The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO THOMAS MURRAY; 21 June 1815; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18150621-TC-TM-01; CL 1:52-56.


Annan. 21st. June—1815.

My Dear Murray

I am, without doubt, the most careless, graceless, ungrateful never-do-well, in being.— These three months have your letters1 lain in my drawer, daily demanding an answer, & daily answered with a ‘call again tomorrow.’ I entreat you, pardon me—I could not help it—it is the nature of man.— During the first month, I firmly expected to see you in Annan as you went to Galloway—(why was I disappointed?) and consequently did not answer your letters directly.2 And when this expectation had left me, I was seized with a certain, perverse, torpid, monotonous mental palsy—that incapacitates for every thing. The weather was bad—I was baffled in my hopes of seeing you—pestered by melancholies, ph[l]egm, coughs and catarrhs—behold all these things were against me—and in such an humour, I could as easily have found out the longitude as written you a word of sense. Such is my excuse—I know it will not pass, and I throw myself on your clemency—punish me as you please—only do not use me [in the] same way.

By this time you are got acquainted with your situation, and I [hope] you are comfortable in it.3— The most disagre[e]able circumstance, in a Tutor's life, is his want of society. There is no person, in the family, of equal rank with him, except the Governess; and as the aims & ends of her & him are often various, and their dispositions heterogeneous—the Tutor is for most part left to commune with himself. Such a situation in this view is not desirable—but the power of habit is unlimited—and at any rate this state has its advantages: the increase of opportunities it affords for study, is obvious; and tho' we cannot enjoy the spirit-stirring crack [talk] of our jocund cronies—yet if we can spend the same time, with Shakespeare or Addison or Stewart, we are gainers by the privation. I grant, we cannot always live with your sages & your demigods—but no conversati[on] at all is preferable to the gossipping and tittle-tattle, that many a poor wight is forced to brook—e.g. your humble servant—living like ‘Pelican in wilderness’4 to avoid the cant & slang of the coxcombs, the bloods, the bucks the boobies ‘with which all earth is filled.’— Tell me all your joys and sorrows your pains and pleasures, when you write.

Mrs Lewis5 came upon the people of Annandale, quite unexpectedly. She appeared to be in low spirits, and tho' I exerted myself to the utmost, I could make but a sorry account of the transaction. I had looked long and earnestly for a prospectus, and as none came, I had no subsrcibers. Some, to whom I offered the book, ‘had seen it twenty years ago’—others (ungenerous triumph of frigid apathy!) told me that Stewart was a drunkard—and others observed that they would with pleasure treat Stewart himself with a half mutchkin or twae if they saw him, but for the poems they had nae change! With the assistance of Mr Jeffrey (brother to the Preacher)6 I aided Mrs. L. in getting off some dozen or two of the books; and I believe, that one way or other, she got them all disposed of in Dumfries, Annan, Ecclefn and the neighbourhood. The publication has been imprudently conducted—indeed, I understand, it was only a random-shot; and the public was appealed to under great disadvantages. If Lewis could make shift to collect his scattered peices and publish again, he might rise into much higher estimation.

In one of your letters, you mention the life of Grahame.7 His widow, the daughter of Richd Graham Esqr, is in Annan. She has always been noted for a shrewd turn of thinking—and, it is said, pos[s]esses considerable talents for composition. Whilst a maid—and looking forward to that state which every maid contemplates with anxious heart, it is told, that she had resolved—never to marry a poet, a divine, or a whimsical man. All the three peculiarities met in Mr. Grahame.— He left three children—who are at present in our academy: two boys learning latin—and a fine little girl learning Arithmetic & Geography with me.

I went to Dumfries on the fifth of June to witness the laying of the foundation stone of Burns' mausoleum. There was, as is usual, an infinite deal of parade and fuss: but notwithstanding this—it was an interesting scene.— Unfortunate Burns! the man who views thy lowly grave, and thinks on the soaring spirit that once animated thy now slumbering dust—who considers, that ‘that mouth from which flowed eloquence and persuasion, is now filled with clay; and that heart with all its generous arteries, compressed into a clod of the valley’,—and still dares to ‘draw thy frailties from their dread abode’8

‘With him, sweet Bard! may fancy die,
And joy desert the blooming year!’9——

It is to be a superb monument; I am only sorry it is not over his grave.— Much ought to have been sacrificed to gain this point. When we are speaking of poets—I am informed that Scott Irving10 is not going to Canada!— The same poor, vacillating being still:—inconsistency is stamped on all his projects—which, like his verses, produce only fumum ex fulgore.11

The best book I have read, since I wrote you, is Hume's Essays, political and literary. It is indeed a most ingenious production—characterised by acuteness and originality, in all its parts. I have not room to tell you where I agree with its Author, and where I differ; nor how highly I admire his reasoning powers. What pity that he is a Deist! How much might his strong talents have accomplished in the cause of truth, when they did so much in that of error! It is indeed melancholy to behold so many men of talent, in our times all leaning to the same side—but I am much inclined to believe, that the reign of infidelity is past its height. It is well remarked by Rousseau that ‘he who was a deist in the eighteenth century, would very probably have been a persecutor in the days of the league’:—and we may observe too, that when the cob[b]lers & the fustain-weavers of the earth are tre[a]ding on the kibes12 of our sages, we look for something new. I was telling Mitchell an anecdote which may perhaps illustrate this position. It seems there are in Middlebie-parish certain long-headed ‘knights of the shuttle’ and cunning workmen with the awl, who are notable deists—some of them lifted to the dignity of Atheists!—deistical weavers & cob[b]lers who are atheists!— What will become of La Place13 and Playfair and Hume and Voltaire & the whole clan of u[n]prejudiced, unsophisticated ones, when the carrion and offal of creation are as unprejudiced & unsophisticated as they?

I had almost forgotten to thank [you] for my books—they are just such as I wanted. ‘Blair’ is an excellent peice—and very cheap.14 I am only sorry you sent it at all: I was in no particular want of it & you ought certainly to have done with the money whatever your situation required.15— One is apt to be put about, when obliged to equip for such an expedition as yours.— The Italian grammar is hardly calculated for me—but answers in the mean time. The Novelle morale is an excellent book for the purpose[.] I am toiling away, beak and talons, at the study of it: and had I perseverance, I would make proficiency.

I was much amused at your account of honest Jamie Smith.— Laurie & Caven,16 poor men! heaven be their comforter!—you will not know what is become of them since you left Edinr— The ‘students’ bon-mots must be a curious book17—at any rate Christison's is highly characteristic. ‘happy expression—turn it into Latin’!18

I had many things more to have descanted on, but I am at the bottom of my sheet, and must finish this ill-digested piece of dulness. Nothing I believe, but the hope of a speedy answer could have induced me to write at all in such a plight as I am at present— Don't disappoint me in my hopes, and I promise to be more regular in future— No more— My Dear Tom, from,

Your sincere friend, /

Thomas Carlyle

Do Write me directly— I am not absolutely certain—and will not be till I get a letter—what is your address.