The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO THOMAS MURRAY; 14 April 1819; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18190414-TC-TM-01; CL 1:175-178.


Edinr 15 Carnegie street, 14th April 1819—

My dear Sir,

I am chargeable with very great negligence in having withheld from you, for some weeks, a letter which you were kind enough to solicit so earnestly.1 The book arrived, a few days after I was favoured with your communication: I did not tell you so three weeks ago, for the old reasons—too much or too little business, spirits, health &c &c. I have likewise received another book along with the Dictionary. I suppose it to belong to Samuel Caven Junr, as certain characters upon the title-page seem to indicate; and what is to be done with it I know not— But more than enough of these trivial matters— Perhaps, however, I ought to bring to your mind a publication belonging to John Forrest, the Marrow of Modern Divinity2—Peden's Prophecies3—the Cloud of Witnesses4 or some such book, which it seems you borrowed from him. Four out of the five times that I have been in his house, Jack has bewailed the loss of this precious tome, in a manner as heart-rending as ever Scaliger bewailed the lost decades of Livy. It is not probable that you would wish to lie under any obligation to this ‘Turk in grain’;5 therefore I counsel you to send back the Marrow to its despairing owner, as quickly as you can.

I congratulate you, my Friend, on the prospect which you have of obtaining a settlement that in some degree meets your wishes.6 The despicable wretchedness of teaching can be known only to those who have tried it; and to Him who made the heart, and knows it all— One meets with few spectacles more afflicting than that of a young man, with a free spirit, with impetuous tho' honourable feelings, condemned to waste the flower of his life in such a calling; to fade in it, by the slow but sure corrosion of discontent; and at last, obscurely & unprofitably to leave, with an indignant eye, the miseries of a world, which his talents might have illustrated and his virtues adorned. Such things have been and will be. But surely in that better life, which good men dream of, the spirit of a Kepler or a Milton will find a more propitious destiny.— To return—I long to hear that you have comfortably adjusted your establishment in the Island— In the event of your going thither, you have only to exert your abilities with the zeal and prudence of which you are capable; and, I am convinced, your hopes of respectability and contentment will not be disappointed. Probably you are disposed to agree with the Pariah of St Pierre, in thinking that ‘there is no real happiness without a good wife’: and it may be, you are right. Let me advise you, however (you need not frown—I am not going to jest—but to give most serious & weighty counsel), to examine and re-examine the circumstances, before taking any step in consequence of this persuasion. A calendar month destroys the illusions of the Imagination; and if Judgement be not interested—the rest of one's life is the very gall of bitterness. A narrow income too!— It would break your heart—at least I hope it would—to see the helplessness of an amiable woman (granting that your choice was fortunate) exposed to the hard unkindness, from which you had undertaken, but were unable, to defend her. Of a truth such a thing should give us pause. But I doubt not your good sense will render this advice superfluous: your good nature will pardon it— Considering the motive which has called it forth—

As to my own prospects, I am sorry, on several accounts, that I can give no satisfactory reply to your friendly inquiries. A good portion of my life is already mingled with the past Eternity; and for the Future—it is a dim scene, on which my eyes are fixed as calmly & intensely as possible—to no purpose. The probability of my doing any service, in my day & generation, is certainly not very strong. Friends are necessary; and I have few friends—and most of those few have their own Concerns to mind— Health also is requisite; but my late precious trade—and indolent habits (it must be owned) have left me little of that to boast of— So I have thought and only thought of several things during the winter. My operations have been limited to the acquisition of an exceeding slight knowledge of the German language and the perusal of some few books that are little likely to turn to much profit— I have heard Professor Jameson's lectures,7 which happily terminated this day— You once attended him I think: therefore it is not necessary to say how ravishing it was to sit and hear the names not only of the ‘old red sandstone, and the coal form[ation,’] but also of corundums, schorls, meerschaums, calc-tu[f]fs &c which no man can number. I have learned little, except that I am not calculated for being a Mineralogist— And now that the summer is coming I suppose it will be most adviseable to carry a few books down to my Father's house; and try whether the air of Dumfriesshire will not restore its vigour to this ‘digestive-apparatus’ (as Prof. J. calls it) which has for some time been very inefficient, not to say refractory— Then with a sound body and a stout heart—!— For we must not die so soft as this.— Few things could give me more pleasure than to spend a month with you in the healthful breezes of Man. But it depends upon so many contingencies, that the prospect is too remote and uncertain for being calculated on. We shall see.

You have to answer for the sin of keeping me almost two hours from ‘Planta's history of the Helvetic confederacy’8—which is a small sin it must be owned, the said Planta being (under favour) little better than a conceited dolt, and his ‘history’ a Gazette in 1000 pages—of quarto letter-press— Excuse the blunders of this motley sheet—and believe me (in great haste) ever,

Your's most faithfully, /

Thomas Carlyle.