The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO ANNA D. B. MONTAGU; 17 August 1828; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18280817-TC-ADBM-01; CL 4:388-392.


Craigenputtoch, 17th August, 1828—

My Dear Friend,

Jane being from home these two days, visiting her Mother, I made bold to open your Letter last night; especially as I saw that it was yours, and had “with speed” on it. My first duty is to thank you and Mr Montagu, with warmest gratitude, for your continued kindness to me, and remembrance of my interests now when I have been long out of your sight, nay of late am as it were “dead in law.”1 In the next place, I must remind you, for surely I understood you to know already, that I actually was, many months ago, as good as a candidate for that very office of Moral Professorship; in which quest too, it is needless to add, I nowise succeeded. About this time twelvemonth, I had much talk on the subject with Mr Jeffrey, who, being one of the most friendly men now breathing, entered zealously into the matter; wrote twice to Brougham about it, and receiving no answer, besieged the great Lawyer in person for a whole day, in “six assaults,” I think he said, to the same effect, and with the same discouraging result. Brougham fought shy, and even to his most intimate companion would give no definite reply. I myself was willing to have travelled as far as Penrith, and spoken with the man, at great length on the subject: I was even anxious to have stood forth before so influential a person in my natural figure; and said to him: Here am I, Sir; the man my stars and I have made me, so weak and so strong as you see; I have a message to my fellow men on this very subject to Moral Philosophy: can I be allowed to deliver it from your pulpit, or must I seek myself some other?” It even struck me that I might make rather a good Teacher in this department; for I actually felt that I not only thought but knew and believed some little regarding it; there seemed to be a Truth in me; which there or elsewhere I must and would deliver. “Elsewhere,” Mr Brougham seemed to think would be better; and I knew not but he was right. At all events, it was clear that nothing more was to be said or done on the subject by me; so, being thus gently waved away from the arena, I turned my face elsewhither, and since then have heard or said or thought little more about the business.

Not long ago some new light was thrown on that hitherto almost invisible obstruction, and I had farther confirmation in my system of indifference. Charles Buller, a good pupil of mine, had, as he informed me, been endeavouring to strengthen my interest with Mill;2 but was met by information that “I was a mystic, and altogether inadmissible.” Now, God knows I am no mystic, but have a clear Scotch head on my shoulders, as any man need, and too strong in logic and scepticism rather than too weak: however once for all these good souls (Leonard Horner3 thinks so too) are possessed with this notion; and how can I or any mortal influence drive it out of them? Nay, is it not true, and clear as day, that I do reckon Jeremiah Bentham no Philosopher, and the Utilitarian system little better than the gross Idol-worship of a generation that has forsaken and knows not the “Invisible God”? And will these “silver-shrine-makers,” can I hope, give me their conviction, or even give me hearing? Will they not “cry the more, for the space of two hours,”4 let the Townclerk reason never so plausibly?

On the whole I could not pretend much anxiety about that Professorship; as indeed for many years I have been learning to feel less and less about all terrestrial arrangements whatsoever. Food and raiment surely I shall get in this world; and, as I profess to believe, it has nothing more that a true man cannot give to himself. Nevertheless, happy enough to have at length in some measure discovered my true vocation, and nowise blind to the dangers from without and from within that beset a man isolated from his fellow-men, I applied, as you know, for another office of the same sort; preferring even St Andrews to utter solitude. To the St Andrews Electors I was recommended by Saint and Atheist, by Poet and Philosopher, Tory and Whig; Jeffrey wrote a Letter which itself (had it been half true) might have got me any Professorship in this Kingdom; nay I have still, unpresented, a Testimonial in three pages from the wisest living man,5 which I prize more than any patent in the Herald's Office. The St Andrews Professors thought a certain Dr Cook would be more suitable: and I accordingly came hither; still bent on “professing Morals,” in one shape or another, but from a chair of my own, and to such audience as I myself could gather round me.

And now, my dear good Madam, after this heroical narrative, you see as clearly as myself all that I mean and think in regard to this London or any other Professorship. Has any change taken place in their views with regard to me or their office, I am ready at an hour's warning to treat with them, to give and take the fullest explanation; and will accept that or any such service, with purpose to labour truly in it, so soon as it appears that I, and not some altogether different man, am wanted there. After all this, I need hardly add that I think no such change can have taken place: for I heard from Mr Jeffrey only two weeks ago, and nothing was [said] or hinted on that matter. Judge ye! And if it seem of any consequence, let me [hear instant]er. But I believe it will be of none.

So much for business properly so called. Will you, some time when you can save an hour from such “business,” call forth all your charity, and write me a long Letter, of the sort I used to read three years ago? Kind it is in you not to forget me; yet it is a kindness not unrepaid. O why is the spirit of man so often jarred into “harsh thunder,” when sweetest tones of melody may be awakened from its strings! Why do we not always love, and why is the loved soul shut out from us by poor obstructions, that we see it only in glimpses, or at best look as from a prison-grate and into a prison-grate! Surely, surely, in that other country, “they order matters better.”

Poor Charles!6 What a sore fight, at the very entrance of the battleground! Yet who knows whether it be not better? Pain, incessant Pain, is a stern monitor: but it has a lesson to teach us, a lesson which we cannot learn too soon. The Hebrew Psalmist prayed that he might not fall into the hands of men but of God:7 and is it not as well to learn the nothingness of Life, and man's true strength and glory, in youth as in old age? In the silent school of Disease, as in the noisy school of Business, from false men and weak men and thousand times repeated disappointment? Of late years I begin to be even thankful for my sickness: you speak of it in the past tense, “suffered”; but you might have used the present and the future; I believe I shall never more have health. I required it all, for I was a fool; and so does your Charles: yet at times it is hard for us. I do not love this clay tenement of mine: I think were my little Task once done, I could be well enough contented to flit. But Whither [underscored twice]?— Whither I am ordered, should it even be Nowhither [underscored twice]. God bless you always!

—Your affectionate Friend, /

Thomas Carlyle

Give my blessing also to Badams, whom I love to the end: he is to see Jeffrey when he comes to Scotland; we have settled it together.

My good Jane was well on Friday, when she rolled off from me, and still in love with us both. Has your “Anne”8 long since forgotten me? I sent a message9 to her Poet the other day; but he is a recreant, and will not write. Tell him so from me.