The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO JOHN FERGUSSON; 5 August 1820; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18200805-TC-JOFE-01; CL 1:268-271.


Mainhill, 5th August 1820—

My dear Sir,

Our correspondence has of late assumed a most tortuous and complicated character. You sent me the books all safe and right, I know not how long since; the packet containing Johnstone's ticket arrived here about a week ago! This is very queer. Our letters have been travelling the road at regular intervals—but never one has been a reply to another! So two coach-drivers will course over the same ten mile[s]—meet in the middle—be in the same houses daily—and never speak, till time or whisky has disabled one of them—after having gathered in his curricle (olympic?) dust, for many years. This is all well upon his majesty's highway: but the emblem of a very disagre[e]able state among friends. We are to begin, then, upon new ground—the present epistle being the first of a long series to be regularly transmitted and as regularly answered. I intend to perform my part honestly: if you fail, your blood be upon your own head!

I have said already that the books, ticket &c came all safe and sound. I am very much obliged for all this trouble: and not least for the effort you have made to write me so long and so pleasant a letter. I know how much those efforts cost you: if they always succeed as well as this, it is pity they are made so rarely.

Do you still intend to visit Annandale? If you were here at present, in addition to whatever charms the country might disclose, you would have the satisfaction to see Edwd Irving in the land of his nativity. I expect to find him at Annan to-day. The sentiment of a brother as teacher of Mathematics in their Academy leads me down,1 and I hear Mr Edward is looked for. He has been in Dublin three weeks—at Liverpool—in Perthshire, and various parts.2 I have heard but twice from him since my departure from Glasgow. You have seen him since: and found, I daresay, that he retains the same exuberant enthusiasm and warm benevolence as ever. Upon the whole, I augur great things from Irving. Circumstances have directed all the current of his powers into the channel of preaching; his views are not so likely to change now; he is fairly in the ring too; his opponents are but pigmies—and Irving like the old Mendoza3

Magnos membrorum artus, magna ossa lacertosque;
Exuit: atque ingens media consistit arenâ.4

Let us wish him good speed, in the path he has entered; his intentions are honourable, and deserve success.— I need not say that I should rejoice to see you in Dumfriesshire. The county itself is not indeed beautiful—except the head of Nithsdale and the foot of Eskdale; but the road hither if you come by Peebles takes you over a sweet interesting tract— The tuneful Yarrow and her no less tuneful sister Ettrick are among those simple mountains—and a class of peasantry unrivalled unrivalled [sic] in worth by any class in Britain. Then if you incline to cross the Solway—Skiddaw, Derwent and all the beautiful magnificence of that grand country lie within two days journey. You would be pleased I think. Tell me if you intend to come.

I am very much pleased to hear that you are acquainted with Mr Welsh. Few young men deserve to stand higher in your esteem. Make my most respectful & kind compliment's to him. As you recommended I have read his critique on Dr Brown: it is all well.5 I am glad to find that Mr Crone6 has at length got himself encircled with the rosy Hours.7 I trust they answer his hopes. Crone is what you would call a ‘hard [char]acter’ —make my compliments to him notwithsta[n]ding.

I do not think, my dear fellow, that there is the smallest vanity in assuming the title you suggest. Mark only—if Fortune do not mend, it is not certain but I may become a roaring philosopher. Byron is at the head of this school: but I doubt it doe[s] not answer—tho' the blaspheming line is worse. This is the age of philosophers—and in good truth I am of opinion that when all that tumultuous and fiery stuff, which so many of our poets are busy with, has once been moulded and fashioned rightly, many splendid results will follow: But surely the most astonishing of all sects—will be the symposial sect of moral philosophers reared under the wing of John Wilson Esqr.8 In truth it was a clever thing to convert this man into a teacher of metaphysics. I should like above all things to know his unbiassed opinion of Cudworth9 & Leibnitz.10 But John has genius: and in spite of all that's come and gone I wish him zeal and good fortune. When do you intend writing to me? The books will not be ready for long.

Ever your's /

Thomas Carlyle

Will you take a walk—the first unoccupied day—and call upon that worthy person Mrs Skene11—present my kindest respects to her, and say that I most faithfully intended to see her before leaving Edinr; but was prevented by the tumults of packing trunks &c?