The Collected Letters, Volume 10


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE ; 10 May 1838; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18380510-TC-AC-01; CL 10: 75-79


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea / 10th May, 1838—

My dear Brother,

I must send you a short line rather than none at all. At present in the heat and press of Lecturing and tumult, I can afford no writing; it is not so much that I want time, as that I altogether want composure and spirits. You will take what I can send; if you saw completely how I am situated you would not think me stingy, I imagine, but wonderfully liberal “considering.”

Your Letter came,1 and one from Jean not very far off it, which last I have answered, with a request that the purport of news in said answer should be transmitted over to you. I was right glad to learn, both from yourself and still more pointedly from Jean, that all was going on quite handsomely at Ecclefechan; that you found your traffick answer the end, and stood faithfully to it; that there was every hope of its turning out as well as the hopefullest of us expected.2 What a blessing it must be to an industrious man to see, not, as you have long been forced to do, his substance gradually wasting away from him, but an increase were it even a slow one granted to his toil, and the certainty that at least day and way are alike long! There is nothing that I know of more harrassing to a man than the kind of lot you have had to struggle with for long years past. With all the faults there were, I can assure you dear Alick, I have many times admired the constancy, the quietude you displayed, and on the whole how well you behaved. Thank God, the worst seems now to be over, and better days are dawning for you. “Better a wee bush than nae bield,” they say. Be well content with poor Ecclefechan, in that it will do for you what prouder places have refused to do: yield you meat and clothes for your labour. A man can get no more that I know of in this world. And as for past toils and sufferings, we will say that surely we needed them; that if we need more of them, we should hope to get more of them. Folly is bound up in the heart of a man; pride, anger, intolerance,—self-conceit, in a word, the root of all sin. One must be beaten with many stripes till that be beaten out of him.3 Courage, my brave brother, I say; be steady and teachable, diligent and patient; live and learn!— As for your success in your business I surely think the worst is past now, and that you have a free chance to hold on prospering still better henceforth. Be in no haste to prosper, desire not much prosperity. A man saving five pounds in the year is, I believe, nearly always a luckier man than one that is spending five hundred thousand. I do believe this, and know it more and more from what I see daily here under my eyes. O the tumult, the mad uproar as of a Bedlam; and all the cut-glass and upholstery of the world will not satiate one soul of Adam's many sons; not the poorest cob[b]ler will be filled with it all, but desires something greater than it all.— If I had any practical precept to enforce again upon you in regard to your shop, it would be this one, To have faith in the honesty of human nature; I mean, to believe in spite of all appearances to the contrary that honesty will prevail against dishonesty, even in Ecclefechan, and anywhere under the Sun. It is a great truth. Have nothing to do therefore with bad articles at all at any price. All men do at heart desire to deal with a man of that sort; a man of that sort is sure to be acknowledged too, were it even slowly, and to draw round him all the worthy people in the district he lives in.4 I have no conviction clearer than this. Moderate profits, genuine goods, faithful punctuality; the conduct, in one word, of an honest man: that is the rule. And so I leave you; adding only Jack's precept, To cultivate your hand writing. Write often, and choose your pen; by degrees you will find your writing improve into a swift free-flowing hand, and this will be a great convenience to you. God prosper you, my dear Brother! We shall all perhaps get better on, a little, than we have done for years past.

I sent your Letter forward to our Mother with some old books. There came a Newspaper from Rob5 the other day; indicating, as I suppose, that all was well. I must write again thither, tho' I hardly know how to address; for I suppose now our Mother must be thinking of Annandale and green fields. My notion is that she has been pretty well in the Cotton Country, with company and plenty of coals; thro' the wild winter; happier than she could have been at Scotsbrig in that dead season.— I have seen nothing of any brother-in law of Jamie's yet;6 nor until he come can I know anything about his notions. He should be very welcome to me if he came. But probably he is in “the City” as they call it; that is, the Eastern trading part of London, and some four of [sic: or] five miles off this region. London is like a whole set of towns; I might say, a set of Nations. The people even speak differently rather, on different sides of it; I can know their dialects now, and say, “You are a Chelsea man,” “You are of the Whitechapel region” &c &c.

Jack has written to me, as you would probably learn thro' Jean: all well; and ought to be setting off from Rome about this time. As to that indeed there is no precise light; but yesterday I had a Newspaper with three strokes: whether that indicates that he has received some parcel or other (of which he has three or perhaps four wandering about this long while), or that he is about to set out from Rome homewards, I do not know. In any case we may infer that he was well; we are to hope that the broad face will become visible among us once more, and the poor Doctor get back to those he loves best after this other set of wanderings. “Poor fellow, after all!”7

Did my Mother send you a Times Newspaper, as I hoped she would? In that case you would see I had got to sailing-depth once more, and was out on the ocean-waters; lecturing, lecturing! I believe there have been other Newspaper Critics,8 and that they have all been laudatory; tho' I have seen none more except the Examiner (Hunt writes that in it), which also my Mother got from me. I think she said once they sent it on to you regularly.— I was in a dreadful state of tremor and misery the first day; also a certain Doctor here had recommended a kind of hartshorn preparation which I was to take for “quieting my nerves,”—a cure far worse than the disease: however, I weltered thro' that first time, and always since it has been simpler and simpler. I have three Lectures (fully the worst three) behind me now, a fourth tomorrow, and hope to go on in some reasonable way till I do once again get done! My audience rather increases daily as yet, and is very kind and respectful to me; they seem quite a different set of people, three fourths of them, from what last year's were; more men, among them, and men with an air of law and business. Our new Lecture room (the only tolerable place for speaking that one could get, last year's being a dining-room and fiddling-room utterly detestable to me) lies quite out of the beat of my Fashionable friends, not a fourth part of whom seem to have followed me to the new shop. Nay I believe the whole arrangement was mismanaged, and that with good skill I might have pocketed very considerably more money than I shall get.9 But what then? One cannot learn except by experience dear-bought. If I lecture again next year I will now manage it myself; I have learn[ed] it now. But on the whole, I am what they call “successful,” and may perhaps do myself good in the long run beyond what can be counted up in money at present. The people shall hear a little more of my mind this year, for I stand in less and less terror of them; and feel much “more like a teacher and less like a showman” than I did. And so, Boy, I must toil on for a calendar month yet; ah me!—and if you hear nothing more of me, fancy that all goes smoothly, and [that] nothing is wrong.

Jane continues weakly, yet is always able to go out at Lecture time; she says “any harl of health she has is always there.”10 The weather is against her: bitter northwind and burning sun. My own poor carcase suffers a little from the shatterment of nerves &c; I do not sleep altogether as I could wish: but I shall hold on, I think, and perhaps grow quieter even before “June 10th”— Enough now: I must end.— I hope the little creature has got done with its bits of ailments; that Jane is a [sic] stout as ever. She is a clever lassie it seems with her book too. And Tom, what of him, the stubborn-minded individual?11 Give them all, a snap [a gingerbread baked hard] each, poor little creatures, in my name.— Remember us well at Scotsbrig, at Annan, to all our loved ones. Adieu, dear Brother.

Your affectionate /

T. Carlyle