1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 13 January 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240113-TC-AC-01; CL 3:11-15.


Kinnaird House, 13th Jany, 1824—

My dear Alick,

I meant to have written sooner, but put it off till I should have more leisure, or something more interesting to communicate; and, as often happens in such cases, I am at last obliged to write when more hurried than ever, and considerably duller than I have been for a week. My silence I hope has given you no uneasiness; it ought not, if you kept in mind the maxim which I gave you some time ago, always to believe me well unless you heard the contrary. In fact there is or has been very little change in my health; I am better and worse just about as I used to be. I cannot say that I relish their mercury; and for the tobacco, which I have not touched for six weeks, there seems to be no great benefit attending this sort of abstinence.1 On the whole, however, one way or another I think I have slept somewhat better and been less wretched for the last month than formerly. Here it is quite impossible that I should ever recover; but with better arrangements, I still have hopes.

“Time and hours wear out the roughest day”;2 this dreary period of pain and idleness and depression and discomfort is now near a close. The old people go down to Edinr this day week, and we younger ones follow, in about ten days. I am not to revisit Kinnaird. The printing of Meister commences immediately on my arrival, and is to be concluded in about two months. About three fourths of it are yet to translate; for the writing of this weary Schiller has occupied me to the exclusion of every thing beside. Nor is it finished yet! The third and last Part is not above half done, tho' it will be wanted in a few days. Till within the last week, I could not for my heart begin it handsomely and honestly. The mercury had made me weak as any sparrow; and besides I was very idly-inclined. So I am now obliged to write like a Turk, and vex myself day and night that the thing is not done faster and better. It certainly satisfies me very little.

Yet the writing of it has done me good. It has yielded myself along with all the trouble considerable pleasure: it is also an improving task, and brings in money. The amount of the whole will be about sixty guineas. Oh! if I were well, I could soon make [myself] rich and bid defiance to fortune. The publication of this very mean performance has further raised me considerably in the estimation of these worthy people. About ten days ago the Introduction to Part II. which you have never seen, appeared quoted in the Times newspaper;3 an honour, very slender in itself, but sufficient to astonish the natives in this Gothic district. They begin to look upon me as a youth of parts superior to what they had suspected. The glory of being approved by “Bloody old Walter”4 as Cobbett calls the Editor of the Times is no doubt very very small: yet his approval was, so far as I can recollect, almost the first testimony to merit on my part which could not be warped by partiality, my very name and existence being totally unknown to “Bloody Old.” Therefore I read it with pleasure: it made me happy for ten minutes; cheerful for a whole afternoon: even yet I sometimes think of it. If I told all this to any other, I might justly be accused of weak and immeasurable vanity: but to you, I know it will give pleasure, as every pleasant thing that happens to me does. Jack and you are the only two to whom I should think of mentioning it. Let us not despise the day of small things!5 Better times are coming.

Have they sent you Irving Orations?6 And how are they relished at Mainhill? I still think it was a very considerable pity that he had published them. It is not with books as with other things: quantity is nothing, quality is all in all. There is stuff in that book of Irvings to have made a first-rate work of the kind out of. But it is not dressed, it is not polished. We have not the bottle of heart-piercing “Mountain-dew,” but the tub of uncleanly mash, or at best of ill-fermented ale, yeasty, muddy, full of hops and sediment, so that no man can drink of it with comfort. There is a sturdy lashing of it in the last Quarterly Review (which makes me notice it), apparently by the pen of Southey.7 It will be well for Irving to attend to these advices of Southey's; for tho' excessively severe they are all to a certain extent grounded upon truth. Tell me about these “Arguments,” and Cobbett &c &c, when you next write.

As to this project of the farm, which we were speaking of, I of course cannot more than you say any thing definite. I do not think my proper place is in the country but in London or amid some great collection of men. Did my state of health permit I think I should go Southward without delay. But unfortunately that in the present state of matters cannot once be thought of; and a year's residence in the country would if convenient be by far the most profitable speculation I could think of. Nor, for your part of it, am I surprised that you are wearied of Mainhill: it is a place of horrid drudgery and must always be so. Surely our father and you by laying heads together might manage to find out a better. And as to the want of money, I do not think it should be made an obstacle. I have at this time between 3 and 4 hundred pounds, for which I have not the smallest use; and certainly independently of all regard to you I should like better to see the whole or any part of that sum invested in a good farm under your superintendance than lying dormant in the bank. Of this I positively assure you. Except for the education of Jack this money is of no avail to me: to see it serving any Brother that I have is by far the most profitable use I can put it to. I would therefore wish that you would still keep this scheme in your eye; and be ready to give me some more precise account of it against my home-coming. The Bullers are to stay about three weeks in Edinr after which I partly purpose to come down to Mainhill, and print the Book in Edinr—correcting the press by aid of the post. If not comfortably lodged in Edinr, I surely shall. I wish I were there even now, riding upon the outside of Dolph, getting back my health and fearing nothing! I am glad to hear that the poor beast is getting up its heart again. Take it forth sometimes and give it a sharp race, observing to keep it at the “high trot.” I learned the use of this pace while here: it trains the horse to lift up its feet freely and avoid stumbling. You should also make him carry my mother down to sermon on the sabbath-days. If postage were free I would surely answer at very great length the estimable epistles that accompanied your last. Tell my Father that when I get to Edinr I will shew him that I have “read” his letter.8 As for my Mother, she must write more frequently: there is nothing to hinder her from writing a sheet full whenever she pleases. No piece of penmanship that I have seen for many a day touched me as hers did: I will write to her next time, that is whenever I get to Edinr—about a fortnight hence or rather more. Do you mind to write within that period; my answer will not be long in following. Commend me to the love of all my loved kinsmen and kinswomen—I think of them all, but have not room for names. Adieu my dear boy!

I am ever—Your affectionate Brother—

T. Carlyle

The Newspaper came for the last two times; but not else since I saw you. I fear the covers sometimes break off, and so it has to lie. You should seal it not upon but between the plies of the cover—as you see this letter sealed.— Is there any news of that gallows-bird Basil. I perceive they are raising bodies in the south of England too.9 What a foolish thing S[upple]-Bank Irving has made of that Poyais business!10 I see it tried in London, and both him and Gregor treated as cheats—damages 1 shilling!—

Now you must not be long in writing— Within the fortnight at any rate! Tell me all that you and the rest are doing. Was there ever such a winter seen for weather? The Celts are all ploughing here as busily as possible.