, I attack you in spite of all disadvantages.

How has that Cupar concern1 been finally decided—for decided it must needs be ere now? Are you to go thither, or to Dundee, or Annandale or whither? Is your health good? Your spirits? How is the world wagging2 with you in all its various departments? Such are the questions which I wish to be resolved about, with all the speed imaginable. I beg you will tell me; it will do us both good. It is a mournful thing to sit solitary even in joys: how much more when our lot is deeply tinged with woes and difficulties and distresses which often render life a very sorry piece of business. Be assured, my old friend, this case can never be yours while I live, and retain my right judgement about me. Few scenes of my life are more innocently pleasing than those I have passed with you; and the world abounds not so plentifully with deserving people, that I should forget the earliest, almost the only early friend I have. Oh! Why cannot I cut out eight years from the past and return to A.D. 1815! We were so cheery then, so busy, so strong of heart and full of hope!— You observe I am verging to the Lake School in sentiment? I will leave it then.

My journey to Annandale, and stay there, offered nothing in the least surprising. It rained every day while I was at home; so I could stir nowhither from Mainhill. My only excursions were two to Annan, in the last of which I returned by Ruthwell.3 The fashion of this world passeth away! All seemed changed at Ruthwell; Mitchell4 was not there; Mrs D. was absent; his reverence and myself were the the only interlocutors; and before we got over the threshold of our conversation, it was time for me to rise and ride. I was twice at Bogside,5 and had many kind inquiries to answer about you, there as well as elsewhere. They wanted to know if you were coming; if you were going; if &c &c[.] Did you get the letter left for you at the post-office of Dunkeld? I forgot to leave it at Perth. You should write to them without loss of time.

On returning hither I brought out an elegant grey pony with me, intending to drive indigestion out of me by dint of riding on it. While at home, I recovered very fast. On the road I was annoyed to the verge of death, by blackguards and whiteguards, noises, slutteries and all kinds of devilry. Here I am not improving, let me ride as I will. If Sathan would be kind enough to carry all the billusness of this planet down with him to Tophet, and keep it there for the use of his boarders, it would be a great improvement in this best of all possible worlds. Patience! Patience! that is the eternal song. I wish only that Disease were a living thing, with a tangible carcass, tho' hideous as the Hyrcanian tiger,6 that I might grapple with it face to face, and trample it and tread it into atoms, and cast it on the waters and make all the people drink of them!!!

In the meantime I am busily engaged every night in translating Goethe's Wilhelm Meister; a task which I have undertaken formally and must proceed with, tho' it suits me little. There is poetry in the book, and prose, prose forever. When I read of players and libidinous actresses and their sorry pasteboard apparatus for beautifying and enlivening the “moral world,” I render it into grammatical English— with a feeling mild and charitable as that of a starving hyaena. The Book is to be printed in winter or spring. No mortal will ever buy a copy of it. N'importe [No matter]! I have engaged with it to keep the fiend from preying on my v[itals,] and [with th]at sole view I go along with it. Goethe is the gre[atest ge]niu[s that has] lived for a century, and the greatest ass that [has l]ived for th[ree. I] could sometimes fall down and worship him; at other times I could kick him out of the room.

If you have heard no news lately from the south, it will be fresh intelligence for you that Lawson7 had a call to Selkirk, which as I learn from this day's newspaper (after his opinion faintly declared to the contrary) the Synod compelled him to decline. Do you ever hear a word of Smeal?8 If you see him give him my best wishes—

The people talk of staying here all winter; an arrangement which I by no means like: it is solitary and very dull. They then wish me to go with them to Cornwall9 in the month of May. If they were not civil nay kind to me beyond measure, I should have left them ere now. As it is, I am in doubts what should be done— The Post is here! Adieu my dear friend! Write me instantly and tell me every thing—every thing!

Write instanter!

I am always / Your true and old friend /

Th: Carlyle—