January 1829-September 1831

The Collected Letters, Volume 5


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 8 May 1831; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18310508-TC-JAC-01; CL 5:269-273.


Craigenputtoch, 8th May, 1831—

My Dear Brother,

I last night received a Letter from the Advocate1 on your business chiefly; and as I approve of the principles he sets forth there, I think it will be well to transcribe it for you, tho' I wrote at great length only two Posts ago. Perhaps it will materially alter the immediate figure of your proceedings. Attend, therefore, and perpend.2

After some preliminary flourishes about his ‘splendid defeat’ in the Edinr Election, our Chief Magistrate proceeds thus:

‘I feel, however, that I ought to have found or made leisure to answer your last letter. I honour your feelings and do not dissent generally from your principles: but I am not satisfied that you have made out a case for their application. If a man have really no chance, or no tolerably probable chance of succeeding, so far at least as to be independent of future assistance, in the experiment he now requires aid to pursue, it may be wrong in him to ask that aid, and foolish or even pernicious to give it. But surely there are many cases in which the most valuable and important of all aid may be given to carry on such an experiment. Before deciding on your Brother's case, therefore, I wished, and I wish still to know a little more particularly the grounds on which he thinks it probable that, in one or two years more, he may be enabled to establish himself on a footing of independence; and this, with your leave, I would much rather learn from his information than from yours. I intended therefore to have had an interview with him, and to have investigated the grounds of his scheme of life, with some rigour and coldbloodedness, tho' I trust not without indulgence, and to have decided accordingly; certainly not in scorn of your highminded remonstrances, but probably with some mitigation of their severity, and some larger trust in fortune and providence than you may think it allowable to indulge. Our sudden Dissolution,3 and the tumultuary movements which preceded and followed it, and which have cast me back here, have prevented this. So that as I can for the moment do nothing farther in the business, I have only to entreat that you also would forbear to do anything in the mean time; and allow your Brother and me to settle our little matters in a calm business-like manner when I return to London in Spring’ (? Doubtless, Summer, when Parlt reassembles).4 ‘It may be very wrong for a person in his situation to insist on waiting on the brink of the pool till an angel shall stir the waters: but is it therefore right that a man of education, because his prospects are not very good during his first years of waiting for employment in a profession, should therefore substantially renounce that profession, and set himself down to eat potatoes and read German at Craigenputtoch or elsewhere? I have no disposition to throw away money (especially after having been forced to spend so much, so very unprofitably) without a fair prospect of doing good with it. But I scarcely know any use of it which is likely to do so much good as that which enables an able and industrious man to surmount the obstacles that beset his early carreer [sic], and to float him over the shoals and bars that obstruct his course into the fair way and flowing tide of the world. Trust me, then, my dear proud friend, in this matter, and do not fear that I will either wilfully or thoughtlessly do anything either to injure or degrade your Brother. I will have the fear of your philosophy before my eyes, and have little apprehension of ultimately giving you pain by my decision.—

‘And so you are writing a Book, and why will you not tell me’ &c &c

From which Letter, my dear Brother, the tone of which is as you see altogether kind and reasonable, a new light rises for me over the aspect of your fortunes; and I can now, what I could not on Thursday,5 give you something like an advice. Your own feelings are too sound to be fretted with anything that has hitherto passed on this matter; but you will see the Advocate as he is, a man truly desirous of doing a good action, and who would think his money (even in a mercantile point of view) well laid out in purchasing such a pleasure. His sentiment towards yourself you will see to be paternal, and look at his proposal with quite unprejudiced eye. For me too, what you perhaps reckon my Pride, were true Pride, savage, satanic and utterly damnable, if it offered any opposition to such a project, where my own Brother and his future happiness may be concerned. My ‘Pride’ says not a word or whisper against it: I will write to the Advocate that I heartily thank him for his determination to aid you as he shall see to be kindest towards you; and what I have already said, that if he can save my Brother for me, I will forever call him my benefactor. And now my advice, were decidedly that you continued in London by the best and easiest method you had at least till Jeffrey and you have come to an understanding and decision. Consider your situation with unprejudiced fearless mind; listening no moment to the syren melodies of Hope, which are only melodies of Sloth; but taking cold Prudence and Calculation with you at every step. Nimm Dich zusammen [Pull yourself together]; as I said (in that perhaps lost Letter) feel your feet upon the rock, before you rest; not upon the quicksand, where resting will but engulph you deeper.— In your calculations too I would have you throw out Literature altogether:6 indeed I rather believe it were for your good, if you quite burnt your Magazine Pen, and devoted yourself exclusively and wholly to Medicine and nothing but Medicine. Magazine work is below street sweeping as a trade; even I who have no other am determined to try by all methods whether it is not possible to abandon it.—— It will be the middle of June before you can see Jeffrey; and as I calculate at the very worst before you ought to quit London. I hope you can make some shift till then; at all events it will not make your debt much worse, and I think you ought to try it. The great thing will be to have a good solid story to tell when the day comes; I do not mean a plausible story and scheme, but a true one; if you are after all not to succeed in London, and this is only to stave off the evil day a little, I should emphatically warn you against it. Some other wiser project should be formed and assistance asked in that. Thrice and four time I would repeat Nimm Dich zusammen. Nimm Dich in Acht! [Pull yourself together. Be careful!]

We are all thrown into real sadness today by poor Larry. The poor old toil worn stouthearted Nag is dead! I confess, it is almost half like a human servant's death. Alick whom I have not yet seen, will be sad enough; for I imagine it is mere hard work that has killed Larry: such riding to and fro about that Mill, then quite incessant harrowing for extra hours &c &c; till about a week ago the Beast grew sick with swelled throat and so on; then seemed to grow better, but on Friday relapsed worse than ever; I advised Alick last night to send off to Dumfries for Castor-oil to him (and the Boy was to take your newspaper, which by a secret scratch promised this letter that now arrives along with it); but alas poor Larry died before midnight; and now is not. Frightful, frightful is Death even in a Brute, and pitiable and black! I am positively very sad and wae.—— Your affectionate Brother,

T. Carlyle

Write to me soon; and O! never write me another dud so long as I live; at least so long as I live here.

I can now ask you with more confidence to look after Fraser: ascertain what is the posture of things there; that we may help, or if necessary alter. Empsom [sic], I find, is standing for Lincoln:7 of him therefore little good can be expected for the present. Your great outlook is to keep quacks and dandies and dilettantes aloof from so serious a matter. Fraser8 I think not strong yet truehearted.

I have made an important improvement in the Device of the Seal. Instead of a plain Ring round the Star, we will have a Serpent-of-Eternity (its tail in its mouth, universally understood as the emblem of Eternity), and on the body of it, the words engraved. It can be made larger than the Ring could. And then a Star travelling thro Eternity Ohne Hast [without haste] &c: this seems to me almost a really beautiful emblem.9

Did you get the Nibelungen sheets from Bowring's people; the Schiller &c from Fraser?—— John Welsh's eye-disorder has been pronounced cataract by Hodgson,10 who is soon to operate on one of them.

Never write me another Dud!

Has Buller quite quarrelled with his Uncle? I hope he will succeed.

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