The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 11 November 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18231111-TC-JAC-01; CL 2:465-469.


Kinnaird House, 11th November, 1823—

My dear Jack,

I grieve for the disappointment you will meet with to-day; but it will be brief, this letter comes into your hands to-morrow afternoon.1 The delays that have attended it have been various. First was a new arrangement of the Post, whereby he now returns the same day he comes; then was a foolish speculation on the part of Missus,2 whereby your books cannot be sent by the Carrier, and so I could not get the opportunity of a conveyance to Dunkeld yesterday, as you and I too expected. Lastly was my own stupidity; for after meditating long on the propriety of sending you a Bank draft by this Post-man (a person given to whisky and forgetfulness), after deciding in the affirmative, cutting my sheet exactly in the proper shape, and half filling it, there came into my head a plan, whereby all this trouble and hazard might\ be superseded. Whereupon I threw the well-shapen scraps of paper into the fire, and began again upon an unsullied and unmangled sheet. I have lit candles (or rather candle for want of time) and must make all the speed in the world.

You have writen to me very punctually of late, for which I need not say how sincerely I thank you. Go on as you have commenced: let me hear from you regularly and very frequently throughout the winter. I am glad you have decided, or nearly so, on staying with Mrs Robertson. If you can sleep there, the noise thro' the day is of very little moment; and there is no other earthly objection. You have good air, about the best in the old town of Edinr, you are near the College, cheap, and have the best landlady in the parish. So I counsel you to stay—unless these five watchmen, and five hundred dustmen prevent your nightly repose, which I believe they will not. There was one of the public guardians, whose throat I could have cut that night I lay (not slept) in the bed you occupy. He awoke me every half-hour throughout the night; his voice was loud, hideous and ear- and soul-piercing; resembling the voices of ten thousand gib-cats3 all molten into one terrific peal. I would not lodge within a furlong of him for any pay.

As to the classes you have to attend, it is for yourself to judge. If you think this chemistry will be of advantage, any advantage, to your general proficiency, take out the ticket and hear Hope4 again. I have often told you that a few pounds are nothing to your ultimate proficiency in the profession. About the other lectures there can be no hesitation. I have nothing farther to recommend but that you take the thing on you with moderation; not slaying yourself all at once, by yielding to that excess of zeal, to which you as well as I are doomed (for good or evil) to be subject all your days. There is no mystery in becoming a better physician than the common run; but I know your ambition is far higher than this. It is right that you should feel so: I am no prophet if you fail.

For a few days you will feel very lonely and disconsolate. Be of good cheer, Jack! these vapours will pass away very shortly. There is no relief like diligence. Think that we shall all be joined together in mirth and happiness many times and long yet in this world; and that patient steadfastness on the part of every one of us is the only mean[s] of bringing out so delightful a result. I have told you many times it would all be well: I tell you so again; for there is mind in us and honesty and heartiness in the cause; qualities which will conquer every thing, except the loss of life; and without which all accompaniments and means to boot are not worth a stiver. Esperance! Esperance!

You inquire about your general reading; concerning which I regret that I have so little space here for discussing it. There can be no objection to your reading Gibbon, provided you feel spirit enough in you for undertaking at leisure hours so heavy a task as twelve volumes of substantial reading. It is likely to awaken you, read it when you will. History you have heard me say a thousand times is the basis of all true general knowledge; and Gibbon is the most strong-minded of all historians. Perhaps, however, you had better let him be, till summer; for he will require all your thought, and at present you have it not all to spare. General literature, as it is called, seems the best thing for you in winter—amusing, instructive, easy. You know the English classics by name: it is little matter in what order you begin them. Johnston's life of Boerhaave5 you may get; it is, as well as several other lives, the production of his first literary years, therefore slight and trivial, compared with his later performances. But nothing that Samuel wrote is unworthy of perusal: I recommend his works especially to your notice; they are full of wisdom, which is quite a different thing and a far better one than mere knowledge. You will like him better the older you grow. Swift is also a first-rate fellow: his Gulliver, and Tale of a Tub, and many of his smaller pieces are inimitable in their way. Have you read all Shakespeare? Have you read Fielding's novels? they are genuine things; tho' if you were not a decent fellow, I should pause before recommending them, their morality is so loose. Smollett's too are good and bad in a similar style and degree. One of your first leisure afternoons should be devoted to Don Quixote: it is a classic of Europe, one of the finest books in nature. Did you ever see Boswell's life of Johnston? There is a “British Theatre,”6 of which you may read a play or two, whenever you feel in the vein. Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk,7 a worthless book, will give you some idea of the state of literature in Edinr at this time: it was in great vogue three years ago, but is now dead as mutton. Then there are poets new and old; Masons Gray8 (very good and diverting), Prior (not amiss), Pope (eminently good), in short Campbell's specimens of the Brit. Poets9 (which you should read immediately—at least vol. 1.) will give you names enough of this kind: the living names are Byron, Scott (nearly done), Southey, Coleridge (very great but rather mystical, sometimes absurd), Wordsworth (much talked of), Moore's Lallah Rooke, Rogers, Milman &c &c[.] In prose we have Hazzlitt (worth little, tho' clever). [torn] (for history) Washington Irving &c &c[.] Poor Washington is dead three months ago!10 I al[most] shed a tear when I heard it: it was a dream of mine that we two should be friends!— On the subject of these studies I will tell you more when we meet.

About the end of this week you will get a box full of books. Make the bearer of it (and bid Mrs Robertson in case of your absence make him) give you a receipt for whatever money he may charge by way of carriage. The Books are Buller's all but four. You will have to take them to the Library (having first waited on Murray— Baird's Lodgings: 161, Rose-street for a batch of receipts, there lying sealed up for me); to give them in, and get a pound for every one of your receipts: I think there are eleven. This is the cash that shall serve you till I come with plenty. You can take out tickets &c as far as it will go. Your own four books will also come to hand; two Schiller's along with this box (I will also send Irving's orations, and the Lond. Mag. if I can); and two Goethes which I will write to la plus belle des belles [the fairest of the fair]11 to send you without delay. Then you can go forth and prosper. I shall need a cargo of books to take back with me—one or two. When you have got these books of Buller's, and your own, and settled them all—write to me without a moment's delay—sooner if you feel the slightest call; then any way.

When I may see you cannot yet be settled to a day or a week. I shall not start till I am done at least with Part II. of Schiller. I get on with it dreadfully slow: I am now almost half-done with writing it the second time—often harder than the first; some nights I am fitter for the hospital than the writing desk; all nights (and I never get it touched till then) I am sick and stupid and done, as never man was that persisted in such a task. Nevertheless I do persist, and will do while I live. Three months more, and I am out of this poisonous menage! When they go to Cornwall, I am to have a house of my own —if I go! But that is not so sure.— I should think then that it will be the end of this month ere I come; perhaps the beginning of December, if I get on with Part III. Frank Dickson is to meet me; and Sandy will likely see you, for I am going to give him this horse, which is decaying fast (of hunger), and growing doubly useless, the weather being too cold for riding. I purpose being absent about a week: if I am well, I shall go for a day to Haddington to see Mademoiselle's Translation. Your translation, and a new one if possible we shall arrange about then. If there is none to be had never mind; above all rejoice that you have no private teaching: it is a poor craft, among studies like yours. Try if you can speir [seek] me out a quiet sleepingroom—you or Mrs R. I am to be down for good in the End of Feby. Meister will go to press. Adieu my true Jack! Write! I am ever thine,

T. Carlyle.