TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL; 15 February 1816; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18160215-TC-RM-01; CL 1:68-72.
TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL
Annan, 15th Feby 1816.
My Dear Mitchell—I know, I should have written you, a month ago; and I am not going to take up your time with excuses. I have indeed no excuse, except the perpetually forthcoming one—no time and no subject; and it would be but aggravating my misconduct, to harangue you upon a topic that has been so fully discussed by every writer of letters in every age of the world. The truth is—I have been a very torpid person of late. After undergoing the fatigues of a most uncomfortable journey to Edinburgh, I returned with renewed keenness to my old habits of seclusion an[d] repose—to reading when I was able, and when I was not, to the forming of vain hopes and silly projects, at which I have a peculiar knack.— But tho' I have not written to you, I have had you often in my mind. Many a time during my dreary pilgrimage to Edin. did I solace myself with the hope of making you merry with the recital of my adventures:—a hope which (as you are just going to see) has, like many other hopes, proved utterly fallacious.
I left Ecclefechan on the evening of tuesday the 19th Decr on the top of the Glasgow Mail. Little occurred worthy of notice, till on my arrival at Moffatt, I discovered among my fellow travellers, along with three Lancashire cotton men, a pure species of the popinjay—of whom all that I can now say, is that he was much shocked at seeing [no] ‘roasbeef fo suppa,’ and expressed his grief and surprise by several nondescript interjections; that he was unable to determine whether the fowl on the table was a tame duck or wild, and thereupon ‘did patiently incline’1 to the reasonings of an ancient Scottish gourmand who at length succeeded in settling his mind upon this important subject; and that upon my inquiring after the news of the paper which he was reading, he informed me that the Aachdoocs had returned to England, and that (this he preluded by three nods of satisfaction) the Prince Regent was gone to Brighton.
The next day I had different objects to speculate upon. I was mounted on the roof of the coach in one of the most dismal days I ever saw. It snowed heavily; on our arrival at Erockstane2 particularly, the roaring of the wind and the ocean of drift carried with it—together with the bellowings of the distracted coachmen, and the outlandish warwhoops of two Irish Doctors who along with myself had dismounted till we should ascend the hill—formed a scene sufficiently wild. Of this I intended for your benefit, a very pathetic description—as well as of the desolation of the Broughton inn—where after a day of violent struggling we finally stopt. The kitchen, I remember, when I entered it, was filled with shepherds and carriers—and in the midst, like a breathing Iceberg, stood our guard describing with much emphasis the hardships of the day.— Two female passengers had taken pos[s]ession of another quarter of the house—and left the two Hibernians and me to pass the evening as we best were able. I did not, by any means like my comorades. One of them (according to my conceptions)—but that he from time to time uttered certain acute sounds—and had a pair of little fiery eyes,—pretty much resembled an Egyptian mummy—a little meagre thing—skin apparently of the nature of parchment—and a complexion that seemed to have been produced by repeated immersion in strong decoctions of logwood. The other had a Kilmarnock bonnet.3 Both seemingly exceeding vain as well as stupid. I spent an unhappy evening. The mummy blew upon a German flute—and both talked of Antrim and Drogheda4—till I had come to a resolution of leaving them next morning at all hazards.— I must not neglect to tell you of our dormitory—finding, there was only one bed allotted for us all, and wisely judging it prudent to make the best of a bad bargain, the mum[m]y took pos[s]ession of the middle. There is no happiness, it is said, without alloy—at least it proved so in this case; for altho' by this manoeuvre the mummy secured a comfortable proportion of warmth—yet the pressure of the Kilmarnock-bonnetman upon his fragile sides seemed considerably to damp his enjoyments. It became at length so intolerable, indeed, as to compel him (after a desperate and ineffectual effort at release) to exclaim ‘Marciful Heaven—preserve my sowl—what will become of me now?’— The bitter whine in which this sentiment was uttered, and the sudden nature of such a preparation for dissolution (which, I might have inferred from the words, he expected forthwith) would in any other circumstances have overcome my gravity.
I left them next morning and set out on my forlorn expedition at four o'clock. It was truly an Icelandic scene. The wind had subsided during the night—all was silent—and the moon disclosed the dreary expanse of snow—which in many places was d[r]ifted into heaps of several feet in depth. I made but indifferent progress—for after infinite flounderings (at one time, literally up to the chin in snow) the sun rose upon me in the wolds of Lintoun. The track was entirely obliterated—and I suppose I was beginning to look silly enough—when I luckily descried a benevolent herdsman who pointed out to me the road for Noblehouse5—from which I had deviated at the suggestion of a roadman, at whose cottage I had called, and who thought the higher road would be the cleaner. I was glad to meet, at Noblehouse, with a Thos Clark6 Divinity student whom I had known in Edinr. He was preparing to mount on horseback, and in the meantime introduced me to a tall thin man who he said intended to walk to Edinr. having been long disappointed of a passage in the coach. There was a stagnant placidity in this persons countenance which inclined me to believe, that he would prove a sufficiently inoffensive companion. He did turn out a very shallow man. He questioned the workmen whom we passed, with much minuteness, concerning the state of the rods that were before us—And conversed with me upon no subject but that of the effects of snow upon human bodies—seeming particularly anxious about the fate of his own vile carrion. He tired; and I left him at Pennicuik sitting with a kindred spirit—to all appearance, a Peebles weaver. I pursued my journey with unabating velocity & arrived at John Forrests7 at last about seven o'clock. I never was more happy at seeing Edinr.
I gave in my discourse next day along with Samuel Caven8 and another whom I did not know. It was sustained without difficulty. Caven's was a precious morsel. Its author it seems is in some family in the East Country.— He is a jumbling person to speak with; ‘he says an infinite deal of nothing; his reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff—you shall seek all day ere you find them—and when you have them—they are not worth the search.’9 But—enough of him.— Our old College cronies have left Edinr nearly to a man.— Waugh10 still continues there teaching and learning with all his might. I think he was not quite so full of calculi as usual.— When we speak of calculi—I brought home [some f]ew mathematical books, which I must tell you of—Bossuts history [of] mathematics,11 Woods optics,12 Cunn's Euclid13 and Newton's principia14 constitute my [stock] of this sort— I got Lucans Pharsalia also,15 and some little extracts of Fenelons dialogues des morts.16 If there are any of these (except Newton for which you would be [obliged] to wait awhile) that you wish to see—they are ready for you. I had read Bossut before—and have not done much at him of late. Neither have I read any quantity of Wood yet, having been nibbling at the Principia (which with all my struggling, I come but ill at understanding—indeed in some places I don't understand it at all) ever since I came home. Of Lucan I have not read above seven lines.— I saw Scott's ‘Waterloo’ and ‘Guy Mannering’17 when I was in Edinr[.] The former has been so dreadfully abused already—that I have nothing to add to the Newspaper puns, &c with which it has been assailed. The[re] are (as Gray said of the castle of Indolence) some good lines in it.18 I have far too little room for speaking of Mannerings beauties and defects at present— I will discuss it next time I write, if I can find nothing better.
But I must close this long letter. I have as you see devoted the night to writing my adventures. You asked for Cuddies [donkeys] and truly I think I have driven you in an abundant herd. There is still another person whom (if he continues thus) you may think it reasonable to add to the list. I beseech you give him quarter.
Notwithstanding my misdeeds, I will ask you for a letter—and a pretty early one too. You used yourself to be a sad correspondent you know, and ought therefor[e] to have some conscience.— I saw Landalls19 to-night—he says you have been unwell— I do hope my good Mit you are recovered. Tell me soon—and believe me ever
My Dear Robin / yours sincerely /