The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JAMES JOHNSTON; 20 December 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18231220-TC-JJ-01; CL 2:487-490.


Kinnaird House, 20th December, 1823—

My dear Johnston,

If you ever think of me at all, you must have formed some strange conjectures lately about my walk and conversation. I should have written to you several weeks ago. Doubtless, however, you are now too old a correspondent to think such occurrences miraculous; or even to impute my silence to any blameable feeling,—unless in a cynical mood you include among the list of crimes that amiable habit of indolence and ennui and dulness, which circumstances like mine are apt enough to engender. The truth is since I parted with you, I have been very much baited by sickness and business and stupidity; I have often thought of you, tho' till now I have never been able to muster the little particle of resolution necessary for writing you a letter.

Perhaps I should hardly have ventured even now had it not been for anxiety to learn how it fares with you in your new situation. I need not say that I felt gratified at hearing of your settlement, so respectable and so opportune: I trust it more than realizes all your hopes. These I can gather from your letter were not of the most sanguine kind; indeed it is easy to perceive that such a place is not formed to content you: nevertheless it is a city of refuge in the mean while; you may save a few pounds in it; and be constantly on the outlook for some better and more permanent engagement, which you will then be in a case to undertake under far better auspices. I have no shadow of doubt that you will ultimately, and that ere long, be provided for according to your wish. The proportion between your qualities and your hopes assures me of this. You are gathering experience and getting knowledge and making friends. Did Irving ever write to you? He had some notable project in his head about setting you into some school at Haddington; which I had little faith in. Of course he will not have written: he writes to none. Tell me, by the first opportunity, how all things are going with you in the General's.1 Stupid boys are a dreadful curse; and foolish mothers often make it worse: there is no remedy but patience—the moral panacea, patience; let things take their train without struggling too fiercely against them, you will find it best. There is a text, not quite scriptural, but which suits you exactly in its purport. A minister in the Middlebie pulpit was attempting to preach upon these words: “He that is unholy, let him be unholy still.” The poor man as you know perhaps could do nothing but repeat and rerepeat the verse, He that is un&c, having totally forgotten the beginning of his sermon. An upland Proprietor listened to him with increasing impatience reiterating the words; till at length another he that is unholy drove the worthy Laird out of all composure; he started up, squeezed on his hat, and stalked gruffly along the passage muttering: “He that is a confounded Jackass let him be a Jackass still”!— There is much truth in that prayer, much good sense.2

I have been in Edinr, since I saw you: I returned from it only ten days ago. The increasing pressure of Dyspepsia and discontent were afflicting me to such a degree that I came to the resolution of giving up my situation here, of retiring into Annandale and trying for six months by all means under heaven if health of body could not be regained: in the affirmative case, I should be the happiest man alive; in the negative, it was but to go distracted and take a dose of arsenic and so be done with it. The people of the house advised me that it would be better to consult a Doctor; they seemed also to think it would be using them rather scurvily if I went away at this season. I accordingly delivered my introductory letter to George Bell,3 who examined me and prescribed to me secundum artem [according to his art]. He has given me mercury and solemnly commanded me to abstain from tobacco in all its shapes. Snuff he says is as pernicious as any other way of it. Do you mark that Master Brook?4 I have tasted no morsel of the weed for nearly three weeks. On the whole I cannot say that I am perceptibly better; [yet] I have returned hither, to stay with the worthy people till the end of February, when they leave the place for Edinr, and thence for London. Whether I shall accompany them must depend on the state of my “outward fellow,” and several other circumstances. In the mean time I exercise no small philosophy. The aspect of things is dreary and dull; it is all one can do at present to keep from dying of the spleen. These wild moors are white as Millers; the roads are ancle-deep with half-melted snow; the very Celts are going about with livid noses and a drop at the end—the picture of cold and destitution. I read nonsensical books and talk insipidities and walk to and fro with a great coat, galoches and a huge hairy-cap. I ought likewise to be busy: but Satan is in me; I cannot work a stroke. The second Part of Schiller is printed, yet I cannot for my heart begin the third. This will never do.

Brother Sandy was in Edinr, meeting me to take down the horse. He had little that was new to report from Annandale: Parliament Geordy5 he met a[s] he was returning in a sleety day beside Tweedshaws. Parliament was flying to [the] North to avoid the destroying Angel, the Constable snatching at him for debt. It is some [scheme?], I understand, in which he had engaged himself for Calvert and a number of others joined in a sort of copartnery for borrowing money from the Bank. Calvert is now in Annan jail. I am sorry for Parliament; tho' he is a littleworth. How would you or I do if we could no longer keep the crown of the causeway? Let us never complain. Jack had a letter from you, which he meditates answering: he is at present staying with Duncan Church; their address is Mrs Robertson's, 35. Bristo-street. They are diligently studying medicine, and reading poetry and general literature. Duncan poor fellow was not well—troubled with that infernal business, diseased digestion. If ever I get rich I will institute a hospital for cacochymous [cacochymic] patients specially: there shall be nurses and leeches to watch over them for twelve months each; after which, if no cure appear, there shall be a fund of Prussic acid, and other necessaries to put them out of pain. I found a letter lying for me at Edinr from Kirkchrist: they asked very kindly after you. There was also a short and shallow epistle from Mitchell, who seems to be going on in the usual mediocre style, smothering a fair allowance of uneasiness and discontent under the dictates of worldly wisdom sanctioned by a decent modicum of every day enjoyment. Mitchell has no warm heart; otherwise he is a worthy man.

The “Literary news” of Edinr were of very small account. Blackwood's Magazine is said to be going down; the sale is lessening I hear; and certainly the contents are growing more and more insipid. I hope yet to see it dead: it is a disgrace to the age and country. Talent joined with moral baseness is at all times painful to contemplate. The New Edinr Review, Waugh's6 is with the spirits of its Fathers! They gave it up last number: so perish all Queen Commonsense's enemies! There is a phrenological Journal—a journal of Spürzheim's scull doctrine:7 Error and stupidity are infinite in their varieties, eternal in duration. I wish you would write to me as soon as possible, and try to predict when we shall meet. It is mournful to think how few friends one has. I am always your's

Thomas Carlyle—