The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 4 January 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230104-TC-AC-01; CL 2:255-258.


3. Moray-street, 3d [4] Jany, 1823—

My dear Alick,

Your letter could never have come to me at a more convenient time. It is Saturday-night;1 we have till Monday-morning for writing answers; and to-day having been disappointed in getting books, I enjoy abundant leisure. You are therefore to look for a very lengthy epistle.

I rejoice to learn that you are all well;—beginning a new year with reasonable hopes of success for the future, and without remorse for those that are gone by. I agree with you in reckoning it grossly absurd to look upon the flight of time as in any case a matter for riotous rejoicing. The newyearsday is always to me one of the saddest of the twelvemonth. One thinks with pain that so many more days have passed away forever, and been marked by so very small a portion of improvement. Dean Swift used not to make merry but lament, at the return of his birth-day: he always read on such occasions that chapter of Job where it is said “cursed be the day on which it was proclaimed that a man-child was born.”2 The good populace have different views; they shut their eyes upon the staleness the misery and worthlessness of what is gone, they repress all feelings of regret for time misspent and opportunities neglected, they think that “age will supply the deficiencies of youth, and the emptiness of to-day will be made up by the fulness of tomorrow”;3—or rather the pitiful drivellers never think at all, but seize with eagerness any pretext for quaffing “factory whisky” and picking goose-bones, and fiddling and jigging, and snatching a kind of dog's enjoyment for an hour, when it is offered. Much good may it do them!— Perhaps the wretches are in the right after all.

As to this, however, I am little careful to decide: one thing of more immediate importance and connected with the subject I unfortunately know too well; it is the woe which these revelries have wrought myself during the fortnight that is past. There are some Mantua-makers over us that have been keeping their new-year, in such a style as satisfies us very little. I have lost a good deal of sleep with them during the whole of last month, Wilkie has complained &c; but now the matter is come to a head, and this very night they are to be warned by the watchman that unless they go to their beds in future like decent Christians at midnight, the Police will deal with them in the way of censure and poinding of their gear. If this produces no effect, Jack and I are off next week into other lodgings. I hope you have no idea of what it is to hear too well: I do solemnly declare I know of no torment in the late Spanish Inquisition equal to it. As for these unhappy needle-women, I have sometimes thought of late nights how happy it was for myself that I had not unlimited power: if I had, I should have caused a strong north-wind to blow, and carry off the whole sisterhood, into the immeasurable depths of space, with all their shreds and patches, their cambric frills and 'Chapel needles4 and paper patterns, tag, rag and bobtail, once and forever. This would have been wrong: for tho' these midges have got power to vex me for a time, they have a kind of feeling in them I suppose as well as I, and ought not to be punished but in moderation. My sole petition therefore is that they may live out the full measure of their days unscathed by wind or weather,—and that my own mind might never more be degraded by the despicable recollection that they are or have been in the system of the Universe. Peace be with them, till Satteen in his proper time, get power to take them to himself!

Now I suppose my good Alick is getting very melancholy over this; thinks I have been disturbed, harassed, destroyed &c, and am now almost as bad as ever. No such matter, I assure you. I am not harmed a single jot by them—except for the present pains; and to-night, tho' I slept none till after six this morning, I feel nothing ail me at all—or next to nothing. In fact I am gathering strength and health quite steadily; only I require careful treatment; and that (thank God!) it is fully in my power to command. I should not have mentioned this foolish business at all, had it not been that I wanted to prepare you for the possibility of our having changed our abode next time you write. I do not now think it probable that we shall do so: at all events continue to direct hither till you hear.

Now, the deuce is in it, if I have not taken up the whole of this large sheet in talking about matters worse than nothing! If Alick were not a very indulgent character, he would grind his teeth at me and call me a tedious fool. I must do so no more; but turn to say a word of your reading before I close. You do well in default of Charles V, to take up with Rollin.5 He is a fine lively inoffensive body, and will tell you clearly about a thousand interesting things—tho he is very shallow. I advise you to begin with him immediately. Neither should you negleet grammar; it were well to revise Cobbett again, the good [he] has already done you makes me recommend him more. If you had brushed away a few improprieties, [you] will write an excellent letter. I am glad to find that you are in the way of doing this; there is hardly above one misspelt word this time—asshure for assure; and your mode of setting forth things is quite peculiar. You should often write, it improves your hand your style and every thing. I shall be proud of having taught you by and by— But here is “Mother Wilkie” as Graham calls her, with the little wooden tray, and all the tea-tackle! Jack has left me—away to chop Logic in some Society he attends: I must turn to my solitary meal: excuse me “sweet sir” for about ten minutes of time.— Well! here I am again; let us go on with our scribble. I have sent you a little book (or rather mean to send you, for it yet lies beside me, I see) on mensuration,6 which I do not expect you will understand at all in many of its departments; but from which I hope not-withstanding you will be able to derive some information. Look thro' it at your leisure: the preface will direct you how to study it. “What extravagance!” you exclaim. None at all, my dear Fellow; Boyd the fat Bookseller gave it me, and I give it you, and so where is the harm? Jo[h]ns[t]on's letter is already well enough directed “Broughty-ferry, Dundee”: I shall put it into the Post-office to-night. I hear from James that he is getting rather quieter; he has some aims on a school at Cupar in Fife, in which I pray that all success may attend him. He is a good man, tho' luckless. Do you get any tidings of Waugh? Is he still in Annan, and poor Marion7 teakin on a' weenter [complaining all winter: on underscored twice]? Poor little Cooperie! Poor little Willikin! What would I have given to see him squeezing his small bodye thro' the press of the paraphrasing people! Did Dobie8 give no hints about the propriety of not “going on with the work”—unless there were a clearance? “My friends we can't go on!” said he once, and pouted like a little impudent thing: “My Brother we can't go on” say I now, and subscribe myself, My dear Alick,

always most affectionately your's

Thomas Carlyle—

I am sure Alick cannot say but he is dozed9 with letters for once: when will he do as much for me? At his leisure—like a good fellow. I want all his news—told in his own peculiar vein.