The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL; 24 May 1815; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18150524-TC-RM-01; CL 1:45-49.


Annan. 24th May 1815—

My Dear Mitchell—you ought to thank me for not writing you sooner. Buffetted, as I have been, without ceasing since I saw you, by innumerable squadrons of blue demons—my imaginations have been only the decoctions of ill humour—and my letter must have been either a hyperbatavian1 tissue of dulness, or a string of complaints & imprecations, unfit for the perusal of any person, more at ease, in body than a gouty valetudinarian—or in mind, than a great man on his way to Botany Bay.2— Not that the case is mended— Winds and rains and crosses and losses have reduced a temper, naturally warm, to a state of caustic irritability, that renders me unfit for any thing. ‘How weary, flat, stale and unprofitable, seem to me all the uses of this world!’3 For, what are its inhabitants? Its great men & its little—its fat ones and its lean? From the courtier to the Clodhopper—from the Emperor to the dustman—what are they all? Pitiful automatons—despicable Yahoos4—yea, they are altogether an unsufferable thing.— ‘O! for a lodge in some vast wilderness, some boundless contiguity of shade, where’ the scowl of the purse-proud Nabob, the sneer and strut of the coxcomb, the bray of the ninny and the clodpole ‘might never reach me more!’5— But truce to this philippic—vexations like these affect only the poor misguided, wandering misanthrope; and (bless thy stars, My good Mitchell) thou art not of them.

The first article in the last Quarterly review is [on] Stewart's second volume.6 The wise men of London are earnest in their censures of ‘the metaphysical heresies’7 of their northern neighbours: and notwithstanding the high admiration they pay to Stewarts talents, the[y] differ from him in almost all his results—because they disbelieve his principles—the ‘first principles’ of Dr. Reid.8 Their opinion (and they give no reasons), on a point of this nature, is of little consequence. All the prejudices natural to Englishmen, they entertain in their full extent—and always modify their decisions accordingly[.] For my part, tho' far be it from me to attempt to disparage or vilipend this great man—I cannot help thinking, that, the perusal of his book has done me hurt. Perpetually talking about analysing perceptions, & retiring within ones self, & mighty improvements that we are to make—no one knows how,—I believe, he will generally leave the mind of his reader—crowded with disjointed notions & nondescript ideas—which the sooner he gets rid of, the better. I know you think differently; but de gustibus non est disputandum [concerning taste it is needless to dispute]; and very probably, the fault is not with the Author—but his subject. … [TC's own ellipsis] ‘Guy Mannering’9 is reviewed in the same number. Tho' we have still more reason to question their competency here—you will probably admit that ‘the Dutch boors of Mannering tho' never so well painted, must cause a different class of sensations from those excited by the Salvator banditti of Waverl[e]y.’10— Yet the only extract they give (the departure of the gypsies, and Meg Merrilies' address to Ellangowan) is very much in the Salvator stile.11

I am glad you saw Lara; and am indebted for your account of it. I read the review of it in the Quarterly review—some time ago. Lara, it seems is the identical Conrad, and Kaleb, no other than that same ‘dark-eyed slave,’ Gulnare, of whom such frequent mention is made in ‘the Corsair.’ The story appears to want ecla[i]recissement [clarifying]. What could become of the mad-cap knight? And what was the meaning of that carcase in the river? Why did he raise the warwhoop, in the lobby?—your solution of the last difficulty is too general; besides had he really been an-hung[e]red, the natural remedy was to visit the pantry.12

I am highly indebted to you for Hume.13 I like his essays better than any thing I have read these many days. He has prejudices, he does maintain errors—but he defends his positions, with so much ingenuity, that one would be almost sorry to see him dislodged. His Essays on ‘Superstition & Enthusiasm,’ on ‘the Dignity & meanness of Human Nature’ and several others, are in my opinion admirable both in matter & manner:—particularly the first where his conclusions might be verified by instances, with which we are all acquainted. The manner, indeed, of all is excellent:—the highest & most difficult effect of art—the appearance of its absence—appears throughout. But many of his opinions are not to be adopted— How odd does it look for instance to refer all the modifications of ‘National character,’ to the influence of moral causes. Might it not be asserted with some plausibility, that even those which he denominates moral causes, originate from physical circumstances? Whence but from the perpetual contemplation of his dreary glaciers & rugged glens—from his dismal broodings in his long & almost solitary nights, has the Scandinavian conceived his ferocious Odin, & his horrid ‘spectres of the deep’? Compare this with the copper-castles and celestial gardens of the Arabian—and we must admit that physical causes have an influence on man. I read ‘the Epicurean,’ ‘the Stoic,’ ‘the Platonist’ & ‘the Sceptic’ under some disadvantage. They are perhaps rather clumsily executed—and the idea of David Hume declaiming, nay of David Hum[e] making love appears not less grotesque than would that of ad … -oc [covered by seal: d]ancing a French cotillon. As a whole however [I am de]lig[hted w]ith the book, and if you can want it, I shall mo[reover] give it a second perusal.

I have got to the end of this rambling letter—and, I think, in rather better spirits than I commenced. Why did you not write me, again, ere this? You knew my wo[e]ful plight & ought to have had compassion on my infirmities. To make amends I allow you a week; and within that time you are to send me a most spirit-stirring epistle. Abuse me, if you will, for my vagaries only be pithy,14 and be speedy too.

I am confidently informed that the man of music, Andrew15 is still bent upon exploring the new world. Nay, it is stated by his intended comrade (who has now wisely preferred making wheel-barrows at Castle-Milk16 & living as his fathers did, to going to labour he knows not where & feed upon he knows not what) that Andw's accoutrements—his box—was on its way to Greenock17 a fort-night ago!— The Yankees are long-headed personnages, and Andw. is a simple man. But he can fiddle, he can dig, and to beg he is not ashamed.18— You know what you must do Bob—before Thursday first—be pithy—nothing but pepper & salt will suit me in my present humour.—

My dear Mit— / ever yours— /

Thomas Carly[le]