The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JAMES JOHNSTON; 24 November 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18221124-TC-JJ-01; CL 2:210-212.


3. Moray-street, 24th Novr 1822—

My dear Johnston,

I find you are again at your old tricks, forgetting the promises which your friends extort from you at parting, and careless of satisfying the anxieties they feel on your account. With great justice I might give you a severe rating on that score; but being an old sinner myself, and well aware of the excuses you have to plead both outward and inward, I adopt the milder expedient of believing merely that you are too indolent or too much occupied, have too many things to say or too little time to bring them into form; and I have taken up the pen at present not to write a sentence of condemnation against you but to deal with you (as the Kirk-sessions have it) in the way of Christian reproof and admonition, trusting that you may still be brought to a sense of your duty by conciliatory methods, and become a faithful correspondent after all. In sober truth, my dear friend, I have nothing whatever to say to you on this occassion except that we are longing to hear news of your situation; and nothing to do except to beg that you will lose no time in satisfying that anxiety. Write whenever you can bring your mind to it.

Meanwhile, in the absence of all official communications, allow me to hope that matters have turned out as prosperously as you had reason to expect; that you are beginning to overcome some of the difficulties of your commencement, and to taste some of the pleasures and benefits which this undertaking will yield in more and more abundance as you persist in it; that in short you are getting under way—clearing the bar at the pier-head as it were—and likely to make a good voyage of it in time. It were of course worse than useless, in me ignorant as I am of all things connected with the subject to attempt speculating on the capabilities of the situation or advising you how to turn them to advantage: I wait for farther information, before I form much less deliver any opinion as to those points; but there is one particular on which I cannot avoid expressing a hope that you still abide by your original determination—I mean the propriety of persevering whatever aspect matters have at first, of rather struggling with the most ungainly obstacles than again committing yourself to the guidance of fickle chance, and flying as you and I have both been to[o] much of late, a prey to every turn in the eddies of this world's fitful current, as powerless over your own destiny as a wreck without sails, oars or rudder. You are too learned in vicissitudes not to know that much of what is disagreeable in such a case as the present, is disagreeable merely because it is new; that habit the great smoothener of existence will not only soften down your pains but enable you find pleasure in many things that you at first regarded with indifference or even with repulsion. This is poor preaching; but it proceeds from a true concern in your welfare; as well as from a clear persuasion of what will most contribute to it. If Broughty-ferry is not worse than I anticipate and if you consent to do your best in it, I have no fear whatever of your complete success. Your happiness appears to me to be founded on the most rational and modest views of things; you have in you the power of earning a full gratification of more than you have yet seriously wished; do yourself but justice, and I warrant the result.1

This sheet is fading rapidly, and you no whit the wiser. Before it quite evanish, I shall have room however to tell you all our news; which in fact consist in nothing more than that we have none to tell. Living remote from the bustle of this busy Earth, walking daily along the skirt of our City and rejoicing that I have not to enter it farther, the noise of its operations reaches me but [faintly] or hardly reaches me at all; and what little I do hear is not [of the] kind to make me anxious for investigating them more minutely. The world is going on just as it has been since the subsiding of the deluge, just as it will do till the general conflagration; men cheating and being cheated, hoping and being disappointed, struggling in their thousand modes to conquer the unconquerable difficulties of their fate, and finding their slender but only sure reward in the very attempt to conquer them. In fact it is a very prosaic world; the forms of actions vary, but their substance is in all ages the same; and for a man of ordinary penetration after five and twenty there is nothing new under the sun. Happy the dunce who forms no general propositions, who institutes no comparisons, to whom in consequence all things to the end of time will wear the charms of novelty, and supply a fund of interesting contemplation! Happy too the man who seeks successfully to gild the inanity of this world's movements by interest for the friends whose comfort is involved in them! The eye is sated with seeing, the head with thinking; but not the heart with feeling those honest sentiments of mutual kindness which form at last the only balm of life. Adieu my dear Johnstone! I am very billus [underscored twice], but ever your's sincerely

Th: Carlyle—

Are you to be free at Christmas? If so let us see you. Write soon and tell us all—all— How many scholars you have got? how many friends, what sort of lodging—what kind of scene it is—what kind of life you lead—what &c &c &c. Jack presents his best compliments—is over head and ears in medicine, and seems happy. Duncan Church we have established in the same stair: he is doing well.