The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 20 February 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220220-TC-JAC-01; CL 2:42-44.


3. Moray-street, Wednesday-night [20 February 1822].

My dear Jack,

I know not which of us is in debt to the other;1 nor does it matter: I have been meditating for some nights to allow myself an hour's chat with you; and I now set about the operation. Some week or two ago I got a letter from you which appeared to have lingered long upon the road: it bore marks of Glasgow on it, and came along with one from Johnstone. So far as I can recollect, it contains the latest direct intelligence from you; and tho' I know your life is uniform enough, I naturally begin to long for some more recent account of your proceedings, being sufficiently aware that even in the most uniform life there is continual danger of sinister occurrences, which danger, it is always pleasant to be assured, has not yet taken effect. I do not speak of the pleasure I derive from perusing your lucubrations, or contemplating the picture they afford of your enthusiastic diligence, and humble tho' interesting duties and hopes. By some means or other I have taken up the suspicion that all is not right with you about Annan, that you are got sick, or some such affair, and my need of hearing from you is more pressing than the mere want of enjoyment. I know this persuasion or suspicion to be very absurd: but it will be more easily removed by testimony than by reasoning; and I therefore request you to set about writing to me without any unnecessary delay. You will get this sheet on Friday: I shall look for your reply in the beginning of next week. See you disappoint me not.

I learn with great satisfaction that you have begun the study of Greek. There can hardly be a more useful employment in your present circumstances; and the only thing that prevented me from recommending it before, was the idea that it required more energy than any one could be expected to manifest labouring under such disadvantages as press upon you at present. Happily I have been mistaken: and if I did not fear certain consequences which are too likely to result from exertions of this kind, I should certainly feel proud of the zeal you display. It strikes you at once what disadvantages I allude to; and you expect another sermon on the insipid topic of health. I shall be as brief as possible: but I cannot avoid impressing upon you yet again the imperious necessity of moderating your efforts, if you mean to preserve this blessing. Excessive labour will ruin any one; and it is precisely persons of the finest parts whom those “cursed nervous disorders” select in preference as their victims. Would you experience all that is blackest and bitterest in the cup of human woe; would you even fail of attaining the object for which every thing else has thus been sacrificed? Then rush forward without stay or reflection; be up early and down late, ever on the stretch, the head full of subtle quirks[,] the heart of stern purposes and unspeakable longings: this will do the business, Jack, ere long, be sure. I assert that (not to speak of the torments which beggar all speech) even in the matter of learning, I could have studied more in one day when I was perfectly healthy, than I can now do in a week. Let me not have suffered quite in vain, Jack; profit by my errors; husband your strength, and it will last you to the end. If you do not, I absolutely tremble for you. Heart cannot figure, tongue cannot tell the miseries of chronic distempers—to the wretch that has no home, no fixed status among men, too light a purse and too keen a soul. Listen to me, while it is yet time! Oh! that some Guardian Angel had but spoken to me, when I was in your state—as forlorn, as firm of purpose, as anxious for preferment, as careless about health!—how different would my after life have been, how many years of a wretched and worse than useless existence might have been spared to me!

Besides where is the ne[c]essity of making such a struggle? You are already well qualified for attending the College next winter: and there cannot rationally be a doubt of your profiting amply by it. Be moderate, then, my poor Doil; and let no care take root in thy heart. Against next November thou shalt be here, if Providence spare us all; and for the rest, I myself tho' every thing should fail in other quarters, can now see thee thro' the affair, independently of all academies and private teaching. Rely upon me: we are yet to prove a blessing to each other; and I seek no higher repayment of my cares, I deserve none higher than the pleasure they afford me in the mean time.

You may perhaps infer from the strain of this letter so full of anxieties about your health, that I am complaining in that respect myself. But I assure you, no. I am dragging about a load of infirmities with me still, the fruit of former imprudencies, and must continue perhaps for years (perhaps, alas! for aye) in this condition: but I have reason to rejoice rather than complain. The fine air, the quiet, which I enjoy here, and the exercise (I have about 8 miles to walk daily) which my duties require, keep me in a state infinitely better than I was last year. I am as happy as I can expect ever to be—which is happy enough. There is abundance of business for me, at all events; and that is the main ingredient of what we call happiness. Those boys and I have about as good as engaged, for six months, at any rate: I am to get £100 for attending them 4 or 5 hours daily during that period; and in all probability, I think, we shall engage finally, if the parents were come. I am going to have a tough bout at Greek: but this I reckon an advantage. The Encyclopedia articles are all finished, and I do not intend taking any more at present; so also is Faust: and I shall find means for going on with Legendre (which I received notice this day that they are wanting to begin with): so I shall grow rich before all is done. We shall bid defiance to the foul fiend2 Pauperies, thou and I, for a long time at all hazards.

Now write me fully. Give my love to all Mainhill, on Saturday: & tell Sandy to send me very particular details about every thing. I am in debt to almost all the younger branches of the family. I will write them all, of a surety—only I have very little time, and tho' exceedingly anxious to keep all things straight I am “a wee unconstant i' the health part o't”—which sometimes impedes me. I am but “a wee” however; and shall get thro' grandly yet. Tell me pointedly how our Mother is. I am always,

Jack's faithful brother, /

Thomas Carlyle—

[In the margins:] What books have you in the Greek? If you want a Lexicon, tell me: I will send you my Schrevelius;3 I can spare it well, having got another—in French—Planche's. What other books are you reading?

Have you had any letter from Johnston yet? He expressed himself to me in terms the most encomiastic about your epistle to him, and promised to write immediately, but he is exceedingly lazy, he is also much occupied, and rather sick.4