The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 19 May 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220519-TC-JAC-01; CL 2:110-112.


3. Moray-street, 19th May 1822.

My dear Jack,

I was hindered from writing to you last night, by the most ignoble of all causes, the presence of that small pragmatical Jurist,1 whose visits to me—happily of rare occurrence—seldom yield the same degree of satisfaction to both parties concerned. I cannot altogether dislike the poor wight, for he is not without many goodish qualities, and aims after better things than the mere practitionery of Law: I only regret that he should select me for his Mentor, especially when actually enduring the operation of so much speculation upon ephemeralities—so feeble and so fearfully compensating its shallowness by its breadth. He does not afflict me, however, above once a week or so; being chained to his desk in general, or doing the errands of his petty-fogging Principal in the mighty deep of Attorneyship here; a task of which himself even seems to feel very heartily sick. I wish the boy no harm at all.

Your paper came duly to hand. I thank you for the anxious punctuality you have shewn; and I am happy, on looking over the article,2 to find that you have acquitted yourself so manfully; happy both for your sake, to see you possessed and going on to acquire so steady a knowledge of the English tounge and the art of composition,—and for my own sake, to find the manuscript so well fitted for going directly to the Press. You need not be in such a quandary about the remainder: it will be here in time enough I daresay by the way of Guyon's conveyance, that is, if it be here against the middle of this week; or it might come by the packet of the Commercial Bank, which leaves Annan every Wednesday: at any rate do not send it by the Mail unless I write for it expressly; the hash Piper3 & his fellow “proprietors” Benson & other sinners of the Earth, should not have the power, more frequently than needs must be, of charging such good fellows as we, at the rate of 3/ for carrying two sheets of paper. At present, I am a pretty way ahead of the “Devil,” and shall keep so if Heaven will. I am already half thro' the sixth Book.

As for the Trigonometry, begin it when you like; I shall take your assistance joyfully,—tho' I again insist that you do not let it vex you over much, or consume your time too greatly. I am so kept with the thing, that no help will give me the faculty of serious study or any kind of permanent composition, till it be done: therefore it is not fit that you should throw good diligence after bad—in labour which can at best be little more than intermission to me, not rest—if it indeed do any thing but encourage my indolence, already more than sufficiently abundant.

You have not written me any long or full account of your walk & conversation, for a long while. See you try this soon. I care not what you write to me, so there be enough of it: but I want to have all your small passages, your goings out & comings in—a sort of miniature picture of your whole mind & of the scenery in which it dwells & acts & suffers. Sit down to this work sometime, when you feel it will be more a relaxation than a task; & jot down every thing worthy or unworthy of recording, that you feel any care about.

My own condition is mending very greatly, on the whole: I have not had such a measure of health & spirits for three years as I enjoy at present. It was the very making or rather saving of me that I came down here to live; no mortal but a nervous dyspeptic wretch can tell what heaven it is to escape from the tumult & stench & smoke & squalor of a City out into the pure ether and the blue sky, with green fields under your very window & bushy trees in the distance, and little noise but the gambols of happy children, the peaceful labours of spadesmen & the voice of singing birds. I sit down to my desk or my book, with the windows pulled down & up—the fresh young air of May around, all Nature seeming to awake like Beauty from her couch; and my very heart is glad sometimes that I am delivered so as even partially to enjoy this pure & simple pleasure. I go down & bathe every morning before breakfast, when I can effect it; which has been once daily for the last three days, the distance not being above a mile, and the water clear as glass. This I find to be a most excellent practice. Yesterday I fell in with Waugh on the beach, his broad fat face appearing among the Newhaven fishing-craft, just as I emerged. (I should have said I did not get down yesterday till noon). Waugh had been calling for me, & missing his purpose, had advanced to the farend. I proposed going home directly: but Waugh fixed his eye on a monstrous Meerswine (porpoise, or purpose as they call it) which some fishers had just flayed; and being smit with the lust of knowledge, he insisted on dissecting the carcase to discover its anatomical structure. It would have made the weeping Philosopher4 himself smile to see Waugh gutting this monster of the Deep—up to the elbows almost in gore & filth, descrying with a rapturous shout the various mid-riffs & puddings and cats-collops of its bestial belly—stretching its guts along the gravel & measuring their length with a measuring-reed (made of sea-tangle—one of the small-guts of the beast was like a short days journey in length—some where about sixty feet if I recollect)—the whole of this amid a crowd of brown fishermen, idle serving maids & scrubby boys, who eyed Waugh with astonishment & awe, and stood waiting till he would extract the oil or ambergris or balm or precious stone, for which they thought sure he must be digging so painfully. I tired of it, or he would have struck upon a young shark also, which attracted his attention, by similar allurement. Waugh is the placidest man on Earth for certain: at the instant when he was gutting this shapeless husk of stinking flesh, I believe he could not have commanded sixpence any where in Nature. Yet he minds not, living on Hope.

The Bullers & I go on very well together: they are really good creatures and pleasant to be near, tho' they do not stick to their learning as I could wish. I have never yet calculated on the absolute certainty of my engaging in their family. I can do it or not do it, as occasion serves; which is the fine way to be in. If this stomach-disorder (“the baddest disorder that follows the Kyercage [carcass]” as an old blind Irishman called it yesterday) will but be kind enough to take its leave; then basta [enough]!—I care not for any man or thing!—

Send my love to Mainhill, when you have a chance; I long for the Carrier that I may get eggs and cakes. Tell them to send my jane5 trowsers & as many cotton socks as they can raise—if any. Will you or Alick also write to Shaw of Dumfries for another pair of shoes exactly like the last pair, or just one hairsbreadth longer? He may send them out to Ecclefechan at his leisure; from whence they may find their way hither. I have detained you long Jack & must now withdraw. I am glad our Mother's bonnet fits, I need not bid you be kind to her by every way you can.

I am always, / Your affectionate Brother, /

Thomas Carlyle.