1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 27 September 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240927-TC-JAC-01; CL 3:157-163.


London, 27th September, 1824—

My dear Jack,

Had it not been for the stipulation made in my last letter, I should have postponed writing for a day or two. I am at present, as it were, on the wing; detained here till I get my accoutrements for proceeding farther to the south. About a week ago I received intelligence from His Reverence1 that all things were arranged for an excursion to the shore of Kent; to which place of bathing and rustication his wife, with a Miss Kirkpatrick a cousin of Mrs Strachey's, was to proceed on the following thursday, he himself with me as his second to go after them next monday. In consequence of this intelligence, I forthwith addressed myself for a ride to London; and taking leave of Badams, who strictly charged me to come back for another month till he completed his doctorial and castor-oil system with me, I left the City of Tubalcain2 on Thursday morning. My passage was of a mixed character. Some of Badams' drugs had not prospered with me, and I fell below par in point of health. The morning also was damp, and the day proved rainy: to complete the matter it cleared up just when I had shifted my place to the interior of the vehicle, and exchanged the sight of High Wycomb and the lawns of Buckinghamshire, for the inane prattle of a little black-eyed, pretty, bluestocking Genevese, my sole travelling companion. So that when they set me down in Oxford-street, falsely said by the rascal guard to be the nearest point to Pentonville, from which it was three miles distant, Lad-lane being only one, I felt somewhat out of humour; a dissonance of spirit which increased to loud jarring as I followed my stout and fleet porter, who strode lustily along, under cloud of night, thro' labyrinthine streets and alleys, with my portmanteau dangling at his back and a travelling-bag to balance it in front—stamp, stamp amid the rattling of wains and coaches, and the unearthly cries of fruiterers, and oyster-men and piemen and all the mighty din of London—till I verily thought he would never reach a point of the city which my eyes had seen before. Nevertheless I had not been without my enjoyments on the road: I had got another glance of the heart of “merry England,” with its waving knolls, and green woody fields, and snug hamlets and antique boroughs, and jolly ale-drinking, beef-eating people. It was not without some pleasurable imaginations that I saw Stratford-upon-Avon, the very hills and woods which the boy Shakespeare had looked upon, the very church where his dust reposes, nay the very house where he was born, the threshold over which his staggering footsteps carried him in infancy, the very stones where the urchin played marbles and flogged tops. It is a small grim-looking house of bricks, bound as was of old the fashion with beams of oak intersecting the bricks, which are built into it and fill up its interstices as the glass does in a window. The old tile-roof is cast by age and twisted into all varieties of curvature: half the house has been modernized, and made—a butcher's shop. The street where it stands is a simple-looking, short, every-day village street, with houses mostly new and consisting like the Shakespeare house, of two low stories, or rather a story and a half. Stratford itself is a humble pleasant-looking place, the residence as formerly of wool-combers and other quiet artisans, except where they have brought an ugly black canal into it, and polluted this classical burgh by the presence of lighters or track-boats with famished horses, sooty drivers, and heaps of coke and coal. It seems considerably larger and less showy than Annan. Shakespeare and Breakspeare and for aught I know sundry other Spears are still common names in Warwickshire: I was struck on my arrival at Birmingham by a sign not far from Badams' indicating the abode of “William Shakespeare, Boot-and-shoe-maker,” which boots and shoes the modern Shakespeare also professed his ability and readiness to mend “cheap and neatly.” Homer, I afterwards discovered, had settled in Birmingham as a button-maker.

But I must not wander thus, or I never shall have done. Of Oxford, then, with its domes and spires and minarets; its rows of shady trees, and still, monastic edifices, venerable in their antique richness and intricate seclusion, I shall say nothing till I see you. I must hasten rather to observe that I found the orator at Pentonville, sitting “sparrow-like, companionless in (not on) the housetop alone.”3 His wife had left him, and taken all the cro[c]kery and bedding and other household gear along with her. He extended to me the right hand of fellowship notwithstanding, and even succeeded in procuring me some genial tea with an egg only half-rotten, which for a London egg is saying much. By and by, one Hamilton a worthy and accomplished merchant from Sanquhar came in and took me with him to his lodgings and treated me comfortably; and there in a splendid bed, I contrived in spite of agitation from within and noise and bugs from without to get six hours of deep slumber. Next morning I was fitter to do business[.]

On leaving Birmingham, I had felt uncertain whether I should go to Dover with the orator or not; and I had partly determined to be regulated in my yea or no by his acceptance or rejection of my proposal to board with him while in London, concerning which in his letter he had maintained a mysterious reserve. On coming to discuss the subject orally, I soon discovered that His Reverence was embarrassed by a conflicting proposal (to board at a very high rate some medical youth from Glasgow) which was not yet decided on, and was consequently in the way of any definite arrangement with me. The good priest, for with all his vanities and affectations he is really a good man, an excellent man, as men go,—puckered up his face and eyebrows in much distress, and was just commencing with various articulate and inarticulate preparatives, when I discovering rapidly how the matter stood, begged him to consider my proposal as unmade and never to say or even think one other word upon the subject. The puckers disappeared at this announcement; but were succeeded by a continuous cloud of gloom and regret, as he set about advising me to go with him to Dover, and to put off the consideration of lodging and all such matters till my return. After much canvassing, I assented upon the proviso of my being allowed to bear my own share of the expense, and to be his fellow-lodger not his guest. With this salvo to my pride—which I already almost begin to despise as a piece of cold selfishness—we struck the bargain, that he should set out on Monday, and I should follow him whenever my business was concluded, and he had written to me that right lodgings were procured. He left me this morning about six, and I expect to follow in two days.

The “business” I could have in London may well surprise you: it was (alas it is!) the most pitiful that ever man had; nothing but the collecting of a few books for the completing of my poor Schiller, an ungainly task which Messrs Taylor and Hess[e]y had they not been infirm and irregular persons should certainly have spared me. You cannot think what trotting to and fro I have had to get a book or two of the most simple character; how I have at length fairly put the gum-gawed habble tree, vacillating Mr Hess[e]y, out of the concern, and written off to Birmingham for the necessary supplies (Schillers Werke already borrowed there) which with other helps within my reach will have to serve for my whole equipment. I am indifferently contented with these people; and feel somewhat tempted to despise them. Procter says “they are Booksellers, which is saying every thing.” At all events they must pay me somewhere on the verge of £90 down upon the nail for this book, the day when it is published; and then, if I like, I turn upon my heel (forever). The printing is to commence, whenever I come back, and may be finished in about six weeks. The additions and alterations, especially the versions from some of the tragedies, I purpose to complete in Kent; so as to be nearly altogether my own master here while it is passing thro' the press.

Thus then, Jack, thou seest the present posture of my affairs. In about ten weeks from this date, I expect to be free of London, to have ascertained how it will suit me, what hopes what advantages it offers, and to decide for continuance or departure as shall seem me best. If my health improve I shall be for remaining, especially if I can fasten upon any profitable employment; if not, scarcely. About the ultimatum I am by no means low-spirited, not often even dumpish. I feel pretty confident that I can recover my health in some considerable degree, perhaps wholly; if not here, elsewhere; while this is in progress I can at the worst translate for the London or Edinburgh market; and if I were well, I feel that some considerable desire to write might arise within me, I might like Archy Halliday4 “fin' a kind of inclination to bark,” and certainly there is no want of game. A miserable scrub of an author sharking and writing “articles” about Town, like Hazzlitt, Dequincey and that class of living creatures, is a thing which as our [Fa]ther says, I canna [can underscored twice] be. Nor shall I need it: I have fifty better schemes. As to not boarding [wi]th Irving I hardly regret it now that it is past. His house would scarcely have been a favourable place for studying any science but the state of religion in general and that of the Caledonian chapel in particular, as managed by various doers, delegates and other most nondescript personages; a very affected and not beautiful sister of his wife's is also to stay with them through the winter; her I might have found it a task to love. “Pray Mr Carlyle” said she in a mincing namby-pamby tone, the night she arrived, when I was sitting with my powers of patience screwed to the sticking place, being in truth very miserable and very much indisposed to make complaints, “Pray Mr Carlyle are you really sick now, or is it only fanciful?” “Fancy, Ma'am, fancy, nothing more,” said I half turning round, and immediately proceeding with some other topic addressed to some other member of the company.— Besides Irving has a squeaking brat of a son, “who indeed brings us many blessings, but rather interrupts our rest at nights”! Bad luck to his blessings—compared with natural rest!— In short I shall be more completely master in my own lodgings; more at liberty to follow out the Badamean system of diet, and this with me is an immense matter. As for company I shall have enough when I please to go and seek it; and for the discomforts of a lodging, I am getting less and less dependent on them; noise now does not half so much distress me. I doubt not I shall do rarely in my own small way.

Ere long thou too Jack wilt be moving into city quarters; I trust under happy omens for thy bodily and mental good. Many a time I think of thee, and thy generous unabating pursuit of knowledge, and thy faithful, unpretending, affectionate heart, which all the logic in the world cannot hide. Courage my own Tongleg! The day will yet be ours. Diligence guided, and in thy case restrained, by Prudence will equip a far meaner man: let us behave like true-spirited fellows, and fear nothing! These things I have often written already; but I write them again, knowing that thou hast none to communicate with but me, and hoping to give thee a moment's pleasure by the expression of my heartfelt sympathy. I wish you would write me a large account of all your straits and difficulties: for the last two years my own life has been so perplexed and encumbered with unutterable vexations that I have had far too little time to devote to you and yours. If ever I recover the condition of an ordinary mortal, I hope I shall have less to apologize for: that my affection to you never wavered you need not be assured. Write to me as to a brother, who believes and hopes that nothing shall part us thro' life.

Along with the history of your own studies and feelings, you must send me that of all the perceptibly important occurrences at home. To me they can never be indifferent. How is my Mother? Does she still abide by her regimen, and prosper by it? Get her a little more wine to take a glass of before dinner: the sort they call cape5 is sometimes wholesome enough, more so than any other, and it is the cheapest. I need not send my warmest affection; she knows it is always with her.— I meant to write our Father; but I thought some other subject might be more interesting to him: I purpose writing to him from the Kentish shore. What is Alick busy with? Gathering in the stuff, and getting it covered from the elements. He and I are yet to farm in concert; I as sleeping (or rather riding) partner, he head-man. I send my best affection to every soul at home; to Mag, who never writes or tells me one syllable of her feelings, to Jamie and Mary and the two small black-eyed school-women; tell them they are all precious in my sight. I would gladly know their history, so far as writing can communicate it. But before expecting even the possibility of this, I myself must write again communicating my address. Send the paper down to me at the regular time (friday) directed to me, Post-office, Dover; and I will go and ask for it; then be in readiness to write me an immense detail. Adieu, my dear Jack!

Thine ever, /

Thomas Carlyle—

Do you mean to stay with Church this winter? Think yourself altogether uncontrolled, and when you want more cash, it shall be forthcoming. I think a winter in Paris after graduation might be advantageous; we shall see when it arrives. Badams recommended Sydenhams works (they are in English one vol.) and Friend's Hist. of Medicine,6 which I doubt he knows not.— I owe the tailor Smith £ 1, which pay him when in Edinr

I am here in Irving's house, sole lord and master, “the monarch of all I survey,”7 expecting my books from Birmingham. I shall go and see Allan Cunningham, and perhaps Mrs Strachey, who is not yet departed. The weather has been very wet, and is now very cold, and I have much running to and fro.