TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL; 27 November 1818; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18181127-TC-RM-01; CL 1:147-151.
TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL
Edinr27th November 1818—
My Dear Mitchell,
Those who have never known what it is to buffet with Fortune, and to hear the voice of a friend encouraging them in the strife, cannot understand the pleasure which I felt from reading your letter.1 It found me on the eve of my departure from Kirkcaldy. The plan of a subscription-school was, according to my expectation, given up for want of subscribers. I was packing my clothes and books, writing directions, settling accompts,—weighing anchor, in short, to venture once again with little ballast, provision or experience, upon the stormy ocean of life; when your admonitions came to shed a gleam of light athwart my rough and doubtful course. I thank you for them, with all my soul. If I have not done it sooner, or if I do it now in a clumsy way—I desire you to consider the trouble and vexation which a change of place and habits produces; and if this excuse will not satisfy you, add to it, that for some days I have enjoyed very poor health, which two ounces of sulphate of magnesia that I swallowed some hours ago, have not yet tended to diminish.2
It would be ridiculous to affect displeasure at your kind violation of my prohibition. You have acted towards me as became a friend. To Mr Duncan, who possesses the rare talent of conferring obligations without wounding the vanity of him who receives them,—and the still rarer disposition to exercise that talent—all gratitude is due on my part. It is needless to say more about my feelings upon this head. With regard to the abilities which you are kind enough to suppose that I possess for writing in Reviews and Encyclopaedias—I have much doubt: I have very little, respecting the alacrity with which I should engage in these enterprises. At all events, I am highly indebted for what has already been done in that matter; and shall receive with great thankfulness the introductory letters which you mention. The countenance and conversation of such a person as Dr Brewster3 cannot fail to be both gratifying and instructive to one in my circumstances. If I mistake not, I have seen Mr Henderson4 at Ruthwell-manse. His manners seemed to be such as become a gentleman. The information which might be derived from him, concerning the profession of law, is what I earnestly desire.
Perhaps you are curious to know the state of my feelings—at this crisis of m[y affairs]. I need not use many words to describe them. Conceive to yourself a person of my stamp (about which you should know something before this time), loosened from all his engagements with mankind—seated in a small room in S. Richmond st—revolving in his altered soul, the various turns of fate below5—whilst every time that the remembrance of his forlorn condition comes across his brain, he silently exclaims—‘why then the world's mine oyster; which I (not with sword, as Ancient Pistol) will open’6—as best I may: and you will have some idea of my situation. I am not unhappy:—for why? I have got Saussure's voyages dans les Alpes;7 and it is my intention to accompany him, before much time shall elapse, to the summit of the Dole as well as to the col de géant.8 Besides, I have Irving to talk with about chemistry or the moral sublime—Francis Dixon9 also, and Waugh,10 to spout poetry, not by weight and measure—but in a plenteous way. There are others too—a numerous and nameless throng. I saw that admirable creature, Mr Esbie,11 some weeks ago at Kirk[c]aldy. He came in company with one Galloway12—a small dogmatical teacher of Mathematics—a wrangler of the first order—of brutal manners, and a terror to those embryo philosophers which (or rather who) frequent the backshop of David Brown. The contrast between this hirsute person and the double-refined travelling tutor was what Mr E. himself would have called magnifique. I thought of the little lap-dog, the dog of knowledge, which I had seen dancing in a ring with the rugged russian bear. Esbie seem[s] to have some good nature—and as his vanity, which is very considerable, lies quite in a different direction from one's own vanity (which in most cases is also considerable), he is, I should think, rather amusing than otherwise. To-day I saw him enter the college-yard—“and surely there never lighted upon this earth, which he scarcely seemed to touch, a more beauteous vision. I then thought (to continue, in the words of Burke) that ten thousand swords (fists rather) would have leapt from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened him with insult13— But alas!” poor Esbie must be content, he thinks, ‘with some devil of a curacy’ as he calls it; tho' his acquaintance with ‘the first houses in England’ is of the most intimate nature.
I have heard Proffr Jameson14 deliver two lectures. I am doubtful whether I ought to attend his class after all. He is one of those persons whose understanding is overburthened by their memory. Destitute of accurate science, without comprehension of mind,—he details a chaos of facts, which he accounts for in a manner as slovenly as he selects and arranges them. Yesterday he explained the [colour] of the atmosphere, upon principles which argued a total ignorance of dioptrics. A knowledge of the external characters of minerals is all that I can hope to obtain from him.
You will readily believe that I have not read much since I wrote to you. Roscoe's life of Lorenzo de' Medici15—a work concerning which I shall only observe, in the words of the Auctioneer that it is ‘well worth any gentleman's perusal’—is the only thing almost that I recollect aught abo[ut.] I was greeved to read your brief notice of your ill health. I do hope it is reestablished. What says Newton? and Gibbon? Have you given up all thoughts of the Divinity-Hall? Tho' there are few persons on earth whom I desire as much to see, I do not advise you to prosecute it. From the conversation, which we had in the inn at Bassenthwaite Halls,16 and elsewhere, I judge that you are as unfit as myself for the study of Theology, as they arrogantly name it. Whatever becomes of us let us never cease to behave like honest men.
When did you see Johnstone? I hope you often meet—to point out, when other topics fail, the contours of that alpine range in whose unforgotten bosom, we spent some days in so happy a manner. I intended to have written to him long a[go]—c[ertainly] he will soon [hear from] me.— I must have a letter from you as soon as your good-nature will afford me that pleasure. Excuse the dullness of this epistle and its brevity (a m[ost] uncommon fault) both of which you will charitably impute to the proper cause— I will try to do better another time. Believe me to be
My Dear friend, / Your's faithfully, /
3 S. Richmond strt
P.S. I neglected to inform you that I am engaged, for a month or two, to instruct a young man in spherical trigonometry and Astronomy—for four hours a-day. The young man had been directed to Irving—who could not find time for the undertaking, and sent him to me. This is fortunate, tho' it lasts but for a little—because for that little it will keep me from having any vacant hours— Write soon my good f[e]llow—