TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL; 18 November 1819; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18191118-TC-RM-01; CL 1:207-210.
TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL
Edinr, Thomson's lodgings 8 Richmond-Place / 18th November 1819—
My dear Mitchell,
Without reluctance, I push aside the massy quarto of Millar on the English government,1 to perform the more pleasing duty of writing a few lines to you, by the conveyance of Mr Duncan. No material event has been added to my history, since the day when I parted with you at the avenue of Cummertrees: but by scribbling upon some portion of this sheet, I expect to secure the advantage of hearing from you in return; and independently of this, if my labour do no good, the comfort is, it can do little ill.
I reached what certain persons have been pleased to call ‘the intellectual city,’ on the afternoon of yesterday-week.— The country of Tweedsmuir, you have often heard me say, is the most mournful in Europe. Rugged, without being elevated; barren, stormy, and covered, at least in winter, with an ever-brooding darkness, it seems a fit haunt for the harrassed fanatics,2 who tenanted it in the seventeenth century. I never crossed this dismal region, without melancholy, bitter recollections of the good which I had left; and forebodings of the evil I was likely to meet with: in short, if Trophonius3 should ever think of setting up in the world again; I would have him leave far behind the vales of Thessaly—however tempting they may seem; and dig his grotto, in some hope of this ‘dark Cimmerian desart.’4—you may wonder why I so vehemently abuse this ‘excellent sheep country’: I cannot say—unless that on Tuesday the roads were very bad & the weather very wet; and according to David Hume contiguity in time or place is a principle of association among our ideas.5
Since my arrival in Edinburgh, the employment of waiting for carriers, travelling to Fife &c has consumed most part of my time. On Tuesday-morning, the benevolent Mr Duncan carried me to Bailie Waugh's.6 This worshipful magistrate seems (under the rose) to be a very flimsy vapouring sort of character. I left him my address; and shall probably hear no more of him. With regard to your most kind Minister—my circumstances qualify me but poorly for doing any justice to the feeling which his conduct is calculated to excite. Even to you, I cannot enter upon this subject.— Yesternight I enrolled in the class of Scots law. The Professor Dr Hume,7 a nephew of the philosopher already mentioned, speaks in a voice scarce audible; and his thinking has yet to shew all its points of similarity with the penetrating genius of his uncle. Yet I prophecy that I shall not dislike the science. If health continue, I shall feel for it, all the ardour which is naturally inspired by the prospect (however dubious) of its affording a permanent direction to my efforts: I shall require, moreover, to investigate, the history, antiquities, manners &c of our native country—a subject for which I feel nothing like repugnance: and for the details of the subject—six years of solitary reading (would it had been study!) have given me a most courageous indifference to the magnitude of any folio, capable of being lifted without the aid of the mechanical powers. My fear at the present is even that I shall not be able to procure a copy of Erskine's institutes.8 But next time I write, you shall know more particularly about these affairs—
I have not seen Dr Brewster, because he was not in town, till this day— His journal9 appears to be in a sickly state. Few speak of it; and those few without respect.
There is little that I can tell you respecting the news civil or literary of these parts, which Mr Duncan will not be much better qualified to lay before you. I heard Leslie once only— Desirous, it would appear, of beating Chalmers on his own ground, he is said to have been greatly distinguished this season for the piety of his opening lectures. When I was there, he spoke of many philosophers & their deeds from Hipparchus to Malus 10 inclusive, in a pompous stile—somewhat in Gibbon's vein—except that Gibbon is seldom tawdry.— Wallace,11 whom I went this day to see, is a person about fifty years old—short, bald-headed with a grim and intelligent countenance. His manner is blunt; he speaks with a Scotch accent;—and if his unaffected & patient demeanour is accompanied with a display of philosophical reflection—which I cannot assert or deny—he ought surely to be a great favourite with the public. Leslie and he are said to be on the eve of battle—for the Elements of Geometry12 and curves of the second order, are to be discarded for Playfair's Euclid!13 Love me, love my dog—the saw says: still more should it say, love me, love my book. Science you see as well as Religion, is at times disturbed by the feuds of its professors. What have we to say but wish these worthies a fair field & no favour?
But I must quit these lucubrations— Tell me very soon what progress you make in Crombey; give me an order to get you Lipsius, either of the Scaligers, Causabon or the neverdying Ernesti,15 and I shall obey you with immense cheerfulness. Seriously though, I think your study of classical literature likely to benefit you. It is not enough to pursue philosophy thro' all her intricate recesses: we must have a trade—since we have no fortune. And altho' we have quitted one profession, in which many lead a tranquil, and one or two a dignified life, it may be we shall both yet have our wishes gratified. Who knows indeed but you being Professor of humanity—I, a tired causidicus [advocate], may delight to interrupt your evenings of literary leisure—and call to mind the days of yore? Esperons [Let us hope], say I always; and in the mean time, I conclude this sheet—& its most hurried contents, with subscribing myself once more,
Your old & faithful fd /
Lipsius is here—I mean his Roma antiqua. You shall have it in Summer—sooner if you like— Write immediately—