The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 4 December 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18221204-TC-AC-01; CL 2:214-216.


3. Moray-street Wednesday-night [4 December 1822].

My dear Alick,

Jack and I have just been regaling ourselves with your eloquent and amusing letters; after a weary period of suspense, we again have news from Mainhill, and again all is well! Heaven make us thankful for that mercy, and long continue it to us! We shall never fully know how rich and valuable a blessing it is till the time for improving it is gone by. The Earth has nothing half so good upon its face as the affection which friends bear to each other,—those kind feelings those mutual sympathies and encouragements of heart to heart, which give a dignity and sweetness to the humblest lot, and without which the loftiest is but a shining desart. Again I pray that we may be thankful for all this happiness, and ever studious to make the best improvement of it—to increase the comfort of those we love—to requite their kindness by striving to forward their best interests for this world and the next.

You have no need to make apologies about writing: for this time at least you have done your part faithfully. I rejoice to see your mind expanding itself and gathering thoughts and principles so fast. Considering the opportunities you have your progress cannot but be reckoned rapid: it would be surprising were it not a well known fact that an observant mind can never be situated so unfavourably that it will not improve; can inhabit no scene so barren as to yield no profitable information. One's own soul he always carries with him; and this of itself is a world where all that is best worth knowing is to be learned. When I compare the letters you send us now with those you wrote three years ago, I cannot but applaud your diligence, and rejoice at the great accession of ideas, the great increase of power to express them which I notice in your correspondence. Still more do I rejoice to observe the honourable tone of manly independence, unpretending, quiet, inflexible, that pervades your style of thinking. Persevere in this my dear Brother; it is the true and only way to solid dignity of character: “the rank is but the guinea-stamp, the man's the gowd, ”1—and be he rich or poor if sterling he will pass in every market. I need not say how glad I am that you continue reading. It is the best of all possible pastimes; continue in it whenever you have any idle time, it will repay you well—if not in perishable silver and gold—in something which is far better and more enduring.

My only advice farther in regard to your studies, is that when you read you take pains to reflect well also; and that when you write, you be not too careful of what you shall say, but especially in letters put down the thoughts warm and vivid as they present themselves before your fancy. They often gain in vigour what they want in elegance: besides it is good to be uninteresting even stupid sometimes when we address a friend; it is like the water which those smugglers of yours introduce into their ardent spirit, wersh [insipid] in itself and of no avail, but serving excellently well to temper the fiery alcohol with which it is mingled. This is no reason, you say: none certainly—but an illustration of a truth certain enough on other grounds.— For grammar you are well nigh perfect: if in spelling you step aside a thought at times, I impute it more to inattention than want to information; a little while will cure you completely. Be steady only! Persevere! There is not any danger.

I am not surprized that you have not yet got afloat in the way of commerce; all things are icebound there on every hand at present. Keep looking out however, and wherever you can see any glimpses of an opening—have at it! In the meanwhile, I wish you would take that Receipt down to Annan the first time you go, and draw ten pounds for us endorsing the paper in my name “for which this shall be your warrant.”2 There is like to be a deficiency of funds here; and Buller or Brewster who are both my debtors may not pay me for an unknown period. Inclose the ten-pound note in the corner of a letter—cutting out a fit space of paper for it—and send it by the post at your leisure.

We lead a very quiet life at present: no incident breaks the smooth curren[ts] of our history; none meddles with us, we meddle with none— [Jack] is studying bones and the like, I write (nonsense) all the morning, then go and teach from two till six, then come home and read till past eleven, and so the day is done. I still flatter myself, I am improving in health: I do think I shall one day be as sound as steel, after all that's come and gone; and oh! what a merry soul shall I be then! Meanwhile I must study to improve the hour which passes and will never never pass again. I feel happy when I can keep myself busy— which alas! is not by any means always. You shall hear of my scribblings by and by.

The other day I went with Murray to call upon Macculloch the Scotsman. He was sitting like a great polar Bear, chewing and vainly trying to digest the doctrines of Aadam [sic] Smith and Ricardo which he means to vomit forth again next spring in the shape of lectures to the “thinking public” of this city.3 He eyed me with suspicion and distrust; would not come forth into open parley at all. What ailed the great Macculloch I could not tell—did he ever feel fear? or might I be come to spy the nakedness of the land?4 I did not give a rush to know.

Brewster I see frequently and Dr Fleming and Gordon &c. B. is in a law quarrel with Oliver & Boyd about the price of Legendre. How happy that I have neither part nor lot in the matter!

But I must end this flow of talk— Will you write to me largely, along with the Note, or by Geordy if he come sooner? Tell me all the news, important and the contrary—collect them for my sake and record them: I like to hear about the poor bodies around you, more than if they were Squires living elsewhere.— Shaw's shoes are still rather little but I will make them do. Will you pay him for them. What was the price of Robie's5 watch? It is but a moderate time-keeper, but I suppose I have kept it too long for returning it. I wish you would sort with him about it the first time you can— Now write fully about all your plans and projects and transactions.

I am ever My dear Brother, / Most truly your's / T. Carlyle—