August 1857-June 1858

The Collected Letters, Volume 33


TC TO LORD ASHBURTON ; 15 September 1857; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18570915-TC-LOA-01; CL 33: 83-85


Chelsea, 15 Septr, 1857–

Dear Lord Ashburton,

The autumnal rains have often set me thinking of those grim moors and you;1 and I am very glad to hear a word of tidings out of that memorable region again. Miss Stewart Mackenzie I have seen once or twice in late years: a bright vivacious Damsel straggling fitfully about, like a sweet-briar,—and with hooks under her flowers, too, I understand; for they say she is much of a coquette, and fond of doing a stroke of “artful dodging”; tho' I cannot testify to her ever trying the least particle of her skill in that way on my own poor self.2 If she turn up again, please give her my respects, and say nothing of the arts of dodging, whether she have them or not.

Mason your Minister3 appears to be an interesting man, by your account. How he is to live in that stern manse whh I used to see in my morning walks, or what to do with himself in the dark of winter, with no companion but the Scandinavian Frost-Jotuns,4 I cannot conjecture. If he is really an intelligent studious man, might it not be an act of human munificence to give him a few books? Histories of Scotland, of the Church of Scotland, &c: £10 or £5 spent well on Books might be a great gift to him. I mention this, not knowing in the least what propriety or feasibility may be in it: a vague suggestion merely; knowing that if a good action of the kind were open to you, few men would be thankfuller to do it.— On the whole, I wish he wd come and take my winter here, and leave me his (minus the preaching); whh would be a wonderful exchange indeed, in respect to difference of wares!—

We heard rumours of a steam-voyage in the Mediterranean, of that voyage to India,5 too: both of which enterprises I rejoice to see fallen asleep again. Surely Sir G. Clerk6 is abundantly in the right! Little could be “learned” in India within a measurable time, in proportion to the huge expenditure of effort needed to get thither. And alas we already know a great deal more than we are likely to get done in that matter soon: I shd say, To have a real Army in India (what my friend Fritz wd have called an Army), instead of the portentous Sham of an Army there has evidently been: this, it seems to me, is the Law and Prophets at present; all else entirely useless without this;—and on the terms that there are, I foresee difficulties manifold (which I hope are not impossibilities) ahead of this. Nay a real Army for Great Britain itself, instead of the phantasmal one, consisting of brave mostly drunken soldiers trained to do platoon exercise, and commanded by “long-poles with cocked-hats on them” (very fearless long-poles, if you will): this also seems to me an interest terribly vital to Great Britn at present.7 In fact, when I often think of it, What other Reality except the Drill-Serjeant is there afoot in the Official world at present? If the Drill-serjt too become heterodox and a phantasm—!—

Alas, I conceive very well how you seek distant enterprises; what reluctance you feel to front that big empty palace at The Grange, and take the sad floutings of the memories it will raise in you! Nevertheless, to look them in the face; not to flinch or fly; for, except in your own place, valiantly working at your own task, there is no refuge to be found in the world. Perhaps you would postpone it till you be hardened a little more? To this I can say nothing,—except what doubtless you often say to yourself, “Hora fugit [the Hours fly past]: the Day is on the decline; the Night cometh wherein no man can work!”8— — I have always had in my heard9 you were to do something great there, in the way of Exemplary Schoolmastership (so let me term it); surely one of the things most of all wanted in this epoch of ours. I surmise, you rather think of writing than of taking up the concrete job and working it. But in my own private mind, I always say No to this. There are men with a better or as good a chance to write: but where is there alive in England a man with such a chance to do,—which is worth a thousand “writings” tho' done by the pen of angels, on this great matter.— What it is you are to do, or how to set about it I never know; nor in these harrassed times have I the least opportunity to turn it over even in my own extraneous head. But that there is to be something, and this a thing done, I never cease to hope;—and I often solace myself with thinking I may have the chance to cooperate in it, I much to my comfort.10 Nothing would be welcomer, were this Book once done: for I do not mean to follow that poor trade any farther, however long I live;—and work, not idleness, must still be the rule for me!

If all this is but a dream, and there is or was nothing in it, forgive me;—and I will end here for the present. Yours ever truly T. Carlyle