April 1849-December 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 24


TC TO AN UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT; 19 June 1849; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18490619-TC-UC-01; CL 24: 74


Chelsea, 19 june, 1849—


You must in no wise dream of quitting your present situation till you have found footing on another. No man, by many interviews, could possibly judge of your fitness for any form of Authorship; and if I or anybody did ever know that you were fit, and could certify the same with never such assurance, it would still be far from surmounting the difficulty,—your distance from actual employment would still be far, very far! In no province of human industry is there hungrier competition, and more dark stolidity awarding the decision, than in that same.

A man prepares himself for Authorship by silently amassing knowledge for a long time, above all by silently amassing wisdom, patience, perseverance and human virtues; he gradually tries (in Periodicals, Newspapers &c) whether he can write with acceptance, taking with loyal patience such answer as he gets;—and after that, looks out for some feasible engagement; very seldom, I believe, finding one that is not unwholesome and wellnigh intolerable to him.

Your inexperience much misleads you, furthermore, as to the kind of associates, and form of companionship you might hope to fall into as Sub-editor or Author in general. Not here, any more than in your present place, will a wise and honourable soul feel himself in the least at home. To such a one the world is not anywhere a “school of virtue”; it is rather, at present especially, as an abominable kennel of mad dogs that a good man will have to view his co-mates in most professions,—with pity, not with rage, in silence generally, yet with a determined resolution to keep apart from their downward course, and (with Heaven's help) by no means to do as they do.— Authorship, I am sorry to say, offers no exception to this sad rule, but is rather one of the more flagrant instances of it.

Among the respectablest and enviablest men I have ever known in this world have been three or four instances of handicraftsmen, mechanical labourers. With courageous patience, thrift, prudence, and piety of heart (very rare virtues at present) I know no situation in life more safe and wholesome. If you have superior gifts and strength, it is natural you should struggle upwards, but I would by no means recommend Authorship or any merely speculative and talking trade, as the course.

Yours in haste,

T. Carlyle