The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO WILLIAM GRAHAM; 24 April 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18210424-TC-WG-01; CL 1:353-356.


Edinburgh, 24th April, 1821

My dear Sir,

Supposing that you are now returned from Liverpool, and at leisure to think of our small epistolary concerns, I propose this evening to give myself the gratification of replying in some sort to your very kind and agreeable letter of last month. I well remember the day when it arrived, and how sweetly its contents harmonized with the strong Congou I was drinking at the time; a fresh perusal has this moment renewed my pleasure, and I have too much of self-love in me to “disappoint” or delay satisfying the wish with which you conclude. Indeed so fond am I of scribbling to you, that, as Hope can bear witness, I firmly purposed to charge him with a supererogatory sheet last time he was here: which purpose I effected to a nearness—being only about ten minutes behind the appointed or rather probable hour of Hope's departure;—a slight miscalculation, but one which saved you the fatigue of reading some nonsense, and supplied me with three leaves of excellent paper to light cigars with.

So you observe, I will not listen with any degree of patience to those accusations—which, with a zeal that would not shame the Attorney General himself, you bring forward against our correspondence, and your own powers for supporting it. No, Sir! It is enough, that in a world so full of vanities, a letter to or from you never fails to bring enjoyment with it: and therefore, doubt not, I shall write whenever my ain di'el [my own devil] bids me, earnestly entreating your di'el to be condescending enough to go and do likewise. Nay more, if you object to this, or say another word about barrenness and so forth—I protest the next letter shall contain a philosophical disquisition on the nature of letter writing in general, setting forth the advantages to be derived from your correspondence and the utility of your letters to me, with a copiousness, not to say prolixity, sufficient to strike all gainsayers, and forsayers too, with astonishment and paleness of countenance. A word to the wise. Whenever you feel disposed to do me a real favour, sit down and write me a long epistle,—full of whatever comes uppermost; to be sure of a similar epistle in return; and so the transaction be in fact attended with a true and harmless pleasure, never mind the how or the wherefore.

I need not say with what interest I listen to the opening intelligence, which I am favoured with, in regard to the state of your worldly affairs or the spirit with which you endure their perplexing embarrassments. It were, of course, vain or worse to enter deeply on a subject, where I have so little power to advise, and where my heartfelt wish to do it is already so well understood. But while I again fearlessly recommend you to the fountain of Hope, the genuine perennial spa for all diseases of the soul, and which none but the Guilty in conscience are forbidden to taste; I can see many ways in which this period of inaction—now so painful—might be alleviated and rendered profitable. Why do you not, for instance, embark in a vigorous course of reading? Do not think me impertinent: but what is to hinder you, I would ask, from nobly redeeming the time which at present hangs so heavy on your hands? There are all Robertson's histories and Hume's—if you have not read them; there are Russell's Modern Europe to begin with, and Watson's Philip II & III, with all their Dutch revolutions and Bohemian wars, and Coxe's Austrian and Spanish Bourbons and I wot not who, for foreign countries; and Clarendon and Burnet and Laing and Hailes and Pinkerton and all the rest, for our own.1 Be advised, I pray you. Cast off those sombre thoughts—the properties of which I know but too minutely; surround yourself with maps and chronologies and narratives, and mingle with the bright spirits of former ages—enter into their ‘business and their bosoms’;2 the concentrated essence of the past will entice you from the weary insipidity of the present. I seriously wish you would consider this. It is surprising to think how much improvement and enjoyment is held out in history to every man of sense, and held out only to be neglected by nine hundred and ninety nine out of the thousand. In half a year, you may have all the memorable events of the modern world impressed upon your memory; and then, what a field for reflection and imagination and mental activity of every kind! Heaven knows I do not want to make you a literary character: but there is a peculiar value in knowledge, different (and higher) in its species from the value of gold or silver; and while your implements for the latter are yet entangled and for a time unmanageable, why should you not grasp the implements for attaining the former, and use them stoutly,—above all, when the very attempt will be degrees fill up the vacancy of your mind and expel the tedium that afflicts you? This you will say is a poor resource. No matter: try it, persevere in it; you will find it becomes more effectual as you continue to apply it. Tell me what you think of it, at least: I promise to answer all objections.

How vain are the schemes of mortal man! I did design to give you a most luminous account of my whole walk and conversation; to hold a miniature as it were of all the ‘passing shews of being’ that chequer this my obscure scene, from day to day; and see! I am on the wrong side of my last leaf, and not a word said about the matter! You must just write to me again, & get an answer immediately. At the present I can only say that things are much as they were when I saw you. I intend to pass the summer here—in the old way. My health is the most precarious capricious thing imaginable: I have not been well for one day since last Autumn—sometimes very sick. Nevertheless, I trust the ‘Animal Economy’3 (of which I know exceedingly little) will have the goodness, some time soon, to bring matters to a crisis—either to free itself from this drawling languor and go on honestly, or else to give up the cause for good and all. A free course or a quietus—if it so please Providence!— What is Irving doing? A creature told me he was to get Hamilton Church; another that Meek4 was to get it. Will you write soon?

Your affectionate friend, /

Th. Carlyle