The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 30 January 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210130-TC-JAC-01; CL 1:319-322.


16. Carnegie-street30th Jany 1821—

My dear Jack,

I had this morning invited one Mr David Hope of Glasgow (nephew of the Annan gerund-grinder)1 to breakfast with me; and on returning from my teaching, I was happy enough to find this most good-natured person sitting in his place and the Mainhill parcel lying before him. George Johnstone had brought it up. There is little time for replying to all your very interesting communications, as David, whom I have been lugging thro' the Parliament House &c, is to come and dine with me shortly: but having got hold of a fine soft pen—with plenty of ink before me, and the best determination in the world, I purpose dirtying this sheet for you, that if I do nothing more, I may shew the wish at least to gratify you.

‘Nothing but advices and advices!’ I daresay you are often tempted to exclaim on perusing my epistles; and not without reason: yet again permit me to recur to the topic of your health with the same caution as before. Walk every day—no concern so important; neglect no opportunity of honestly amusing yourself, and be not too fastidious on this point. Let yourself go, abandonnez vous, to the socialities of persons from whose conversation you may gain even what you think a trifling amusement, so it be honest and inoffensive to others, no matter how silly. Absolute seclusion is absolutely corrosive to the soul. Study, of course, for by this craft you are to make your wealth both outward and inward: But do not keep yourself continually on the rack, the string that is always bent will break at length—and long before breaking, it will get so lax and weak that nothing can be done with it. As to your scholar-craft be not too anxious. I know the grist [size] of our Scottish literatuli2 of the student breed at your age; and I assure you that in point of real information you need not be at all afraid to pass muster among them.3 Your short-comings lie mostly in extraneous departments, the knowledge of languages and so forth, which a little period of application will soon enable you to master. Never fear then; be diligent in your vocation, and look forward to Edinr as your destination shortly, and expect nothing but success there.

I do not hear whether you are gone to Ben Nelson yet. I partly wish you may; for Ben is a very good intelligent person; and if once acquainted with him, you will not fail to reap advantage from intercourse with him, not to speak of the pleasure it will yield you. Is Biggar improving and progressing? or does he still navigate the quicksands of pedagogy—his keel grating on the bottom at every turn?4 The weather has been open for some time. I am half sorry for poor Biggar.

Perhaps, however, he might reciprocate the feeling, and say, if he knew all, that he was half-sorry for me. Indeed, boy, things are still in a fluctuating state so far as I am concerned; Schiller having failed, and nothing new having cast up, I am in some sort, resting on my oars yet, and attempting if peradventure I can see how the land lies. Yet I will not give in. Should it please Providence to continue health to me, I will make many desperate efforts still to better my position. Some translation or something similar to afford me daily [bread] will perhaps present itself: and then whilst [I was exe]cuting [this] I could be maturing my mind for some original effort, which at the long run must be my principal dependance. I think of Locke's life; and have been at the Advocates' library (where I have gained access this winter by the introduction of Henderson5—the Librarian Irving comes from Langholm) for some days investigating the sources of information, and sounding the channel I mean to ford, as it were. I see great difficulties but also great rewards, and if all go well I think it or something similar must be tried. This of course is private, must not go beyond yourselves, being only in embryo still. It serves me to think and dream about. Brewster proposes soon to settle with me; the sum about sixteen pounds—part of which being payable by Jameson6 is not ready yet or agreed upon. This kind of Authorship is very unlucrative you see; but as I get more familiar with my pen, and find fitter, more congenial employment, I shall do better. The teaching still continues: only the Hibernian has not resumed his functions: I shall make the cur settle with me any way, very speedily. I believe another hour is soon to be prefixed to my attendance between 9 and 10; at which I am not sorry, for tho' avoiding all needless expense, mes finances (like poor Gil's)7 diminuent à vue d'oeil [my money melts before my very eyes].— Alas for Waugh infelix, terque quaterque infelix [unhappy, thrice, four times unhappy]!8 Write to me by the first oppy, and very detailedly. A dieu!

Your affectionate brother, /

Thos Carlyle

I have the Virgil beside me but can find no box to put it in. Expect it (first time) per the Jurist's9 package.