TC TO JAMES JOHNSTON; 20 November 1817; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18171120-TC-JJ-01; CL 1:115-118.
TC TO JAMES JOHNSTON
Kirkcaldy, 20th Nov 1817—
O thou Turk in grain!
Did not I send thee long ago, a letter of three dense pages? Have not I any afternoon—these three months, turned my eye to the mantlepiece, upon my return from school, to see if peradventure the postman had brought me no word from Hitchill? And did he ever bring me any? Have not I— But what availeth it to talk. In sobriety I am dreadfully enraged. Write me a letter, I say, without further parley, or I will roar (as Bottom saith) so that it shall do any man's heart good to hear me.1 It is vain to tell me that you have no subject. Send me the meditations of your own heart—send me a register of your domestic occurrences—in short any thing—an account of the prices of grain & black Cattle rather than nothing at all.
My history since I wrote last to you contains no particular worth relating. I continue to follow my vocation with a peaceful & quiet heart—and might live under my vine & fig-tree, in case I had one—with none to make me afraid.— I will not detain you long with my studies— I have been reading little except Coxe's travels in Switzerland, Poland Russia &c2 Humes history3 together with part of Smollet[t], Gibbon &c. Coxe is an intelligent man, and communicates in a very popular manner considerable information concerning the countries thro' which he passed— Hume you know to be distinct & impartial: but he has less sympathy than might be expected with the heroic patriots—the Hampdens & the Sidneys that glorify the pages of English history. I fear Smollett is going to be a confused creature. I have read but a volume of Gibbon—and I do not like him—his style is flowery—his sarcasms wicked—his notes oppressive, often beastly.— They that cultivate literary small-talk have been greatly attracted for some time by the late number of Blackwoods (formerly the Edinr) Magazine.4 It contains many slanderous insinuations against the Publisher's rivals—particularly a paper entitled ‘translation of a Chaldee manuscript’—concerning the author & date of which, it is gravely asserted, the celebrated Sylvester de Sacy5 is writing a dissertation. The piece is divided into chapters & verses, & written in the Scripture language. It relates, in an emblematical manner, the rise, progress, decline & fall of the late Edinr magazine. Constable & the Editors as well as most of the Edinr Authors are bitterly lampooned—under the similitudes of magicians, enchanters, spirits, birds & fourfooted beasts. The writer displays some talents—but his malice and profanity are as conspicuous as his wit. Three prosecutions have been raised against Blackwood on account of it—and the press is groaning with animadversions & replies.— It is curious too [to] observe the importance which the writings of Walter Scott have conferred on every thing pertaining to the Border. These manufacturers deal largely in that article. Not a beldame, in the Merse,6 can plant her cabbages—nor a tinker solder his kettle, but it must be forthwith communicated to the public in Blackwoods or the Scots Magazine. As if the Public had any thing to do with the matter. I marvel that they have not some correspondent in the West Marches, to transmit them intelligence about the spoon-men of Hightae, and the visions of Madam Peel.7 The dead-lights ‘gawn luntin by’ would be a rare morsel for them.
Little occurs in this neighbourhood to disturb our tranquillity—and still less that you would care for hearing— I attended the examination of Irvings academy lately. He acquitted himself dextrously, and seemed to give general satisfaction. His assistant is gone to Edinr—and he now manages the school himself—more comfortably, I hear, than formerly.— A month ago that same Allen,8 whom I once mentioned before, gave us a concluding lecture on the applications of Spurzhiem's theory of Cranioscopy. It was greatly past comprehension. He seemed to have taken the fly-wheels from his brain, and said to it—brain be at thy speed—produce me stuff—no matter of what colour, shape or texture:—and truly it was a frantic, incoherent story as heart could wish. It appears to have knocked the bottom out of Spurzhiem's doctrine, in these parts.— Next came these sundry players and other migratory animals of that sort. Last week we had a reciting man, Mr Hamilton from Glasgow. Perhaps Miss Harper may have seen him. He understands his trade well; but he is a drinking dog.— The other day, there arrived from Edinr, a large shoal of preachers—Dixon, Nichol, Bullock, &c—they preached all along this coast of ours— I heard Dixon—on death;—somewhat in King Cambyses' vein9— He is a witcracker by profession—otherwise a good fellow enough— Between ourselves, our own Minister10 here is the veriest drug that ever hapless audience yawned under. He has ingine11 too—but as much laziness along with it as might suffice for a Presbytery. I protest if he become no better, I shall be compelled to abandon him, in a great measure— Yesterday all the world was in mourning—and hearing sermons for the funeral of the Princess Charlotte.12 I was much struck with the fate of that exalted person. Her age was within a month of my own. A few days ago, she was
—and now—! Truly pale Death overturns, with impartial foot, the hut of the poor man and the palace of the King.14
It is past midnight—so I shall have done. Greet Mrs Church & Miss Harper in my name. Mr Church will prefer an account of the harvest to compliments. Therefore let him know that the state of Agricultural affairs in this district is very pitiful. The crops are backward to a degree that is quite unaccountable—and not paralelled by any season within the memory of man. Part of the oats is uncut: and the whole country hereabout & westward, as I learn, is covered with shocks. The weather is moist too—so that altogether the Husbandman has an afflicting prospect—
I pray—or rather I command you, for so it is fitting—to be satisfied with this rigmarole epistle—and duly to consider its contents, as you shall answer for the same. Tomorrow I go to Edinr along with Irving. If we get safe over, you will find it noted in the vacant space. Meantime I'll to my truckle-bed— I have nothing more to tell you but that I am, as heretofore,
Yours truly, /
Edinr—21st Novr—8 o'clock P.M.—
Here am I at last, as I expected, after a rainy passage across the frith—giving you intelligence of my safe arrival. No news—but all hands singing to the tune of burgh reform— John Forrest told me that Murray arrived in town last night. I am to see the little man at nine o'clock. He is well, I hear—
Yours &c /