The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 2 November 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18231102-TC-AC-01; CL 2:462-465.


Kinnaird House, 2d November 1823.

My dear Alick—Having an hour and a half at my disposal to-day, and an opportunity of conveyance, I hesitate not, though rather stupid, to sit down and send you some inkling of my news. This is the more necessary, as it seems possible enough that ere long some change may take place in my situation; of which I would not have you altogether unapprised.

Your little fragment of a letter was gratifying by the news it brought me that you are busy in your speculations, lucky hitherto, and bent on persevering. I cannot but commend your purpose. There is not on the earth so horrible a malady as idleness, voluntary or constrained. Well said Byron: “Quiet to quick bosoms is a hell.”1 So long as you are conscious of adding to your stock of knowledge or other useful qualities, and feel that your faculties are fitly occupied, the mind is active and contented. As to the issue of these traffickings, I pray you, my good boy, not at all to mind it. Care not one rush about that silly cash, which to me has no value whatever, except for its use to you.2 Pride may say several things to you; but do you tell her she has nothing to meddle or make in the case: I am as proud in my own way as you; but what any brethren of our Father's house [may possess] I look on as a common stock, mine as much as theirs, from which all are entitled to draw, whenever their convenience requires it. Feelings far nobler than pride are my guides in such matters. Are we not all friends by habit and by nature? If it were not for Mainhill, I should still find myself in some degree alone in this weary world.

Jack's German “all goes well” appeared on the newspaper last but one: I have vainly sought for it on the last. I suppose he is gone to Edinburgh, or just going; and I hope ere long to have that solacing announcement repeated more in detail. I understand the crop is now in the yard; I trust that it bids fair to produce as it ought; that you have now got in the potatoes also, and made your arrangements for passing the winter as snugly as honest hearts and active hands may enable you. Above all, I trust that our dear Mother and the rest are enjoying that first of blessings, bodily health, without which spiritual contentment is a thing not once to be dreamed of. As for us of Kinnaird, we are plodding forward in the old inconstant and not too comfortable style. The winter is setting in upon us; these old black ragged ridges to the west have put on their frozen caps, and the sharp breezes that come sweeping across them are loaded with cold. I cannot say that I delight in this. My “Bower” is the most polite of bowers, refusing admittance to no wind that blows from any quarter of the ship-man's card. It is scarcely larger than your room at Mainhill, yet has three windows and of course a door; all shrunk and crazy: the walls too are pierced with many crevices; for the mansion has been built by Highland masons, apparently in a remote century. Nevertheless I put on my gray duffle sitting jupe; I bullyrag the sluttish harlots of the place, and cause them make fires that would melt a stithy. Against this evil, therefore, I contrive to make a formidable front. …

I believe I mentioned to Jack that they had printed a pitiful performance of mine, Schiller's “Life,” Part I., in the London Magazine; and sent very pressingly for the continuation of it. In consequence, I threw by my translation, and betook me to preparing this notable piece of Biography. But such a humor as I write it in! … What my next movements may be, I am unable to say positively. I must have my Book (the translation) printed in Edinburgh, but first it must be ready. It is not impossible that I may come down to Mainhill for a couple of months till I finish it. Perhaps after all I may give up my resolution and continue where I am, though on the most solemn deliberation, I do not think such a determination can come to good. Next time I write you will hear more. Anyway you are likely to see me ere long: I must be in Edinburgh shortly, to arrange with Brewster and others. Whether I leave this place finally or not, I have settled that poor Bardolph must winter at Mainhill. A better pony never munched oats than that stubborn Galloway. But they are hungering him here; he gets no meat but musty hay and a mere memorial of corn every day; so he is very faint and chastened in spirit compared with what he was. Out upon it! the spendthrift is better than the miser; anything is better. …

This blessed stomach I have lost all patience with. The want of health threatens to be the downdraught of all my lofty schemes. My heart is burnt with fury and indignation when I think of being cramped and shackled and tormented as never man till me was. ‘There is too much fire in my belly,’ as Ram Dass3 said, to permit dwindling into a paltry valetudinarian. I must and will be free of these despicable fetters, whatever may betide. … I could almost set my house in order, and go and hang myself like Judas. If I take any of their swine-meat porridge, I sleep; but a double portion of stupidity overwhelms me, and I awake very early in the morning with the sweet consciousness that another day of my precious, precious time is gone irrevocably, that I have been very miserable yesterday, and shall be very miserable to-day. It is clear to me that I can never recover or retain my health under the economy of Mrs. Buller. Nothing, therefore, remains for me but to leave it. This kind of life is next to absolute starvation, only slower in its agony. And if I had my health even moderately restored, I could earn as much by my own exertions.

I meant to write to my Father; but this stomach has prevented me. Give my kindest love to him and our good Mother, and all the souls about home. Tell my Mother to take no anxiety on herself about me, lest anything serious happen to me: at present, two weeks of Annandale air would make me as well as she has seen me for many years. Good-night, my dear Alick! My candle is lit, yet I have not dined, the copper captain being out riding. Write to me the first moment you have, and advise Jack to do it if with you still.—I am, always your faithful Brother,

T. Carlyle.