January 1829-September 1831

The Collected Letters, Volume 5


TC TO ANNA D. B. MONTAGU; 3 June 1830; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18300603-TC-ADBM-01; CL 5:107-110.


Craigenputtoch, 3d June, 1830—

My Dear Madam,

Having a vacant hour at present, I may as well devote it to a duty which has long been in waiting; more especially as it is also a real pleasure for me. This is a kind of vacation, or interlude between two fits of scribbling; wherein I am wont to transact all manner of miscellaneous business, from the pruning of trees, and trimming of flower-borders, up to writing letters to my Friends; among whom those of Bedford Square, so long as there is any heart or sense left in me cannot be forgotten.

You are too well acquainted with the ways of mankind to fancy that Letters or the want of Letters1 give much insight into the state of our feelings towards each other: one is often so involved among the trivialities and mean prosaic drudgeries of this world, that, even as it were to save our Friends from desecration, we remove their images back out of that vulgar hurlyburly, into some more inward shrine, thinking surely to commune with them in truth and love, were the day of peace come, which however lingers strangely. This, I believe, is wrong; for Friendship, like every other noble thing, must dwell even on the common clay soil of Life, and make its poverty rich; or it will find no dwelling-place. But again, you may be so stranded on some uninhabited shore, as I am here, that your daily Biography belongs not to the world's History at all, is even unintelligible to the world, and the loudest incident of your day is when the clock sounds noon or midnight thro' the wilderness; whereby there seems nothing for you but to ‘dree your wierd’ [endure your fate] in silence; conversing only with the Earth and the Heavens and the unfathomable Spirit that lives in them; and with your Friends, as if these were already disembodied Souls, dwelling beyond Time and Space, in the mystic Country, which you look to, where indeed both they and you do, in the true sense, actually dwell. But doubtless this too is wrong and we must amend it. The Theologians say that tho' many a praying person is reprobate, no prayerless one is saved; so likewise tho' many a Letter-writing friend is hollow and worthless, no Letterless one can rightly avail. Better were it to tell you of our Blackbirds singing gratis every morning and evening; and how our young Swallows are all fledged, and getting ready, poor little things, for their Flight into Egypt; and the Rooks straitened for victual; and how the Trees have not forgotten to bud and blossom, and the Sun to mount out of Aries into Cancer here; better to say anything, which might signify under hand and seal, ‘I have not forgotten you and would fain not be forgotten,’—than altogether to hold my peace. Alas! and the Journey we can travel together is so short: three score and ten milestones, in all, at the most; and the solemn Mansion, with its yews and cypresses, which ends it, is hourly getting nearer! I say, while Days and Sunlight are given us, let this be altered! If I cannot write to you, do you so much the oftener write to me; that friendly salutation, and word of Good-speed, be not wanting between us. Above all, do not think that I can ever forget you, that my remembrance of you will even grow fainter by distance and years: I find, I am one of those that forget nothing; on whose hard heart only Diamonds will write; but once written, the letters stand there defying all tear and wear.

I meant to send you some outline of our way of life in this solitude, which were a Patmos, only that no Revelation is yet forthcoming: however, I see there will not be space even for the briefest summary. Sometimes it strikes me how like this is to the ideal existence I was wont to dream of, at a very early period of youth, when the folly of mankind began first to annoy me thro' my own folly: a dwelling-place remote from Green-grocerism of every kind, civic or aristocratic; a little Library; a Life whose sole business was to lie there. Nay I have got far more than my Ideal; namely a Wife, and already some printed sheets of my own on my bookshelves, with obstinate hope of more and better; neither of which blessings did I dare, in those days, to look upon as possible. Thus it is, as a wise man says, ‘what one wishes for in youth, one has in manhood in abundance.’ Am I happy then; is the Nithsdale wold a Heaven on Earth? Some seven years ago I beg[a]n, after long whipping from my harsh Pedagogue who would teach me some such lesson, to understand faintly that what we call Happiness on this Planet was the hollowest of all deceptions; nay, properly considered, nothing better than some base promise of a treacle, or plumcake, which only spoiled brats need to be stilled with. Does the true soldier ask what quarters he has, and whether the rations are of marketable quality; or what progress he makes against the foe, and whether he is spending his existence for the real sixpence a day, or at some quite infinitely higher rate? On this latter point too, when I investigate it for myself, I have various griefs among my contentments; into neither of which must I introduce you at present. My universal recipe is: “Bow thy back to the work, toil while the breath of life is within thee, and think thyself blessed in toiling; other blessedness could I never inquire out.”2 I am compiling Histories of German Literature at present, and growling and spurning, now and then, at such poor service: but better days are coming; days when I will try whether there is not something else in me, and learn to be quiet if there is nothing else.

Our Weimar project, which alas is still only a project, you have already heard of. Not the least joyful part of it is the hope of seeing London and you as we pass; which latter hope, with or without the other, shall not always remain unfulfilled. Could I get done with this beggarly Book in time, the rest were all easy: but so much depends on fortune; I have no knack in working; I either write as if I were quenching fire, and myself on fire;3 or not at all, and lie in cold obstruction,4 sickened by excess in that kind, and am as melancholy as the ghost of a tailor. I have still three whole volumes to write!—But, to the work! I begin again on Monday, and tho' my Pegasus is but a carthorse and spavined, what whipcord can make him do he shall do.

I should have had three sheets, and not one, which is on the point of ending. Will you assure Mr Montague, and assure yourself, how deeply I feel your kindness to my Brother, whose life without you would at present have quite another aspect. You are doubly and a hundredfold Friends, being so in the time of need, which so very few are. Your own hearts, which have such a noble gift of Prophecy (the like I have seen nowhere), will reward you. My Mother's chief comfort in regard to her wayfarer is in the view you seem to take of him, in the help you so generously offer. I would predict, did it become me, that the man will not altogether disappoint you; for there is much in him, and as the root of all a thankful affectionate heart.— But enough for once. Jane salutes you lovingly again. My kind love to Mr & Mrs P[rocter]. of whom I hear much good. Ever affectionately Yours

T. Carlyle