The Collected Letters, Volume 27


TC TO WILLIAM EMPSON ; 30 January 1852; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18520130-TC-WE-01; CL 27: 21-23


Chelsea, 30 jany, 1852—

Dear Empson,

Let me write to you about a small matter of what is called business, or what may become such,—a very small one.

Scarce two years ago or more, I met, one morning at breakfast, in Dublin, a certain Dr Murray, a big rawboned substantial man (bodily and spiritually), “Catholic Professor of Divinity at Maynooth”;1 with whom, as with a rational methodic articulate-speaking creature is possible, I had some pleasant enough tho' unimportant conversation about matters in his sphere of things in those parts. Since that, the Dr has published successively a couple of Volumes called Irish Annual or some such name;2 concerning which I have seen laudatory notices, with excerpts to vouch, in the Irish Newspapers. The excerpts were forcibly and smoothly written,—in a much mitigated John-of Tuam style,3—or rather they seemed struggling to become a kind of friendly middle-term, or halfway-house of peaceable refection, between John-of-Tuam and (shall I say?) Samuel-of-Oxford or even Connop-of-St. David's!4 In short, the man, as I said, has substantial faculties of mind, under that Maynooth vesture: a pair of wild hard Irish eyes in his head; a strong deliberate voice, accustomed to grammatical and other measure in its utterance; considerable secret wrath against England, but well veiled almost to invisibility:—a huge lump of an “educated Ulster Papist”; very coarse and plebeian, but also perfectly well washed, and aware of the rules valid around him. Probably forty years of age;—and certainly a yard across the shoulders, and six feet in his stockings.

This Dr Murray, who seems to have become a man of some mark in his own circle, appears now to be contemplating conquests in a wider sphere; and has come up on me, for the second time, in a kind of reflex manner if not in a direct. Yesterday, thro' a common Irish acquaintance,5 I was informed that the Dr aimed so high as writing an Article, “on some neutral subject,” for the Edinburgh Review; and I was earnestly requested to introduce him to the Editor, tho' only to this limited extent, “That his (the Dr's) Contribution should not be at once hurled into the Waste Basket, but should be deliberately examined, and rejected not before but at worst after that process.” Upon this request it is that I am now addressing you.

Of Dr Murray himself I know nothing beyond what is stated above, nor can I be considered to have any personal care for him, except the interest one human being owes another in these circumstances: but of course I at once had to decide on giving him what help was really mine to give,—reverencing withal what help was not mine but my neighbour's. What the man means to write about I cannot in the least guess, “some neutral subject” on which he imagines he can do his best:—on any subject I could honestly certify you that what he had deliberately written for the Review would in all probability be worth reading by the Editor; and in this way I at first designed to proceed with his affair, undertaking merely to introduce him on that footing after his article was written.

On second thots however I find it will be fairer, and probably briefer, if I on the threshold tell you faithfully all I know about him; and give you leave altogether to decline such an acquaintance (even to the length of reading his Article), if, as is possible, you judge that the more promising method. I have already described the man as accurately as I can: his writing I called forcible, which it was (plenty of logic and plausibility, on “Godless Colleges” &c, as addressed to the Irish Public),—forcible and smooth; but I ought to say that the smoothness seemed to be in part produced by the use of water; that there were some symptoms of diffuseness, tho' none of verbosity; in short that the man's force was by no means that of Thor's thunderbolt, sheering direct into the heart of the matter and scattering into space the superfluous circumambiencies, but was simply a good Irish Blacksmith's forge-hammer, sturdily thumping and forging such metal or dross as chanced to be on the stithy for him. This is the real God's truth about the man, so far as this deponent knoweth;—and so I leave his case with you, dear Empson; and he shall remain in suspense till you write to me. In the name of the Prophet, Figs!6

I send many kind regards to Mrs Empson,—many touching remembrances, now grown very sad as well as very beautiful, of Auld Langsyne, ah me!—and will allude to nothing else at present, in this hot haste of mine; but remain as of old Yours always T. Carlyle