The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 12 March 1828; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18280312-TC-JAC-01; CL 4:339-344.


21. Comley Bank, 12th March, 1828—

My Dear Jack,

I have taken, as you see, an enormously long sheet, that so I may have space to write at pleasure; intending not to be concise but the very contrary. It is true, I sent you all our news, by Post, only a few days ago; but much palabra still remains at the bottom of my inkstand; and in the case of a ship-packet, one may speak freely.1 I have endeavoured also to forage for you in other quarters: letters from Murray and Gordon I expect this evening; one from William Grahame with a Book is already lying on the table for you. Could I but have added a stock from Craigenputtock and Scotsbrig! But the good people there lie out of the way; so all that I can do is to inclose for you such fragments, of their Letters to me, as I can still find secreted about my pockets; wher[e]by you may see that they are all moderately well, and nowise forgetful of Mr Greatheart. I have scraped together four Dumfries Newspapers, and sundry smaller items may still present themselves; so that on the whole, I may hope this package will prove a windfal[l] to you. A “collection of handbills,” as Quintus Fixlein would say, must always be very incomplete: indeed I did not think of it till yesterday, and so have gathered only one; otherwise the whole “picture of Edinburgh” might in this way have been very comfortably presented to you.

But what chiefly grieves me at present is the tardiness of Tait's London Shippers. The Books should have been here last week; and were not come yesterday at noon; nay nor yet, as I conjecture; for Tait was to send me instant word. And then the Rotterdam Ship was to sail one of these days, perhaps tomorrow; and we have already fixed monday next for setting out to Dumfriesshire. Judge whether I am anxious! Besides all which I yesterday chanced to slide away my heel at the north-east corner of the College, on the steep dry slippery pavement, and stagger and sprawl up and down in consequence, nay even for a moment to stretch my entire length on the causeway; by which means my left knee is lamed in some degree, and I cannot walk, on rough ground, without halting, or at all, without difficulty. However, I will write to thee; then hop along to Tait's and see whether there is news; and so do all I can, which tho' not much is evidently the most.

We have not the slightest particle of news here, since I wrote; no farther word of St Andrews; except a report that it is not to be finally settled till November; Dr Chalmers for reasons best known to himself having declined resigning till then. I suppose they mean formally settled; for finally settled it will be long before that time, nay as I believe is very nearly so already. Dr Cook will be Professor there, as will be both seen and heard tell of; and I—shall be Professor nowhere. In fact, the people incline to reckon me a somewhat dubious character in these parts. One Brown[e], an Advocate, and Editor of the Mercury Newspaper, published a critique of me the other week,2 which I would give sixpence that I had here to send you, but I despatched it straightway to Scotsbrig. He says that I am as it were the most beautiful penny-candle you could see in a winter night, but that unhappily a “murky cloud of German Transcendentalism” is descending over me; whereby what can tallow and wick avail tho' never so goodly? The light must go out in its socket; and nothing remain but the waily-dreg3 of the Mercury to illuminate the Earth. I have met Brown[e] since, at Sir W. Hamilton's: he looked very frightened, but gathered confidence in my greatness of soul, as the night went on; and proved himself indeed, to speak with brevity, an entire hash [a foolish, confused person: underscored twice]. That is the short definition of him.

This night at Sir W. Hamilton's I reckoned on the whole a pleasant one. Moir was there; a kind, lively, very ingenious Small, with whom I am growing very intimate; Dequincey also, tho' in the low stage of his opium-regimen, and looking rather care-stricken; then “Cyril Thornton” or “Odoherty,” Sir W's Brother,4 an exceedingly gentle and wholesome man, and, stuttering in his speech, who reminds you much of our East-Lothian Dickenson. The rest were German Tourists, and Editorial gentlemen; and babes and sucklings. One was a son of Dr Russel's5 who had been Aitken's pupil, and at Munich: he has since brought me down Jean Paul's Campaner Thal,6 and his own card. We sat till the small hours, and Sir W. proved a modest and most courteous landlord: Cyril Thornton and I drank half a glass of Claret, and supped on one potatoe each. One “mealy root”; and this without comment from any one, which I reckoned polite. Of talk there was no end; and tho' much of it was of the smallest, it was innocent to a degree, and perhaps better than mere nothing.— I have met the Stot7 also (at MacMillan's); but think not of him more highly than I was wont. On the whole, the literary society of Edinburgh may be about as good as any other literary society; and here as well as there and everywhere it well beseems us to be “content with the day of small things.”— Among our visiters I may mention a little wizzened Captain Skinner,8 who produced a card from Goethe “Schönstens grüssend” [“with most affectionate greetings”]. Skinner turns out to be from Kirkcaldy, a lively harmless little man, and the best singer perhaps “within a hundred miles of him.” He gave us Kennst du das Land [Knowest thou the land],9 in a style which even at München must have been pronounced to be herrlich [delightful] and himmlisch [heavenly].— So goes it with us here; “much in the old way.” Jeffrey and I continue to love one another, like a new Pylades and a new Orestes; at least such often is my feeling to the little man. But he is so busy, that it is not once in the month you catch a glimpse of them; and even then he is spirited away from you in five minutes by some solicitor before the Supreme Court, and you see no more of him. Poor good little Duke! There are few men like thee in this world, Epicurean in creed tho' thou be, and living all thy days among Turks in grain! Wilson I can get little good of, tho' we are as great as ever. Poor Wilson! It seems always as if he shrunk from too close a union with any one: his whole being seems hollowed out, as it were, and false and counterfeit in his own eyes; so he encircles with wild cloudy sportfulness, which to me often seems reckless and at bottom full of sharp sorrow. O that a man would not halt between two opinions! How can any one love Poetry and rizzard [dried] haddocks with whisky toddy; outwatch the Bear with Peter Robinson10 and at the same time with William Wordsworth? For the last four weeks, poor Wilson has been very unwell; and his friends are not without apprehensions for him. He purposes to visit Switzerland in summer, and to take Dequincey with him. I called yesterday on Dequincey about two o'clock, and found him invisible in bed. His landlady, a dirty very wicked looking woman, said if he rose at all it was usually about five o'clock! Unhappy little opium-eater; and a quicker little fellow, or of meeker soul (if he but lived in Paradise or Lubberland) is not to be found in these parts!

I have involved Mr Greatheart in an ocean of gossip; so I may as well go on to say that the “intellectual city” is at present entertaining itself not a little with the “Apocrypha controversy,” in which Grey the minister and Thomson the minister11 are exhibiting “the various manners” of offence and defence to the edification of all parties interested. Translated into the language of the Shambles, where their spirit clearly enough originates, these pamphlets of theirs mean simply: “Sir! you are a d——d rascal”; and “No Sir! you are a d——d rascal.” Happily I have read next to nothing of the whole, and heard as little of it as I possibly could: but now some private wag has taken up the task of caricaturing in pictorial wise these reverend persons; and a crowd, shoving and shouldering for a clear and clearer view, may be seen at all printshop windows, contemplating the distorted figures of their pawstors,12 depicted as bull-dogs and greyhounds; as preachers and prize-fighters, climbing the steeple like orthodox men, or throttling one another like exasperated fishwomen; for there are said to be twelve caricatures in the course of publication; and a fresh one comes out every now and then. What Thomson and Grey say to it I know not; for myself [I] sh[all] only say in the words of that old poem:

May the Lord put an end unto all cruel wars,
And send peace and contentment unto all British Tars!13

With regard to Edinburgh, then, you see pretty well how matters stand. I must now for a moment or two direct your at[tention] to Munich. That you will continue to keep the most copious Journal of your procee[dings] there I cannot for a moment doubt; no less that you will continue from time to time sending me sufficient news of your adventures outward and inward, that we may see how it fares with you, and has fared. Would I could send you some geprüftes Wort [expert advice] about the plan of conducting your investigations, and the points you should inquire into there! I can only again bid you in general keep your eyes open, and gather knowledge of men and things wherever it is to be had. Do you look at all into the political condition of Bavaria? Endeavour to ascertain this, as the basis of all other inquiries. How does the social machine work? Where is the security each man feels that no one will molest him or his rights? Inquire of well-informed men as to this, and all that pertains thereto. I feel great dimness in regard to the History of Germany generally: I know no book but some one or two of Dohm's,14 and these only by report. Doubtless there are many persons in your Umgebung [company], that can tell you all that; which, therefore, mark down in your Journal, and your memory, for your letters must treat of more special matters. Then as to the Education of Germany the plans of its Gymnasiums and Universities: I reckon that a great service might be done to Britain were this matter fully expounded and set before them. The manners of the people you naturally study; and having a shrewd comprehension will not fail to see a little into. I asked you somewhat about Books last time; but will not enter into that matter farther here; unless you are very poor, I mean to say unless I am very poor, I will send you a sum to lay out for me in that way before you leave the country. Meanwhile as a matter of course, in spite of all these extraneous calls, you may properly direct your main attention to Medicine; and incidentally and almost insensibly you will acquire from the society you move in much cultivation no less available than surgery or anatomy in practice. Keep your clear Scotch eyes open, Doctor! that again is all I can tell you.— I suppose, it is much too soon to talk of seeing you home again: yet perhaps you could throw a little light on this point also, which more than one of us now and then discusses with himself. True there is no need for haste; while you feel that you are learning fast, and are not weary, stay where you are: yet home is home; and there is a time for all things.

How we are to be disposed of for next year is still as uncertain as ever. The p[l]asterers have not done at Craigenputtock, it will be seen, perhaps not nearly so; and the road is lying as we left it. For this year there will be many drawbacks at the Craig, and only one furtherance, the cheapness of living. Heaven direct us how to do! For my own share I have long known that all places which the eye of Heaven visits15 are most respectable places: but we shall, as usual, see!— Perhaps I may write to you from Scotsbrig or the Craig, if there be any news. I am to be thereabouts for perhaps two weeks[,] Jane meanwhile at Templand, where I grieve to say there is but a sad and sorrowing household at present. The old man is getting weaker; and poor dear little Auntie16 has suffered and is suffering hard things. We are all alarmed for her of late; for she seems to be in the last stage of exhaustion, and afflicted with dreadful spasmodic affections. Good soul! But Heaven is merciful to her; for it sends her a humble and loving heart.— Jane I believe means to write you a word, and perhaps the wee Jane too.17 I also may add a word or two before the Packet goes off. At present my time and space are done. No syllable about these Books! I must up to Tait, and then to meet Grahame at the Royal Exchange, and bring him down to dinner. All good be with you my Brother! T. Carlyle.