The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 9 January 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210109-TC-JAC-01; CL 1:302-305.


Edinr9th January 1821—

My dear Jack,

It was not anger certainly that I felt, but it was a considerable disappointment and some degree of anxiety, at your long and, as it seemed, unaccountable silence. George1 was therefore a welcome visitant to-day, when he brought me your kind and satisfactory epistle: and I have got upon my legs (for you must know I write standing), upon my legs as they say in the ‘House o' Kimmins’ to answer it with great speed and cheerfulness. You must not be so tedious again; for in truth the letters I get from my kinsmen in Annandale constitute no small portion of the pleasure allotted me in this posture of my affairs; and you in particular being at the present time in the act of getting under way, as it were, to navigate the same ocean in which I myself am ‘tempest-tost’2—I feel a deeper interest in your situation and prospects, than when you were quietly moored to the plough-hills at Mainhill. In truth, my boy, I like your correspondence and Alick's more than any other I have access to. With hardly more than one exception you are to the full as intellectual as any of my letter-writers; and I know well that no one of them feels so profound and hearty a concern for my happiness. You will suspect my phrase ‘intellectual’; but I mean as I say. Your common student writes to me about Blackwood's Magazine, shewing who wrote in it and who spoke of it; he talks about ‘Kenilworth a Romance’;3 he then describes his stomach-complaints, and wishes me better fortune, sometimes the dog even pities me. Now all this is very wersh [insipid, tasteless]; there is no head in it, and for heart—do I not see a hundred fold more in the honest, sturdy, Scottish sentiments with which the Philomath and his brother Husbandman4 treat me in their honest epistles. Write often then I tell you and long; take no thought of what you say—write any thing: I love to see the soul unveiled, and twenty oversights are not so bad as one affectation. Why not take your swing? and with a brother?

But if I take my swing long this way, my sheet will be done and you no whit the wiser in regard to the matters you so affectionately inquire about. The subject may be soon discussed however. Our Review is dead and gone: dead as mutton: so perish all vanities! Brewster took it to Tait and to Boyd; and it stunk in the nostrils of both. I have heard no word from London, and expect none for a week or so, about the translation I was proposing—for which consult Alick: indeed I hardly think it will end in aught but inaction—in disappointment, you see, it cannot, for I have set no hope upon it. Some other projects notwithstanding are dawning in my brain: one of them is to write an Essay (upon what?) and send it to Thomas Campbell5 who has lately been appointed Editor of a Magazine in London: they pay well I am told and are fond of contributors. If he will not take it, then try something else; if nothing will please—confound the knaves! I will write a book and shame them all. But such projects—even the Essay one—require sound health and good spirits; while health and spirits are not alas! quite constantly afforded me at present. I am not unwell either; but this raw weather and this unsociable place operate upon me sometimes; and tho' I feel that perhaps there is some stuff within me—I feel also that there are doubts whether ever it will come out, and whether if it did, it would not be altogether worthless. This would be vain—to any but you: let it pass for the outbreathing of an untried and somewhat dissatisfied mind, one who feels it painful to be idle and alone, and yet can find no fit employment or society. But Hope the Charmer lingers still behind! I feel and know, my boy Jack, that this mode of things will not last forever; that the flight of future days will be more joyful and serene; and then! all those years of drivelling and unrest being passed away—how merrily we shall go frisking and chirping it along!

You do well to pursue your learning diligently yet in moderation. The path we tread on is full of thorns; but the very flowers of Paradise are mingled with them. Go forth then prosperously! Be constant, assiduous, prudent; you will not fail to earn the appropriate reward. I do not regret that you often see and talk with young persons of your own age and habits;6 it is miserable to live alone, one gets envy and ill-will on hand, soreness and wasteness of hearth in prospect. You will do well with Ben;7 and when once you get to talk with him, there will be both profit and entertainment for you.— Of course Fergusson8 is a much better judge than I of your fitness for Virgil: if he be right, you have done excellently— Edinr for you next year! I shall send the Virgil by Geordie (first opportunity); and you can try it—if you like. Do you get any other reading? I ask for the sake of your amusement, because grammars and dictionaries are but dry company— if used alone. Study at them in measure.— As to the school and staying another year, I do not think there is any use for you to say a word upon the subject; unless you are asked, and then I think you should say ‘I presume so,’ ‘I intend nothing else’ and so forth.— It is pitiful but not surprising that your school succeeds so ill: in the mean time it is happy for you that another has the charge of that matter. Mind your own part as well as may be, and fret not yourself about the rest. But I must be off— Give Sandy the inclosed letter—it was written long ago; before I went to Glasgow— Write me without missing one opportunity; send George Dalgliesh,9 the jurisconsult, a letter too. Is there none for me? he said to-day. Stir up the penmen and penwomen about Mainhill in my behalf—they seem lazy. May all peace be with thee Jack!

thy affectionate brother, /

Thomas Carlyle

I have not said a word about our squibs and petitions and Change of Ministry addresses;10 you would see all that in the Scotsman. Nor do I speak of the Glasgow jaunt; you would hear of it from Sandy. I have only to mention just now that I have well nigh determined to quit my lodgings—on thursday. The place is very cold; and tho' the Landlady is very good I feel it disagre[e]able. Perhaps I shall go to quite the other side of Edinr.