The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO JAMES JOHNSTON; 10 December 1816; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18161210-TC-JJ-01; CL 1:87-89.


Kirkcaldy10th Dec. 1816

My Dear Friend

I have no doubt that you sometimes think of me, and feel some degree of impatience to know what I am doing[.] I am about to satisfy your anxieties, by giving you an account of my adventures since I left Ecclefechan.— You will remember that it was a vile raw night when I parted from you, and you will easily conceive that my journey to Moffat was none of the most agreeable. The next day was considerably worse on the top of Ericstane the wind blew loudly, and drove the hail against us, with considerable violence. You will figure my situation, when I tell you that I was perched on the roof of the ‘leathern conveniency’ and that the interior contained a full cargo of Dumfries lawyers. To complete my chagrin, a few minutes after we had passed the glen, my hat was blown off. The coach halted: I looked at the Guard, but all the faculties of his soul seemed ‘screwed to the sticking place’1—to devise means to keep himself in heat, and, unwilling to disturb him, I alighted myself and plunged heedlessly into a snowwreath—for which I had the mortification of sitting all day, with my feet and legs at the freezing point of water. When I arrived at Edinburgh I found my friends in a state of considerable fermentation [our] ancient landlord and many of his kidney were crying vehemently for parliamentary reform, and chanting the praises of Major Cartwright,2 and the Hampden-Club. The students on the contrary were deeply immersed in natural Philosophy[.] Mr. Leslie had begun to lecture in place of Mr. Playfair,3 and many were gathered to hear him: after which, they would descant, with much Zeal and very little knowledge, upon Anaxagoras and the vis insita [innate force] of matter. I did not enter keenly into either of the speculations; but wandered about amongst my acquaintance, whilst I remained. I saw Campbell of Ruthwell—he seemed well and contented. I met also with Clack and Milroy and Irving and many others. Laurie I saw likewise he looks still very weak, tho' I am told he is recovering. Murray was not in Edin' but he was expected, I went with Waugh on the morning of the Eclipse of the sun,—to the top of the Calton.4 But alas! tho' the eclipse has been predicted in the Belfast Almanack, tho' many a fair Lady exposed her tender frame to the unwholesome dews of morning and tho' many a gallant youth attended with smoked glass—to exhibit before his Dulcinea the extent of his astronomical acquirements—no man saw it nor woman either, the morning was cloudy—it even rained. I attended the first meeting of the Philalethic society— There were many new members, but the society seemed to have undergone no improvement. Jamie Thomson still speaks with his former pertinacity. Andrew made a harangue as vapid as ever, Thomas Irving5 read an introductory address, and the rest were all in readiness to ‘nod assent and smile’[.] I left them with little regret. Indeed I was surprised to discover here also how much times are altered with me, within these two years. When I quitted Edinr in 1814—I felt as if I had been leaving the fountain head of knowledge and good humour; and when I returned, its society seemed uninteresting, and their pursuits very stale and unprofitable!6 I am vexed that I vallicate [vacillate] in this unphilosophical manner[.] But it is thus, I suppose with wiser persons than I our views of the world are perpetually changing as we sail down the stream; and that man is the wisest, who is the best satisfied with his present prospect.— But not to detain you with reflections and details—I hasten to inform you that I have crossed the frith—that I have unde[r]gone, with a sound mind, the ceremony of introduction to the Burghers of Kirkcaldy, who were awaiting my arrival with impatience ‘their Martinmas being the 11th Nov.,’ and that I am quietly settled in a comfortable room (price 6/ fire included) directly opposite the scene of my labours. I opened my School on Monday 25th Nov. how I shall shut it, is written in the book of Fate—if Fate is at the pains to record the destiny of such an unimportant person as me. In the meantime I have obtained twenty-seven scholars. [End of copy.]