The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 13 November 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18221113-TC-AC-01; CL 2:199-202.


3. Moray-street, 13th Novr 1822—

My dear Alick,

I have been guilty of writing you several very meagre and unsatisfactory letters since my arrival; for which I know you have already invented a sufficient excuse in the circumstances under which I usually sit down to correspond with you—the irregularity of our Courier's (or rather Creeper's) movements, and the haste and abstraction of mind which often falls to my lot at the period of his appearance. Such considerations may satisfy you; but to me they are not enough: I am vexed that I do not get more talk with you, and determined to embrace every opportunity of getting all I can. Accordingly I no sooner learned this day that a character whom the Bullers call “uncle Clive”1 and who possesses the valuable faculty of franking letters, was arrived in India-street, than I determined to set apart some portion of the evening to the purpose of scribbling a few lines to you, of telling you more minutely how it fares with myself and asking more pointedly how it fares with you.

“According to this plan, I am therefore in the first place” to set forth in a few words how I stand with regard to the health part of it; a topic which I have at least discussed five hundred times, and never I have reason to be thankful without finding in you a willing and anxious hearer. This time I have good news to give you on that head: For the last few days I have been better on the whole than during a For the last few days I have been better on the whole than during a like space any time these two years. No day passes without its share of pain; but of late the “shares have been diminishing” (Heaven grant the whole firm were broken?); I have written and read and walked and taught with more comfort; the very drugs themselves are used but sparingly. I almost foresee the time when I shall be as sound as you are: but if I lived for a thousand years I should never forget the gloomy purgatory I have passed thro, never cease to think that such a condition of body is the most black and dismal fate that can befal any son of Adam. Our good honest' squire Buller asserts that he has not known any man except a blockhead who would take his life over again if it were offered him; to be born is a misfortune, he says, at all times, and before I live as long, he adds, I shall think so too: yet even he all sable as are his views on that matter admits billusness (so the deathless Pears2 called it) to be the worst of human ills. Long may you and all the rest I love be ignorant of it! I think I could even pity Satteen [Satan] himself—if his stomach were thoroughly disordered.

Jack and I are living in the most commodious manner here. He gets up first in the morning, worries and bustles about till he has got his accoutrements on, and some victual in him, then sallies forth to teach and to be taught, and I see no more of him till six in the evening. He is busied about many things, full of wonder and contentibility, anxious for anatomy and chemical mixtures and the laws of motion. He is also very good natured, and bears wonderfully with me when I grow cross at any time. In short he is a very praiseworthy sloon [lazy person] in all respects as you could wish. There he sits, with his large moon-face right over against me, writing notes and whispering the words before he writes them or chewing his lips the very image of contentment!—there he sits “and a better han' wi' beasts never bowed him.” Duncan Church 3 arrived the other day, and we got him placed under another landlady within a door of us; I have the whole forenoon to myself undisturbed; so that we are altogether very snug.

We had poor James Johnstone with us lately for a day or two, on his road to Broughty-ferry.4 He is a way-worn, jaded, helpless man: at the same time, the most placid and peaceful-hearted honest creature in being. I am truly sorry to see him so forfoughten [worn-out]. In his new place he hopes for better fortune; and as he seems determined to lay aside his wildgoose schemes of emigration, and to persevere in his present calling, I do not at all despair of his success. Few men deserve better to be happy; few men could be made happy at a cheaper rate.

As you have written me so sparingly as yet, you cannot doubt that considerable obscurity hangs over your proceedings since I left you. In fact I want to know a multitude of things connected with your situation; what you are doing, feeling, thinking; if you get any reading accomplished—and what; if you have thought of any merchandize—and how: in short I want to know all the outs and ins of your life since we parted; and I do not think you can do better than describe them to me. One thing I cannot cease to inculcate upon you: it is to improve every spare moment as you have been accustomed, by devoting it to the acquirement of useful knowledge; a plan of proceeding which not only yields the most valuable advantages ultimately, but forms the only method I know of for spending the present hours to ones rational satisfaction. I daresay you have some misgivings and despondent fits in these dark times; but I advise and enjoin you to give no place to such ideas. You are a steady hard intelligent able-bodied little fellow—that can tread the top of the causeway and fear no man; you have people around you to back you out—for are we not all bound together?—what then have you to despond about. These times are ruinous for the farmer and the landlord: but the evil is of a kind that must cure itself in the long run—or sweep the whole community into the gulf with it, and you are among the last likely to be threatened with it. You have nothing to fear: In a very few years I prophecy that we shall see you seated in your own farm, a busy an honest, an unwearied, a successful man, with all the comforts that such a man has good right to look for. Write to me at great length—if not by the Carrier, take the Post: the expense is trifling, and it gives you far next letter shall be addressed. Jack writes with me in his brotherly sentiments. I am always

My dear Alick / Affectionately your's /

T. Carlyle