1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 31 January 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250131-TC-MAC-01; CL 3:273-276.


23. Southampton-street, Pentonville, / 31st January, 1825—

My dear Mother,

I expected a letter from Alick before this time; but as he still seems inclined to linger, I take up the pen myself to inquire how matters stand with you, and at the same time to communicate some outline of my own future movements, which are now about to undergo some change. I hope the boy has already a letter on the road for me, or at least will despatch one without another moment's delay, that I may hear of your proceedings and situation once again before leaving London. For the present, I can only hope that all things with you are as usual, and that nothing but business or indolence prevents me from hearing of you.

I have at last finished that miserable book; on account of which I have been scolding printers, and running to and fro like an evil spirit for the last three weeks. I do hope I shall never more have to do with such a set of lazy paltering Littleworths of people in any similar business. The whole burden of conquering delays and difficulties has lain upon me; and having nothing else but this to keep me so long in the smoke and tumult of this Wen, my patience was now and then on the point of giving way. However the Life of Schiller is now fairly out of my hands; the Booksellers engage to shew it on their counters on Wednesday;1 they send a parcel of copies off to Edinburgh forthwith; then they must pay me my £90; after which I care not if they let the thing lie and rot beside them till the day of Doom. On the whole, it will make a reputable sort of book; somewhat larger than a volume of Meister, with a portrait &c: I have not put my name to it, not feeling anxious to have the syllables of my poor name pass thro' the mouths of Cockneys on so slender an occasion; tho' if any one lay it to my charge, I shall see no reason to blush for the hand I had in it. Sometimes of late I have bethought me of some of your old maxims about pride and self-conceit: I do see this same vanity to be the root of half the evil men are subject to in life. Examples of it stare me in the face every day: the pitiful passion, under any of the thousand forms which it assumes, never fails to wither out the good and worthy parts of a man's character; and leave him poor and spiteful, an enemy to his own peace and that of all about him. There never was a wiser doctrine than that of Christian humility, considered as a corrective for the coarse unruly selfishness of men's nature.

I will send you a copy of this Schiller; and I know you will read it with attention and pleasure. It contains nothing that I know of but truth of fact and sentiment; and I have always found that the honest truth of one mind had a certain attraction in it for every other mind that loved truth honestly. Various quacks, for instance, have exclaimed against the immorality of Meister; and the person whom it delighted above all others of my acquaintance, was Mrs Strachey, exactly the most religious pure and true-minded person among the whole number. A still more convincing proof of my doctrine was the satisfaction you took in it. Schiller, tho' it flies with a low, low wing, compared with Meister, will have less in it to offend you. What is it, in fact, but your own sentiments, the sentiments of my good true-hearted mother, expressed in the language and similitudes that my situation suggests? So you must like it!

The point next to be considered, is what shall be done with the Author of this mighty work? He is a deserving youth, with a clear conscience, but a bad bad stomach: what shall be done with him? After much consideration, I have resolved in the first instance to come home! Irving wants “a week of talk” with me before I go; by the time that is done I shall have settled my affairs here, taken leave of the good people; and be about ready to take flight. I am not coming by sea: so take no thought of it. My last voyage satisfied me of sailing: I mean to come by Birmingham (where I shall rest a day or two), then perhaps by Oldham (where George Johnstone is), and so by Liverpool home to Annandale. The journey will be a pleasure rather than a task. With regard to my subsequent proceedings, there must be some consideration, but not an hour of loitering. I have set out before my mind distinctly what I want, and this as Goethe says is half the game. I will recover my health, tho' all the Books in the Universe should go to smoke in the process! I will be a whole man, no longer a pining piping wretch, tho' I should knap stones by the wayside for a living! This is one fixed point: I must now try whether it is in my power to realize it.

I had some scheme of setting up house in Edinburgh, and taking two or three pupils whose education I might superintend at College; beginning with Arthur Buller, and a boy of Mrs Strachey's who perhaps might incline entrusting him to me. Irving was to speak with her on the subject on friday; but I have not yet heard her opinion: nor in truth am I very anxious about it; for I already perceive that this project will not suit my chief purpose any thing like exactly. In preference to this, I recur to the old plan of farming and living in the country. This I really do think might be made to do. What might hinder Alick and me to take a farm, and move to it with you and some other of the younkers; furnishing up an apartment in the house for my writing operations, and going on in our several vocations with all imaginable energy? My Father might join us when the tack [lease] of Mainhill was out: for to Mainhill the pr[esent s]tate of the house, if there were no other objection, would itself be an insuperable bar. You must take counsel with the whole senate on this matter: I must have a house of my own (a bit haddin' [holding] o' my ain frethit [entirely of my own]), where I can enjoy quiet and free air, and have liberty to do as I list; and I see no scheme so likely in the actual state of matters as this. Tell Alick to look about him on all sides for such a thing; a farm with a comfortable house to live in, and at a rent which we can front. I shall have £ 200 in my pocket, when I return, notwithstanding the horrible expensiveness of this place; and that with what we have already ought to put us on some sort of footing. I am not without hopes of getting more without farther exertions (should a second edition of Goethe's book be called for, which is not improbable); I could even perhaps borrow the sum that might be wanting; and were we once begun there would be no fear. I could write at a moderate rate without injuring myself, and make a handsome enough thing of it within the year. And for my health, with riding, gardening and so forth, it would to a certainty improve. I believe with Badams that there is in fact no particular organ about me diseased; that my ailment is purely a feeble state of the nerves, a “soul too keen for the case that holds it.”2 Could I live without taking drugs for three months, I should even now be perfectly well. But drenching oneself with castor-oil and other abominations how can one be otherwise than weak and feckless? I must and will be out of this despicable state, come of it what may! Nor on the whole have I any great doubts about succeeding. Often of late I have even begun to look upon my long dismal seven years of pain as a sort of blessing in disguise. It has kept me clear of many temptations to degrade myself; and really when I look back upon my former state of mind I scarcely see how except by sickness or some most grinding calamity, I could have been delivered out of it into the state proper for a man in this world. Truly, as you say, the ways of that Being who guides our destiny, are wonderful, and past finding out. Let us trust that for all of us this will yet prove the best!

I had millions of things to say; but my sheet is done. Tell Alick to resolve all this with immense thoughtfulness, and see what can be done. In our farm, I am going to put you under regimen, and make you as whole as you have ever been! I am convinced it is quite feasible. — Alick must write the moment this arrives, or his letter may not find me here. In less than three weeks you may see me! Good night, my dearest Mother!

I am ever your's, /

T. Carlyle

[P.S.] Since I finished this, I have got Alick's letter, and the Courier all in order! Thank Alick and my dear Father for the pleasure and contentment they have given me: had I got their letter a day sooner, this sheet had not been yours. If I am more than three weeks from this date in coming home, I will write again. The Courier does come regularly; but Alick need not send above another. I am going out to Shooters Hill to see the Bullers; I should have gone to-day, but it was far better that I staid. I mean to send off my trunk by a Leith Smack this very week! But I do go by land myself. Jack is quite well 4 days ago. You must give my warmest love to every soul at home. They will have to commence their nursing whenever I return! This seal is the Carlyle's crest, engraved from that dotard's ‘History’ of the family.3 Adieu!

You have plenty of eggs at Mainhill? I get them here fresh at the rate of—3d a piece! rotten for 1½; half-do, for 2d!!! I am going to ride fiercely for two whole weeks after my return: so ask Alick to inspect the gear [underscored twice]!