The Collected Letters, Volume 13


TC TO JOHN STERLING ; 14 July 1841; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18410714-TC-JOST-01; CL 13: 183-186


Scotsbrig, Ecclefechan, N.B. 14 july, 1841—

My dear Sterling,

Your Letter1 reached me here last night; welcome, as all your Letters to me are. It is a long while since I have had a word from you; the hope that we might meet before I left Town came also, like many other hopes, to nothing. Pray write a little oftener,—especially while I am here, and have leisure and composure for answering! Today you must be content with very little; a very little will not be without importance to you.

Know then that you have been radically misinformed as to my withdrawing hitherward at present; that your friendly sorrow at parting with me may straightway console itself again!2 I have no thought of quitting London altogether, in the actual state of matters; I never had any thought, only vague rebellious impulses, blind longings and vellietés [velléités: impulses]. I do not think I shall leave London for a while yet! I might readily go farther and fare worse; indeed in no other corner of the Earth have I ever been able to get any kind of reasonable social existence at all; everywhere else I have been a kind of exceptional anomalous anonymous product of Nature,—provoked and provoking in a very foolish unprofitable way. Till once I feel ready for absolute solitude, which is not yet my case, I do not see where I could rationally hope to repay myself for what I should leave if I left London.

One fearful drawback there is: the thinness of the animal's skin, the sad unavoidable effect of London on his health! I am ill in all places, but a measurable degree worse always in London. What then? After infinite confused strugglings and deliberatings, I seem to have made out little more than this, That I cannot live all the year round in London;—that I must, at this mature age, alter the whole habit of my existence, and become annually a locomotive animal; fly into the country in summer time, as other Cockneys do! One still house for all months of the year: this I cannot have in London; I must give up this, or give up London;—it begins now to appear to me that I ought to be a good boy, and handsomely agree to do the former, as so many other mortals do.——— With regard to Annan our project never was to stay longer than a few months there: a mere chance, offering some likelihood of a house that might suit well, induced me to turn thitherward, instead of bending towards Sussex, Wales, or any of the other azimuths: and accordingly here I am. The house however does not turn out to suit well, or to suit at all; after various searchings, not without difficulty, I have at last found a Bathing Cottage not far off which we are to take possession of in a week, for the month of August, thereafter to set out again on our Travels if we like; and this is all the settlement in Annandale hitherto. The name of our Cottage is, for the Postman. “Newby, Annan, N.B.,”—pray remember that. Were the good weather all spent the calculation is that Cheyne Row with its old bricks will hold us again: “I can't get out!”3 At any time of the season my present address (that of Mother's house, as I think you know) is a safe one for me.— And so now you understand it?—

I am sorry, my Friend, to hear your despondent account of your health.4 Know this however for your comfort: that no man of your talent, of your affections, ever is in health; that the “uncertainty” you talk of, tho' sufficiently gloomy, is not perhaps the worst figure of ill health. No, I tell you; there are others that I know of perhaps very considerably uglier. Besides if you will but take care of yourself, if you will learn that great art as you will have to learn it, the “uncertainty” will amazingly diminish; you will find a very handsome modicum of faculty still left at your own disposal. Believe all this, for it is true. One other aphorism I will give for comfort to you on another head, that of “Idleness.” Do you call the wheatfield idle on all days except when men are reaping wheat from it? For shame! Learn to sit still, I tell you: how often must I tell you?5 All sorrow is the raw-material of thought. If you mean to write a new Book soon, see that you have been right despondent, as near hanging yourself as might be, for some months before! Believe me, my dear Sterling; this also is true (if you will put it into proper language), and known to me by older experience than yours.

The day before leaving Town, I met Julius Hare in Burlington Arcade and spoke a moment with him.6 A good man, tho' an Archdeacon. Does he know Strauss? What you say of Hetherington's translating that, is new to me.7 An ominous thing indeed! But on the whole a thing we will not grumble at; a thing very welcome to do whatsoever lies in it to do. Of late years rapidly the conviction grows on me that all we have of Anti-Straussism is little other than a Cant,—properly a despicable trembling sort of unbelief that there is anything intrinsically true in men, anything true at all except shovel hats tithe-pigs8 and such like. Pfui! I begin to see that it is at bottom sheer Idolatria; and should, and even must, go about its business the sooner the better.

Why do you call Merivale my enemy?9 He is no enemy of mine, poor fellow; but a good stout Sceptical Philosophist and Law Hack, to whom may the gods grant all suitable promotion. I saw the man once, many years ago, in Hayward's rooms,10 and even argued a little with him, and liked him.

Something else I had to say, surely,—but have forgotten it for the moment. Irrecoverable in this one instant, and there are no more. Adieu, my good Sterling! Do not forget me; you cannot forget me, nor I you. Adieu; commend me to your kind Helpmate, to the villain Teddy11 if he still remember me.

Yours ever truly /

T. Carlyle