The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 1 March 1820; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18200301-TC-AC-01; CL 1:228-231.


Edinr, 1st March 1820.

My dear Brother,

One of the first objects which saluted my eyes this morning, on sallying forth to take the usual walk, was the welcome Figure of George Farries. But tho' this diligent way-faring man,1 promised to send my box to me without loss of time; and tho' I did actually get it, on personal application's being repeated, about eleven o'clock; yet so many small engagements have intervened, that twilight has arrived before I am able to commence my reply to your letter.

Considering your circumstances,2 it is easy to find a good enough excuse for your brevity. Lockerby market is no eligible place, as you remark, for encouraging bodily or mental vigour. Considering every thing I ought to be thankful that you wrote at all—especially thankful that you were again able to communicate the grateful intelligence of our whole family's good health. For my own share, except a similar assurance about my outward man, I have nothing at all important to tell you. The days glide swiftly, too swiftly, away; and the returning breath of Spring reminds me that another year is subtracted from my allotted share; yet this consideration is hardly sufficient to arouse me into strenuous exertion; I am too apt to forget that opportunity, provided with a hairy brow, is bald behind.3 If the right weather, however, were fairly set in, I shall be more diligent. Indeed I have not been altogether idle, tho' my efforts have been directed to trifling objects. The Life of Montesquieu was delivered to Brewster Saturday gone-a-week; and one of the small engagements alluded to above, was the concluding of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's life, which little Geo: Dalgliesh finished copying for me, about an hour ago. The two will occupy some five or six pages. I am also to write the life of Dr Moore, his son Sir John Moore, Nelson &c &c.4 I do not get on very quickly in these operations; but this is like my apprenticeship as it were; in time I shall do it far more readily. So soon as I can seize upon anything fit to be employed with—a book to translate or the like, which I am not altogether without hopes of doing—I shall hie to Annandale, to inhale my native breezes once again. Last Summer's residence there did me a world of good: another summer so spent would entirely new-model me. If I come, I shall not fail to make proof of that shallow-made, high-standing quadruped which you have purchased: its price & your description lead me to expect a beast far preferable to poor Duncan.

As you read the Scotsman and Courier newspapers, intelligence of that plot at London5 cannot but have reached you. It is a horrid piece of business—assassination has long been a stranger to the British soil: but whilst we deprecate such shocking attempts, some pity should be mingled with our abhorrence of the frantic conspirators. Well-founded complaints of poverty, one might almost say starvation, met with indifference or cold-blooded ridicule on the part of Government, very naturally exasperate the ignorant minds of the governed, and impel them to enterprises of a desperate nature. If the King & his ministers do not adopt a set of measures entirely different from those which they have followed hitherto; it is greatly to be dreaded that more formidable & better-concerted resistance will ensue—or what is worse, that, Britain once the mistress of the ocean, and the renowned seat of arms & arts, will sink from her lofty elevation, her rude cliffs, no longer embellished by freedom, presenting only their native barrenness & insignificance. But I hope better of Old England yet. In the mean time, what constitutes our wisest plan is to follow our private concerns as diligently as we may, without mingling in civil broils—unless imperious necessity6 call us so to do.

You are very just in supposing that the offer7 (poor indeed, but the [best the] circumstances will permit) which I made you was quite serious and unfeigned. I know not whether any channel opens in which you might try your commercial skill; but if it do, I would certainly advise you to embrace the opportunity—tho' it were but to instruct you with regard to what, I suppose, will be your future occupation. Command me, my boy, so far as the few pounds I have are able to extend: they will increase yet, I ween, by diligence and activity— I cannot employ them better.— But lo! the end of my paper— Excuse my dullness—believe that I shall do better another time; & do not doubt that, I remain (My dear Brother) ever your's Most affectionately.—

Thomas Carlyle.