The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL; 4 April 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210404-TC-RM-01; CL 1:349-351.


Edinr4th April, 1821—

My dear Mitchell,

Your pupil George John having it in view to proceed shortly home again to Ruthwell, you cannot be surprised that I seize the opportunity which this circumstance affords me to disport a little in the way of innocent chat with you—and relieve my solitude by an emblem of society, since I cannot get the real article to my mind. Le plus grand des plaisirs, c'est l'abandon de soi-même [The greatest of pleasures is the abandonment of self]: in order to enjoy it however imperfectly, I have kicked out the frolicksome Christopher North,1 and the ‘Monthly’2—in spite of its paralytic affections,—with a host of other Ecrivassiers [scribblers], who have beset me all day, and confused me with their incessant & unmusical hubbub—driving all old thoughts away, and putting no new one in their room.

It is natural for you to expect that seeing I have volunteered a letter, I must needs have some important news to tell you—something fresh in the literary world, or at least something very strange in my own poor history. Neither of your suppositions is correct. The literary world is going on much as it was wont: frisking Reviewers come forth once a quarter, tipsy Magazine-men once a month; both as usual,

Trip it as they go
On the light fantastic toe,3

and see around them a nameless throng, digging like moles at Encyclopedias, Journals, Monthly Reviews &c &c quite in the old stile. Nor has any thing particular happened to myself since I wrote last to you. I am moving on, weary & heavy laden, with very fickle health, and many discomforts—still looking forward to the future (brave future!) for all the accommodations and enjoyments that render life an object of desire. Then shall I no longer play a candle-snuffer's part in the Great Drama; or if I do my salary will be raised: then shall—which you see is just ‘use and wont.’

Our old acquaintances here are many of them alive; but few[,] very few of them any thing more. By ‘the long positive prescription’ they have acquired a kind of right to live, and they exercise it quietly—travelling about the city to diffuse the knowledge of Ruddiman and the Horn Book,4 consuming a stated, stinted portion of indifferent whisky punch—scenting every breeze for dead parsons—and trusting that Providence will not continue blind to merit always. Such are the nascent pillars of our venerable Church. I see few of them, and desire to see still fewer. Murray is here, with his Galloway History. Upon the whole, Murray is among the best of them. He has an inexhaustible fund of activity—wishes greatly to be loved, and takes the proper mode of becoming so: he possesses indeed very little more than the small peculium5 of knowledge, customary in such cases, but he has some warmth of heart, and is not without gleams of a generous enthusiasm to cherish thoughts a little way exalted above the mire and clay of mere physical existence. When Murray can snatch an hour from his far-extended pedagogics he visits me now and then.— Have you heard that Caven6clarum et venerabile nomen [renowned and venerable name]!—has migrated to Manchester? His banners kiss the air of Lancashire I assure you: crest a muckle-a-bred [a large pot lid], field sable, tawse or7—such is the device.— El Desdichado [The wretched fellow]!

They have got (on a eu) intelligence of Frank Di[xon.] He has eaten victuals with the Governor of Bermudas, drunk kill-devil (rumtoddy) with many of the planters there; and gives high promise of being useful in illuminating the heads and edifying the hearts both of men and boys on that ‘ever-vexed’ isle.8

I hear not a word of poor James Johnston. Ubi terrarum, where in all the world is he? If at New York still—he might have an introduction to a first rate man there, did I but know his address. Poor James! I cry to think of the Spoiler Time, how he dashes us unhappy worms—far and wide—now here, now there—in this noisy vortex of things. It is but few years since we three were—no matter.

My dear Mitchell, thou must write to me as soon as may be. Doubt not, I shall be more scientifical and philosophical and steady, steady, next time I reply. Really the fiend Mephistophilus catches one at times— Excuse his capers and his grins, believing that in spite of all, I remain in sincerity,

Your faithful friend, /

Thomas Carlyle—

My kindest most respectful compliments to Mr Duncan & his Lady.