The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 2 January 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210102-TC-AC-01; CL 1:299-302.


Edinburgh, 2nd January 1820 [1821]—

My dear Alick,

No doubt you are somewhat surprised and, it may be, a little anxious from the circumstance of your having received no letter or account of any kind by the last conveyance. I hasten to explain it all. By the Fosterian letter, you would be made to perceive the probability of my journeying to Glasgow about Christmas, and thereby missing Geordie at the time of his appearance in Edinr. It happened as you may have conjectured; Geordie came when I was flaunting it in the land of cotton and cold punch;1 so I did not get your kind note till half an hour ago; and a long letter, which I had prepared for you before setting out (on Saturday-week), was withheld from the bearer of yours—a little ill-informed boy—owing to an excess of caution, Celtic caution on the Landlady's part, and now lies waiting an opportunity of travelling to you cost-free, or if not, of lighting one of those special cigars which I owe to the renewed attention of the Burnswark Laird.2 Thus you see how it was, boy: I acted for the best, and tho' it has proved but the best of a bad job, I will not by delay make it worse, and so stand here driving an unwilling quill, to express the conceptions of a head yet whirling with the confused remembrance of steamboats, trackboats, goose-eating, prayer-meetings, and all the strange furniture of the Western City. Be indulgent to me then; and lug out your 8 1/2d with a good grace.

I see easily that the Black Dwarf and Old Mortality3 have hurried you rather, in your epistle; which however contains the gratifying intelligence—still eminently gratifying tho' happily it is common—of your continued good health and peaceable situation. The times are hard, my man; and the hope of their improvement is still distant: but with a sound body and a free spirit, our life is not without its charms. We cannot indeed float about in gaudy enjoyment, as some do; we must fight with obstructions of a grating and painful nature; yet the hand of the industrious even now rarely fails, and the cultivation of our intellectual faculties, the cherishing a deep disdain of weak or wicked sentiments gilds over the humble elements of our destiny, it erects within the bosom of the poorest, a ‘column of true majesty’4 which all his poverty but heightens by the contrast. Let us stand to our posts then: in due time we shall reap if we faint not.5

I am got better considerably, in point of health; so be not uneasy on that score. Health I feel to be the greatest of all earthly goods—the basis of them all; and therefore I shall study the maintenance of it with primary care. I get low, very low, in spirits, when the clay house is out of repair; indeed I almost think at such times that health alone would make me happy; and in fact when strong outwardly, I seldom feel depressed within. This, you need not fear, will be a sufficient guarantee of my watchfulness: I shall ‘think little and walk much’6 in the fullest sense of the words. As to other matters, nothing definite has yet transpired. The Review I conceive is now reposing in the ‘Limbo of vanity’7 (let it go for a shallow phantom as it was!)—and I have another project in the way of execution, of which whether it will prove better, I cannot pretend to say. I have translated a portion of Schiller's History of the thirty years war (it is all about Gustavus and the fellow-soldados of Dugald Dalgetty8 your dearly-beloved friend); and sent it off, with a letter introduced by Tait the Review-bookseller, to Longman and Co London. Tait was to send it away very soon, in a package of newly published books, and to accompany it with a letter setting forth, that I was one of the most hopeful youths of the part, and that hence it were well for the men of Paternoster Row to secure my cooperation forthwith. The answer will come in (perhaps) 3 weeks. To say truth, my brother, I am not sanguine in this matter: But now is not the time to discuss it, both because my paper is waning, and because out of fatigue from travelling I might g[ive] you too dark a picture of that and all my other schemes. Let them rest with this; that all the malice of fortune9 cannot take from me the merit of having intended honestly, and the strength to abide the very blackest of her scowls. And if my present associates seem worthless or disagre[e]able, let me reflect that I am not destitute of friends, emphatically friends, tho' few, and that seldom has a brother or a son been loved as I am.

Irving is a kind good fellow. He would have me come and spend some months with him, because he thought I felt uncomfortably here, and he had all the sappy [generous] hospitality of Bailie Jarvie's10 children, at command. William Graham is also a friend and a deserving one: I could pass my time swimmingly among them: but I must work with my own hands,11 and work while it is called today. You cannot conceive what a week I have had. Fat contented merchants—shovelling their beef over by the pound, and swilling their wine without measure, declaiming on politics and religion, joking and jeering and flowing and swaggering along with all their hfeart. I viewed them with a curious, often with a satisfied eye. But there is a time for all. Last night, I was listening to music and the voice of song amid dandy clerks and sparkling females—laughing at times even to soreness at the marvellous Dr John Scott (see Blackwood's Magazine);12 and to-night, I am alone in this cold city—alone to cut my way into the heart of its benefices by the weapons of my own small quiver. Yet let us be of cheer, for braw [fine] days are comin: and now, my boy, at this noisy season accept the prayer, put up for you and all our family, that many new years, and far happier ones, may be in store for each of us, that we may all love one another here, and in due time be made fit for that better land, where the just shall flourish,13 where the wickedness of men and the painfulness of Nature shall be hid from us, and peace and virtue substituted in their room!— Ever your's Thomas Carlyle