The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 20 March 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220320-TC-MAC-01; CL 2:65-67.


3. Moray-street, Wednesday [20 March 1822].

My dear Mother,

I have seldom perused so small a piece of paper with so much pleasure, as I received from your affectionate and canty [cheerful] epistle which I found enclosed within Sandy's to-day.1 I have taken a sheet of considerable dimensions, with the purpose of filling it to the very brim, by way of answer to your kind and anxious interrogatories. The dinner is done; and I have still an hour and a half before me.

To begin with the most important topic, that of health, I am happy to be able to quiet your cares on this head. My outward frame is very much improved in strength since I saw you; and tho' still at a goodly distance from the point of perfection, yet as it is pretty constantly in the way of progress thither, I ought to be and am contented with it on the whole. The value of health is a thing often talked of, but without any definite meaning, except in the minds of such as know the want of it. I could not have believed till last year that it was in the power of mere physical pain to render a man so thoroughly miserable and weak-minded. Thank heaven! the case is mended now: I can look back on that sorrowful period with feelings of gratitude for the favourable change in my circumstances; and perhaps the occur[r]ence of such a doleful scene in one's history is not without important uses. It ought at least to make one satisfied with almost any lot, into which soundness of body and peace of conscience enter as ingredients.— This wicked stomach of mine is not yet reconciled to its destiny: it keeps up an almost constant supply of uneasiness less or more; and will not work at all without drugs: but that horrible nervousness is about entirely gone; I can listen to little noises, and even want a night's sleep without much inconvenience. In proccess of time—for youth is still on my side—I expect to be altogether whole. I have already made no small progress: last year the scratching of a mouse in my chamber would in sober truth have given me more torture than smashing me with a cudgel would give me now.

My employments go on smoothly. The Bullers are on the whole very superior boys: if I were constantly beside them, I apprehend they might be made a good concern. I do not go near them on Sabbath-days, sometimes not even on Saturdays. They go with their people to hear Dr Fleming preach in Lady Yester's Church:2 I sometimes sit under the ministration of Andrew Thomson,3 sometimes of one Gordon (a Nithsdale man,4 who is making a noise here at present), sometimes of the good old serious Dr Macrie.5 I saw Andrew Thomson lately at his own house, whither I had gone to get a small parcel of Irving's. Andrew and I had some conversation; but we admired each other not immensely. He invited me cordially to go back, however; perhaps I may venture again, for I reckon him a good tho' somewhat nearsighted man. Gordon I am invited to see also if I like.

Edwd Irving and Willm Graham left me about the time Johnstone came home. The excellent Graham having taken my stomach-disorders into his most serious consideration, slipped out one night, and bespoke a magnificent coffee-pot with a solid supply of best St Domingo, and to my no small surprise produced the whole apparatus next morning at breakfast. Tea he said was enough to murder a Turk; good brown was the stuff for a man. Whereupon he proceeded to instruct me in the mystery of coffee-making; how I was to lay a good hummock-full of the ground material upon a drainer which extends across the top of the pot; then to clap a sort of additional tin-cann above this; and forthwith to fill it with boiling water, which oozes thro' the drainer, and in about ten minutes makes you the most royal coffee in the world. Poor Mrs Wilkie gets me a pennyworth of cream every morning, and I breakfast on this rare beverage. I often wish you were beside me to get a draught of it, & give me your cheerful, frolick, motherly conversation along with it.— In the evening, I usually take tea with the Boys at Dr Flemings, our lessons being hardly done, at that time. The old Doctor and I have very pretty little chit-chats about many things. He is a fine old man, very kindly in his sentiments, and with manners as smooth as silk. It is [with] the aid of these manners rather than of his respectable talen[ts] that he has slowly risen from being the son of an innkeeper in the edge [of] Perthshire, gradually to be a minister in Edinr. His wife is as good an old matron as you would wish to see; scarcely ever speaks, but with the intent of promoting some one's comfort.— Before nine o'clock, I have generally returned home, to read or write or do what I will. The walking to and from—up at 10½ down about 1 o'clock, and again up about half past six—gives me exercise enough: and I have still considerable time at my own disposal. Soon we are thinking to change the first hour of meeting into 8 in the morning, and have the whole matter over at an earlier part of the day. I am anxious about this: for I begin to feel more and more the necessity of setting seriously about writing a book. In general I am quite unhappy on this score: but I hope I shall at last fix on something, and then set to it like fire to tow.

Thus, my dear Mother, have I sketched out to you a picture of my customary life, with a minuteness, which I know will not be tedious to you, and which as addressed to a mother has given no little pleasure to myself. It is pity that you cannot write me as fully in return; but I live in hope of seeing you face to face sometime ere winter, and talking over every thing as formerly. In the mean time, if there is any thing that I can do for you, it will be a real kindness to let me know it. Tell me truly, do you get tea and other things as you wish? I am not afraid of poverty for a long time now: and I do not think there is a more luxurious way of spending money, than in making those we love comfortable with it. I do not want any shirts or such things at present: but if I go into this Family, I will let you know in time. I have now filled my sheet up to the brim as I promised: I therefore take my leave with every good wish for one whose happiness is so valuable to me; being always, My dear Mother, Your affectionate son, Thomas Carlyle

I think Cowper's letters6 are quite excellent. I wish you may like the poetry as well.