The Collected Letters, Volume 25


TC TO C. G. DUFFY ; 15 September 1850; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18500915-TC-CGD-01; CL 25: 214-217


Scotsbrig, Ecclefechan, N.B. 15 Septr 1850—

Dear Duffy,

I am very glad to have a word from you again. I ran into South Wales, directly after writing to you; and there lay in the utmost attainable inaction, for three weeks; after which, nearly other three weeks ago, I came over hither to my Scottish Birthland, where your Letter soon found me,—where I have been ever since, endeavouring with all my might to keep free of every botheration (a difficult problem in this world!) and to continue doing absolutely nothing. I do not even speak, unless it cannot be helped. Amid these old scenes of infancy, which have grown so supranatural to me, peopled with mere ghosts and inarticulate memories, I find silent occupation enough! One is much called to sink silent, at intervals, in this Babel of a world; and let the turbid elements settle into sediment a little. Could I abolish grouse-shooting; and doom all the washed classes to sit as I am now doing, for a month each year, what immeasurable quantities of manure should I precipitate out of every mind, and out of the poor world's business, by that act alone!

The Nation comes to me, round by London, on Tuesdays; everything Irish has got a new impressiveness since I saw the poor old Land with my eyes. Depend upon it, I have by no means forgotten poor old Ireland, nor the people that dwell there. A strange ragged still beauty is in my Memory of Ireland; a country bare and waste and poor, but noble nevertheless: poor souls, how kind and patient all the people too were with me, and “never minded” my sulky humours! From no human soul in Ireland that I can bethink me of did I get one uncivil word or look. “A kind of noblemen thrown into the poorhouse” (by whisky, and other sins and misfortunes): really this is in some sort the definition of poor Ireland;—shall get out of the poorhouse, and cast away the sins and whiskies yet, if it please Heaven! I have told certain proud Yankees on occasion: “Well, you have many dollars, immensities of bacon, molasses, and such like; but there never yet was a soul of you that could bring a Coolun1 out of it, much less teach Europe Christianity in old days:—be patient with poor old Ireland, I tell you!”— Ireland it is to be hoped, will learn wisdom by experience at last; learn to know a lie from a truth, a little, when it hears it; and no more expend its breath and hope upon “Mullaghmast Caps,”2 and the like Dom-daniel3 ware (authentic produce of the Devil, however fine it look). Ireland will cease to be a lie to itself, and gradually become a truth; every Irishman that does not lie to himself is helping her towards that!

You never did a wiser thing than that of excluding Stump-oratory from the Tenant-League;4 I duly noticed that fact, with glad hope, at the time. And on the whole I continue to say your prest “Agitation” looks more like doing work than any I have ever seen in Ireland. But the work, alas, is immense; and God only knows when or how it will be got done! “Rent by a valuation” is not intrinsically so unfeasible, nay so unusual,—witness the old Usury Laws, only abolished in these years;—but it is utterly at variance with all the free-trade, laissez-faire and other strongest practical tendencies of this poor time; and, tho' said tendencies appear to me mostly mean and wooden and ninetenths untrue; yet it is precisely the true tenth that rules at present. In fact, to succeed altogether, you must have—a New Era, no less! Nay I cannot but perceive that “fixity of tenure,” with such a set of tenants as you now have in Ireland, wd never do, tho' you even could get it;—that in fact, independently of all obstacles on the Landlord's, Parliament's and official sides of the question, there is a total unpreparedness on the part of the population. “More ado than a dish to wash,” as the Proverb says,5 before you attain this same New Era of Justice on the Land Question! Nevertheless, I must say always, Pause not; use all your courage, all your wisdom, in continually advancing! You will do good in every way, if you advance wisely; every step you secure is a laying bare of new intolerable abuses; a bringing of the Grand Problem (in all its figures, moral, political, social, not agricultural alone, and not Irish alone) nearer to the thots, to the practical necessities, of all men, and thus nearer to its only possibility of solution. Like other such problems it will be solved, by slow degrees (I suppose), so soon as all men feel that they cannot live without solving it,—not much sooner, I doubt.

One thing, it strikes me, will become in the course of your struggle much more apparent than it now is: The necessity of “regimenting of Paupers,” in which I see clearly, and nowhere else at all, the beginning of new government, and the means of transition towards that, for the afflicted world in this epoch.6 Suppose every Irish “free” tiller of the Earth, so soon as he declared himself a “free” beggar, in need of Indian meal from his poor brothers,—fell at once into the hands of an agricultural Sir Duncan Macgregor, and became a “well-commanded” tiller of the soil, doing his feat as your green Police do theirs; and not only relieving all men from the burden of him, but gallantly exterminating bogs, and approving himself a blessing to the Earth and to all men: I leave you to compute a little what boundless relief to all interests whatsoever wd lie there;—free space granted to laissez-faire, and all extant principles of proceeding to try themselves agt the fact, and run their very utmost without shackles on their feet: if they proved equal to the Problem of the 19th Centy, well and good; if (as I see to be inevitable) they proved unequal, at least they (what was good in them) wd be able to last longer, and to see their successors ready before departure hence.— These things, I fancy, will gradually come athwart you, these and so many others of the like genus, either in this or some other form of the “Tenant Agitation”; and whatever real work you do in that, is done for behoof of those also,—which lie so far away from the general thot at prest, but will become if I mistake not very familiar to it by and by!

Lucas, I do believe, is capital in his present place; give him my compliments and true good wishes for that and all other real service to Ireland that may lie in him. When he took to Catholicism first (which seemed to me so distracted an operation), and I heard what he had to say about Irish Tenants and Landlords,—I could not help recognising the finger of Heaven in his change of religion.

No Irish “List of good Members,” nor indeed of English, has fallen in my way: they are a dreadfully scarce commodity, I imagine! Nevertheless you must seek for them, as for the vital air of your undertaking. The more honestly you seek, the better is your chance both of finding what is, and of calling forth a set far worthier to be found, in time coming.— — And so, Good speed to you, in this and in all honourable courses; and adieu for the present. With kind remembrances to Mrs Duffy and Mrs Callan,—Yours ever truly

T. Carlyle