The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; March 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210300-TC-JAC-01; CL 1:332-333.


Edinr Wednesday [? March 1821]—

My dear Jack,

Twelve o'clock is past; but I confide in Garthwaites unpunctuality a little, and send you two lines of advice about your studies merely—for about this time, I guess, you are reading the letter sent by Gavin, which will satisfy you on all other points[.]

You have certainly been very diligent if you can at all read Virgil & Sallust in so short a time. I really wonder at it. You must give up the Georgics,1 however, I think without delay. They are the most uninteresting and by far the most difficult of all Virgil's writings. Take to the [A]Eneid immediately; you will like it far better. Do you mind the Grammar? And the scanning? Attend to both particularly. For Sallust, you cannot go wrong. Cataline is an admirable narrative; and the writer of it, ever shews himself the same lynx-eyed, hard-headed, bitter little tarrier [terrier]; to whom nothing was agreeable because nothing was pure; and still more because he was not pure himself. Crispus2 was a rip [rascal] of a body, in his youth. When you read the [A]Eneid do not fail to admire the calm gracefulness, the stately and harmonious diction, the clear imagination of Maro; but do not expect to have your winnow-cloth expanded by the grandeur and immensity of Milton, or your heart quickened by his stern and elevated strength of soul. Each after his kind. Think too that you (poor Jack in Bitty Geel's3) do actually read the very words and admire the very thoughts that Augustus read & admired two thousand years ago, and all great men since. Let this be a spur in the head, which is better than two in the heel—than the pressure of want—that is—or the lure of gain.

But do not, do not, I repeat it, neglect your morning and evening walks—& your talks and laughs & recreations. It is well to read Johnstone's Lives; tho' the man is prejudiced to a pitch (see Milton & Gray), he has great power of head, & his insensibility to the higher beauties of poetry does not extend to the most complicated questions of reasoning. His Rambler is very good; but not so amusing. Can you not get Shakespeare, or Byron? Goldsmith's Essays are ‘capital’—in style and liveliness. Dean Swift is a merry grinning dog. Did you ever see his tale of a Tub. John Johnstone (Mrs Dr's) has it & will lend it. Johnson's ‘Journey to the western isles’ is likewise good. And Don Quixote—read it, till your sides crack which they will do, if you have risi[ble or]gans. Try if you can get Russel's history of Modern Europe.4 George Irving will procure it from the library of the burgh.— Except the last, those things are principally for amusement: yet if you attend to the style—and imitate it judiciously they will profit you not a little.5 At any rate they fill the head pleasantly, and therefore usefully. We shall talk of your school when I come hame, about August or so. Perhaps you may get some teaching here, which will do better. Go on & prosper my boy! There is no fear. Adieu!

[Your] affectionate brother, /

Thomas Carlyle.