The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL; 11 December 1815; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18151211-TC-RM-01; CL 1:64-68.


Annan, 11th Decr. 1815—

My Dear Mitchell,

I opened your last letter1 with fear and trembling. I expected nothing but reproaches;—when lo! my sins are laid upon the back of the unoffending Post John, and I am never blamed.2 Indeed, Mitchell, you have been too good: and I look for nothing but that you will be ready to slay me, when you come to know that I have never written you at all— I beseech you let not your wrath be kindled. Stay till you have heard my piteous circumstances:—and I am persuaded, you will pardon me.— I might justly preface my account with an infandum regina,3 but to proceed without ornament— “Ye probably may not know those lines of Scaliger4 [applied to dictionary-makers, and mutatis mutandis to dictionary-users] Si quem dura manet sententia judicisolim &c—Lexica contexat, nam caetera, quid moror? omnes poenarum facies, hic labor unus habet.”5—— You certainly imagine, I am got terribly learned since I saw you— But fair and softly—I know nothing at all about honest Scaliger; and ‘those lines’ of his are, I believe, none of the most honestly come by:—I conveyed them (convey the wise it call) from Morell's preface to Ainsworth's dictionary6—A preface, I may observe, the most strongly impregnated with pedantry of any I ever read.— But once more—let me proceed— ‘Those lines of Scaliger’ and many other ‘lines,’ are applicable to me—as you shall presently hear. After parting from you at Ruthwell—I consumed the remainder of our vacation, in sundry idle projects: one of which was—going to Dumfries, and suffering ‘the pain of three intolerable deaths’7 for the purpose [of] hearing certain wise and faithful counsellors display their eloquence at the circuit trials.— When I returned to Annan, it occurred to me, that it would be proper to see what was become of my Hall discourses.8 It occurred to me, much about the same time, that it would be proper to study Rumfords essays, Mackenzies travels, Humboldts New Spain, Berkeley's principles of knowledge, Stewarts essays Simson's fluxions &c &c &c9— It was some great man's advice, to every person in a hurry—never to do more than one thing at a time. Judge what progress I must have made—when I engaged in half-a-dozen.— Manufacturing theses—wrestling with lexicons, Chemical experiments, Scotch philosophy and Berkeleian Metaphysics—I have scarcely sufficient strength left, to write you even now. Upon consideration, therefore, of these egregious labours—I hope, you cannot refuse to forgive me.

I am anxious to consult you about going to Edinr this winter. I have already partly told you that I have been making my Exigesis. It is now nearly finished;—and truly a most delectable production it is—but of this some other time. I wrote to Murray in great haste, to commission me a day—and it seems, I am engaged to read on Friday the 22nd currt.10— So that you see my time of setting out is decided upon.— You will ask me, why, since I have almost come to a determination about my fitness for the study of Divinity, why all this mighty stir—why this ado—about ‘delivering’ a thesis—that in the minds eye seems vile—and in the nostril smells horrible?11 It is not because I have altered my sentiments about the study of theology: but principally because it came into my head, to try what sort of an essay upon natural religion, I could make I have tried and find accordingly that I can make one perfectly—‘weary, flat, stale and unprofitable’— but I am engaged and must read it now.— I do not e[.]xpect yet, that you will be able to tell me ‘whether the sabbath is of divine institution’12—but I do hope, you have determined to go to Edinr this winter along with me. If you have not—I must not try to persuade you.— You would suspect that my arguments arose from selfish motives— And you would not be far from right; for if you do not go, I shall be the most melancholy person imaginable. But I cannot help bringing to your recollection, the possibility that you may change your opinion about becoming a clergyman—in which case your annual visit to Edinr will be of essential service. It does good, at any rate—by preventing that pity which certain people of grave minds are so disposed to bestow on every one that has not a fixed prospect in life—and over and above, it is pleasant to revisit one's alma mater. For these reasons and for one (I confess it) as strong as any—that I shall be uncomfortable if you refuse—I earnestly wish you to determine upon this journey.— I must set out on Wednesday the 20th, in order to reach Edinr in time. Now could not you, take an inside-seat in the coach and leave Dumfries on Thursday morning—whilst I set out from Ecclefechan on Wednesday evening by the Glasgow Mail—having previously secured a seat from Dumfries to Edinr—and meet you at Moffatt? We should thus proceed merrily to the capital—and I promise not to be sticklish about leaving it, whenever you please. You must revolve all this in your mind—and after serious and mature deliberation—let me know on thursday morning—that you have made up your mind to go. I say Thursday-morning—for we shall have little enough time after that to take the necessary measures. You must [underscored twice] write on Thursday13

You would have Landalls preaching last saturday. How does he seem to do?— ‘Doctrinal discourses’—true blue—I suppose.14 I have heard of a criticism passed by the late Dr. Finlay15 of Glasgow upon some eminent probationer; I know not whether it will apply. Upon being asked his opinion concerning the gentleman's oratorical powers, he made answer—‘He hath a comely appearance and hath attracted the notice of divers young men—and also of some young women’— Have you heard that, the very learned and very orthodox divine of Oc[h]iltree16 is preparing to apply his polyglott stores—to translating the new testament— Bonum, faustum, felix et fortunatum sit:17 I am only sorry that I was obliged to become a subscriber—it is one pound four:—if you take a thought of buying it, apply to me and you shall have it for the odd silver.

I am obliged to you, for your account of your Swiss visitants.18— With all imaginable deference to those that practise the sublime virtue of Charity;—I cannot altogether see, what concern the peaceable inhabitants of Dumfriesshire have with the management of the convents situated among the glaciers of the Alps. Had the task of repairing their breaches been consigned to the virtuosi and the cognoscenti that frequent those regions, it might have been more befitting.— But ‘all for the honour of England.’19

Can you tell me whether Davie Graham is continuing to practice physic? He is a good honest lad:—I am only afraid that the aphorisms of Celsus will not answer the men of Tundergarth.20— And Andrew!— alas! the green ocean is betwixt us! Illi robur et aes triplex circa pectus erat.21

The fate of poor Andrew disposes one to be melancholy.— What is to become of us, Mitchell? The period of our boyhood is past:— and in a little while, if we live, behold we shall be bearded men! from whom wisdom and gravity will be required. It is now a year since we last visited Edinr— For my part, tho' I have laboured as I could in my vocation, I can[not say] that I am either wiser or better in any perceptible d[egree—] out upon [it]! this is a miserable world.

But let us quit moralizing—and bethink us of our journey.— You must write me on thursday—that you will be ready at the time.— I cannot think of any excuse you can plead with any chance of success. Are you afraid lest it hurt your health? Wrap yourself up in your rouquelaure—and you can take no harm. You have been curling22—and I am happy to believe—you have got sound again.—you certainly will come.

I know not whether you will have heard—that I am living with Mr Glen since I came to Annan last. He is a real good man as far as I can see; and Mrs Glen is a fine cheerful woman—so that upon the whole, I am not uncomfortable in my present circumstances. Most of the ministers that come here (no great number, let me be thankful) are curious bodies:—but I will speak of this elsewhere— In the mean time—I must again repeat my petition—and hope that in a short time we shall be in Edinr together.—

I am ever yours My good Robin, /

Thomas Carlyle