The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO THOMAS MURRAY; 24 August 1814; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18140824-TC-TM-01; CL 1:19-25.


[Mount Anna]n 24th. Augt 1814—

[My dear Mu]rray, when I look at the date [torn] it is yet unanswered. I flatter [torn] have been made acquainted with the circumstances in which I have been placed, you will admit that I have something valid to plead in excuse.1— Some days after I wrote you last (Genl Dirom2 having come to reside at Mount-Annan, for a few months), I was engaged to give two of his boys lessons in Latin, Greek and Mathematics. For this purpose having been obliged to be at Mount-Annan every morning, by seven o'clock—to teach so much later in the evening, at the Academy—to prepare Xenophon's Greek;—together with the innumerable little nameless items that hourly call the attention—you will readily believe that I have had little or no time to spare. The truth is—’till last Wednesday (when our vacation commenced and I came here to reside altogether) I have scarcely had time to breathe;—and I assure you, this is the first letter I have written since you heard from me last.— Having thus anticipated and prevented all murmurs, reflections and complaints of what kind, nature or form soever;—I proceed to business.—

Were it not that I make a point of avoiding every appearance of flattery, I could say much respecting the stile and manner of your last letter; but to carry on a correspondence by passing encomiums on each others talents, would as you justly observe be altogether useless and even hurtful. Allow me however to thank you most heartily for the rich collection of intelligence literary and social which your letter contained; and earnestly to sollicit that (within the stated time—for you are to pay no regard to my only seeming neglect) you would renew the favour.—

—But—O Tom! what a foolish flattering creature tho[u] art! to talk of future eminence, and connection with the literary history of the Nineteenth century to such a one as me!3— Alas! my good lad, when I and all my fancies, and reveries and speculation[s] shall have been swept over with the besom of oblivion, the literary history of No century will know4 itself one jot the worse.— Yet think not that because I talk thus, I am careless about literary fame. No! Heaven knows that ever since I have [been] able to form a wish—the wish of being known has been the foremost— O Fortune!5 thou that givest unto each his portion in this dirty planet—bestow (if it shall please thee), coro[nets and crowns, and principalities and purses,] and pudding an p[ower upon the great and noble and fat ones of] the earth; grant me [that, with a heart of independence, unyielding to] thy favours and unbendin[g to thy frowns, I may attain to literary] Fame—and tho' starvation [be my lot, I will smile that I have not] been born a King [underscored twice]!!! But ala[s! my dear Murray, what am I, or what] are you, or what is any other po[or unfriended stripling in the ranks] of learning?

Ah! who can tell how hard it is to climb
The steep where Fame's proud temple shines afar;
Ah! who can tell how many a soul sublime
Has felt the influence of malignant star,
And waged with Fortune an unequal war;
Check'd by the sight of pride by envy's frown,
And poverty's unconquerable bar,
In life's low vale remote has pined alone,—
Then dropt into the grave unpitied and unknown! 6

I was greatly diverted by your specimen of Mr. Maclaurin's prose-run-mad.7 He seems to have imbibed, in the full sense of the word, the melody of his native mountains;—and who can doubt, that, in a short time he will chaunt right pleasantly, with Celtic sweetness the praises and perfections of this lamb of his heart [underscored twice]!— Pray, are you under no apprehensions, that this same redoubtable damsel commit a rape [underscored three times] on (the heart of) Mr. Secretary? and don't you think that the perusing and studying some such work as Newtons principia, or the Pilgrim's progress would very materially improve Mr. Secretary's stile?

I perfectly agree with you in your remarks on Miss Merchant: and if you repented of having shewn her my mock eulogy; well may I repent of having written it. I have been favoured with an epistle from her.—and such an epistle!— But if you desire it, you shall have a copy, verbatim et literatim [true to each word and letter-perfect], in my next:—tho' I can't positively say, that it is worth the reading:—for, really, in shallowness, affectation and kakography [underscored twice] ‘it passeth’.— I had no idea that she was such a miserable scribe.— The more I know her and her species the more heartily I despise them.— It is strang[e,] but it is true, that by a continuing and unvaried exercise of affectation, those creatures in the end entirely lose any kind of real feeling which they might originally have pos[s]essed. Ignorant, formal, conceited, their whole life is that of an automaton without sense and almost without—soul!— Once, for instance, I recollect that to fill up one of those aweful hiatus in conversation that occur at times in spite of all one's efforts to the contrary—and to entertain Miss M., I took up a Tristram Shandy; and read her one of the very best jokes within the boards of the book— Ah-h-h-h! sighed Miss M. and put on a look of right tend[er] melancholy!!— Now.— Did the smallest glimmering of reason appea[r]? Never— But I have already wasted too much time on her and those like her.— Heaven be their Comforter!8

Poet Nicholson,9 as you said, called upon me as he went thro' Annan— and was in high spirits—disposing of his ‘Country lass’—and talking in his plain, honest shrewd way. He went with me to Mount-Annan—and sold a copy to Mrs. Dirom. You will likely see him in Edinr very soon. Give my respects to him—and remind him of his promise to write me.

A-propos of Authors— This evening at tea, Miss Ramsay (our governess) inquired at me if I had read that affecting representation of the Calamities of Literary men, in the last Courier;—replying in the negative, she handed me the paper:—and judge of my surprise when, looking at the bottom, I recognised the signature of Mr. Murray— You will readily conceive, I read it with additional interest on this account—but allow me to remark (and this is all the Critique I design to pass on it) that it needed no such adventitious circumstance to recommend it. The melancholy truth which it contains, and the elegant sympathysing manner in which it is told, speak for themselves.— In sober sadness, now, did you really see that same melancholy old author, at Merchiston?—or is he not a creature of Mr. Murray's brain? Tell me whether I am right in being inclined to adopt the latter opinion.10

Have you done any thing at your sermon yet?— By all the powers of pencraft! My lecture is lost and gone! what am I to do? Do you think, there is no chance of its being in Mr. Forrests room? It, at one time, was in the upper of the Bed-room drawers: But whether there or not there now, I cannot tell.

I have seen the last number of the Edinr review at Mount-annan. I regret, with you, that Jeffrey should bestow so much of his time on Politics; and I rejoice in the prospect [(for] this is one of the advantages of Peace!) that in a short [time] he will not have this in his power. He must be an extra-ordinary man. No subject however hackneyed, but he has the art of extracting some new thought out of it. The introduction to the Critiq[ue] on Byron is in my opinion admirable—so acute so philosophical:— None but a man of keen penetration, and deep research could have written such a thing— Even the present state of Europe is interesting in his hands.11

What are you reading? I am waiting for an account of Waverl[e]y12 from you.— The principal part of my reading in addition to Mathematics &c has been the Exiles of Siberia, Hoole's Tasso['s] Jerusalem, Oberon translated from the German by Southeby, Beatties Minstrel, Savage's poems, Fenelons lives of ancient Philosophers and the Miseries of Human life 2 vols.13 If there is any of these that you have not seen—and want my sentiments about—you shall have them in my next—

—I have scarcely room to tell you a small piece of news—which I have owed you and Forrest these two months— Clint is——;married! To some sempstress or other, daughter, I believe, to some in[n] keeper at Lochmaben—where Clint was practising physic. After having in vain exerted all his ingenuity to obtain the hand of Miss Kerr he made this desperate leap.— He is married at Lochmaben (and from what I have heard and seen at Ecclefn I really believe he is mar[r]ied at Edinr); and—may the L—— have mercy upon him!!!14


Genl. Dirom's family have gone to Edinr for a fortnight & I have that time to myself— Direct to me therefore at Ecclefn the first letter —which (I repeat it) I expect directly—& as long as you possibly can get it.— I had Forrests letter and poetry! Tell him I will write him very soon—. Give him and Mrs. F. my kindest respects.

Excuse all those desultory rambling blunders—and be assured I remain,

Dear Murray, / yours most sincerely /

Thos Carlyle

Is poet Irving15 in Edinr? I have heard some faint report of his having been seen in Dumfries-shire—taking views. Is it true?