The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL; 16 March 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210316-TC-RM-01; CL 1:343-346.


Robertson's Lodgings 16. Carnegiest. / 16th March 1821—

My dear Mitchell,

I have just read over your letter,1 and t[o] shew you that I am not utterly extinguished in sloth, I sit down to pen an answer instantly. The colossal ‘Wallenstein’ with Thekla the angelical, and Max her impetuous lofty-minded lover are all gone to rest;2 I have closed Schiller for a night; and what can I do better than chat for one short hour with my old, my earliest friend? I have nothing to tell you, it is true; but the mere neighbourhood of your image brings so many pleasing tho' pensive recollections, so many shadows of departed years along with it, that I may well write without having any thing to say. And do not fear, my gentle brother, that I will lead you into the mazes of Kantism; I know you have but a limited relish for such mysteries, and among my many faults, an enemy even would not reckon the inordinate desire of making proselytes. As to Kant and Schelling and Fichte3 and all those worthies, I profess myself but an esoteric after all; and whoever can imagine that Stewart and Hume with Reid and Brown4 to help them have sounded all the depths of our nature, or which is better, can contrive to overlook those mysteries entirely,—is too fortunate a gentleman for me to intermeddle with. Nor shall I trouble you with my views of men,—at least not greatly; and for a like reason. I have been a solitary dreamer all my days, wrapt up in dim imaginings, strange fantasies, and gleams of all things; so that when I give utterance to the sensations produced on me by the actual vulgar narrow stupid world of realities, you very justly think me on the verge if not past the verge of—coma. But Toleration, man! toleration is all I ask,—and what I am ready to give. Do you take your Lipsius, your Crombie, your Schweighäuser;5 and let me be doing with Lake poets, Mystics, or any trash I can fall in with: why should we not cast an eye of cheering, give a voice of welcome, to each other as our paths become mutually visible, tho' they are no longer one.

I meant to give you my history for the byegone months. It is easily done. I have had the most miserable health—was in a low fever for two weeks lately, meditating to come home, and actually did elope to Fife; and during all the winter I have had such delightful companions to interrupt my long solitudes, such intellectual, high-spirited men as you have no idea of. My progress has been proportionable. It boots not, as you say, to indulge reproachful afterthoughts. Indeed I have begun to apply the all-consuming maxim cui bono? to study as well as other things; and to ask how can it serve one to be learned and refined and elevate? Is it not to imbibe a feeling of pity for the innocent dolts around one? and of disgust (alas!) at the thistles and furze on which they are faring sumptuously every day? The most enviable thing, I often think, in all the world, must be the soundest of the seven sleepers:6 for he reposes deeply in his corner; and to him the tragi-comedy of life is as painless as it is paltry.— But to return— I have tried about twenty plans this winter in the way of authorship; they have all failed; I have about twenty more to try: and if it does but please the Director of all things to continue the moderate share of health now restored to me, I will make the doors of human society fly open before me yet notwithstanding. My petards will not burst, or make only noise when they do: I must mix them better, plant them more judiciously; they shall burst and do execution too.— But all this, you say, is nothing to the point—what are you doing? Teaching two Dandies mathematics, who leave me (Io Bacche!) [Hail, Bacchus!] in a month; compiling for Encyclopedias (hewing of wood and drawing of water);7 I was translating—and am soon to Review. Waugh8 has relented, for his book is reeling like a drunken man,—got himself re-introduced to me, and sent over a book lately—Joanna Baillie's Legends. So I beg, Sir, you will view the embryo Aristarchus9 with all the gravity in your power.

But to retort the question, what are you doing? Are such geniuses as we, think you, to live crammed up as it were in the stocks, pinfolded thus, and shut out from all the cheerful ways of men,10 forever? And what are the levers you intend to use? Tell me seriously, and think of it seriously—for it demands consideration. I think your classical teaching plan bids fair if you mature it well; and really I would not advise any one to launch, as I was forced to do, upon the roaring deep, so long as he can stay ashore. For me, the surges and the storm are round my skiff; yet I must on—on lest biscuit fail me, ere I reach the trade-wind and sail with others.

This I confess is a very pragmatical Frankdixon-ish way of talking to you: but it is too late now for mending it. I shall be less figurative next time; when I tell you every thing relating to the duel,11 to Beacons12 and Scotsmans and Mohock theatres,13 and Lockhart's melancholy.14 You shall hear also about little Murray the Warton of Galloway;15 and John Wilson's16 volcanic lectures, and Leslies prosecution.17 ‘My address’ is in your hands; see how you will use it—diligently and soon if you care a farthing for

Your old friend, /

Thos Carlyle.

Give my best respects to Mr & Mrs Duncan, and also to the Hitchill peop[l]e when you see them.— Poor Johnstone is in New York—I sent Mr D[uncan] a letter long ago by George John,18 which I know not whether he has yet received. Nor does it matter, so he knew that I had written it—and was not oblivious and ungrateful.— Send me a letter very soon—and excuse this farrago.