The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 29 November 1827; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18271129-TC-JAC-01; CL 4:287-293.


21. Comley Bank, 29th November, 1827—

My Dear Jack,

It is a thousand pities to send a Letter all the way to Munich, of so very insipid a composition as this must needs be; written as it is under the influence of a most decided catarrh, which, tho' now on the wane, is not by any means concluded, and for the last three days has kept me in the most interesting state. Even now, I have two shirts on, and a huge uncomfortable comforter, and my seal-skin cap, and am gargling at intervals with a solution of cream-of-tartar and black-currant jelly. In short, I am an entire Moluimbo:1 “I cannot eat,” as a sick Englishman says; I cannot even smoke!

Nevertheless a Letter must be written, that it meet the London foreign Mail on Tuesday; for I have put off far too long already; and unless I take heed, am like to lose all my old praise of regularity as a correspondent. The last Letter itself was too late (by two days or so?); and if you have written again before this arrive, it introduces a burble [tangle] into our correspondendence, a burble, “which has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.”— Your Munich Epistle had reached London in 9 days; and to our great joy, it arrived here on the 17th last. What wonderful things you must have seen by the road; things not to be comprised in one sheet, but in quires of sheets! Be sure you keep a full Notebook; and let us have the thing fresh and complete when you return. Meanwhile, your present whereabout is the matter that concerns us most; let us know all about your studies and pursuits, and your manner of existence in that strange Eichhal Schloss [Castle], with its marble-headed stoves, and its other exotic appurtenances. The old woman with her portion Thee [pot of tea] and her Schlafen Sie ja recht wohl [May you sleep very well]! set us all a-laughing, good dame; tho' except in the circumstance of its being our own Doctor Tongleg that was so addressed, there was nothing to laugh at in so charitable a wish. You mention that the journey “cost you more than you anticipated.” Alas! My good Doctor, our anticipations of foreign cheapness are almost always false. You add in Arabic numerals that you have still a number of hard sovereigns left, which we took at first to be seventeen, but discovered afterwards to be eleven; for the writing there seems blotted out as with a tear. But do not, my good Brother, let thy mighty heart be cast down, for the Mammon of this world! A few more hard sovereigns we are yet, Thank Heaven, in a condition to furnish: write for what is necessary, and it will be sent, if you tell us also how to send it. Above all, do not neglect this same dissection and surgery, for the sake of any poor thrift there might be in the omission of it. Go on and prosper; learn all and everything that is to be learned: and if you come home to us a good well-appointed Man and Physician, we will not think the money ill-bestowed. Nay it is possible enough that you may even at Munich be able to earn so much yourself; at least, if you think of writing anything about foreign medicine (that is, so soon as you know it), I have little doubt the Frazer Reviewers will readily accept it. But let not this, or any other consideration, divert you from your grand task, which is to learn at Munich whatsoever is specially or only to be learnt there.

But now I reverse the speculum, and bring you from Bayern to your own old Fatherland. We have heard both from Scotsbrig and Craigenputtock not long ago; and all was well or nearly so in both places. Our Father's rheumatism was all but entirely gone a fortnight ago; and I think had any change for the worse taken place they would have written us, for I charged them strictly. Both our Mother and he had been at the “Michaelmas Market”;2 the stuff also, including even the potatoes was safely housed; so that the goodman felt much more at ease. The only article of news that Mag sent me was tidings of the death very suddenly of Margaret Kerr, once of Bush, and whom we have often seen as the beauty of Hoddam Kirk, and truly one of the most bright and buxom women anywhere to be looked on. Thus in all provinces of existence are we reminded that man's foundation is on the quicksand, and that the fashion of this world passeth away.3 Happily there is another and a diviner one, which does not pass.

Neither our Mother nor Jane, as you will have guessed are yet here. My Mother will not come, till I go and fetch her, which may not be till after some number of weeks: Jane is ready to come directly; and has written to that effect. We sent back an answer encouraging her to come up forthwith; and requesting that she would appoint the day, when I was to wait for her by the Langholm coach. We still expect her shortly; but since that time she has not written a word. I desired Alick, last Wednesday, to have her expedited if he could. Whether he would get my letter I know not; for perhaps he was not at the market; Dumfries, it would appear, being turned topsyturvy by rejoicing that the Duke4 had come of age, on Monday last; an event which has filled three counties with sky-rockets, and whiskypunch, and every sort of tumult.

Here, at Comley Bank, we are all much as when you left us. Jane's complaint proved rather lingering, and no remedy, it seemed, but Time would avail: however she is now, when she does not walk too much, about as well as ever. As to myself, I do not reckon that I have fallen off in health, but rather improved; for this cold, which must soon be gone, I esteem of little moment; nay perhaps it may prove advantageous, for I have traced a sort of sub-feverishness lurking about me for several weeks, and I have hopes that this has brought it to a crisis and removed it.— Pray Heaven, you may have no catarrhs at Munich! Keep warm wrappages about you; for I am told the climate is very severe.— Alison Greave has left us with tears in her eyes, and we have got another handmaid who does very well; very superior indeed to Alison in working, as far as she is inferior in depth of meditation and intellectual acumen. I should mention also that a most superb Leghorn Bonnet has arrived from the Straw-platter of Meyer (Mary Gray);5 and by me, with due introductory narrative, been presented to the Highland Society, where tho' it is somewhat against their rules, we are in hopes it may gain a prize. Henry Inglis got it sent for us, thro' the medium of some Hebridian Laird, who is his brother-in-law.6 Poor Goody Graham has far more merit than many an Academician, who has carried off his prize-medal.

The Edinr Review is out some time ago; and the “State of German Literature” has been received with considerable surprise and approbation by the Universe. Thus for instance, De Quinc[e]y praises it in his Saturday Post;7 Sir W. Hamilton tells me that it is “cap'tal”; and Wilson8 informs John Gordon that it has “done me a deal o' good.” May a bountiful Heaven be praised for its mercies! I suppose I shall by and by rise into a pitch of literary glory, which may all but equal me with the Stot9 himself. In the meanwhile I have written another long paper on Zacharias Werner, and sent it off the other day to Frazer, who seems very anxious to have it.10 He is just returned from (the west of) Germany; and, I suppose, is all agog about their Literature. He had seen Goethe, Tieck, &c; and engaged Julius to correspond with him.11— All this being off my hands, I took a week's recreation, and two days before this catarrhal visitation, had begun to prepare for Tasso, by reading his Life, Prose Works, &c &c. I hope to say something sensible about Tasso, if I have nothing of that sort to say, it will be better altogether to hold my peace. So much for my Literature, which is almost all I know of British Literature in general since you left us. To descend even lower, I may tell you that Patterson12 has got the College Prize, and his Essay is to be printed, and has been read with unexampled flourishing of drums and trumpets in Dr Hope's13 class-room. Henry Inglis reckons it rather bad; but all other men call it “splendid,” or “most eloquent,” or “magnificent,” or “admirable.” Happily I have not been trysted [afflicted] with too much talk on the subject; and so wait without prepossession to see it in print. Rate was here the other night, and even he spoke with moderation of it, concluding his eulogies in a single sentence, or two at most. The pious Æneas14 is hardly so bilious as he was last year; seems somewhat more argumentative; and talks as incessantly as ever about Chraist, and the Glory of God.— A much stranger visiter was here last Wednesday-night: Thomas De Quinc[e]y the Opium-eater in person with his two children, and sat till midnight! The week before I half accidentally met him one night at Gordon's: he grew pale as ashes at my entrance; but we soon recovered him again; and kept him in flowing talk to a late hour. He is one of the smallest men you ever in your life beheld; but with a most gentle and sensible face, only that the teeth are destroyed by opium, and the little bit of an under-lip projects like a shelf. He speaks with a slow sad and soft voice, in the politest manner I have almost ever witnessed; and with great gracefulness and sense, were it not that he seems decidedly given to prosing. Poor little fellow! It might soften a very hard heart to see him so courteous, yet so weak and poor; retiring home with his two children to a miserable lodging-house, and writing all day for the King of Donkies, the Proprietor of the Saturday Post.15 I lent him Jean Paul's Autobiography which I got lately from Hamburg, and advised him to translate it for Blackwood, that so he might raise a few pounds and “fence off” the Genius of Hunger yet a little while. Poor little De Quincey! He is an innocent man; and, as you said, extremely washable away.— Wilson has never been here yet; but I was to have gone and breakfasted with him that day I took my cold.— Jeffrey also I saw lately: he is still complaining of his health. There is not a word about the London Professorship, except that they are still engaged in filling up places; and, I suppose, still have their eye on that Frenchman, whom perhaps I already told you, D. Stewart had recommended, provided he could speak English. Williams16 is appointed to the Latin Chair; Dr. Turner17 to the Chemistry. There is some talk of Mitchell's18 succeeding Williams in that Rectorship: but I doubt, without right foundation.— As for myself I have lost all thought about London: at this moment, in particular, the image of the labour attached to that office is absolutely frightful. But here as everywhere, we should be in utrumque paratus [prepared either way]. “Il faut s'arranger” [It is necessary to make adjustments], as the French shopkeepers say when you have at length chaffered them into a bargain: il faut s'arranger should the wise man say in every possible condition of existence; for herein lies the essence of all practical philosophy.— But I am drawing towards my limits, and must despatch. I need not bid you write, for that is a standing petition. Write without delay; and as I am an honest man I will answer you in like manner. Tell us all about your household, what you do, what you see, and feel and taste and handle. The last letter had a vein of sadness in it, which however I imputed solely to the strangeness of your new situation, and the abrupt divulsion of so ma[n]y old habitudes, not yet replaced by new. Be of good cheer, my honest Jack; and think of Scotland when thou art lonely, and know that there are hearts there which must ever love thee. Learn what is to be learned and come back to us safe and sound and true as ever. I wish I could send you from Scotsbrig and the Craig all the affectionate imaginings and heartfelt wishes that are there from day to day entertained for you. But they come not even hither: and I, like you, must content myself with fancying them.— You will be minute and special when you write? Are you well in health, and moderately happy? How prosper you in speaking German? Have you seen Cornelius the Painter?19 And is Schelling, the Philosopher, in your University? We were greatly entertained with your graphic sketch of Sklegel: I hope, as above hinted, that you keep large memoranda of all these things among your papers, which by and by we shall read in concert with true edification. I have much to say about Books; but not now when my heart and head are alike wersh [tasteless] as water. I make no apology for dulness; the duller I have been, you will think me the more eager to be kind. And so God always bless you my Brother!— I am as ever, affectionately your's,— T. Carlyle.

You will make my best compliments to your hospitable Baron; and repeat the offer I made last time.— Gordon resolutely declares that he will write to you; but I have my own doubts.— We had Aitken20 here the other day, for the first time since he went to Minto. He likes his place well, his people indifferently, and his fellow-clergy ill. He strongly recommends precautions on your part against Munich winter

[JWC's postscript:] Janes best love, and a kiss if such things are allowable at Munich.

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