1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 14 December 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18241214-TC-AC-01; CL 3:217-222.


23. Southampton-street, Pentonville, 14th December, 1824—

My dear Alick,

The arrival of the “Courier” (it comes regularly on Monday about noon) puts me in mind of a duty, which I have neglected too long. I hope you have felt no anxiety on my account, I have been as well in health as usual, and much happier in spirits. You know the old rule, when I do not write, infer that nothing is the matter with me: I have pledged myself again and again to send you instant word if any thing should ail me. For my own sake I have inducement enough to write: to talk with you about our mutual doings and purposes is among my most delightful occupations, knowing and feeling as I do how honest and how warm an interest we take in every thing relating to each other.

Your letter found me in due season; and a welcome visitant it was. I had not got the “Courier” that preceded it, and the intelligence of your proceedings and welfare was no small relief to me. You must thank our Mother in my name in the warmest terms for her kind note, which I have read again and again with an attention rarely given to more polished compositions. The sight of her rough true-hearted writing is more to me than the finest penmanship and the choicest rhetoric. It takes me home to honest kindness, and affection that will never never fail me. You also I must thank for your graphic picture of Mainhill and its neighbourhood. How many changes happen in this restless roundabout of life within a little space! The poor Quack Miller forced from his dearly-beloved bags, and his simple sister heiress of thousands! How or what is she doing with it? Are sycophants gathering round the shallow “Gheen” to filch it from her? Has she changed her style of Life, and how? Her inheritance seems stranger to me than a novel.1

In London, or rather in my own small sphere of it, there has nothing sinister occurred since I wrote last. After abundant scolding, what sometimes rose to the very borders of bullying, these unhappy people are proceeding pretty regularly with the Book; a fifth part of it is already printed; they are also getting a portrait of Schiller engraved for it; and I hope in about six weeks the thing will be off my hands. It will make a reasonable-looking book; somewhat larger than a volume of Meister, and done in somewhat of the same style. In the course of printing I have various matters to attend to; proofs to read; additions, alterations to make; which furnishes me with a very canny occupation for the portion of the day I can devote to labour. I work some three or four hours; read, for amusement chiefly, about as long; walk about these dingy streets, and talk with originals for the rest of the day. On the whole I have not been happier for many a long month: I feel content to let things take their turn till I am free of my engagements; and then—for a stern and serious tuffle [struggle] with my Fate, which I have vowed and determined to alter from the very bottom, health and all! This will not be impossible, or even I think extremely difficult. Far beyond a million of “weaker vessels”2 than I are sailing very comfortably along the tide of life just here. What good is it to whine and whimper? Let every man that has an ounce of strength in him, get up and put it forth in Heaven's name, and labour that his “soul may live.”3

Of this enormous Babel of a place I can give you no account in writing: it is like the heart of all the universe; and the flood of human effort rolls out of it and into it with a violence that almost appals one's every sense. Paris scarcely occupies a quarter of the ground, and does not seem to have the twentieth part of the business. O that our father sey [saw] Holborn in a fog! with the black vapour brooding over it, absolutely like fluid ink; and coaches and wains and sheep and oxen and wild people rushing on with bellowings and shrieks and thundering din as if the earth in general were gone distracted. To-day I chanced to pass thro' Smithfield, when the market was three fourths over: I mounted the steps of a door, and looked abroad upon the area, an irregular space of perhaps thirty acres in extent, encircled with old dingy brick-built houses, and intersected with wooden pens for the cattle. What a scene! Innumerable herds of fat oxen, tied in long rows, or passing at a trot to their several shambles; and thousands of graziers, drovers, butchers, cattle-brokers with their quilted frocks and long goads pushing on the hapless beasts; hurrying to and fro in confused parties, shouting, jostling, cursing, in the midst of rain and shairn [dung] and braying discord such as the imagination cannot figure.— Then there are stately streets and squares, and calm green recesses to which nothing of this abomination is permitted to enter. No wonder Cobbett calls the place a Wen! It is a monstrous Wen!4 The thick smoke of it beclouds a space of thirty square miles; and a million of vehicles, from the dog- or cuddy-barrow to the giant waggon, grind along its streets forever. I saw a six-horse wain the other day with, I think, Number 200,000 and odd upon it!

There is an excitement in all this, which is pleasant as a transitory feeling, but much against my taste as a permanent one. I had much rather visit London from time to time, than live in it. There is in fact no right life in it that I can find: the people are situated here like plants in a hot house, to which the quiet influences of sky and earth are never in their unadulterated state admitted. It is the case with all ranks: the carman with his huge slouch hat hanging halfway down his back, consumes his breakfast of bread and tallow or hog's lard, sometimes as he swags along the streets, always in a hurried and precarious fashion, and supplies the deficit by continual pipes and pots of beer. The fashionable lady rises at three in the afternoon, and begins to live toward midnight. Between these two extremes, the same false and tumultuous manner of existence more or less infects all ranks. It seems as if you were forever in “an inn”; the feeling of home in our acceptation of the term is not known to one of a thousand. You are packed into paltry shells of brick-houses (calculated to endure for forty years, and then fall); every door that slams to in the street is audible in your most secret chamber; the necessaries of life are hawked about thro' multitudes of hands, and reach you, frequently adulterated, always at rather more than twice their cost elsewhere; people's friends must visit them by rule and measure; and when you issue from your door, you are assailed by vast shoals of quacks, and showmen, and street-sweepers, and pickpockets, and mendicants of every degree and shape, all plying in noise or silent craft their several vocations, all in their hearts like “lions ravening for their prey.”5 The blackguard population of the place is the most consummately blackguard of any thing I ever saw.

Yet the people are in general a frank, jolly, well-living, kindly people. You get a certain way in their good graces with great ease: they want little more with you than now and then a piece of recreating conversation, and you are quickly on terms for giving and receiving it. Father, I suspect, their nature or their habits seldom carry or admit them. I have found one or two strange mortals, whom I sometimes stare to see myself beside. There is Crabbe Robinson, an old Templar (Advocate dwelling in the Temple) who gives me coffee and Sally-Lunns (a sort of buttered roll), and German books, and talk by the gallon in a minute. His windows look into—Alsatia!6 With the Montagues I, once a week or so, step in and chat away a friendly hour: they are good clever people, tho' their goodness and cleverness are strangely mingled with absurdity in word and deed. They like me very well: I saw Badams ther[e l]ast night; I am to see him more at large tomorrow or soon after. Mrs [Strachey] has tw[ice co]me to see me—in her carriage, a circumstance of strange omen to our worthy [friend.] I had a long long talk with her and Mrs Buller the other day. Poor Charlie likes Cambridge ill, and runs a risk of becoming a dandy and a dissipated person: I trust, not. Mrs Buller has settled at Shooter's Hill; after all her thousand schemes and counter-schemes here she is where she began! Irving and I have promised to come out and visit them. Among the poets I see Procter and Allan Cunningham as often as I like: the other night I had a second and much longer talk with Campbell. I went over with one Macbeth,7 not the “Usurper,” but a hapless Preacher from Scotland, whose gifts coupled with their drawbacks cannot earn him bread in London, tho' Campbell and Irving and many more are doing all they can for him. Thomas is a clever man, and we had a much more pleasant conversation than our first; but I do not think my view of him was materially altered. He is vain and dry in heart; the brilliancy of his mind (which will not dazzle you to death after all) is like the glitter of an iceberg in the Greenland seas; parts of it are beautiful, but it is cold, cold, and you would rather look at it than touch it. I partly feel for Campbell: his early life was a tissue of wretchedness (here in London he has lived upon a pennyworth of milk and a penny-roll per day); and at length his soul has got encrusted as with a case of iron; and he has betaken himself to sneering and selfishness—a common issue!

Irving I see as frequently and kindly as ever. His church and boy occupy him him [sic] much. The madness of his popularity is altogether over; and he must content himself with playing a much lower game than he once anticipated; nevertheless I imagine he will do much good in London, where many men like him are greatly wanted. His wife and he are always good to me.

Respecting my future movements I can predict nothing certain yet. It is not improbable, I think, that I may see you all in Scotland before many weeks are come and gone. Here at any rate, in my present circumstances I do not mean to stay: it is expensive beyond measure (two guineas a week or thereby for the mere items of bed and board); and I must have a permanent abode of some kind devised for myself, if I mean to do any good. Within reach of Edinr or London, it matters little which. You have not yet determined upon leaving or retaining Mainhill? I think it is a pity that you had not some more kindly spot: at all events a better house I would have. Is Mainholm let? By clubbing our capitals, together we might make something of it. A house in the country, and a horse to ride on, I must and will have if it be possible. Tell me all your views on these things, when you write.

Meanwhile things go on with me as snugly as I could expect. My lodgings and landlady are greatly to my mind. Except in the article of cheapness, and now and then of sleep I have nothing to desire. Yet for six hours or more every night there is deep quiet, and in general I manage altogether well. The substantial tidy woman cooks me my eggs (fresh at 2d each, rotten 1½d) and mutton chop and potatoes in unequalled style. On the whole I do well for the present; and the future is in my own hands to make and manage as I list. I have thoughts of undertaking a complete translation of Schiller's works; but nothing is yet settled: I have written to Brewster for advice.— Did you get a parcel thro' Jack from me? If not it will come soon. Does Jack send you the Examiner newspaper regularly? I mean to send it regularly to him; tho' in point of talent, it is much fallen off, and in point of principle it is as bad as ever. It will carry a ganz wohl between us, and that is enough. Now mind, Boy, you promised to write immediately! Do, write the very first vacant hour after this arrives: I will answer you instantly. Good night! my dear Alick! I am ever your affe Brother— T. Carlyle.

Neglect not to assure every mortal at Mainhill of my unaltered love, and to ask from them for me a like return. There was a note for Mag in the parcel, and four French needle-cases! Tell me about my Mother and her health, and all she says or does. My Father owes me a letter; I must put him to the horn [proclaim him an outlaw] if he do not pay it.

My Mother must write her own postscript in your letter. Tell her to eat dozens of half-boiled eggs, and eggs-and-milk, also to take now and then a little wine. Tea, hot tea, is necessary for her every day.

Did you lend Waugh the pony? And how is he prospering? Do you ever hear of poor Bardolph? Does the Child ever visit you? Make my respects to him. Does he stir his fins yet—or merely his tongue?

Soot-drop Moyes (your old crony) is here as a clerk: I saw him and George Beveridge at Irvings chapel, yesterday. Soot-drop asked for you kindly.