The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 23 February 1819; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18190223-TC-AC-01; CL 1:166-170.


Edinr, 23d Feby, 1819—

My dear Brother,

I sit down to write a letter to you, at this late hour of the night; in order to inform you of some steps, which I have taken, since you last heard from me. The uncomfortableness of the person Davie's lodging has been frequently alluded to, in our correspondence. Vermin of various sorts, which haunted the beds of that unfortunate woman, together with sluttishness & a lying, thievish disposition with which she was afflicted—at length became intolerable; and on Wednesday, I told the creature that her ‘ticket-board’ (fatal signal!), must once more be hoisted—in plain words, that I was about to forsake her house entirely. She received the news with considerable dudgeon; but as my words to her were calm & few as well as emphatic, she made no remonstrance. To secure another room was my next care. John Forrest's place, which has few recommendations except the excellent demeanour of Mrs F., was engaged, I found, till the beginning of April. Of the other places, at which I called, some were dirty, others dear, others had a suspicious look; none were suitable. In short not to trouble you with the detail of these pitiful affairs, I saw no better plan than to propose a junction with one Hill (a Nephew of Mrs Irving's—Bogside—from Panteth Hill, Mousewald), who is here studying law.1 He is a harmless kind of youth—& had a clean landlady; who kept two rooms with a bed in each which we could get for 8/ per week. My proposal was immediately accepted of: and I removed hither yesterday (Monday) evening. This comradeship is not altogether to my liking, as I fear it may encumber my researches; but when I consider the saving of 3/6 per week (not to speak of that which arises from two eating together)—as well as the neatness, & comfort which seems to pervade this place, I am induced to put up with the other inconveniences, till April, when I may take Forrest's room, or have a choice of others. Besides we stipulated to have a fire in each room, when we liked at night, so that I can retire to this small chamber whenever I have any thing particular to investigate. The chamber, to say truth, is [not] many square feet in extent, yet it will do excellently well for the short season during which I shall occupy it. Flitting [moving house] is an operation which has, of late years, become very irksome to me; so you are not to expect that, in this letter, I can give you any very interesting remarks: forasmuch as I have even now scarcely ended the arrangement of my goods—I write principally to send you my address & to request an answer from some of you—

I know it will please you all to hear that my health is good. Whenever the morning is fair, I walk before breakfast; and after finishing the German at eleven o'clock, I generally stroll for an hour or so about the environs of this city—a practice, which, I know well, is the only plan for securing vigourous health. There is a young man Fergus[s]on (a cousin of the Celt Maclaren's,2 whom you dined with at Dysart), formerly Irving's assistant at Kirk[c]aldy—who, being disengaged at that hour, is as glad as I, to escape from the ‘sin & sea-coal’ of Edinr; and often accompanies me. He is a sensible, pleasant man, three or four years older than myself. On Tuesday last, when he & I were returning into the town from our excursion, we met Dr Brewster,3 in company with two men of note. The Dr stopped to tell me that he had got a paper on Chemistry written (in French) by Berzelius,4 professor of that science at Stockholm—which was to be published in April:—would I translate it? I answered in the affirmative; and next day went over to get the paper in question. It consists of six long sheets, written in a cramp hand, & in a very diffuse [s]tile. I have it more than half done. The labour of writing it down is the principal one. In other respects there is no difficulty. I do not expect great remuneration, for this thing; but as I am anxious to do it pretty well, it interrupts my other pursuits a little. Before I began it, I was busied in preparing to write about some other thing; but what will be the upshot of it I cannot say.— I tell you all these things, because I know that nothing which concerns me is a matter of indifference to you.

About a week ago, I very briefly discussed an hour of private teaching. A man in the New town applied to one Nicol5 public teacher of Mathematics here, for a person to give instructions in Arithmetic or some thing of that sort. Nicol spoke of me, and I was in consequence directed to call upon the man next morning. I went at the appointed hour & after waiting a few minutes, was met by a stout, impudent-looking man—with red whiskers—having very much the air of an attorney, or some creature of that sort. As our conversation may give you some insight into these matters, I report the substance of it. “I am here,” I said after making a slight bow, which was just perceptibly returned, “by the request of Mr Nicol—to spea[k] with you Sir, about a Mathematical teacher, whom, he tells me, you want”— “Aye. What are your terms?”— “Two guineas a-month, for each hour”— “Two guineas!! for private teaching—that is perfectly extravagant!” — “I believe it to be the rate at which every teacher of respectability in Edinr officiates; and I know it to be the rate below which I never officiate.”— “That won't do for my friend.”— “I am sorry, that nothing less will do for me. Good morning.” And I retired with considerable deliberation. The time has been when I should have vapoured not a little, at being so cavalierly treated by a wretched person of this description. But it is altered now. I reflected only that this man wanted (and that was natural) to have his business done cheap; and that his ill breeding was his misfortune perhaps as much as crime.— A day may come, when I shall look back upon these things with a smile;—[if] that day should never come, the maxim of the Poet is not more trite than true:

[Hono]ur & shame from no condition rise;
[Act] well your part: there all the honour lies.’6

This world, my boy, is but a fight at best; and tho' the battle go against us, yet he, who quits him like a man7—is an object, upon which (as an old philosopher has written) superior natures delight to look.8

Last week I received an umbrella which I had left in Fife, and a kind letter from Mr Swan.9 If ever I come to any thing, that is one person, whom I shall remember.

But it is after one—so I shall conclude. This lad Hill & I seem to have pretty nearly equal quantities of provender, at the present date; and as he may not get any more from home, I think it will be as well if you send me no more also, till I write. I can get the clothes (in the interim) washed by the landlady, who appears to follow some trade of that sort. Write to me by the return of post, if the Harlot10 be not about to set forward. Tell me how Father, Mother & all the rest of you are doing. Give my kindest love to all about the house, and believe me to be, My Dear Brother

Yours faithfully /

Thomas Carlyle

Mrs Scott's

15. Carnegie street

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