The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 14 March 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210314-TC-AC-01; CL 1:341-343.


Edinr14th March 1821—

My dear Alick,

They have given me short measure today; and I must give you the like, tho' you deserve it not. On returning from my Morning's task of two hours1 (which I discharge usually with as much insensibility as old Rose would drag a cart-load of dung), I was hailed by the grateful appearance of a small gray parcel—its countenance well known to me—lying in state among the tea-tackle destined to administer my breakfast. ‘If you have any word,’ said the Landlady with her Celtic drawl, ‘the Carrier is going away at twelve o'clock.’ It was then half-past ten: so you see what you must look for.

The little time I have, will enable me, however, to do important services to you; for it requires but a single line from my hand—and for some days I have longed to have an opportunity of giving it—to remove a load of uneasiness from the hearts of all my most kind friends at Mainhill. I am now quite recovered. The fine weather, and the diligent use I make of it, have restored me to as good a state of health as I have enjoyed for six months. I am getting stronger daily; and if matters do but go on thus, before the time of bathing on these coasts begins, I shall be in excellent condition to profit by it, and thereby acquire that soundness of body without which all the gifts of Providence are of no avail. I walk daily for a considerable time; I read too a little, but nothing that requires study; I frequent the Advocates' Library, and drive on the time, by all those resources, with considerable equanimity. Doubtless I am not quite comfortable, nor shall I be so, or wish to be so, until I have found some resting-place for the soles of my feet,2 and some handywork, by labouring at which I may obtain a share, greater or less, in the comforts and accom[m]odations of this life.

The translation of Maltebrun about which I wrote lately would have answered very well in some respects; and I am not still without a chance of getting it: but the man Black having received a very penitential letter from his present most unworthy translator3 (a reduced knight at Paris!) has consented to let him try his hand a little farther. I shall hear no more of the matter, then, at least for a considerable time. Except as it ‘brings grist to the mill’ this work of Translation is not, after all, too desirable an occupation. It is nearly as unintellectual as dyking [building walls]; and besides the money that springs from it, no other benefit, no increase of reputation or even notoriety, is attached to it in any sense. Original composition, then, is better in most points, inferior only as it is more difficult—which is but another reason for setting about learning it without delay. I shall do it easily enough, by and by; and the present is no bad opportunity for trying. Waugh (the Review-man) sent me a book the other day, with a wish and an assurance that I ‘would write a very elegant and spirited critique on it’—which I am not so certain of as the magistrate pretends to be, but shall attempt notwithstanding. It is poetry, by Joanna Baillie,4 about Wallace and Columbus and patient Griseld, and so forth. I am to begin forthwith; should have begun indeed already, but Schiller and others stand in the way. I am told the man Waugh pays well: and if he and I do not suit, I have still plenty of work in the Encyclopedia, and am daily getting better acquainted with the mode of transacting it. So you observe there is no fear of me, none whatever.

I have talked so much about those things of late, and made you talk so much about them, that absolutely I am grown very ignorant about your doings at Mainhill. I figure you as stalking ‘with measured step’5 over the new mould, and committing your grain to the bosom of the Earth—in plain prose, I figure you as sowing, and I think the seed-time must be favourable. But you must take a large sheet and tell me minutely about every thing—your operations, your reading, your thoughts, your news, and all that interests you. Do you get any written now? Neglect no opportunity of improving yourself in this most saleable of accomplishments— It is sure to do you much, and may eventually do you essential service. Tell me all the news too. Which of the children are at School? Have you seen James Johnstone's letter from New York, & could I see it? If not what are its contents? Tell me all this & much more, as you love,

Your friend & brother, /

Thomas Carlyle

My love to all—from our Father & Mother down to little Jenny.

George Johnstone went away to Greenland6 the other day—very sick and spiritless. The sea-breezes will restore him, I hope; but he is a weak concern, poor fellow! His mother sent me a bottle of gooseberry wine lately—which I have drunk mostly, and desire you to thank he[r] for. Adieu.