1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 18 December 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18241218-TC-JAC-01; CL 3:222-227.


23. Southampton-street, 18th December, 1824.

My dear Jack,

Were it not that no philosopher, not even a dyspeptical philosopher, is allowed in any case to get angry, I should at this moment be in a furious passion with these reptile booksellers Taylor & Hess[e]y. On receiving your letter, I went down to Fleet-street, and found the parcel, which they had hurried me to get ready by a certain hour about three weeks before—still lying on their shelves! They haggled and grunted at some show of an apology; but I told them it was little matter, and took home the article in my hand, and have it now beside me. Had it not been for letters that were in it, I should not have cared: but there were several (one from Paris in particular entrusted to me by Dupin) that could not well brook delay. Arthur Buller, too! Poor flimsy, windy Arthur! The day before yesterday, he promised, about twenty times, to bring me a frank, and—came not. Would to Heaven there were not such a thing as untruth in the world! But never mind, my Boy; thanks to our Sovereign lord the King's necessities, mail coaches are continually in motion; & for a certain stated quantity of copper-coin any man may have the benefit of them. I will wait no longer for their franks and chances; but write to you, and let the parcel follow when it can.

I thank you heartily for your kind and sensible letter; and rejoice not a little to hear that things go on so well with you. Pursue the same steadfast manly path, and doubt not we shall yet conquer the world between us. You are right to mingle other studies, in a subordinate degree, with that of medicine: I would not wish to see you a mere medical tradesman, however expert; and besides I hold it for a well established fact that excellence in one line of science can never be secured effectually without at least a moderate acquaintance with all. The German language will not fail to profit and distinguish you: it is well to pursue the study of it in the way you do. If once you had your Doctorate, I even think it might be very useful to translate some medical work from that school, and this I imagine it will not be difficult to find means for doing. Follow your Latin also; and count on writing your own [thes]is. What a paltry thing to smuggle yourself thro' a fair trial under the tawdry wing of a poor half-plucked Grinder!1 No custom can render it respectable, or for a man of spirit, tolerable. Poor Jack! There has he struggled in his own homely way, till he has mastered languages ancient and modern, and sciences useful and ornamental on his own footing! Push away my gallant Tongleg! there is no fear of thee. As to general reading, I need give you little direction. Dryden's poems you will perfectly understand, tho' perhaps not relish greatly: try them and his plays, if they come to your hand. It was a plan I used to follow myself, and could approve of in you, to read a little of some simple and refreshing book every night before bed-time, after the studies of the day were concluded. Sismondi's Littérature du Midi2 will suit you much better than any thing: get it out and read it, and you will not fail to relish it. As to the Novum Organum, from personal experience I can say nothing or extremely little: the Scotch people and certain of the French have made a mighty fuss about it, most part of which you would do well to forget before reading the work itself: yet it is a book one has to read; and if you find it profitable for you at present, the present is as good as any other time for reading it. Frank Dickson knows nothing whatever about it; you have judged rightly about his professions and pretendings; he is an ill-informed man, anywhere but among Scotch preachers, in spite of all his vapourings. Richmond3 too is certainly close upon the borders of fatuity: for my sins, I found him on the coach-roof with me last summer, in going out to Haddington; I thought him the most vulgar senseless noisy bagpipe in the shire of Mid Lothian. Hellebore, or perhaps in preference, Iphecacuahna [ipecac], should be given him in large doses. Mind none of these windy-brains, my Boy Jack! The road to knowledge lies plain before thee as them: thou hast limbs and heart to travel it, and some of them have neither; jog along and heed them not. There is no short cut: they have but placed themselves in Bragging Castle, a dirty booth of pasteboard when inspected narrowly; there let them sit, and “smite their [Jew's]4 harps of” tin, and chant their jingling ditties, which will deceive no true pilgrim to the Shrine of Knowledge.

I am glad you have recovered your spirits, as I predicted; and are not inattentive to the recreations and entertainments which lie within your reach. Visit your acquaintance[s] frequently, and talk with them largely. Go to Paisley by all manner of means: the people will be glad to see you for your own sake; the Carlyles there are worthy persons, and to the full as clannish as we in the South. Make my best respects to all that bear the name.5 Also call on David Hope Brunswick-street Glasgow; and pay him an old tobacco-sc[o]re [o]f mine (contracted at Kinnaird): it is somewhat below a pound. I hope this day week, you will be travelling thither with the speed of four strong horses, and speculating with the nascent philosopher on all manner of topics. In Glasgow, if you have time, go and look at the High Church, the College, and the Tontine reading room to see the “filthy gutty hallions” studying the news of an evening.6

I am going on here quite as well as formerly. My health is sufferable, and my spirits good. Schiller's Life is printing with more rapidity than I once expected. I put the sixth sheet thro' my hands yesterday; and expect the seventh to night. It will be rather a handsome book; somewhat larger than a volume of Meister, with a portrait, at present in the hands of the Engraver. I work a little at it; then go exploring the Wen [underscored twice], and talking with humane souls wherever I can find them. I have not talked so much for many months as I have done within the last six weeks. I suppose my nerves are sounder; tho' I sleep too lightly, and am perpetually swallowing drugs. “Starvation must be my Salvation,” as the oracle pronounced it: in the course of time I shall be well. Perhaps I may come to Scotland, directly after Schiller is off my hands. I have for some time had a project of translating all his Works, if I could find encouragement: Edinr on the whole would suit me better as a place of publication than London. I mean the neighbourhood of Edinr; for towns are a nuisance which I must avoid. If you saw the fog to-day! It is not a vapour but a fluid; as if an Atlantic of Spartan Broth were poured over us, and the men and cattle were converted into tadpoles. Yet after all I am well here; the place still interests and amazes me, the people I find sometimes well informed, more rarely intellectual; but in several cases very kind. I have seen Milton's grave; I made a pilgrimage to Grub-street, took off my hat on entering it, and exclaimed Salve magna parens [Hail great father]!7 I is a horror to behold; Cuddy-lane multiplied by a hundred in all its qualities. I have also a ticket to read in the British Museum, which promises to be of no great use to me. I saw there the original Magna Charta, with the very seal of King John. I also saw (the Elgin marbles with many others, some months ago; and)—Dr Noehden, a hard German pedagogue!8 Last night I spent with Procter, a kindly Small; to-night I am to spend with Allan Cunningham at Irving's. I also had a long talk with Thomas Campbell one evening: I found him clever, but not great in intellect; and hard of heart as a Saracen. He was once a young roe of the forest; but now he seems roasted and made into ham.

The other afternoon, as I was lying dozing in a brown study after dinner, a lord's lackey knocked at the door and delivered me a little blue parcel, requiring for it a note of delivery. I opened it, and found two pretty stitched little books, and a letter from—Goethe! I copy it from the fractur [Gothic script] hand it was written in, and send it for your edification. The patriarchal style of it pleases me much.

[Here follows Carlyle's copy in German of Goethe's letter of 30 Oct. 1824.]9

This you can translate, and send on to Mainhill. The “Reihe von Gedichten [series of poems] which I can scarcely yet have seen,” are a Maskenzug (Mask) of his own, and a printed copy of verses to him on his last birthday by one Meyer, a German of some note. On the whole I was not a little interested by this small event: it is something to have any interchange of feeling at all with the greatest man of your age, the venerable Sovereign of Parnassus. Poor old fellow! “Perhaps he will yet hear much of me!” It is a very kind prediction.

But for the present, my sweet small-featured Babe, I must leave thee, and go forth to walk. If Arthur come with his frank to-day, it shall be well; if not—the deevil ma' care! [dee underscored twice] Charlie and he are come with their parents to Shooter's Hill, where Mrs B. is to live after all! Glory to his name (as Eppy Paddy profanely said) that I have nothing more to do with them! Do you get the Examiner regularly on Saturday? Perhaps I will send the next number directly to Mainhill. I wrote to them the other day. Write you (to me) from the west, if you have time; or at worst the hour after you return. Ergebenst (werthster Tongleg!) [Most devoted (most worthy Tongleg!)] Your Brother

T. Carlyle—