The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 4 March 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230304-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:298-300.


3. Moray-street, 4th March, 1823.

My dear Friend,

I have scarcely a moment of time at present; yet it seems wrong to let these books lie waiting another day; so I must write to you under whatever disadvantages. The Milliners are settled with, the Mustard [underscored twice] is ready; and the sooner you are done with my dulness, the better.

I am glad that you have found so innocent a pastime as the fostering of a genius. Your Knight of Industry appears in truth to be somewhat of a singular character; but I demur as to the conclusion you have arrived at respecting him. In my time I have fallen in with several such personnages, youths that hated labour, made models of ships, drew pictures, and loved to read ballads and penny-histories; but they all enlisted to be soldiers or marines, or eloped with mountebanks, or became pick-pockets or candle-snuffers in strolling companies of players, and were all shot or hanged or starved to death when their hour came; not one of them turned out a genius. This is hard measure, but so goes the world. I hope better things, however, of this poor boy; and I love you for taking any thought about his fortunes. If some house- or sign-painter would accept of him for an apprentice, the luckless might earn himself a subsistence in the mean time, might gradually acquire habits of regular industry, and by and by, if he have any talents, rise into some more respectable department of the pictorial art. I am really partly sorry for the poor boy.

This contretems of Mr Aiken's is particularly provoking. I called at his shop on Saturday, and made a large snuffy lout of a person, who seemed to be his factotum, go and rummage all the premises for the book,1 as if I had been going to buy it; but tho' this gentleman “perfectly recollected the publication,” and engaged to find it for me in five minutes—he did not keep his word. The Work he brought down from the upper story was not Mad. Necker's Memoirs of Mad. de Stael, but Mad. de Staels' Memoirs of M. Necker.2 He finished by declaring that the Book was not in Town.— What is to be done now? I have been trying to invent something suitable for you; but nothing can I think of, that I could describe here, or that (I fear) you would not receive with a huff if I could. There are Essays and so forth that I might speak of, but all of them have more or fewer drawbacks; and I imagine it will be better for us to postpone the consideration of the business entirely till your arrival in Edinr, when all the pros and cons of it may be discussed so much more conveniently. I am really vexed that you are not going forward with any composition: the art of giving out ideas is about as essential and certainly more laborious than that of gathering them in. We must really make an effort to remedy this deficiency, and that as early as possible. In the mean time do not disturb yourself about it; go on with your Gibbon and your other studies calmly and diligently, and assure yourself that if not in the best of all modes, your employment is in the next to the best. I do trust you will not grow idle or irregular again; there is nothing satisfactory to be accomplished by you if you do; every thing if you avoid doing it. You must make another effort upon Götz: it is hardest at the first[.] This Goethe has as much in him as any ten of them:3 he is not a mere bacchanalian rhymester, cursing and foaming and laying about him as if he had breathed a gallon of nitrous oxide, or pouring forth his most inane philosophy and most maudlin sorrow in strains that “split the ears of the groundlings”;4 but a man of true culture and universal genius, not less distinguished for the extent of his knowledge and the profoundness of his ideas and the variety of his feelings, than for the vivid and graceful energy, the inventive and deeply meditative sagacity, the skill to temper enthusiasm with judgement, which he shews in exhibiting them. Wordsworth and Byron! They are as the Christian Ensign and Captain Bobadil5 before the Duke of Marlboro!. You must go on with Götz: it will serve you to read while here, if it do not better. I wish it would.

There is no Tale here then? Alas! no! Man is not master of his destiny: I was just commencing a most elaborate performance, when a second Epistle of Irving gave quite a new direction to my thoughts. He had been speaking with Taylor of the London Magazine;6 and was then full of a project that I should begin publishing in detail by that channel, a work I was speaking about last summer, a kind of picture-gallery of literary great men, arranged under their proper classes, and bedizened with all the ornaments that my poor pallet could afford them. I have sent him to inquire more minutely; and it seems likely the thing will take effect: I am to commence with Schiller. Heaven grant I were commenced! Idle I am the most miserable wretch on the face of the Earth, and my present circumstances make it difficult to work as I should. I am going to be in a dreadful toss, if the business proceed; yet I wish it may. Meantime I am reading Grubers Wieland:7 he is about equal to Doctor Joralic8 our worthy friend; a more learned man, but at bottom another of the same.—

Now do you not see the Ides of March are come and gone, and the weather is getting very tolerable. Why do you not come then? I beg of you to set out without loss of time; and let me see your sweet face and hear your wicked tongue again. We really should see one another oftener: in a year or so, I shall be gone Heaven known whither; you will be wedded to some gallant 'Squire; and “we shall go on our ways and see each other no more.” Deus avertat [God prevent it]!—

T. Carlyle.

Write soon, or I shall lose patience;
Come soon, or ditto—infallibly