The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL; 3 October 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18211003-TC-RM-01; CL 1:386-388.


Mainhill, 3d October 1821—

My dear Mitchell,

I was down at Ruthwell the other week, and got the two books which you so punctually left for me; but as the promise recorded on the slip of paper stuck into Kiel1 seems likely to be rather tardy in its fulfilment, I am going to interrupt your repose for a reason unconnected with borrowing or lending. I owe you an apology for my unceremonious desertion of our appointment: but I suppose you have already excused me: Murray will have told you the cause of my failure; how I went into Galloway, and rode and ran in all directions there without measure. How could I withstand such an opportunity of gadding? You cannot but forgive me.

In our perambulations thro' “that Attica of Scotland” the Historian2 and I did not fail to visit the intended scene of your didactic labours, and to muse a little on the fruits which the Tree of Knowledge, pruned and watered by your steady hand, is likely to produce to yourself and the youth of Kirkcudbright. Our augury was favourable: and I rejoiced individually in the thought that my oldest, nearly my only, College friend had found so fair an arena for exhibiting his talents in the way most agreeable to himself, and acquiring some portion of those rewards which honest industry has the best of all rights to claim. Of the Gallovidian Capital I know nothing in particular: but I can easily predict that in commencing your functions and even in proceeding with them regularly, you will have much to strive with, which your previous experience has made you but imperfectly aware of. Human nature is nearly the same everywhere: and the tie by which a Schoolmaster is connected with his employers is at all times of so galling a kind, that there is no wonder both parties should wince under it occasionally. Busy bodies will be forward to offer you advices, remonstrances, complaints; the completion of your ideal schemes will be marred in part (it is but the continual destiny of Man!) by the ungainliness of your materials; and at first, it is likely, you may languish under the want of congenial society, and such a home as you enjoyed at Ruthwell. My own experience of those things is trifling and unfavourable; yet I do not reckon the problem of succeeding in a school, and learning to remedy or endure all its grievances, one of extreme difficulty. First as in every undertaking, it is necessary, of course, that you wish to succeed: that you determine firmly to let nothing break your equanimity, that you “lay aside every weight”—your philosophical projects, your shyness of manner (if you are cursed with that quality) your jealous sense of independence—every thing in short that circumstances may point out as detrimental to your interest with the people; and then, being thus balanced and set in motion, your sole after duty is to “run with patience”:3 you will reach the goal undoubtedly. Public favour in some sense is requisite for all men; but a Teacher ought constantly to bear in mind, that it is life and breath to him: hence in comparison with it nothing should be dear to him; he must be meek and kindly and soft of speech to every one, how absurd and offensive soever. To the same ob[ject he] must also frequently sacrifice the real progress of his pupils, if it cannot be gained without affecting their peace of mind. The advantages of great learning are so vague and distant, the miseries of constant whining are so immediate and manifest, that not one parent in a thousand can take the former in exchange for the latter—with patience—not to speak of thankfulness. For the same reason he must (if the fashion of the place require it) go about and visit his employers; he must cook [coax] them and court them by every innocent mode which the evervarying posture of circumstances will suggest to a mind on the outlook for them. This seems poor philosophy—but it is true. The most diligent fidelity in discharging your duties will not serve you—by itself. Never forget this—it is mathematically certain. If men were angels, or even purely intellectual beings having judgement but no vanity or other passion, it might be different; but as it is, the case becomes much more complicated—few very few had not rather be cheated than despised, and even in the common walks of life, probity is often left to rot without so much as being praised. It has the alget without the laudatur;4—which is a most sorry business doubtless.

I have written down all this, My dear Mitchell, not because I thought you wanted it; on the contrary I imagine your talents and manners and temper promise you a distinguished success: but because I thought the fruit of my painful experience, might be worth something to you, and that something however small I was anxious to offer you. Take it, and call it the widow's mite, if you like. It is from,

your friend, /

T. Carlyle.

Will you let me know where you are, & when you intend coming Southward? I must see you before you move westward: I know not when I shall go to Edinr. Its reek & stench is hurtful to me