The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 24 June 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230624-TC-JAC-01; CL 2:382-386.


Kinnaird House, 24th June, 1823—

My dear Jack,

I was more obliged to you than would be readily believed for the letter1 I got to-day. Well it was for both of us, that it came so in the nick of time. Wearied out with repeated disappointments, chagrined above all that the newspaper even the newspaper came not on the day appointed, I sat down last night and penned a large epistle one half of which consisted of complaints and invocations, and entreaties that you would write to me, tho' the worst news in the world, without the loss of another second. There is no end to the tricks of imagination: I knew it to be nonsense in my head, yet could not persuade my heart that all was well with you. Sickness or impending ruin to some of those so dear to me would at times scarcely have appeared surprising tidings: I could not keep my thoughts in the sunshine do what I would; I reckoned myself undoubtedly among the “childring of misfortune.” All this would ere now have been travelling towards you, as fast as sixteen legs could bear it, had not your letter come in time. Never be so tedious again my kind calligrapher: good luck has saved you this time; the obnoxious letter has been sentenced to the flames for once; but do not hope that fortune will always favour you so highly. Recollect your promise to write once a fortnight, and see that you keep it to the very letter. It is with the hope of hearing from you within that period that I am scribbling at present: see you disappoint me not!

With such wan and haggard harbingers, which it scattered as the rear of darkness2 by the Sun, Jack's honest gawsie [large] letter did not fail to get a warm reception. Delivered from imaginary panics, I farther enjoyed the solid satisfaction which the detail of his unassuming patience and praiseworthy conduct naturally afforded me. Really, my good Jack, you are a very decent and sponsible man. Often in winter, when Satanas in the shape of bile was heavy on me, I have said cruel things to thee, and bitterly tho' vainly do I recollect them: yet at bottom I hope you have never doubted that I loved you and was satisfied sometimes proud of your conduct. There is no thing in the world more interesting than the sight of a poor youth destitute of common claims to respect, yet smit with the love of knowledge, and pressing forward in spite of every difficulty to attain it. There are few passions in our nature which when strong do not become respectable: but this in itself is among the noblest: well for him in whom it has the rule! Therefore, Jack, I am every way pleased to find that you persist with so much industry, in your multifarious studies and employments. Relax not, my gallant fellow, betide what may: the full reward may be distant, but you ought to think it sure. In the shape of plenty and every species of respect, it cannot fail, with your advantages if wisely husbanded, to meet you at last. In those days many things will happen, much will be said and done, which I may not speak of now. Jack with his house and fit appurtenances, his medical and philosophic fame; and I to say: this strong-built gentleman is of my training! These are dreams, in which I rock myself at times; and I trust them to you, having full confidence in your discretion, which I know a little well-earned praise will not seduce from its post. Whatever men may say or sing to you, your first care will be to qualify yourself, sedulously as if you were an utter dunce, for earning an honourable livelihood; and along with this to unfold the faculties of your mind whether they be great or small. The two pursuits are abundantly compatible in your case: of this I entertain no particle of doubt; nor will you, two years hence. I have repeatedly summed up your pros and cons, and the former greatly prevail. I tell you there is no danger: you will ultimately look down on the highest point of what you now look up to. Therefore be of good cheer, Jack; and fear no weather!

I am glad to learn that Buffon excites you: it is what I anticipated. Read him well.3 Your account of Locke is also perfectly correct: he will furnish you with matter for many and profound reflections. The pious Eneas4 never understood half a chapter of him, and may easily miss ever doing so. Locke requires to be thought and pondered over: as good to sleep or chew the cud, as merely read him. For the rest, do not vex yourself about his secondary qualities. I meditated now and then for three years on that subject, before I could attach even half an idea to the words. Nor was my half idea of any value when I had it: Locke is now generally admitted to have involved the affair of colour in needless mysteries by the use of mere phrases that astonish in the dark, but in the light are changed as from formidable spectres into gate-posts and bushes of broom.— You cannot better recreate and improve yourself at once than by reading Shakespear, or any of the classics of English literature. Stick also to the German and Greek, not neglecting the medical latin. Your translations, which I see are prospering, may well lie till I come down: I have hopes of seeing you, before the task can be finished.

My own life is much idler than yours: but it is far from uncomfortable, and that in my state is much. Tell our kind-hearted mother that I have a fire every night, and all things that I want supplied to me abundantly. My health is certainly improving: to-day is about the best day I have had; and certainly I have not been so well for twelve-months. On the whole I sleep very decently; what in winter I should have called excellently. By care and good treatment I shall yet be well as ever I was. The last five years will live in my remembrance to all Eternity!

We have no incidents in our menage. Buller fishes and rides and eschews heart[y talk;] the Lady saunters about on the back of a grey stalking pony, and fights against en[nui] as fiercely as she can. Both are uniformly civil, even kind, to me. We have got two visitors from the south with us at present; Anna Pole and Reginald Pole5 her brother: but they produce no change in our mode of life. The lady is fully arrived at the years of discretion, at least if these are under thirty; she is good-humoured, understands all cookery from the mixing of water gruel up to the composition of the choicest curry; she has a cornelian necklace, and kind blue eyes, and a bit nimble-gawn [nimble-going] tongue. Reginald has been at Oxford—studying the nature of horses. Philosophy is all a hum—but the short back and the shoulder and the hands of height and the price and the speed—these are the points for a future parson of the English Church. He often reminds me of Esbie;6 but he is less in stature than Esbie (less than five statutefeet); less in conceitedness; and if possible less in general knowledge and useful talent. Both are pleasant people to sip a morsel of dishwater tea beside, one evening in the week; and that is all I have to do with them. My own boys in general behave admirably well to me; and not very ill to themselves

I read a little, for diversion chiefly; and translate a little a very little of von Goethe. I never was so idle: but the recovery of health is at last come to seem the most important of all earthly considerations to me; and at present I make it my chief concern—that is so far as I have any real concern at all. Under this fierce climate and among these beautiful scenes, I am at no loss to pass my time with profit to my body if not my mind. I wander by the copses on the shores of the Tay, or stroll over these black interminable solitary moors behind the mountain tops, and meditate on many foolish things. One of my chief desiderata at present is a horse. A thousand times have I repented that I did not take Alick's with me. Tell him strictly not to part with it till he see me. I can find none here that will answer; and no saddle is to be had under the price of a head man “three pounds.” The night before last I dismissed a poney that I had on trial: it was dear and unruly. I now think of putting off as I am till August; and then buying Alick's black, with some secondhand saddle—which I wish Alick would try to spier out [inquire] for me. Does the boy go on with his grammar? Tell him I can well excuse his silence; but long greatly for his vigorous tho' rugged letter. He is a true fellow, and will do exploits yet in his own career. How is it with our Mother and Father? I intended writing to my Father, but had begun to you before I was aware. Be kind to our Mother, Jack; she well deserves it at our hands. If there is aught that I can do for her, you will oblige me truly by mentioning it. Write within ten days after this arrives; yourself, unless you can persuade Alick or some of them to take a hand along with you. Write all your Thun und Lassen [doings], not minding what or how. My kindest love to all the childer. Be a diligent and sturdy-minded Pan: love me constantly, and believe that I so love you.

Th: Carlyle.

I heard from Johns[t]on the other day. He is finally broken with the Erskines, and talks of leaving Broughty-ferry: I mean to advise him not to do so. Poor Tom Carruthers, poor Nicol!7 I knew them both