The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO WILLIAM GRAHAM; 19 October 1820; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18201019-TC-WG-01; CL 1:281-284.


Mainhill, 19th October 1820

My dear Sir,

I am just returned from Yorkshire, and before falling to any settled employment, I design to allow myself the gratification of answering your kind and friendly letter. It came cost free as was expected, and I assure you that not even the weighty sum of sixteen pence halfpenny could have at all sensibly diminished the pleasure I felt in perusing it. Certainly nothing was farther from my thoughts than offence at your judicious counsels respecting the occasion of my late journey; and as the affair is now terminated, I think it but reasonable to communicate the result, about which you appear to experience so obliging a concern.

I rejoice beyond measure that I went to Sobergate.1 Had the Squire come to meet me here, most probably I should have engaged with him: on personal inspection, the situation seemed scarcely preferable to manufacturing oakum in Botany-bay. The creature to be tutored is a perfect Sooterkin;2 a placid, ricketty thing, with a head not larger than one of your tea-cups, two dead glassy eyes ready to drop from their yellow sockets, a carcass corresponding to this superb capital—the whole containing just enough of animation to shew that it belonged to the animal kingdom, not the vegetable or mineral. Any good lively orangoutang would have formed a more eligible companion than such a monster. The rest of the family were sound of body—and for soul, they did not pretend to have any—all except the brother to whom this negative character cannot justly apply. He had a soul, but it was the soul of a hog; as good-natured and stupid and obscene and nasty as the filthiest hog. It is needless to say that £150 could not tempt me to accept the place: I would not even live among them for the fee simple of Potosi.3 We parted, however, in good humor; the Huttons made a new arrangement for their natural, and I turned proudly back to virtue and intellect and moral dignity—and poverty, if she too must follow me—in our Fathers' land.

Upon the whole, I incline to place the men of Euredale4 very near to zero in my scale of worth. It is true their fields are fertile, their puddings savory; and if man were made of clay alone his powers would here be all fully exercised: but if we look for anything like understanding or enthusiasm, anything to exalt us above the mine of animal existence, we find a total and mournful blank. The general mind of those parts is a dead and tedious flat. Their ideas are all clothed in bacon and mashed beans. They live like the beasts that perish;5 and their royal cheer but renders more disgusting the beggarly spirit which it gratifies. I love them not, and never felt so proud of Scotland as in their company. We feed not on their fat viands, we feel not their soft things; but we carry in our hearts a loftiness of purpose, a generous longing after greatness which ennobles all the humbleness of our condition, and sets us high above those beef-eaters as Heaven is high above the Earth. I have quarreled often with Scottish feeling, and still I disagree with much in its external aspect; but what is there to venerate in Yorkshire? and who would not rather see old Knox's pulpit than the winning-post of Doncaster race-ground? You will tell me that I examined too little of the country or its inhabitants to speak so emphatically of their character. Indeed I am tired and wayworn, nor do I pretend to discuss the subject with philosophic calmness till some days have passed over me: but as for the people I saw enough of them and to spare. The principal of their unitarian college lamented in my presence the absurdities of Calvinism; the editors of the Yawk Url (York Herald)6 oped in vain to convince me by harguments of every kind that they were not inferior to the weavers of Scotland; and the little urchin, John Croft7—original of Jonathan Dryasdust8—talked to me for three long hours in a kind of Babylonish dialect, made up of Latin, French and Italian, wherein he made a violent effort to explain the antiquities of his city, and shew me that he was a driveler. I was satiated with their conversation; and lest I satiate you all with my description of it, I leave the men of Yorkshire to their beef and their stupidity—recommending them only to mercy when it shall please Providence to interfere in their behalf.

I know not whether I may again advert to the despondency which still overclouds your mind, and must render such gossiping, as I have indulged in, an exercise very alien to the current of your thoughts. I do not think you “raving”: I understand your feelings far better than you imagine. Few of us, my friend, get thro' this vale of tears without looking forward at times in gloomy desire to the termination of its pains. One feels a stern delight in contemplating the narrow and everpeaceful bed of rest where the tumult and the pangs of life, “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,”9 shall never reach us more: but such feelings are unprofitable in their consequence, painful in their origin; you must not let them have dominion over you. The irresolution you complain of is a matter of regret rather than surprise; I know you will yet master it, and meet the conclusion with unaltered front, conscious that you have deserved success—and even if this (which I do not fear) should prove unattainable—that you have gained a far higher reward in the approbation of your own mind and of all good men that know you. The mirkest hour of night is next the dawn,10 as you once told me: let this be your rallying word; be steadfast and diligent; you cannot fail to recover from your losses. Excuse my zeal, I write unguardedly but from no unworthy motive. I shall soon see you in Glasgow—then woe to your cigars! Tell Irving that I wait for him at Annan on Monday night. Remember me to Mr. Hope,11 and be assured that I remain, always affectionately yours,

Thomas Carlyle