The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 25 July 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220725-TC-JAC-01; CL 2:151-154.


3. Moray-street, 25th July 1822.

My dear Jack,

I yesterday found your parcel of speculation lying on the table along with a parcel of more solid materials from Mainhill; and I lose no time in acknowledging your favour, for two reasons. First, because I am solicitous to throw what light I can upon this perplexed business which I have set you a thinking of; and secondly, because having next to no time for answering, on so brief a notice, the letters addressed to me from home, I referred my valued correspondents to you for satisfaction on various points,—to discuss which I hereby warn you to proceed straightway towards Mainhill, where by my notification you will be expected on Saturday.

Since I wrote to you last, and even since I wrote to my Father not many hours ago, there is a kind of change in my situation, which may be worth communicating. I am now engaged with the Bullers, whom I conversed with for a long time yesternight; and I expect, in two weeks at farthest, to have commenced my regular line of proceeding in their family, and so to continue it for one twelvemonth at least. I like the people much; Mrs B. in particular seems one of the most fascinating refined women I have ever seen; nor is the Goodman far behind her in his own particular walk—that of an honest worthy straight-forward English Gentleman—which however is a character that one naturally feels more disposed to value than admire. The terms are the same as were first talked of—or rather nothing at all was said on that subject; with this single difference, that as they have found it quite impossible to get a house large enough for their establishment, it was agreed upon between us, that I should have a lodging of my own to sleep in in the neighbourhood, to which I might retire at nights after passing the day with them. By this arrangement, you see,—in which I found quite as much to attract as repel—you and I shall have the pleasure of living together next winter—which I know will be far from a slight pleasure to either of us. We shall thus enjoy all the benefits of mutual intercourse and fraternal sympathy; we may advise together, learn together, rejoice together, condole together, or do whatever we chuse, in honesty.

Things being so ordered, I can take up the subject of your Medical enterprize with a freer hand and clearer vision. Considering your alacrity in the prospective study of this science, there is hardly any thing but the pressing danger of your being stopped by the res angusta domi,1 which could have made me hesitate in advising you to set your mind towards it forthwith. That danger is now in a great degree withdrawn: knowing your qualities natural and acquired, I can have no doubt about your ability to conquer all the intellectual difficulties of the business, when you have no other to strive with; and therefore I give it as my frank opinion that this profession is the best channel of exertion I can see for you. The question, Where you shall turn this knowledge when acquired to account—is no doubt a natural subject of anxiety; but it ought not by any means to operate as a bar to your attempt. Every department of human live is crowded with aspirants at present—and has always been so I suppose; the medical department is not less crowded than others; but no other that I know of presents so fair a field for adventure. The Physician's scene of action is not confined (like the Lawyer's or the Clergyman's) to this country or to that: it extends over all the inhabited globe; wherever men exist, they are liable to diseases, and ready to reward the person who is able to alleviate them. In Britain at present, there are many modes of turning such knowledge to account besides practising it in a country town: there is the Navy, the Army, India, and a thousand other channels. Nor is it correct to take the riotous apothecaries of Annandale as a specimen of the medical profession in our country towns. I cordially agree with you in utterly rejecting and despising such a life as their's generally is: I had rather be at once and honestly a genuine unpretending Cob[b]ler or street-porter, than combine the character and intellect of a Cob[b]ler with the dress and title of a man of science; to which they generally add the morals and manners of a Bawdyhouse-bully. This will never do; nor need it. There has been a Sydenham, a Mead, a Darwin, a Gregory in Medicine; there still is a Baillie, a Moore,2 and many other persons whose names would do honour to any class of intellectual and moral men: several of these have spent their lives in provincial towns; and depend upon it, there is still enough of good feeling and taste left in the land to secure even in country towns a proper degree of reverence for depth of understanding and nobleness of conduct whenever they are visibly and habitually displayed. In medicine too the fair objects of intellectual competition—which I love to see you aiming it—are more thickly scattered than in almost any other branch of science. The number of living Physicians who display any thing like cultivated or powerful understandings is the most limited imaginable; and the number of objects in their science which call for investigation about the most numerous. So that if a man is ambitious of scientific distinction—here, if he has any claim to seize it, it hangs in larger clusters than almost anywhere else.

All which reasons, my beloved Jack, I would have thee to study and con over and over; and if they weigh in thy immense Tron-beam3 of an understanding,—to determine on combining, this very winter, the study of Anatomy & Chemistry, at all events the latter, with the pursuit of Greek Latin and Natural Philosophy. Write to me forthwith what is thy opinion. For the present, I leave it.

I am just in the act of getting done with that thrice wearisome Legendre. Brewster talks of settling with me for it; otherwise I should very gladly have asked for money, and the more so as I have actually been distitute of that needful commodity for many weeks. The Landlady thinks I am so idle I will not settle with her: she is in easy circumstances, and cares not. I hoped to get home almost directly, yesterday: but I find it cannot be for several weeks at any rate, and then only during a short space. Tell our good Mother that I am going to send her all the linens home for bleaching. The new shirts I would have made with very fine linen necks, if convenient—if not, not. I also want a few neck[c]loths (like the last double ones); for which I desire you to give our Mother whatever money she wants, in my name. Mention to Alick that I meant positively to write him last time—and even to send him a small poem! His post-letter came most acceptably. Give my kind respects to our Cousin Nancy,4 and all the brothers and sisters at Mainhill: I will see them all yet—ere harvest be done.

They need not send me any more boxes at present: but if you can find Schiller's Tragedy of Wilhelm Tell, I wish you would send it up, in the next bundle of clothes. Perhaps it will surprise you to learn that Oliver & Boyd have agreed to go half with me in printing a poetical Translation of this work!5 I have sometimes tried a little jingle last winter, and found it do me no hurt at all. Tell, however, is still in dubio. Write to me very soon. Where is the Targer?6 Good night! Your's always

Thomas Carlyle—