TC TO HENRY INGLIS; 31 March 1829; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18290331-TC-HI-01; CL 5:12-16.
TC TO HENRY INGLIS
Craigenputtoch, 31st March, 1829
My Dear Sir,
I employ my first leisure in answering your Letter, which found me some weeks ago in the heart of a scribbling-bout; writing, as too often my case, against Time as well as Dulness.1 Your Letters give us such satisfaction, that I honestly wish we got many more of them; especially as you are so magnanimous in the matter of replies, and make allowance for all my real or imaginary engagements. News from Edinburgh are ever welcome; news from yourself, of your own efforts and progress in good things, are above all welcome. I cannot but reckon it a good feature of your conduct, independently of my own private feelings in regard to it, that you have attached yourself with such trustfulness, and honest, tho' very greatly exaggerated esteem, to one whom except an appearance of some spiritual worth or other there is nothing whatever to recommend. As Time teaches you better to bestow your admiration, I hope the feeling itself will take still deeper root, and spread still more widely: a man who has nothing to admire, nothing to love except his own poor Self, may be reckoned a completed character; he is in the minimum state of moral perfection, no more is to be made of him; a vollendeter Stümj [complete bungler].
I have often said, and far oftener felt, that Nature had bestowed on you an endowment of mind, such as she has refused to thousands; and surely it is not without real interest that I look forward to see how in the future you will unfold and turn to use so fair a talent. For henceforth, it depends nearly altogether on yourself: if you can but learn the lessons which Experience will teach you, it matters little whether these be of a sweet or bitter nature: the bitter as well as the sweet are but the rind enclosing a fruit of Wisdom, which is in itself celestial and perennial. Diligence, unwearied steadfast Endeavour; ‘like the stars, unhasting, unresting’!2 This is the sceptre with which man rules his Destiny; and tho' fragile as a reed, removes mountains, spiritual as well as physical. I need not remind you here that such Diligence as will avail is not of book-studies alone; but primarily, and in a far higher degree respects the heart and moral dispositions. He who loves Truth, knows it to be priceless, and cleaves to it thro' all shapes, in thought, word, and deed, as to the life of his soul. Nay I believe the first and infinitely the most important question with regard to any Student of Knowledge is precisely this very question, so often overlooked: what is the state of his moral temper and practice? Does he really love Truth, or only the market-price of Truth, the praise and money it will sell for? Has he conquered his vanity; or, rather since that is impossible, is he faithfully striving against it? If you answer, No; then I can add that on this way Truth, except mere Macculloch and Macvey-Napier Truth,3 will positively never disclose herself to him: if Yes; then I can say as positively, Let him persevere to the end, and all will be well! Indeed, for flesh and blood, it is hard; and every good man needs to be accomplished with martyr virtues, for he is a martyr (a witness) in his day and generation: but on the other hand, it is the noblest honour to be in the smallest degree fitted out for such enterprizes; and does not the meanest man feel that all royal diadems and Pitt Diamonds4 are but the dust of the highway compared with this invisible and only true majesty, that of the mind?
My earnest often-repeated advice to you, therefore, is: Persevere! Persevere! In all practical, in all intellectual excellence think no acquirement enough. Throw aside all frivolity; walk not with the world, where it is walking wrong; war ad necem [to the death] with Pride and Vanity and all forms of Self-conceit within you; be diligent in season and out of season! It depends on you, whether we are one day to have another man, or only another money-gaining and money-spending Machine.
You speak about Books, and the want of an aim in your studies. Herein, I believe, your own best judgement must be your best guide. Wherever you feel a call, a genuine wish for Knowledge, it is safest for you to follow it. Only be sure you avoid Dilettantism in all things; be sure you do not take up a subject merely because it is singular, and will get you credit, but because you really love it, and feel the want of it, and find your own reward in pursuing it. For the rest, all sorts of knowledge are available in our day, and the true following of almost any path will lead you into the Temple of Philosophy, which is the best end of them all.— As to writing, for the present, I will neither advise nor dissuade you. If you have any heartfelt interest in any literary matter; any idea that gives you no rest till it be uttered, commit it to paper, and if circumstances favour, to the Press, the sooner the better. Only if you have no such interest, no such idea, do not in any wise regard it as a misfortune (most probably it is a blessing, for the sweetest fruit is longest in ripening) but simply as a sign that your vocation as yet is not to impart but to acquire. Meanwhile tell me always what you project and accomplish in the way of study and reading; and for your own private use, keep plentiful Notebooks, on which let your pen be often occupied.
I must terminate my Lecture; for the space is nigh exhausted. I write these things out of various motives some of which you will not disapprove of.— With regard to ourselves here in this wilderness, much were to be said, did want of paper allow. Craigenputtoch is a stirring place at this moment: carpenters, gardeners, and all manner of ditchers and dikers are beating and braying the Chaos, to see whether order will arise from it. Next time you come (and it must be soon), we hope your vehicle will run more sweetly towards the door. We are also ambitious of shelter in coming years, and thousands of trees are planting about us. To say nothing of seed-time, and my poor Pony turned out to harrow, and carting meal from the mill!
The ‘Leddie’ continues in the most benignant mood towards you. Indeed she has three times this day told me that I should write to ‘Henry’; which I of my own accord had privately purposed to do. She admits at the same time that it is her own duty; but she is ‘so hurried.’ The horse ‘Harry,’ or ‘ Hendrie’ as old Wull the Herd calls him, proves to be a quadruped of respectabbility [sic], and ‘has a fine motion under ane.’
We were very much obliged by your newspaper, and the Edinr Catholic Meeting.5 Be sure to send us such a thing whenever you have opportunity: the oldest Scotch Newspaper is new to us; for except by accident we see nothing save one Examiner weekly. Here too we are all tearing one another to pieces about that everlasting ‘Catholic question’; Petitions in all Churches and Parishes, which men women and children are called upon to sign. Ruling-Elders go thro' the country with them; and call upon ‘the heads of families.’ I believe, one poor Dissenting Minister at Minnyive, and myself and an old Atheist down in this Parish are the only three of the whole district that would not put pen to Paper. And did you hear how poor M'Diarmid6 rushed in like a Pianta-Leone7 with fifty chosen men at his back to the very heart of an anticatholic meeting at Dumfries, and was received with curses, almost with cudgel-strokes? Thirty Couriers were thrown up in one day! Had I known in time, I would almost have gone down to help him myself: poor little fellow it was the most gallant thing he ever did in life; and thirty Couriers, thirty at one fell swoop!— On the whole it is to be hoped that a merciful Providence will in some weeks put an end to this unprofitable, infinite gibble-gabble; and the Catholic Question be settled in 1829 as all men have seen that it ought to be settled since the last four generations. Locke's Book was written, I think, about 1690:8 mais il y a de gens auxquels il faut trois cens ans pou[r] commencer voir une absurdité [but there are some people who require three hundred years to begin to see an absurdity].
Write soon, and at great length.— I have two Papers in the Foreign Review;9 neither of which I fear will be readable, for the haste was great, and no Proof-sheets are come.— Be so good as throw that Note into the Post-Office: it is about the sending down of some Magazines.— Have you ever seen Dequincey? He has been at his opium when you called; and indeed is rarely visible in these cases.
Believe me always / Affectionately Your's, /