The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 18 November 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18221118-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:204-210.


3. Moray-street, 18th November 1822—

My dear Friend,

If instead of deriving so much pure enjoyment from our intercourse, I had spent long years of toil and difficulty in your service, the sentiments expressed in your last letter would be an abundant recompense. I am more than flattered by what you say to me: if I could fairly merit the continuance of such feelings, there are few men I should have cause to envy. The irreparable loss you have sustained is but too well known to me; I had heard of the virtues and talents of your Father long before I dreamed that you and I should ever be acquainted; the sad and speechless affection with which you cherished his memory was the first feature of your character that struck me; no lovelier one shall I ever discover there. If it were possible that any exertions of mine could never so remotely contribute to perfect what he had so nobly commenced, I should regard our meeting as a blessed incident whatever might betide; I should feel as if this restless, fluctuating, and at times too painful life had not been given me all in vain. As it is,—with me far more than you the day when we first saw each other must be forever memorable. I as little think of classing it among the ordinary dates of my history, as I do of classing you among the ordinary mortals who have happened to become known to me. Such beings I had thought of, perhaps hoped to find; but it was long—very long ago. You speak of advantages and obligations: if I might tell you all, you would see a very different state of matters. If I might paint to you how wasted and woe-begone I was—a prey to black inquietudes which had me sick of existence itself and reckless of aught good or evil that it had to offer me,—when I saw you, like an inhabitant of some more blessed sphere as I almost believed you, descend upon my desolate and dreary path which was fast going down, to the gates of Death,—and call me back to light, and life, and hopes more glorious than I had ever dared to form; if— But I must not go on with this: you would laugh at me as a crack-brained enthusiast, or we should have some furious quarrel on the subject which might last for three months to come. It is enough that I am very happy with you: God grant it may always be so!

Your last letter shews more plainly than ever that except in the pursuit of literature there is no peace for you in this world. Your tastes, your passions are all getting concentrated upon this object: it is the “radiant orb” as Nelson expressed it,1 which will urge you on through every difficulty, and reward you with its splendour at last. I rejoice at your feeling thus. None but a very young or a very stupid person can exist at all without some determinate purpose to fill up the mind; and of all the purposes which engage mortals in this busy Earth I know none so praiseworthy as this. How much more noble is it to obey the impulse of such a generous ambition, wherever it may lead, than to toil and jostle for wealth or worldly precedence, which even when they are gained are but the symbols of dignity and are often worn by the basest of mankind! Here, on the other hand, is a free and independent scene of effort, where no low artifice no pitiful humiliation of the mind can be of any use, where all that is worthiest in our nature finds ample scope, where success is in our own hands, and each addition to our knowledge each improvement in our sentiments is a genuine treasure which the world can neither give nor take away.

My advice to you therefore is not that you should relax in your exertions, or check your ardour—this were to sin against both your permanent interests and your present comfort; —but rather that you should regulate your efforts so that in the end the total result of them may be the greatest possible. Zeal you have in abundance, and talents which when I consider your past opportunities often strike me with wonder; the only thing you want, and it forms a fatal drawback, is the humble but indispensable quality of regularity. If you will only engage to form some settled plan of distributing your time, and to adhere to it with unrelenting integrity for half a year, I prophecy that before the end of that period, the beauty of order will have acquired such charms in your eyes that you will never again deviate from its dictates; and this being given, I take all the rest upon myself: If my own Scholar do not become one of the ornaments of her age and country, I am content to forfeit all my critical reputation forever.

Nothing accordingly could give me greater pleasure or better hopes than to find you already sensible of these preliminaries, and already firmly bent on conforming to them. I rejoice that you have commenced seriously to study history; and the best wish I can form for your real progress is that you may persist without flinching. Chance has directed you well: Rollin is as good a book as any other to begin with. Then you may have Gillies’ or Mitford's Greece2 and Fergusson's Rome,3 then Gibbon; and you are well equipt for attacking the moderns. You need not take any thought about procuring these works: I can send them all out to you without the slightest difficulty. Why did you not apply to me at once? Does it not furnish me with an excuse for scribbling these long sheets to you, and compel you to talk with me in return? You also do well to take notes—tho' not too largely from so shallow a personage as M. Rollin. Have you got any ancient maps? or a Lempriere's classical dictionary? Tell me pointedly. Geography and chronology have been justly named the two windows of history; they are in fact the two first requisites in the study of it—nothing of themselves, but, combined with other advantages, of essential value. I know not whether I have done well to interrupt the steady progress of your reading, by the perusal of this Bossuet's Histoire Universelle:4 you can try a little of it, and if you do not relish it, throw it by. In about two days you may read all in it that [is] worth reading: for I advise you totally to pass over all that he says or sings about the Jews and the Church and the prophecies—it is well for the bishop of Meaux,5 but too old by a century for us. When you have fully surveyed this sketch of the whole field of history, then return to fill it up gradually—to study your Rollin with might and main.

These other four hours for languages &c I am apprehensive will not answer: it is too much for you; more than you can give, more than you need give. I meant that four hours should serve for all; six hours I consider as the very maximum. You observe I did not include in this allotment the time you may spend in reading novels, poetry &c; these are amusements and may be followed or suspended as inclination prompts: I stipulated only for a certain portion of your day to be religiously devoted to laborious study, that you should work with all your heart during four hours, and consider a neglect of your appointment as a violation of duty. If you have two hours more which you can give to German Latin Italian, so much the better, they may occupy your evenings usefully; but depend upon it two hours are abundantly enough. You laugh at me when I talk of health: my dearest friend, it is a sad and serious truth: I verily believe I should run mad if I knew you to be in such a state as excess of confinement and mental exertion will reduce any one to. I once thought like you that I had a frame of iron: I was mistaken there. No! six hours are all that I can possibly grant you; four are all that I require; and I answer for the result.

Now you must take all this into your serious consideration; lay down some scheme of distributing your time, not more liberal than you can conveniently adhere to; and above all, persist in it inflexibly. Tell me what arrangement you have entered into, that I may have before me a full picture of your usual life, that I may praise you if I find that you continue constant, or scold you for negligence as vehemently as you have often scolded me. I pity you with Tacitus; you should not toil too much over the cramp passages of it: mark them all and we will sit in judgement over them next time we meet. Do the same with Wallenstein; which by the way it is not in the least surprising that you cannot read, the first part of it being about as difficult as any German I ever saw. What remains however is much easier as well as more interesting. If you do not like the heroic Max Piccolomini and that angel Thekla, 6 I shall never forgive you. Wallenstein himself is one of the most gigantic, calm, imposing characters to be found in tragedy. Rosamunda I have not seen: but Buller is to begin Italian in spring, when I must go over all those things in earnest. Have you any dictionary but Graglia's?7

I am charmed to find you so zealous in the cause of the “heroine.” I have been revolving the subject myself; and I am almost determined to begin! I do think sometimes that we two could write a very moderate novel: and then to come forth together—to mingle our ideas—to be as one in that matter!—the very thought is delightful. But oh! the vis inertiae [power of slothfulness] that is in me! I am miserable till I commence something; yet commence I cannot. Was there ever such a fool! But it is needless to talk. It must be now or never. My business is arranged at present so that I do not see the Bullers till two o'clock, and have done with them before tea; I am at liberty all the morning, in better health than I have been for two years; in short if I do not now at least try to effect something, I deserve to pine in cold obstruction all my days.8 Will you collect all your ideas on the matter—think seriously of it—not as a chimera but as a thing actually to be done; and then listen to what I shall propose next time I write. I shall either have abandoned the project altogether, or have some definite plan to communicate for your inspection and cooperation. Perhaps I shall have actually begun. “Begin then!” you say: well, who knows but it were best to dash at once into the subject without farther parley, and leave the rest to Providence? Rusticus expectat dum defluat amnis &c [The rustic waits till the river flows past (i.e., runs dry)]9—but it will never, never flow away.

Since I wrote last there was a man, whom I knew here,10 sent me advice to become a candidate for a Professorship of Mathematics in the R. M. College at Sandhurst in Surr[e]y, which he seems to be of opinion I might easily secure. The emolument he says is £200 per an., with a good house and garden; there are two vacations of seven weeks each in the year, and (proh pudor [for shame]!) “liberal allowances for coals and candles[.]” I do not think I have almost any chance to go. However I wrote again to make farther inquiries.— The fat Bookseller is laid upon the shelf, I think—at least for a time.

Thus, my dear friend, do I keep prating without stint about all my wiseacre devices, and most prosaic concerns. You are too kind, to listen to me so patiently. I have only farther to ask that you would write to me with as much minuteness and as little care. Next to the pleasure of seeing you daily is that of inspecting those delightful little pictures you can give so easily of your daily history. I am angry with that large woman, tho' I might have predicted as much: she must just be left to her fate “in her own humble way” since she will have it so; she will not I fear even get a governess from you. I admire the dexterity with which you can adapt yourself to circumstances; it was exceedingly ingenious in you to become the “dashing thoughtless good-natured blockhead of a girl” you talk of: I can easily believe the character would take; no wonder it took. I also admire the Captain's notions of a “blue-stocking.” What a royal world this would be, if it were full of Spaldings! No sentiments more pathetic than those of hunger and thirst—no wish but for bank-notes and “accomplishments”—the malady of thought forever gone! After all it is pity that the lady is not [una]mbitious as she is fat. Some of these fat people are excelle[nt crea]tur[es;] they are like cushions on which the restless souls of us lean [carewor]n wights delight to take repose. I know a person about five feet in diameter, his face “round as the shield of my fathers” and of the hue of copper, was never wrinkled with a frown; he loves not, hates not, thinks not, but like some great culinary sun he moves about diffusing images of snugness peace and warm substantial cheer on every side: he is now gone down into a Kirk, and I never think of his absence but with something like regret.

Is it not very wrong in you to disturb the repose of Faust? Was he not “quietly inurn'd”11 many months ago, beneath a load of rubbish huge as the ruins of Nineveh, and of the same material—solid clay? Yet I have sent him; for it is written: Women will have their way. I read it over with much astonishment yesterday. Much good may it do you!

On observing what liberties you had taken with my Pindarics, I strove as much as possible to get into a violent indignation against you—but could not succeed. I have nothing in the shape of verse to send you this time; but prose as you perceive in abundance. Here however I must end; even your patience has a limit. I will write more briefly in future. Good night my dear friend! I long to hear from you about all that concerns you; being ever,

Most affectionately Yours, /

Thomas Carlyle—

I have examined the paper on the “Fine Arts”; but as I know not any thing of painting, and only saw Mr W's pictures for about three minutes, all that I can say is that the letter appears to be smartly written: perhaps the author is a little too ambitious of making beautiful sentences; he seems to know more about chiaro-scuro, tints, body-colours &c than the art of composition.

I had a fragment of the “True-Briton” newspaper—containing a criticism on Edwd Irving,12 who is making an immense figure in London—which I meant to send you; but Brother Jack in his zeal against waste-paper burnt it yesterday. I was in a passion with the poor fellow—or nearly so, and very undeservedly. He is one of the most honest souls in being. I envy him his zeal for Medicine & Science.