January 1829-September 1831

The Collected Letters, Volume 5


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 27 March 1831; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18310327-TC-JAC-01; CL 5:252-256.


Craigenputtoch, 27th March, 1831—

My Dear Jack,

I hope you got the Letter I despatched on Friday gone a week, by Bowring's parcel of proof-sheets to ‘R. Heward, 2. Wellington-street, Strand’: it was a short hurried Letter, but would assure you of our continued affection, and welfare. I am now, being at home from Church, as alas my wont is, about to scrawl you somewhat thro' Buller; as time may fail me afterwards: to Alick likewise I have sent down a sheet, having previously extorted a kind of promise that he would write: you will therefore get what is to be had. We pretty confidently expect to hear from you on Wednesday: if not, linger as little afterwards as possible.

On the outside of [my] last Letter you would see the words Mit der Mühle noch nichts [nothing yet about the mill]: I met Alick in one of the lanes of Dumfries, and learned that such was actually the state of matters; that nevertheless he had good hopes of succeeding, and the thing was to be decided at Annan next Thursday. Well what has been the issue? Noch Nichts [nothing yet]! Alick had proceeded as far as Dumfries on his way to the tryste [appointed meeting], and was in the act of mounting Larry to proceed farther, when a Note from Stewart was put into his hand, apologizing &c in very civil terms, and finally appointing Monday (Tomorrow) at eleven o'clock for the settlement. Alick accordingly sets out tomorrow morning an hour before the sun, takes these letters down with him, and sees the end of it. We have all a considerable hope for him. I have settled also that he may let you know the issue: namely, if he get the place, he is to scratch a cross (+) on the cover of your Courier Newspaper: if you see no such hieroglyph accordingly, you will infer either that he has not succeeded, or which also will be possible that he has forgotten to announce his success. I think the place will have a chance to suit him better than any he has yet had: farther, as above said, that there seems a distinct pro[ba]bility of his getting it. The Newspaper will show.— Here too I may mention that on inquiring after your lost Courier, I got this history of it: it was given to Alick's Herdsboy, setting out for Scotsbrig to bring up Lambs; he, omitting the Dumfries Postoffice, carried it on to his journey's end, where Jean, contrary to reason and the vote of some others, decided that it was not worth forwarding. We have hitherto never lost anything; which considering all, is surprising enough. If you write at any time for our Saturday, it will come more certainly if you put speed on the back: the Postmaster would then go out and seek the Carrier, who sometimes forgets to call of himself.

Concerning my own movements of later days, there is little new to be said. Teufelsdreck advances, slowly yet sure; sometimes I am in hope that it will really do; at all times, determined that it shall be finished. The Dumfries Journey and prior excitement (of sleeplessness) left me quite done; so that for two whole days there was pause: nevertheless Chapter 4th is about concluded. Much must be added; something omitted: were I once rightly on fire, I should defy all things.

From Scotsbrig the tidings are favourable: that they are all in common health, and fighting their battle as of old. With the rest of the World we have little correspondence here; except indeed from Templand, where little new transpires: old age sinking into melancholy dotage; affection, marred by sickness nervous irritability and what not, courageously striving to support it. John Welsh of Liverpool, you will be sorry to learn, is threatened with loss of eyesight. I fear the Doctors reckon it amaurosis: he was at Glasgow, and, by advice, heroically gave up not only his drink but his tobacco, with all etceteras; in spite of which, during the last five months, he seems to be growing worse. He has lately been at Hodgson of Birmingham;1 and talks sometimes of going to London: we are all heartily sorry for him; for, tho' a rude son of Nature, he has energy, heart and integrity, such as all have not.— Dickson of Annan,2 I am afraid, is still no better in that particular: last time I was in Annan, some ten months ago, I saw him from the Buck windows, evidently groping his way up the street. John Welsh may have a better chance; for if he determined on cutting off his right hand, he would do it.

As for yourself, dear Jack, I know yet too little of your actual outlook to throw any new light on the signs of it. My best wishes, prayers, and sure hopes are nearly all I can send you. Of my affection, and help to my utmost ability you are already certain. Know always that when hard comes to hard there is a tight-roofed house for you at Craigenputtoch, where food and fuel have never failed, and would be shared, as fits between Brothers, to the uttermost clod and crumb. Nevertheless ‘we hope better things tho' we thus speak.’3 Nay, here or there or anywhere, if understanding do not leave us, which with many it is apt to do, the whole Future may be defied.

I am still clear for your straining every sinew simply to get Medical employment, whether as assistant Surgeon, or in any other honest capacity. Without any doubt, as the world now stands, your safety lies there. Neither are you so destitute of friends and influence that, on any given reasonable plan, a considerable force of help could not be brought to bear. There are several, of weight, that would on more than one ground rejoice to do their best for you. Your world of London lies too dim before me for specification in this matter: towards this, however all your Endeavour ought doubtless to be directed. Think and scheme and inquire, or rather continue to do so: once foiled is nothing like final defeat: so long as Life is in a man, there is Strength in him: Ein anderes Mal wollen wir uns[e]re Sache besser machen [another time we shall make our cause more successful, i.e., do better],4 this was Fritz's Wahlspruch [motto]; and in this ‘Place of Hope,’ where indeed there is nothing for us but Hope, every brave man, in reverses, says the like.5

For your success with the New Monthly, or even with Napier I care little, except so far as it might enable you to continue longer in London, on the outlook[.] In other respects, I am nearly sure, failure would even be for your good. Periodical writing is, as I have often said, simply the worst of all existing: no mortal that had another noble Art, the noblest with one single exception, but would turn from it with abhorrence, and cleave with his whole heart to the other. I am of opinion that you have a talent in you, perhaps far deeper than you yourself have often suspected; but also that it will never come to growth in that way. Incessant scribbling is inevitable death to Thought: what can grow in the soil of that mind, which must all be riddled monthly to see if there are any grains in it that will sell? A hack that contents himself with gathering any offal of Novelty or the like, and simply spreads this out on a stand, and begs the passenger to buy it, may flourish in such craft; an honest man, much more a many [sic] of any original talent, cannot. Thoughts fall in us, as I said, like seed (this you will find to be true); it is Time only and Silence that can ripen these.6— So convinced am I of the dangerous, precarious and on the whole despicable and ungainly nature of a Life by Scribbling in any shape, that I am resolved to investigate again whether even I am forever doomed to it. I will not leave Literature; neither should you leave it: nay had I but two Potatoes in the world and one true Idea, I should hold it my duty to part with one Potatoe for Paper & Ink, and live upon the other till I got it written. To such extremeties [sic] may a mere Man of Letters be brought in Britain at present: but nowise you, who [have] another footing, and can live in a steady genial climate till Experience have evolved into purity what is in you, then to be spoken with authority in the ears of all.

Such lesson my dear Brother had you to learn in London, before even the right Effort could begin: it is a real satisfaction that, however bitterly, you are learning or have learned it. Henceforth your face and force are turned in the true direction: if not today, then tomorrow, you must and will advance prosperously and triumph. Forward, then, festen Muths und frohen Sinns [firm courage and a cheerful mind], and God be with you! Fear nothing: die Zeit bringt Rosen [time brings roses].

I must finish now; for the cover will not be safe with much more, if Alick is forthcoming. Of public matters I could write much, but they do not interest either of us chiefly; greatly as the spectacle of these times (a whole world quit[t]ing its old anchorage and venturing into new untried seas with little science of sailing aboard) solicits one's attention. I have signed no Petition; nay I know not whether had I the power by speaking a word to [sw]ay that consummation, or hasten it, I would speak the word. It is a thing I have either longed for passionately, or with confidence carelessly predicted any time these fifteen years: if I with any zeal approve of it now, it is simply on the ground of this incontrovertible aphorism, which the state of all the Industrious, in these quarters too, lamentably confirms: ‘Hungry guts and empty purse / May be better, can't be worse’! There is no Logic yet discovered that can get behind this: yes, in God's name, let us try the other way.— By an advertisement in the fourth page of your Courier, you will see that our Dumfriesshire Burghs appear to have got two Candidates already: His Honour, and David Hannay—against both of whom the strongest objections may be taken.7 His Honour came glenting [flashing] into the Courier office last Friday when I was there: no recognition passed between us. Henry Duncan also was there, taking measures about the Reform Petition. Henry a Reformer! ‘Well, I am sure, the kindness of those people’8— But the Devil is ever busy.

Give my kindest love to Badams, and tell him to quit Mexican Mines, and look a little at the far nobler Mine he carries within his own heart and head. Assure him of my faithful remembrance and affection.

Tell Montague I have read his Capital Punishment,9 and thought it like himself: firm as rock, yet meek and even flowery at the surface.— A man vara obstinat in his own weh [way]!10— Jane salutes you ‘with greetings and sisterly blessings’— Adieu dear Jack für jetz [for now]! —Ever your Brother,

T. Carlyle—

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