The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 5 December 1820; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18201205-TC-AC-01; CL 1:290-292.


Edinr, 5th December, 1820.

My dear Brother,

I sit down with the greatest pleasure to answer your most acceptable letter. I recollect last year the marked improvement which I used to notice in your composition and penmanship; but I confess I was not prepared for so elegant and forcible a style as your present epistle manifests. I say elegant and forcible for those epithets are without flattery applicable to it: you have only to persevere in correcting some few—and they are now very few—blemishes of orthography, the result of early inattention—to treasure up the ideas that occur in your reading or intercourse with men, and to express those ideas with the liveliness natural to you, in order to become a good letter-writer emphatically so called. But it was not the external qualities of your letter which yielded me most gratification: the warm affection the generous sympathy displayed in it go far nearer the heart; they shed over me a meek and kindly dew of brotherly love more refreshing than any but a wandering forlorn mortal can well imagine. Some of your expressions affect me almost to weakness—I might say to pain, if I did not hope that the course of events will change our feelings from anxiety to congratulation—from soothing adversity to adorning prosperity. I marked your disconsolate look; it has often since been painted in the mind's eye: but believe me, my boy, these days will pass over; we shall all get to rights in good time, and long after, cheer many a winter-evening by recalling such pensive but yet amiable and manly thoughts to our minds. And in the mean while let me utterly sweep away that vain fear of our ever forgetting one another. There is less danger of this than of anything. We Carlyles are a clannish people; because we have all something original in our formation, and find, therefore, less than common sympathy with others; so that we are constrained as it were to draw to one another, and to seek that friendship in our own blood which we do not find so readily elsewhere. Jack and I and you will respect one another to the end of our lives, because I predict that our conduct will be worthy of respect; and we will love one another, because the feelings of our young days—feelings impressed most deeply on the young heart—are all intertwined and united by the tenderest yet strongest ties of our nature. But independently of this your fear is vain: Continue to cultivate your abilities and to behave steadily and quietly as you have done; and neither of the two literati are likely to find many persons more qualified to appreciate their feelings, than the farmer their brother.1 Greek words, and Latin, are fine things; but they cannot hide the emptiness and lowness of many who employ them.

I could run on thus forever and a day; but more vulgar topics demand my attention. As to health, the most important question, I have not much to say. The bowhills have been very restive since I came here; I have taken pills, castor-oil &c; but now by the help of those excellent cakes and with porridge to breakfast, but above all, with plenty of exercise, I hope to get quite round again. This is but a fit, a kind of quandary, occasioned by my confinement before leaving home, & by the untowardness of my out-going. Nothing ‘special’ has yet transpired regarding the Review. The bookseller Tait seems very anxious about it, and has written to London for another brother2 of the trade to take a share in it, without which Tait dares not venture on the undertaking. Brewster has printed my article Hansteen; he is a pushing man and speaks encouragingly to me. Tait is loud in his kind anticipations of the grand things that are in store for me: but in fact, I do not lend much ear to those gentlemen; I feel quite sick of this drivelling state of painful idleness;3 I am going to be patient no longer; but quitting study or leaving it in a secondary place, I feel determined as it were to find something stationary—some ‘local habitation and some name’4 for myself ere it be long. I shall turn and try all things: be diligent be assiduous in season and out of season to effect this prudent purpose; and if health stay with me, I still trust I shall succeed. At worst it is but narrowing my views to suit my means. I shall enter the writing life, the mercantile, the lecturing, any life in short, but that of the country schoolmaster, and even that (sad refuge from the storms of fatel!)5 rather than stand here in frigid impotence—the powers of my mind all festering and corroding each other, in the miserable strife of inward will against outward necessity. I lay out my heart before you, my boy, because it is solacing for me to do so: but I would not have you think me depressed. Bad health does indeed depress and undermine one more than all other calamities put together; but with care, which I have the best of all reasons for taking, I know this will in time get out of danger. Steady! then, steady! as the drill-sergeants say— Let us be steady unto the end; in due time we shall reap if we faint not.6 Long may you continue to cherish the manly feelings which you express in conclusion; they lead to respectability at last from the world, and what is far better, to ‘sunshine within’7 which nothing can destroy or eclipse.

[End of letter missing.]