The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO JAMES JOHNSTON; 25 September 1817; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18170925-TC-JJ-01; CL 1:106-111.


Kirkcaldy, 25th September 1817.

My Dear Johnston—I fear you are already fretting at my silence; and, as I have no satisfactory apology to offer—it would but augment your dudgeon to attempt one. Therefore, without preface, I desire you to be content, & you shall hear all things in their order.— To begin at the beginning—The day after my parting with you & Mitchell was rainy—and I spent it at home—in a state of torpid & unprofitable dreaming. But, next morning being dry, I resolved to commence my journey. Sandy accompanied me to Moffat; and during my ride my mind was occupied with all the cheering reflections which a passage thro' Tweedsmuir, the recommencement of paedagogy, and the jolting of a strong cart-horse naturally inspired. About two o'clock, I was on the summit of Arrick-stane.1 I looked down through the long & deep vale of the Annan, remembered my friends upon the dim horizon, and half-uttering the wish that rose within me for their welfare, I turned me round & pursued the tenor of my way. In a short time I overtook two fellow-travellers. One of them was a peasant of those parts; the other a stout square-made [man] of thirty, in sailor's clothes without shoes or shirt—with a countenance that seemed tanned by wind & weather, and expressive at once of energy & harmlessness. Upon investigation, I found that this unlucky person was one Thomas Cuvallo, a native of Constantinople, whose father had gone from the neighbourhood of Corinth—that he had served two years on board the Achilles English ship of war—was discharged in 1814—had afterwards been twice at India whence he had returned last spring— & that travelling from one harbour to another in the vain hope of finding a vessel to carry him to his own country, he had expended all his money, & was now, as a last resort, making his way to Leith, to try to procure either a passage to the Continent or work to keep him from starving till times should mend. This Thomas Cuvallo, cast thus forlornly upon the wolds of Tweed[d]ale, seemed to view his condition with anindifference that Zeno himself might have envied. The present of a piece of bread & cheese which Mrs Johnston had stowed into my pocket at Moffat, secured me his favour, and rendered him very communicative—tho' his stock of English vocables was far from extensive. After repeating me the Greek alphabet, he gave me the names of several objects in Romaic—most of which bore a striking resemblance to the Hellenic; and when I inquired the signification of Zoë mou sas agapo, he replied with a grin of intelligence—“My life, I love thee.”2 Then he proceeded to unfold to me the various grievances & molestations to which he (being a Djowr)3 was exposed in Istambol—interspersing some account of his adventures in the Levant, together with notices of Mullahs, jemesms, & spinning Dervishes. Insensibly he digressed into the subject of magic & divination—and then set about revealing to me his ideas touching miracles & spectres. He said there were ten kinds of spectres—under the head of miracles— he told me of certain pictures in St Sophia's Church which no efforts of the Turks can efface, though they scrape & whitewash never so manfully. In the same church, it seems[,] there is a pulpit into which these unhappy Mussulmans can never gain admittance—axes and crows avail them nothing: but every Easter-eve there appears in it the figure of a man reading in a book, which when he shall have finished, the Muhammedan empire shall pass away for ever. He told me likewise of a well in Constantinople which contains a fish whose history is very remarkable. It happened to be frying in a pan in the palace, at the time the Turks were about to enter the city; when the incredulous & phlegmatic sov[e]reign declared to the General who came to ask his advice, that he would as soon believe that this fish would jump from his frying-pan and live, as that the Turks were within many leagues of him. Whereupon the fish sprang out with great agility, and at this hour, he said, is living in its well—on[e] side roasted and the other raw—and intends to do so till Greece shall be finally delivered from bondage. He never saw it[,] but his mother did. On our arrival at the Bield,4 I presented this unfortunate Argive with a draught of porter; and leaving him—with a shilling, half a foot of tobacco, and my best wishes to exert his begging powers in the neighbourhood;—I advanced to Broughton in the midst of rain—and reached it at nightfall. In about half an hour there came a return chaise, into which I mounted: and after being dosed by the quaverings of a foolish Grocer who frequently attempted to sing, and sometimes amused by the proofs which our driver (a kind of Cuddie Headrigg5 fellow) produced of the insanity of Kennedy & his fair wife—both of renowned memory in your country—I came to Noblehouse at ten o'clock. Next day at noon I was in Edinr; met with Irving at Leith in the evening, and finally without loss or detriment I reached my habitation in time for tea.

Thus, you see, after all the pains & pleasures, and triumphs and discomfitures, and perils by land and water which a month spent in journeying upon the face of this fair earth has caused me to experience, I find myself once more seated in my little chamber in this ancient burgh of Kirkcaldy—all my labours (like those of many wiser persons) having brought me only to the place from whence I started. Now that I have shaken hands with my honest neighbours, and resumed my occupations, I find that the remembrance of the wild and wondrous features of the Highlands6 assorts but awkwardly with the vulgar feelings to which the duties of a school give rise. Nevertheless I am peaceful & contented[,] and my days pass on pleasantly enough. What I deplore is that laziness and dissipation of mind to which I am still subject. At present I am quieting my conscience with the thought that I shall study very diligently this winter. Heaven grant it be so! for without increasing in knowledge what profits it to live? Yet the commencement has been inauspicious. Three weeks ago I began to read Wallace's Fluxions7 in the Encyclopaedia, and had proceeded a little way, when the Quarterly Review, some problems in a very silly Literary and Statistical Magazine8 of which the the schoolmasters are supporters, Madm de Staël's Germany,9 etc. etc., have suspended my operations these ten days. After all I am afraid that this winter will pass as others have done before it—unmarked by improvement; and what is to hinder the next, & its followers till the end of the short season allotted me to do so likewise? Pitiful destiny! my friend—yet how to be avoided? Lately I was renewing my old project of going to the French university. I have flattered myself with the thought, that the collision with so many foreign minds, all toiling with might and main after the same object[,] [might?] excite in me a permanent enthusiasm sufficient to carry me as far as my powers would go—straight forward—and not in the zig-zag directi[o]ns—now flying now creeping which I at present pursue. Once I had almost determined next time I went to Edinr to enquire whether it would be possible to put this scheme in execution. But I suppose—it will shortly dissipate—like other schemes of a similar nature, and leave me to form resolutions, and lament their failure as before. You will think me very weak and silly: I think so myself (hinc illae lacrymae) [hence were those tears],10 and know not whether I shall ever mend. I hope you order these matters better at Hitchill.

I told you I had seen the Quarterly Review. You would notice its contents in the newspaper. It is a long time since I ceased to be one of its admirers. The writers pos[s]ess no inconsiderable share of dogmatism; and their learning, which they are, to an unpleasant degree, fond of displaying[,] is of that minute & scholastic nature which is eminently distinguished from knowledge. Moreover their zeal for the ‘Social order’ seems to eat them up[,] and their horror of revolution is violent as a hydrophobia. These qualities are prominent in the last number—and accordingly it contains much disgusting matter; but I like it better as a whole, than some of its predecessors. There is in it a distant and respectful but severe criticism on Dugald Stewart's writings,11 which comes much nearer my views of his character, than any of the panegyrics which the Edinr Reviewers have so lavishly bestowed upon him.— The other night I sat up till four o'clock, reading Matthew Lewis's Monk.12 It is the most stupid & villainous novel that I have read for a great while. Considerable portions of it are grossly indecent[,] not to say brutish—one does not care a straw about one of the characters—and tho' ‘little Mat’ has legions of ghosts & devils at his bidding—one views their movements with profound indifference. I have seen the first number of Constable's new magazine13— it seems scarcely equal to Blackwood's—the last number of which has appeared. B. advertises a new one with a slight variation in the title. There is also another periodical publication published once a fortnight (I forget its name), begun under the auspices of Peter Hill.14 I perused only one article and can give no account of it. I cannot pretend to say what this influx of magazines indicates or portends.

Tell Mr. Church15 that the harvest began here about a week after my arrival. Barley seems to be the principal crop in this neighbourhood—and all hands are now busily engaged in cutting it. It has been sadly tossed & broken by the wind & rain; but as the last fortnight has been excellent weather—the people have great hopes of it yet. What the price of the grain is I know not—new oat meal was 19½ d. the peck—but two days of soft weather have raised it a penny. Make my best compliments to Mrs Church & Miss Harper.16 I hope you are happy with them. I long to hear what you are all doing. Write me, I pray you[,] a full & particular account of all your transactions. Pardon my delays—& let me tell you even now I have been obliged to write this letter most doggedly[,] & as it were by main force—so great was my desire to keep you in peace. Can you tell me what that knave Mitchell is doing? He should have sent me a letter two weeks ago. Remember me at Bogside. Do write very soon, & believe me, dear Johnstone yours faithfully,

Thomas Carlyle.

P.S. I am just going down to Irving's to get the newspaper and concert measures for an expedition to Edinr, which we are meditating to accomplish tomorrow evening— I shall put this into the office by the way—so good night once more—