January 1835-June 1836

The Collected Letters, Volume 8


TC TO JOHN STUART MILL; 30 October 1835; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18351030-TC-JSM-01; CL 8:248-251.


Scotsbrig, Ecclefechan, 30th October, 1835—

My Dear Mill,

There are moods one falls into, wherein speech is of all tasks the most frightful and also the most unprofitable; other moods I have known wherein speech tho' still frightful was not unprofitable but the contrary: we shall flatter ourselves that it is only under the latter category I have come today, when driven on by an unquiet conscience I in the laziest manner take up the pen for you. The spirit is willing, but O how weak is the flesh!1 In fact, I should not have promised, or should only have promised conditionally: on condition that the Daimon impelled me to do it. In that case, you had saved some small peculium of postage, which the Patriot King2 (with a blessing to him!) will now get; and I had passed another morning languidly drifting among this wreck of all highest and lowest things; a Chaos of sights, remembrances, emotions, Prophecy brought suddenly side by side with Cattle-dealing, fragments of the Empyrean tumbling confusedly amid floating masses of Annandale Peat-bog! Alas, I am afloat, and all is afloat; and I have flung myself down, and said: Be it so then; only let it be without farther effort of mine. To speak in articulate sentences about all this matter, or about any matter whatever, is such a task as you may fancy. Could I play on any violin or trombone, or rather on a hundred violins and trombones at once, I would thunder you out a whole crash of preternatural fiddling, or some such thing; and that were my speech.

The best news is, first that I am coming home to you again very soon; it would have been tomorrow but the Liverpool Steamboat did not answer in its hour: secondly that I feel much strengthened by this rustication of mine, am really far healthier than when we parted. I did not, know till plumped all at once out of the noisy sin and misery of London into the solitude of the old innocent Earth here (which at lowest afflicts you only with mud and rain), how fretted and shattered, and altogether exasperated off my just balance, I had been: all things produced such a disproportionate diseased impression on me; my little Sister singing a Scotch song was like to set me a-crying; the clear brooks ran each with the beauty of an Eurotas or Siloa3 for me; on the other hand, the stupidity of fools was enough to drive one mad. Alas, there is no health in London, for the body or the mind. It is a feverdream there of double and treble feverishness; a mad dream,—from which one awakes in Eternity! Unhappy that the tools for your work; that the free heart of your fellow man, opened fearlessly towards you fearless, were it only once in the thousand trials, is nowhere else to be met with. One must take the evil and the good.

On the whole, I have been, comparatively speaking, very happy here. There is the truest affection, which no colour of Fortune, not mishap or even misconduct could alter, all round me; there are no riches in any King's Treasury4 that will weigh against this. Then farther one has quietness: sweet inexpressibly are these pale still days; the air noiseless, the very barndoor fowls fallen silent; only the voice of some husbandman peaceably directing his thatchers and potatoe-diggers (all visible far and wide if you stroll out); or perhaps, at evening, of some acre or two of crows, making wing to the rooky wood, generally engaged in rather loud conversation. And all the waggons, hackney and glass coaches, dog-carts, nightmen, daymen, noblemen, gentlemen, gigmen, grinding along at the distance of 319 miles from you; the smoke of their torment ascending up there! It is a free open region of knolls and brooks, fringed only with hawthorn, with natural brushwood in the craggy dingles; planted wood-groups not enough for shelter, far from imprisonment, from obcaecation!5 A hundred yards from this fire-place I can see, as it were, all the kingdoms of the world: the Solway, grown quicksilver, all out to Saint-Bees, Carlisle smoke and Annan Steeple; the thousand craggy summits of Galloway, of Cumberland Yorkshire, on this hand and on that; and noticed yesterday that Skiddaw and Helvellyn, for example, had put on their white hair-powder,—the cold of winter being at hand. Nay close by on the edge of my native Burnswark there sat till a week ago three white military tents (making “Great Military Survey,” I understand), directly on the spot where Agricola still declares that he planted himself near eighteen hundred years before;6 for his vallums [ramparts], his aggers [mounds], and all the rest, have lain quite unmolested ever since except by the rains and the small hoofs of sheep; and are all there as fresh as life; the very well, as is natural for it, bubbling up its waters yet, not on the Artesian principle. To see these white canvas houses built close beside the old green conic mounds (also three in number) with so different an object was worth a turning of the eye. Farther I have seen “the Comet”; tho' not looking for it! The wonder hung himself out gratuitously for me, one night, while he journeyed near the Greater Bear: really a most singular nebulous-looking fellow; confused sulky, as large as your watch, and then with a great train or ribbon at him, a fathom long, woven apparently of moonbeams;—hurrying on, with high-pressure speed, God knows whence, God knows whither, and on what business! The sight of him struck me unexpectedly, under the still night, with astonishment, almost with awe. Who could but say to him: Hail, thou brother Thing; created also by God; welcome out of Immensity, be thy intents wicked or charitable! At that moment, how much wiser, truer seemed the superstitious terror of the Old Time, when the eye, if opened superstitiously, was not SHUT to Nature, but worshipped her, than the “small difficult crowing” and triumphant quackle-quackling of the Diffusion Society intent only on sine and cosine!7 But to speak in the Progress-of-the-species dialect, shall we not one day have the latter and yet not want the former? Even Diffusion society is a progress; part of a step, the falling part of it: for it is a great truth (true in a thousand senses) that all “walking is but a succession of f[alls.”]8 In this manner then I spend the bright weather of my St. Martin's Summer; all the brighter that there come ever and anon horrid days of rain and tempest, with noise, leaves and desolation; and then as suddenly cease: like bullyings from a choleric person (named Winter) that is not yet in free wrath, but only getting into it. I avoid all gigmen, nearly altogether, am shy even of men lest they disturb me; I read no Books whatever, except pieces of the Bible and—the Histoire Parlementaire.9 Of the Bible I seem to get more and more understanding, deeper and deeper reverence. It is a Book written by men that knew the thing they were writing. Who could fancy there were such a worth in that; and yet there is. Of the “Hist. Parl.” and whole French Revolution a History in three Books I make exceedingly little at present. Miserable does it seem, miserable I in the midst of it. The whole Business lies round me in vague cloudy masses; far, very far from living form. The part I have formed, or written, looks detestablest of all; fit only a second time for the fire. Nevertheless I at no moment hesitate that I must write it out, and then wash my hands. Then for the next thing!

As you say, I am delivered from Newspapers;10 yet not from the echo of Newspapers, from din and complaint, and the sight of a whole people slowly revolting against their old Manner of Existence. “Voluntary Church”11 is the main word here; uttered with a composed emphasis, and by all people, the most religious seemingly the most emphatic. Our poor old Church of Scotland clutches at the skirts of Episcopacy (not wisely I think); and so reels hither and thither as she reels, and will go to the Abyss with her one might calculate. A Tobacconist in Dumfries has gained immortal glory, it would seem, by confuting and dumfounding whole Presbyteries of Reverend Involuntaries, who in evil hour had ventured on a Public Meeting to exhibit the religious and loyal spirit of the Scottish People.12 When the sheep begin all baaing and even butting against the shepherd, it has an ill look for him.

A man, not a gigman, but whose company I should not have preferred to yours at this moment breaks in upon me; I have to conclude even faster than I meant. You have what I could say; not the millionth part of what I would! However on Sunday come a week (Sunday first for you) I almost calculate that you may see me at Chelsea, if you like to come down, if no evil befal. There is then, as you observe, freer field for communing. Freer truly; or it were evil with us! Remember me very kindly to Grant. Say at Kent Terrace13 that I hope soon to walk thither, and make my compliments in person. All is confused about me at present; I myself am confusion worse confounded!14 Nevertheless we still hope, still endeavour. Vale mei memor [Goodbye remember me]!

T. Carlyle.