The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 6 March 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210306-TC-AC-01; CL 1:335-337.


Edinr, 6th March, 1821—

My dear Brother,

Without doubt, there is some fatality attached to the out-goings and in-comings of that Waffler, whether he appear in the character of Agriculturist, Carrier, Salesman or dozing loiterer—a man unstable in all his ways, a chirping, joyous unthoughtful thing, on whom the strokes of fate descend like ‘cannon-ball on feather-bed,’1 impressing a momentary vibration, but not a particle of steadiness or attention. I heard accidentally of his being in Edinr last week, and forthwith prepared a long letter for my Father, which I delivered accordingly at his quarters, before departing-time. I gave it to the servant, who I suppose has neglected her solemn promise—confiding in Geordie's placability; unless that vigorous traveller (as is more likely) have forgotten to do his part in the affair; and so given you the uneasiness of hope deferred, and me the pleasure of again writing to you—which, however, I am not selfish enough to relish at such a price. If the latter conjecture be true, your anxieties will be relieved before this time; but I know too well how you will feel if it be false, to leave any thing to the guidance of Chance in that matter, and therefore I lose not a moment's time in putting you to peace in your most affectionate cares so far as I am able.

It is difficult for me to represent correctly the state I am in; for like that of most persons in my situation, it varies a good deal from day to day, I might almost say from hour to hour. I shall try, however, to make you sinsible as the Hibernians say; and at all events I protest you may rely on my fidelity. First then, I tell you I am not sick, all that went away in Fife, and has never since returned; I feel as sound outwardly as any ploughman in Annandale. With regard to inwards, however, there is certainly a distinction to be made: I have to take physic more or less every day, and still things won't go on comfortably; the stomach is rather (not by any means, very) painful, and its disordered condition enfeebles me, and makes me stupid. It ‘found me lean at first, and keeps me so’; in fact I am grown leaner.2 I walk pretty reasonably when the weather is favourable; & had hopes, which I expressed in our Father's letter, of getting quite sound again very shortly; hopes which a succession of wet days, & consequently of indolent dissipated reading-fits on my part, have partly removed to a greater distance, tho' not at all destroyed. In the last place, I have a sharp appetite, and eat my victuals with considerable relish.

Such is a true statement of the Case. Judge then, my Brother, if it is not unwise in you to torment yourselves so much because of me! Nothing dangerous or in the least like danger is connected with those symptoms. They are merely the usual concomitants of a sedentary habit—suffered by thousands equally with me, but aggravated in my case by the solitary and agitated life I have led for the last seven years, and do not yet see any very certain means of escaping from. This town is not wholesome for me; but it is the proper place in every other point of view. I must live by Literature, at all hazards; and now is the time for making connexions and opening channels to secure a living by it. Teaching absolutely will not do for me; the mind cannot repress her longings and high aspirings within the narrow and most paltry limits of a borough-school; and in bitterness of heart I have frequently resolved to suffer all extremities before resuming the ferula. What then is to be done? Write and fight and struggle ‘faint yet pursuing’3 till some market occur for those silly powers such as they are. Now by returning to Mainhill—grant that I should recover health—do I not leave behind me all the springs by which I was attempting to move the world? I come to secrete myself from the business of life as well as from its vexations, and to harrass honest people who ha[ve] other things to mind with my moon-struck humours and frail complainings. Besides I shall have nothing to do, and so get discontented. There was a book Maltebrun (see Father's letter) that I expected to get the translating of, which would have been the very upmaking of me: but it is fled—or at least far postponed—and not to be calculated on. They paid me £2–2 for my work, and the rest ‘cannot be settled for a long time.’ Then Waugh's review: but I expect little good of it. And to think of the silly appearance the matter will have. See to the Mainhill Genius! Come back a third time to lounge and mope about the moors! Poor creature! I pity him.

Not that I have absolutely determined against coming home. Indeed generally every morning when I feel the gnawings within, and penetrate the dense vapour that overhangs S. Bridge-street on my way to teach, I half think—this will never do, I must southward but as the day breaks up I get brighter thoughts—and resolve almost to stay and accustom myself betimes to this my destined place of residence, if ever I get any such place. I reflect that I have teaching to keep me, and if I had but health—! —So the conclusion, my dear boy, is one in which nothing is concluded. I cannot know for a week or so. Yet be easy I tell you. I am not unhappy, I am only dull and frail. No sunshine of the soul, nor yet the darkness and the whirlwind,4 but a kind of gray twilight weather—unmovingly covers all my prospects. I shall fix soon: and while dressing up lives &c soon to be needed by Brewster, I promise faithfully to leave all—if I am not better in a week or at farthest two. I might come easily. But to mount the coach here at eight o'clock, and find you with the good Dumple at Moffatt, saddled and corned and rested against four. We should be home by nine. My dear Alick, I am sorry the sheet is done, I could tattle with you for a month. I will write by Farries—sooner if aught occur. So be azy [easy]! My love to our Father & Mother and all the others. Adieu!

Thos Carlyle