1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 7 March 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250307-TC-JAC-01; CL 3:296-300.


Birmingham, 7th March, 1825—

My dear Jack,

Long before this time, I daresay, you reckoned on seeing me; and as neither I nor the poor Book which has detained me so villainously, have yet made our appearance, you must feel rather at a loss to account for our delay. The mischances of bibliopolic and bibliographic life appear to be innumerable. After fighting with incessant ardour for many months against the drivelling of printers, I imagined that the Life of Schiller was at length fairly in readiness, and would be out before the public in two days. I went out to Shooter's Hill to see the Bullers; and on my return, I found—that the publication was postponed for three weeks, the miserable haddock1 of an Engraver having discovered that his plate was not right, or like to be so before that time! To storm and imprecate was vain: I have waited four weeks in patience; and I know not that the thing is done even yet. It shall be a time and times and half a time before I publish again on such a principle.

As till the arrival of Schiller in the North, my own presence there was like to be of little benefit, I was the more easily prevailed upon to come and “talk” a week or two with Irving, and recreate myself with the friends I had found in England, before I took my leave. I also purposed to come in by Birmingham, and carry with me the ultimate precepts of Badams in regard to the management of my health. In this latter point, I have but been partially successful: I have seen Badams once or twice in London; I came here eight days ago, and staid eight and forty hours in his company; but at the end of that period he was forced away again to Town, and does not hope to get back in less than three weeks. At all events, he had little new to tell me; except that I must continue to abstain both in the way of food and study. He is a kind good fellow; and I could not see him leave me, in his painful quest of cooperation from the “wild beasts of Ephesus,”2 as he calls the new Mining Companies, without feeling that I was parting from a friend. He has written to me twice since his departure: he insists that I shall take a little pony of his with all its furniture; ride home on it thro' the Peak country in Derbyshire, and keep the steed in remembrance of him. It is a ches[t]nut Welsh animal, sharp-tempered and in high condition; will canter fifty miles with an ordinary man, and never flinch. I am more than half tempted to accept this kind proposal; knowing as I do that it comes from the heart in a great measure, scarcely at all from the vanity of its honest author. I have written to Oldham to see if Irving Carlyle can give me entertainment for a day or two; if so I really may take little Taffy with me, and come prancing home on it, like some nondescript between a Knight-errant and a jobber! If not, I travel by the Manchester Express; and in either case, I calculate on being home about this day week. You will have a letter there for me, as soon as you have time: the books cannot now be many days till they reach you; my trunk ought ere this to be in your lodgings, or at least in the Shipping Co. of Leith's warehouse. Has it yet arrived? It was to come by the Hawk (Capt Nisbet), was booked about three weeks ago; and I have the receipt by me.

You will infer that for the last month or so I have been excessively idle. The same alas! may be predicated of my whole residence in England. Yet I am far from regretting my visit to that frank and hospitable land. I have found friends here; and seen characters and conditions of men that may be useful to me in my future life. I return to Scotland with a far lighter heart than I carried from it: I seem to see through my perverse destiny, and to be prepared for achieving my deliverance from its evils, or at least taking more advantage of its capabilities. I know not whether Alick has informed you, that we have actually found a place of abode in Annandale; the farm of Repentance Hill, at present occupied by Blackadder, a pleasant spot, with a house greatly superior to the common run of such establishments. I calculate on setting myself there, for twelve months at least: I will write a certain modicum of prose daily; I will ride and dig, and to a certainty recover a much sounder state of health. In summer thou and I will study together; if we were once fairly settled, I calculate on our being all very comfortable, compared with what we have been. What is there to hinder us? We have hands and heads ready to employ themselves in honest labour; we owe no man any thing; we will sit under our goose-berry bush and our saugh [willow]-tree, and no one shall make us afraid. It is but utterly to banish Vanity with all her hideous Progeny from our hearts and habitations, and the strength that is in us will be sufficient for our wants. Does not the very hen that scratches on the dunghill find herself a place of rest, and happiness such as her hennish nature requires? What then is a man, with all his gifts and proud talents, if he cannot go and do likewise? It is by exorbitancy in his aims or loitering in his fulfilment of them, that he fails of being happy, and useful in the sphere assigned him. Let us be wise and patient, and all will be well.

For My future employments, these must in some degree depend on the Bibliopolical conveniences of Edinburgh. I mean to write to Brewster on the subject, about the time of Schiller's arrival. The delay of that preliminary fills me with bitterness every time I think of it. But it was myself who recommended this spooney of an Engraver; I thought him a needy and meritorious man; and tho' after all this waiting his plate will not be worth a doit, I cannot murmur. I have determined to let him have his full time, for his future fortune depends a good deal on this his first appearance; and then if I see fit, I can cut him forever and a day. The Book will sell, I think; tho' Taylor & Hessey are the most pitiful of all terrestrial Booksellers: they made me a sort of offer about a similar Life of Voltaire; £ 100 for the first edition; £ 130 for each following one; the book to be printed in Edinr if I liked, and at any time I might direct. I did not strike; we higgled on the “follo[w]ing” editions; these I wished to keep entirely in my own hand. In truth the people displease me, being miserable people; so I took care to leave the bargain open, in such a form that without disgrace I might drop it entirely if a better offer shewed itself, or renew it and conclude it, if not. I am still rather fond of Schiller's Works, tho' not by any means tied to that scheme. In fact, I feel a considerable quantity of contempt for all the Booksellers of the Universe: with a little health, I promise myself the pleasure of writing something independent of them, and their pelf-loving speculations. They are bipeds of an erect form,3 and speak articulately; therefore they deserve the name of men, and from me at least shall always get it. But for the rest, their thoughts are redolent of “solid pudding”; they are as the pack-horses of literature, which the Author should direct with a halter and a goad, and remunerate with clover and split beans; woe to him if the process is reversed; if he with a noose about his neck is tied to their unsightly tail, and made to plash and sprawl along with them, thro' every stank [ditch] to which their love of proviant leads them! Better were it to be a downright hairy cuddy, and crop thistles and gorse, with humble unrepining tooth, on any of the commons of this Isle.

I believe, Jack, I told thee many of these things before, in a letter which I have a faint remembrance of having written some weeks before I left London. Thou wilt excuse repititions; for my habitudes have been all broken, and their confusion has extended over every chamber of my inward man. I thought it better to write any thing, than not at all. I long to hear from thee, how thou studyest and farest. I admire and envy thy unbroken diligence, and the proud hopes which lie in solemn majesty before thee. So was it once with me; so, tho' chastened and illuminated and humbled by the teaching of Experience, will it be again. Fear nothing: the honest man has nothing to fear. Thou and I have yet many difficulties to encounter; but we have ten times the strength to surmount them all. Let us stand by one another truly, and defy them! How prospers the German anatomy? The medicine, and the general reading? And above all, the honest unpretending but substantial spirit of my Doilter? I have much to hear from you when we meet; much to tell you. Would to Heaven these books would come, that I might see you! Write at any rate, directly and copiously. The image of Edinburgh has grown faint within me: I view it with a mingled feeling of acerbity and affection. If it treat me no better than it did, I will relieve it from my presence forever. The true heart deserves to meet true hearts; the thinking head with minds that think. The Deevil himself shall not constrain me to tabernacle with students and dominies, nor yet to live in solitude, any more! Hang it! Is the universe bounded by the circuit of the West Kirk parish?4 There is a sky and a sun in all parts of the temperate zone: seek and thou shalt find!

Plead my excuse to Murray if you ever see him; and say I hope I helped his pedagogue.5 Murray is a shallow mortal, I daresay; but let us not despise the farthing in the day of penury. How goes the undying Cron? These poor men are stunted by the atmosphere of the North; and here the much beef of the country obfuscates every thing. How few ever get out of school to the end of their lives! Thomas Campbell is yet a Student of the Glasgow College! Poor “Theodoric a domestic tale”!6 Neither Edinr Review nor any other creature can save it from the sting of Death. I heard Coleridge tawlk one night a fortnight since. He took an ounce of snuff, speculated in half intelligible Kantism, and vilipended universal nature, in all her productions, but himself. I will tell thee when we meet. Adieu, my dear Tongleg! Write in a week. I am ever thy true Brother,

T. Carlyle

[In margins:] I am here with a younger brother of Badams'; a good-natured, valetudinarian colour-maker. We do very cannily together. I read books, and now and then make calls. I have begun to lear[n] Spanish, with one of the Refugees whom I met in London. It seems particularly easy: I will shew thee when we meet.

George Johnstone, it seems, is no longer at Oldham: I have written twice and got no answer. I expect to hear from Irving Carlyle to-morrow. No whisper of the poor Targer? Where on Earth can he be?