July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


TC TO LEIGH HUNT; 17 May 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18370517-TC-JHLH-01; CL 9:204-205.


[Ca. 17 May 1837]

My dear Sir,

When you quitted us last night with my astonishing “worthy old friend,” I knew not whether to begin crying or begin swearing, or what to do: but I finished, at least this morning I do finish with heartily laughing.

Who could have thought I was inviting you yesterday to meet a new Scioppius1 or Julius Caesar Nelson Scaliger2 in the person of my astonishing friend with his three circulating Library Books, and his three thoughts which he thought he was thinking! My amazement was great. The instantaneously polemical side our Annan Scioppius turned up was the thing I was least of all prepared for. In fact I have seen little of him, and nothing at all of that, these three and twenty years; and had rashly supposed the thing was altogether extinct: that it could awaken in this instance was not more to be expected than one of those miracles of which Attile Schmelzle says “there are examples in the history of the middle ages.”3 But in truth the business brings back to me a very ugly side of Scotch existence, which in my solitude among the mountains I had lost sight of. God grant us all some more suitable “Moral Coolture,” and “restraient” fit for guiding us in this life! And O heaven how the soft sheet lightning began playing about this rhinoceros, and the thick hide tho' a non-conductor felt strangely tickled by it! I think there are few scenes in Ben Johnson [sic] equal to such a combination. Absurder figure made by a man of some sense I do not remember to have observed. Nothing remains for my astonishing friend (a man of worth at bottom too) but to walk out with a pound of butter on his head, and bless heaven.4

But you, I pray you in pity come over to me again without delay, this night if you can, and let us laugh together; and reduce the absurdity into the region of the absurd.

Since I began writing your messenger has come. I am for the Guide5 and a contemplative pipe of tobacco down-stairs. Good be with you my dear friend; and many thanks.

T. Carlyle