1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 30 November 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18241130-TC-JAC-01; CL 3:208-211.


23. Southampton-street, Pentonville, 30th November 1824—

My dear Jack,

I have an opportunity of sending up a parcel to Edinburgh by the conveyance of Taylor & Hessey's London Magazine; and I snatch a few hurried moments to write you a word or two along with the commissions to be entrusted to your charge. These letters you will put into the Penny-post office; the larger packet is for Haddington; the little one you can send home at your leisure.

You would get my letter on Friday morning: I trust it found you restored to your wonted composure, and following your occupations without disturbance from the fiends of sickness or melancholy. I long to hear from you again: write to me the moment you get hold of this, if you have not written before: never weary of unfolding to me all your hopes and fears; there is no other person for you in the world that has such an interest in listening to them; and I know not what better use I can make of my own hard-gathered experience than in using my endeavours to lighten the burden of life to a brother who loves me so truly, and so well deserves my love. Remember, as I have often told you and been told by you, that for all the ills of existence there is just one remedy, the sedulous employment of one's faculties in the business cut out for them, with as perfect an exclusion as possible of all thoughts and imaginations which do not in some shape tend to activity. Be patiently diligent in your vocation; exercise in continuing it the same manly spirit with which you have commenced it, and all will be well. I have no fears for your ultimate success: the path to honour and competence is difficult for people in our sphere of life; but you have strength and fortitude enough to conquer all that will oppose you. Tell me what you think of all these matters; describe your studies and pursuits and manner of existence; hide nothing from me.

For my own part, I am going on with moderate success and comfort. I feel unspeakably happier now that I have got my fate under my own management; that I can at least fight its thousand miseries with unshackled hands. I find my lodgings altogether comfortable; tho' excessively expensive, they content me well. Were it not for the difficulty of procuring enough of sleep (the difficulty not the impossibility) I imagine even my health would improve here. As it is I get on very fairly: I work some three hours or so at Schiller every morning; I go out and make calls, or see sights, or scold printers, till towards three o'clock; then I have my tidy mutton-chop and four fiery-hot potatoes; after which I take to reading light works till my breadless tea, and then having perhaps taken another short walk, I sit down again to read or write or go and talk with some plausible character, till suppertime or bedtime. I can do little work; but I am not miserable nearly to the same extent as I have long been. I feel determined to alter the figure of my fortune, and conscious too that I partly have the power of doing this.

My schemes are various, and as yet mostly very vague. Almost all of them involve being in a house of my own,1 somewhere in the country, within reach of London or Edinburgh; I rather think of the latter. The means for keeping up that projected household are next to be devised. This letter to Brewster is on that subject; asking his advice about a proper Bookseller to undertake with me a translation of all Schiller's Works, which I have been meditating for some time. I am not to live or die as this scheme shall prosper or fail; but I anticipate considerable advantages from engaging with it. We shall hear what Brewster says about the Trade; he knows their quirks and subterfuges and the character of every individual among them. Boyd I am loth to apply to; undoubtedly he is a knave. He has printed at least 1500 copies of this Meister as sure as fate: Whittaker himself told me [that he] had sold 600 four months ago; and asked how many we had printed—1500? Base Phrygian Turks! It does one's heart ill to be connected with them. Nevertheless, I do not know but I may be forced after all as the ill best resource to apply to the “scooneril2 Boyd” in this very business of Schiller's Works. He has cash and spirit, and goes thro' the thing rapidly and manfully; and perhaps it is better to be cheated within moderate limits than to have your patience frittered down by delays and drivellings, and calculations and hesitations. I feel a mixture of contempt and indignation at these pitiful triflers I at present have to do with. The first proof-sheet, deformed with inaccuracies, arrived about five minutes ago! They promise “not above four sheets per week”: it must be my care that they do not sink below two. However I have not yet done with my preparations; and when I have I can take to something else.

Allen3 of York is here at present; setting up a sort of “Asylum”; having left that of York, and being now solely on his own footing. He is a kind hearted sort of creature, after all; but woefully destitute of pluck and perseverance. He wishes me to go out and live with him at his house in Epping forest (12 miles off): he will board me and a horse for forty pounds a year! That scheme will not answer; there is folly enough within my reach already, without going to seek it among the professedly insane. Perhaps I may go and stay with him a week or so, when I have finished the writing of this Book.

I have yet made but little progress in my survey of London; the weather has been very unpropitious, and I have had many things to do. I have several persons (Mrs Montagu, Mrs Strachey, Procter &c) whom I call on now and then, and might far oftener if I found it useful. They are kind persons; particularly the first two: but for rational employment of my mind in their company, there is but very little. People of elevated minds and clear judgements seem to be as rare here as in the north. Any thing approaching to a great character is a treasure I have yet to meet with. Yet such is life; the little that is good in it we ought to welcome, and forget how much better it might have been, when we think how much worse it generally is. These two women and their families treat me as if I were a near relation; not a wandering stranger: I feel their kindness, and hope yet to profit more by it. Basil Montague, the husband, was described to me as a philosopher; I find him to be an honest-hearted——goose! Happy Irving who sees in all his friends the pink of human excellence; and when he has found the nakedness of the land,4 can turn him round and seek a fresh supply! He is still fighting away as valiantly as ever, nursing and preaching. His popularity is growing steadier, and I think will ultimately settle into something comfortable and accordant with the nature of things. The fashionable people have long ago forgot that he exists; and our worthy Preacher has discovered, fortunately not too late, that many things “since the Reformation” have been more surprising than to grow a London Lion for the space of three little months. I am glad with all my heart that this insane work is over. Irving is becoming known to men at large as he is: the sceptical and literary people find that he is not a quack, and they honour him, or at least let him live in peace. There are many persons of warm hearts and half-cultivated heads who love him and admire him, and I think will stand by him firmly; all that have ever known him in private must and do like him. Delivered from the gross incense of preaching popularity, Irving will cultivate his mind in peace; and may ray out a profitable mixture of light and darkness upon a much wider public than he has yet addressed by writing. After all, he is a brave fellow; among the best, if not the very best, whom I have met in life. Success to him! For tho' I laugh at him, I were a dog if I did not love him. Speak not of his popularity: your words will be interpreted to mean, not that it is growing rational, but that it is over. At present, I reckon the appearance of it better than it has ever been.

Now, Jacky boy, thou must write directly: I have got an Examiner Newspaper, which I will send thee off on Wednesday, and as regularly afterwards as I can manage. The Courier never reaches me: yet Alick says he sends it. I suspect his writing is illegible, or that he forgets the “Pentonville,” a fatal omission, for of Southampton-streets I reckon there [are] a dozen in this city.5

Send me every word of news: take a long sheet, and the closest type your time will suffer. Good b'ye, my own Tongleg! Send on the Examiner to Mainhill, if thou please.— I am ever thine,

Thomas Carlyle