The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JAMES JOHNSTON; 4 February 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220204-TC-JJ-01; CL 2:28-31.


Wilkie's Lodgings, 3. Moray-street, / Leith-Walk, 4th Feby, 1822—

My dear Johnston,

Your letter1 is dated about three weeks ago, has been expected about two months, and came into my hands only this morning. As I do fully intend to answer it soon, and as there is odds that I shall not find myself soon in a better mood for answering it than at present, I have adopted the wise resolution of consecrating the passing hour to that duty—obedient to the prudent saw, which assures us that Opportunity hairy in front is bald behind; fronte capillata, post est occasio calva.2 I say duty; but I might have used a kindlier word. In fact there are few events in my history that yield a more placid enjoyment to my mind, than reading a letter from you or writing one for your perusal. In such cases the sober certainty of your many affectionate and faithful feelings towards me—not altogether unrequited, I hope—mingles itself with the happy recollection of many virtuous and cheerful hours that we have spent together long ago—before either of us had tasted how bitter a thing is worldly life; and how wofully our young purposes were to be marred by the low impediments of this confused, inane and noisy vortex into which both of us have been cast, and where we are still toiling and striving and jostling and being jostled, according to the sentence passed on Adam, and fulfilled on all his poor descendants. The moonshine nights during which we have strolled along the loanings [lanes] of our native Annandale, the sunny days we have spent in basking on our own braes [hillsides],—talking so copiously and heartily of all things that we knew or did not know; those nights and days are “with the days beyond the Flood,” we shall not see them more; but the memory of them is still bright in the soul, and will make us recollect each other with pleasure even to the end. It is a rare fortune that gives to the man the friends of the boy, unsullied by unworthy actions, and still maintaining some similarity of tastes: it is a happiness, however, which has been ours, and I trust, will continue so always. Nor do I in the smallest abandon the hope that future days will be calmer than those that have passed and are passing over us.3 Depend upon it, my good friend, there is a time coming, when tho' we may not be great men, we shall be placid ones; when, having mended by much toil what is capable of mending in our condition, and resigned ourselves to endure with much patience what in it is incapable of mending, we shall meet together like toilworn way-farers descending the mountain cheerily and smoothly which they climbed with danger and distress. “We will laugh and sing and tell old tales”4 and forget that our lot has been hard, when we think that our hearts have been firm, and our conduct true and honest to the last. This should console us whatever weather it is with us: the task is brief; and great is the reward of doing it well.

But this is not a homily: so I take leave of preaching—for which indeed I have no talent. You sadden me by the scanty outline which you draw of your actual situation. A state of health “but indifferent”5 is signified in one short sentence; yet comprises within it a catalogue of vexatious discomforts which might furnish matter for many volumes. I entreat you in the name of common sense to suspend every pursuit, that interferes with your attention to this first of all concerns. Out! I say, from your confined dwelling-place! Away to the banks of Clyde, to the Green, to the Country, to free air! What is all the Greek in the Universe to this? There is more happiness, nay more philosophy, in a sound nervous system, than in all the systems described by Brucker or Buhle,6 or conceived by any mortal from Thales down to Mr Owen of Lanark. 7 Who would rather be Aristotle and bi[l]ious than be the Galloway clodhopper, who scarcely knew the horn-book but “had no nerves.” Happy brute! I would give all the world sometimes, to have no nerves.

These Irish schemes are not likely to be of service, I fear.8 You did right to reject at once and totally the “ potatoe-plot and cabin” as well [as] the “thirty-pounds” tutorship: and if I were in your place, I would be well assured that the Newton Barry School9 was certain of yielding some thing considerably beyond sixty or seventy pounds annually, before I thought of encountering the tristia of the Sod10 or the vulgar annoyances of those who tread upon it. Still the place seems worth enquiring after; and I hope you will yet hear more of it. But you must absolutely never say another word about New Holland whatever befalls. This I insist upon. Take my word for it, Sir, you are no[t ma]de for emigration. The colonists may say that Botany Bay is this and that and the other: n'en croyez rien [don't believe a word of it]. The society will please you infinitely less in the land of convicts and kangaroos than it did in Canada or Nova Scotia; and the emoluments of any thing in which you could be serviceable, must be, what they are in all new countries, of a kind quite inadequate to procure you satisfaction of even a tolerable degree[.] Can you be content with a life in which the stomach shall be filled never so royally, while the head and the heart are both left wa[ste] and empty? Can you submit to be judged by an ermined sheep-stealer? Can you associate with the half-reformed sweepings of creation, with emeritusfelons, with broken agriculturists, ruined projectors and persons having the bones and sinews of men but nothing more? This is an over-charged picture, I know; but much of it must be true: and other pictures look more flattering, chiefly because they embrace the exception, instead of the rule. Consider this, and lay asid[e] your project forever. Stay at home where your merits—slow in making themselves known anywhere—are at last appreciated by many who respect you and are anxious to patronise you for the sake of them. You can teach well and honestly; your present employments will render you fitter for the task than ever you were; and situations are often casting up which may be gained by honest methods, and made the means of a respectable and permanent establishment at home. I had rather go and set up teaching anywhere in Britain, with no introduction but my staff and scrip, than go to Australasia with all the recommendations that could be given me. Be patient and diligent, and you you [sic] must ultimately succeed. In the mean time, if nothing better occur, I think you should return to Bogside in Spring for the sake of your health, if it do not completely recover. Take no desponding view of things, my friend; you are young and solidly qualified and true-minded: you will be happy in the end—happy as any one Here need care much about being. All that know you like you; food and raiment is sure; what need of more?

I have prosed and prosed till I have left no room to tell you of my own affairs in which I know you feel deep interest. Write to me immediately, and I will describe every thing. Edward Irving has found me a situation—if it answer: ask him about it. Adieu! I am [alwa]ys your friend, Thos Carlyle