The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 30 January 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210130-TC-MAC-01; CL 1:322-324.


Edinr30th Jany 1821—

My dear Mother,

I easily comprehend the cause of your silence; and hail with satisfaction the small letter you sent me; which tho' written in various hands does yet contain sentiments of your own and always gratifying to me. In the whole course of life I feel that I can never have but one Mother—one friend that will attend to my interests so devotedly; and therefore it is an object of my incessant desire to testify how much I am sensible to your goodness. Words and wishes are my only means of doing so at present: but I trust the day will arrive when more substantial proofs may lie within my reach; and if I do not use them, foul befall me!

As to my state of health, which you inquire after, I have told the young men that it is fair rather than otherwise. These two months, of January and February, are the most trying of the whole twelve, particularly when wet and warm, as has been the case this season: so that my digestion has not been altogether so good as that of a huntsman or husbandman of late; but still I cannot complain much, and by taking good exercise, I hope as the weather mends to mend also, and finally to get completely sound. My employment, you are aware, is still very fluctuating and uncertain; but this too, I trust, will improve: I am advancing I think, tho' leisurely, and at last, I feel no insuperable doubts (at least when healthy) of getting into honest bread, which is all I want—for as to fame and all that, I see it already to be nothing better than a meteor, a Will o' the Wisp which leads one on thro' quagmires and pitfalls to catch an object which when we have caught it turns out to be—nothing. I am happy to think, in the mean time, that you do not feel uneasy about my future destiny. Providence, as you observe, will order it better or worse: and with His award, so nothing mean or wicked lie before me, I shall study to rest satisfied.

If I were quite vigorous and healthy, I think I might be happy here— provided I had any thing to make my bread by. The day is very simply and agre[e]ably divided with me, between employment and recreation, which indeed trenches greatly upon my employment rendering too often what should be study, nothing better than a vague survey of books, amusement therefore not occupation. I rise about eight, being duly summoned by this vigilant keeper of mine; and after smoking a cigar, I progress slowly over to Great Kings-street1 about a mile off, to teach—often wrapped up in an immense tartan-plaid which I lately got from Glasgow; and after ten o'clock has struck I return home as slowly to eat my breakfast—which usually stands in waiting for me. I take tea or coffee usually, porridge did not do. About eleven I again sally forth to walk a little, and then to go and read old books at the Advocates' library till two or three, when dinner waits me, and soon is followed by the presence of Geo: Johnstone who writes for me an hour or two every night, and leaves me about eight or nine to fall upon some private reading, which I drop in no great length of time; and then after a walk to the end of Prince's-street I retire once more to repose. This is the history of a good day—a day when I am well and fresh. At other times the procedure is more or less interrupted, I walk more, read less, and do not feel so happy. Upon the whole, however, I have no great reason to murmur, and as I said things look as if they were improving.

David Hope, with whom I once rode to Moffatt, was here to-day (Sandy or Jack would tell you), and left me [an ho]ur ago. He spoke of your friend Mrs Hope as liv[ing] in [her] own house at Musselburgh and quite reformed from her unfortunate propensities; so that she now feels comparatively happy. I sent your compliments by him (the first time he writes) and mentioned how often you had intended and how firmly to send her a letter yourself.

It is a striking thing and an alarming to those ‘who are at ease’2 in the world, to think how many living beings—that had breath and hope within them when I left Ecclefechan, are now numbered with the clods of the valley! Surely there is something obstinately stupid in the heart of man or ‘the flight of three score years’—the poor cares and the poorer joys of this our pilgrimage, would never move us as they do. Why do we fret and murmur and toil and consume ourselves for objects so transient and frail? Is it that the soul, living here as in her prison-house—strives ever after something boundless like herself & finding it nowhere, still renews the search? Surely we are fearfully and wonderfully made.3— But I must not pursue those speculations tho' they force themselves upon us some times, even without our asking.

Write to me whenever you can get a minutes time. Be careful most careful I entreat you of your health and comfort. It is invaluable to us all.

Your affectionate Son, /

Thomas Carlyle

I expected my Father to write; but I would not have him driven fro[m] better employment for such an object. [My be]st love to him.