The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO WILLIAM GRAHAM; 28 January 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210128-TC-WG-01; CL 1:314-317.


16 Carnegie Street, 28th Jany. 1821

My dear Friend,

The other afternoon, after finishing my dinner, I had reclined me in a reposing posture upon three chairs (for I always love to lie well), and was beginning to forget my own thoughts in contemplating the pomp and circumstance of Wallenstein's camp at Pilsen in Bohemia, reflected to my imagination from the imagination of our friend Schiller,1 when suddenly a rap was heard at the room-door, and after due formalities, there was ushered in a rusty-looking man with a letter in one hand and a most substantial dread-nought in the other. I started up and eyed this person with astonishment and apprehension. “Mr. Johnston's compliments,” said the apparition—“very sorry he could not come himself.” My astonishment increased; and it was not without much cross-questioning, that by the help of great natural sagacity I contrived to unfold this riddle, and learn to whom I stood indebted for so curious a present.

When the messenger was gone and I had leisure to peruse your letter, I knew not whether to laugh or cry. Really, Sir, you must be a very considerate gentleman. Not only, it seems, am I to owe you all kinds of accommodation for mind and body, when at Glasgow; but distance and absence are to offer no obstruction to the exercise of your benevolent attentions. This disposition is to me a sort of novelty in human character, and would deserve admiration for its very scarceness, if it were for nothing else. As to the roguelauve,2 there is something in the sending of it so fatherly, so home-like—dashed with a tinge of the ludicrous which makes it more home-like,—that I declare I feel most agreeably titil[l]ated every time I look at it. On cold nights, I wrap myself up within its ample folds, and whilst I stalk along the streets—deserted by all but sons of Belial and hypochondriacs like myself—not only does the outward man acknowledge this genial shelter, but the soul seems as if she too were sheltered, wrapt up in the mantle of soft affections—as if she were not quite an alien in the world after all.

I need not say how much your letter gratifies me. It recalls the memory of a scene, where I experienced nothing but pleasure, and which naturally rises on the mind in colours of freshness and warmth. The jolly west is full before me. Everyone will praise the fair, of course, as his own market has gone in it: and so in spite of all that small dapper jurists and other waiting gentlewomen can say to the contrary, I shall still continue to assert the worth of your city, and the superiority of her solid house-wife qualities to those of her lean, prim, mincing, more ambitious neighbours. Dr. Scott3 himself is to me a richer feast than all the addle-pated sages of our Royal society. Still more is the reflected relish of your “most magnanimous goose” dear to me, enjoyed as it was at first hand by Longshanks4 and others whom I love so well. You would have a joyful evening doubtless; and I trust that many such are yet in store for all of us.

Apparently you forgot that I was become so exceedingly thin skinned of late, so sensible to all sorts of praise and blame; or you would not have risked intoxicating me with so many flattering encomiums as you have drawn from your own kind fancy or transmitted from the kind fancies of others. I suspected what the French call mystification,5 when you talked to me of poetry and Byron. Alas! my dear Sir, if discontented thoughts and reckless familiarity with whatever is at first sight more appalling in our inexplicable destiny, were all that went to form Giaours and Childe Harolds, there would indeed be a plentiful supply of that commodity. The corroding strife of will against Necessity, the vain tho' desperate efforts we make to reconcile the world within and the world without, are not confined to Byron: thousands feel this deeply; but the magic voice that gives it utterance, and clothes it all with splendour and beauty are the lot of one or two. I might write “last speeches” and “dying words”: poetry—alas!—upon the whole, I do not regret this deficiency. Poets such as Byron and Rousseau are like opium eaters; they raise their minds by brooding over and embellishing their sufferings, from one degree of fervid exaltation and dreamy greatness to another, till at length they run amuck entirely, and whoever meets them would do well to run them thro' the body. Peace to the unfortunates! They find repose at last.6

You are right in supposing that I sympathize with your disappointment.7 I did indeed regret to learn that the negotiation at Manchester had proved abortive. This must disgust and perplex you sure enough; yet even now I will not permit you for a moment to despond. New Holland with a vengeance! Are not men reasoning self-interested animals! Let but the cotton sellers have time to get their irritation cooled and to see the obvious advantages of your proposal, and they must accede to it: or if they still continue obstinate, and drive you to extremity; can their stupid conduct rob you of all? I entreat you to look around and observe what a place you have gained in the minds of your Glasgow brethren; and then to think if a name can expel you from it. Be of good cheer: for tho' it is night with you and me at present (the greater pity—two such honest fellows!); yet wait a little and the sickly dews, the spectres wan and birds of boding cry will vanish from the scene, as—

“Down the Eastern cliffs afar,
Hyperion's march we spy and glittering shafts of war.”8

The sheet is done or I had fifty things to tell you. Schiller's history is over—“translated in London some years back”! Nothing else has yet cast up: in my spleen, I almost determine to write a book myself, and shame them all! Ease and, still more, health are requisite for such an enterprise indeed: but what use in calculating?— There is much gossip here about Lockhart and Mr Scott (editor of Baldwin's Magazine) how Lockhart went south to fight Scott, and Scott would not, but printed a statement calling him a “hired calumniator” &c. &c.9 Then about the Whigs and Tories—all of which I kindly withhold.— My kindest most respectful compliments to Mr & Mrs Johnstone. Tell Irving I long to see him. Will you write me again. I shall feel most anxious to learn the conclusion or the vicissitudes of your affairs, being always,

Your sincere friend, /

T. Carlyle