The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 10 February 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210210-TC-JAC-01; CL 1:324-326.


Edinr10th Feby 1821—

I send you the Virgil, My dear Jack, according to promise; and I need not say how much I wish you luck in the perusal of it. By help of the notes, and marginal interpretation—especially if David1 still continues with you—I do not expect that you will find much difficulty in penetrating the meaning of this harmonious singer: and tho' you are not likely to reckon him the ‘Prince of Poets,’ you are still less likely to miss being struck with the high elegance and regular flowing pomp both of his thoughts and language.

I have a long sheet here before me, boy; and the consciousness that I have lately written you three or four most leaden letters, to inspire me with greater eagerness for amendment: but alas! it is not to-day that I can amend. I have not been in worse trim for writing this twelvemonth. If you saw me sitting here with my lean and sallow visage, you would wonder how those long bloodless bony fingers could be made to move at all—even tho' the aching brain were by miracle enabled to supply them with materials in sufficient abundance. I have been sick, very sick, since Monday last—indeed I have scarcely been one day right, since I came back to this accursed, stinking, reeky mass of stones and lime and dung. I was better somewhat yesterday—for I swallowed salts the day before to supersaturation; but to-day the guts are all wrong again, the headache, the weakness, the black despondency are overpowering me. I fear those paltry viscera will fairly dish me at last. And do but think what a thing it is! that the etherial spirit of a man should be overpowered and hag-ridden by what? by two or three feet of sorry tripe full of ——. Were it by moral suffering that one sunk—by oppression, love or hatred or the thousand ways of heartbreak—it might be tolerable, there might at least be some dignity in the fall; but here!— I conjure thee Jack to watch over thy health as the most precious of earthly things. I believe at this moment I would consent to become as ignorant as a Chactaw [Choctaw]—so I were as sound of body.

Upon the whole it seems very cruel in me to describe my miseries in such glowing colours (does it not?), and make you unhappy, when all that you can do for me is to be unhappy on my account. The thing is so, I do admit Jack; but really I am grown a very weak creature of late. The heart longs for some kind of sympathy: and in Edinburgh I find little of it—except from the well-meant tho' ineffectual kindness of Geo: Johnston, who indeed watches over me very attentively. Here was the gritstone theologian Crone, 2 about half an hour ago—he had called upon me twice—not to ask for my welfare, but to glean information about a history of the west Indies, information which the dog means to utter as his own in some house where he is teaching. He said he was very sorry for me: I could have thrown him out at the window for his sorrow; but contented myself with saying that I knew well how deeply my condition affected his most compassionate soul.

You need not tell any one of those things except Sandy—not our Mother or Father, it would but vex them; and they are not young and strong and full of hope like you to stand vexation. Nor would I have you to trouble yourselves much on my account. I shall surely get over this yet: and if summer were come I am thinking it will be well to secure quarters about Kirk[c]aldy or some bathing town & transport myself thither with all my tackle, to enjoy the manifold benefits of such a station. There is a project on foot about translating one D'Aubuisson [a] Frenchman's geology—a large book, for the first edition of which I am to have 60 guineas—the same sum for every succeeding edition.3 Brewster was very diligent in forwarding it; and tho' I neither like the book nor the terms excessively, I feel much o[blige]d to him for his conduct. There is also an edition of [tear in paper] works [tear] a life abo[ut] which I was speaking to Tait—and [tear] not yet been able to go & hear his answer—which however I do not strongly expect to be favourable. Now with some such job as one of those—with good sea-breezes, and decent people about me; I think I could get quite whole and well after all that's come and gone. This grievous style of languor and debility—the only thing that can break my heart—I feel inclined to hope may be but temporary, the transition from youth to h[ard]ened manhood: in a year [or] two it may be all gone. There is Waugh (ey mon! &c) was once ill, and now never knows the name of distemper.— Do not mind me, then, my boy: be diligent at your studies—yet careful of excess; and next winter you will live with me here—and be my comforter,4 and I will [be] your tutor in return. Give my warmest love to all at Mainhill. Remember me to Ben Nelson if you see him.

Your affectionate brother, /

Thomas Carlyle.

John Fergusson is come in and I have consented to crawl out with him and try the St Bernard's spa5—a fountain on the north of Edinr.