The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO ROBERT MITCHELL; 2 April 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220402-TC-RM-01; CL 2:76-79.


Edinr, Wilkie's Lodgings, 3. Moray-street, / Leith-Walk, 2nd April 1822.

My dear Mitchell,

I recollect quite distinctly, and have often recollected, that when we parted last in Annandale, I partly promised to write to you about New-Year's-day; and certainly it is clear that without adhering to the O.S.—a calendar exploded half a century ago1—I cannot avoid the mortifying admission that my partial promise, has not been even partially fulfilled. This is an old evil, as you will know; I fear it is almost becoming irremediable now: therefore we shall not dwell upon it; but rather trust to our mutual good nature, a very convenient fund for securing a pardon of all such little peccadilloes; which should not interrupt the course of good fellowship, being in fact quite inseparably attached to all the operations of mortal men, in this their degenerate condition of existence. It is a great truth, which Gibbon sets forth somewhere, that letters are like alms, in one respect; symbols of friendship as alms are of charity; tho' it is well known that the thing signified may exist in great activity, without the symbol, in both cases. At all events, I hope you need no persuasion, that I feel great pleasure always in writing to you; not only as to a man whose talents and principles I respect, but also as to one, with whom some of the most picturesque years of my life are inseparably connected in memory, whose name recalls to me a thousand images of the past a thousand passages and half-forgotten moods of mind, which were not without a degree of pleasure while present, and which distance is every day rendering dearer, and covering with a softer and purer colour. How many sheets have I scrawled to you, how many consultations and merry-makings and loungings have we had together? How many sage purposes and speculations have we formed by each other's counsel,—how contentedly, tho' neither of us knew the right hand from the left! I declare I shall always think of those things with a certain melancholy pleasure; and keep anticipating the nights when we (old grey-heads covered with honour as with years) shall yet sit by each other's hearth, and recount these achievements, and forget, in recollecting them, all the weakness and the weariness and cares and coldness of age.— “Chateauxen Espagne!” [“Castles in Spain”] you say: no matter, they look very hospitable; and one loves to gaze upon them.

But to remove from Spain to Galloway—from the futilious and splendid to the useful and the real— How does the world shew in your new position at Kirkcudbright? I hope and have some reason to believe that every thing is within reasonable limits of your wish: but I naturally long for more specific assurance on the subject. At present I can picture out on the retina of the mind the whole paraphernalia of your establishment; the solid red sandstone pedagogium with its unpretending margin of play-ground now becoming green and cheerful; the noisy population, the constant labour, all the pleasures all the disquietudes within; the snug evening party of worthy burghers and sons & daughters of burghers, at which you are occasionally to be seen, relaxing your overwrought and active mind; the habitual studies which more frequently serve to occupy or tire you; all this I can body forth in the imagination, but I desire not the less to have a true delineation of it, and how it affects you. Nay if you will not describe it pointedly, there is some danger lest I make an invasion on your premises in process of time; being naturally of a wandering disposition, and by no means disinclined to repeat my visit to the Shire. One thing I am sure of and congratulate you upon: it is the advantage you possess over me, in having a fixed object in life, a kind of chart of the course you are to follow, and the opportunity not only of enjoying all the pleasures which this affords in the mean time, but likewise of increasing your experience and thus at once by the power of habit & of new skill in discharging your duties—increasing and accumulating more and more your means of happiness and usefulness. Here is an immense blessing in your lot; I advise you (for too good reasons) to beware of letting it go. None but a wandering restless pilgrim, who has travelled long and advanced little, anxious to proceed on his destined journey, but perpetually missing or changing his path—can tell you how fine a thing it is to have a beaten turnpike for your accom[m]odation. Better to keep it, almost however miry or rugged, than to spring the hedge, and so loose yourself among footpaths—thaas koind o' foot-pads [pads underscored twice]!

You perceive I am here sketching a feeble emblem of my own walk and conversation. I am not in the whining mood, however. Still there is hope of my getting thro' the wilderness, and reaching the promised la[nd], tho' doubtless if this be Pisgah, the weather must be dim, and clouds are over the country. To speak without metaphor—I am now in much better heart than I was when we saw each other last. My health is far superior; and tho' I am yet far enough from having to complain of that excess in wellbeing which used so much to incommode the great Cardan2 in his studies; my nerves are in the way of improvement, and I entertain a kind of expectation of being at length delivered from that first and greatest that sum total of all worldly tortures, the torture of dyspepsia. I admire no man for enduring the rack or the wheel for smiling at oppression and the threats of pain and ruin: let him try a course of that genial liquid, bile; and see if he can keep his temper. My own private idea is, that, not even Satan, the prince of Stoics, could bear it without wincing. Sed hactenus haec [But enough of this].3 I am thinking to give up the “fugitive” mode of Authorship, and become a writer in earnest—if I can manage it. There is a kind of Family-tutorship, which I have in prospect, and am engaged with till August at all events, that promises to afford me the means of thinking and composing with less distraction than I have long had within my reach. The people are not come from London yet (where Edwd Irving introduced my name to them); and the whole matter is uncertain till then; but the boys (at present boarded in Dr Flemings and taught by me) are very fine creatures; and the terms they propose are liberal—£200 a-year, with superior accom[m]odation. I have small relish for tutorships: and so have not staked any considerable portion of my prospects upon this chance; but I think it may be ultimately advantageous—if suitable; and in the mean-time I study to be prepared for either issue. I have literary projects; but they are still in embryo.

Thus, my dear Mitchell, have I filled you a sheet with various stuff, relating to myself and you; heedless of the lapse of hours tho' the clock has warned me twice since I began—the last being the briefest of warnings—that of the “wee short hour ayont the twal'.”4 I beg you to answer me when you can snatch a minute. For the present I bid you adieu—being always,

Your old and faithful friend, /

Thos Carlyle—

My best compliments to Mr Church, if ever you see him.