1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 24 June 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240624-TC-JAC-01; CL 3:88-92.


Kew-Green, 24th June, 1824—

My dear Jack,

It is long since I had a right trustful confabulation with thee in the way of letter; yet I need scarcely say how much of late I have hungered and thirsted after it. I wrote a hurried letter to our Father the day before yesterday, meaning that it should be franked: but Charlie Buller is a man whose purposes are as air; he disappointed me, and again disappointed me; still seeing no end to it, I scribbled three or four unintelligible words to the end of the letter in extreme haste, the Postman waiting all the while, and sent it off, imagining at least that it would save you from anxieties about my health and general welfare, tho' vague in itself, and intended originally to accompany another more special narrative. To-night I have got an hour of leisure to collect my scattered and dissipated thoughts: Buller is over at his Uncle's,1 and I write to you undisturbed. He is to procure me a frank: if not, we can do without it.

From my Father's letter you would gather that Mrs Buller's settlement of our affairs was not by any means entirely according to my heart. In fact this wandering wayfaring mode of life is altogether unsatisfactory to me: you never once can say what is to be done with you; no measures for the future; you live from day to day, and are perplexed with a thousand inconveniences, which in my case, unhealthy as I am, are greatly aggravated. The Bullers also are essentially a cold race of people; they live in the midst of fashion and external show; they love no living creature. Our connection therefore has to sit a little loosely: I attach no portion of my hopes or thoughts of affection to them, they none to me. Nevertheless I have engaged to go with them whithersoever they list for the next three months: after that, with regard to their France project I shall pause before deciding. Indeed so fitful and weathercock-like in their proceedings are they, that it is very possible the whole scheme of Boulogne sur mer may be abandoned long before the time for trying it comes round. Meanwhile Mrs B. has settled us here (for a fortnight only!) in lodgings, and we have begun our studies. It is a pleasant village; we are within a bowshot of a royal palace, close by the south bank of the Thames about six miles to the westward of London. A village here is not what it is with you. Here it is a quantity of houses scattered over a whole parish; each cluster connected with the rest by lanes of trees, with meadows and beautiful greens interspersed; sometimes ponds and lakes and hedges of roses, and commons with sheep and cuddies grazing on them. Many of the houses belong to rich people, and the whole has a very smart and pleasing air. Such is the village of Kew, especially the Green—the part of it which lies on the south side of the river, connected by a bridge with Kew proper. We form part of the periphery of an irregular square measuring perhaps 2 furlongs in diagonal, intersected with one large and many foot roads; cut into portions by thick low painted wooden paling, with breaks in it to admit the freest ingress and egress. The parish Church with its cluster of gravestones stands a little to the right of our windows: beyond it, the northwest corner of the square is occupied by the palace and the barracks of soldiers. This with the many barges and lighters of the river, and the shady woods and green places all around makes the place very pretty. What is better our lodging seems to be very respectable: I have a good clean quiet bed, and the landlady Mrs Page and her pretty grandaughter (“sweet Ann Page!”)2 almost become as dead women every time we speak to them—so reverential are they and so prompt to help. Charlie too is laying or has laid aside his vanities, and is very attentive and respectful considering his usual humour. On the whole I could be content to stay here till october, rather than shift about again: but I bow beneath the potent will of Mrs B. for these three months, and go withersoever she listeth[.] It is true I shall be solitary here; yet not altogether so. Allan Cunningham has promised to introduce me to Carey3 the Translator of Dante, a parson of a parish in this neighbourhood; Irving has already introduced me to a Mr Kirkpatrick, two miles off, whom I intend to visit one of these days. Besides for a shilling I can be conveyed to London every half hour; and we shall not want for books. So it may be made to do.

Of London the great Nineveh of modern Europe, I will tell you more minutely when we meet. The chief things in it that strike me are its vastness and expensiveness. You cannot stir in it without money, money, at every hand. Here for instance we have two little bedrooms and a parlour, considerably less, and not much better furnished than Wilkie's—for which Mrs B. is to pay for us two at the easy rate of 2 guieneas per week! In winter it will be twelve shillings more for fuel: this excluding perquisites for brushing shoes, going errands &c &c!!! A man had need to be provided with cash that takes up his quarters here: I am told one need not try to live in any thing like what they call respectability for less than £ 150 a year—in lodgings: boarding they say is considerably cheaper. So much for the cost of London—a matter not to me of absolute indifference, at least in prospect.

Yet in prospect only—for as yet I have felt but little of it. Irving's hospitable mansion was mine; he received me with as warm a welcome as ever. I think him much more pleasant than when we last met: he has begun to see that there is nothing supernatural in his situation; he is leaner and in weaker health, so his spirits are less ebullient, and the honest practical substantial expressions of his intellect and heart have again got uppermost. His popularity without being furious as it once was is still great, long rows of coaches crowd daily to his sooty-looking meagre chapel; nor are ladies of rank wanting among the weekly applicants for tickets of admission. However he is ceasing to be a Lion—and I trust becoming something humbler and more abiding. I still reckon him one way and another about the worthiest man I have ever seen. To me he has certainly been friendly as few men are to any but a brother. I also like his wife; who, at present in the family way, looks very plain, but is certainly a very model of a wife. Submissive, helpful, ever good-humoured, her sole object seems to be her husband's comfort, and that of his friends.

Besides Irving I have seen many other curiosities. Not the least of these I reckon Coleridge, the Kantean metaphysician and quondam Lake poet. I will tell you all about our interview when we meet. Figure a fat flabby incurvated personage, at once short, rotund and relaxed, with a watery mouth, a snuffy nose, a pair of strange brown timid yet earnest looking eyes, a high tapering brow, and a great bush of grey hair—you will have some faint idea of Coleridge. He is a kind, good soul, full of religion and affection, and poetry and animal magnetism. His cardinal sin is that he wants will; he has no resolution, he shrinks from pain or labour in any of its shapes. His very attitude bespeaks this: he never straightens his knee joints, he stoops with his fat ill shapen shoulders, and in walking he does not tread but shovel and slide—my father would call it skluiffing.4 He is also always busied to keep by strong and frequent inhalations the water of his mouth from overflowing; and his eyes have a look of anxious impotence; he would do with all his heart, but he knows he dare not. The conversation of the man is much as I anticipated. A forest of thoughts; some true, many false, most part dubious, all of them ingenious in some degree, often in a high degree. But there is no method in his talk; he wanders like a man sailing among many currents, whithersoever his lazy mind directs him—; and what is more unpleasant he preaches, or rather soliloquizes: he cannot speak; he can only “tal-k” (so he names it). Hence I found him unprofitable, even tedious: but we parted very good friends I promising to go back and see him some other evening—a promise I fully intend to keep. I sent him a copy of Meister about which we had some friendly talk. I reckon him a man of great and useless genius—a strange not at all a great man.

I have also seen Procter (Barry Cornwall), and even begun a kind of friendship (!) with him. He is connected with the celebrated Mrs Montagu—whom also I have seen, and liked tho' not too highly or even so highly as she seemed to wish. Procter is an ingenious gentle little fellow: a poet or rather poety, for he is small in his dimensions mental & bodily. Allan Cunningham is my greatest favourite; not the cleverest, but the simplest, frankest, most modest. He speaks with the Nithsdale accent as true as our Uncle John, whom he knows and once worked with. We have exchanged books, and seem to take to one another. Thomas Campbell also I have seen, but far from liked. He is a dapper little black-bearded, brown-wi[gged,] blue-frocked, smart-speaking, whisking [brisk] gentleman—a poor lite[rary] dandy—with the air and manner of a pert Scotch Advocate, heartless conceited, shallow, sneering, pragmatical. There is no mystery in his looks; his eye glances, but it is with the empty vivacity of a Cockney Shopman. Poor Campbell! Suffering & poverty have wasted his feelings, and made him callous and dissociable as those old Nags, which I once heard a Natural Historian describe, as animals that cared not for other horses. Campbell promised to invite me to what he called his “next literary dejeuner”—where I suppose will be collected many of the hacks that live by ink in this busy city. I know not whether I shall go. I wish to see the base Phrygian Turks;5 but farther—“my soul come not into their secret, mine honour be not united to them!”6

Now I presume, my bonny boy, thou art sated with my prattle: my paper is done, tho' my subject is but beginning. However I must pause for a time. Doubt not, my dear Jack, that I long earnestly to hear from home after this long silence. Send the Newspaper; and above all, write, write. Tell me how every thing goes on, how my Mother is, how they all are. How do you prosper in your studies—and of what sort are they? Take an immense sheet, and write as close as close can be. Did you get Meister; did they get them at Annan? It is slowly and sparingly coming forth here: I see it in the windows of the principal booksellers—there was a kind of notice of it in the Examiner7 (wherein my performance was called admirable!) and lately in the Scotsman8 (wherein it was able). The Stot is rather favourable[.]9 I sent a copy off to Goethe with a little letter the day before yesterday—thro' the hands of old Dr Noehden.10 Schiller's Life is coming out, partly in July partly in August: I will send it whenever it is all ready.— Now write immediately, will you? Have you been at Kirkchrist yet? or when are you going? Ask me questions, give me answers. I will write again at large. James Buller lives here for a season at least, he will supply me with franks. Tell me about all Annandale! Mind your studies my dear boy, and we shall both prosper in spite of every thing. Adieu! Vale et me ama [Farewell and love me]! Your Brother,

Th: Carlyle