1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 25 June 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240625-TC-AC-01; CL 3:92-96.


Kew Green, 25th June, 1824—

My dear Alick,

I have just got a frank that will carry any weight, and tho' my time for despatching it is limited, the messenger shall not depart till it holds a little flying notice to my faithful brother. Doubtless you have listened to the narrative of all my adventures communicated in other letters, and are therefore no stranger to my wanderings, to and fro, since I parted with you all that still morning at the end of the Mainhill house, when there was so little lightness of heart to spare in any of us. My history since then has been one restless movement; I have had no leisure to write—scarcely to speak or think. Often have I pictured with astonishment the still life of Mainhill, its quiet scenes and peaceful simple labours, while pressing thro' the chaotic streets of this unspeakable place. It is with the hope of getting news from Mainhill that I now write.

I will not try to describe London—the great desart of Brick. It may be said to extend seven or eight miles every way; there are clusters of streets and houses hanging round it with scarcely any interruption to that distance at least in all directions. The interior consists of streets not broad or very crooked, and not always very narrow, jammed together in such complex and perverse fashions that to pilot your way thro' them is a task of no small magnitude. I regularly lost my way for the first three or four days. In the newer parts of the town, you have roomy squares with trees and grass plots intermingled, which gives an air of freshness very pleasing to the eye. The unbuilt spaces are full of brick kilns; there are some villages in the neighbourhood, where the sulphurous smell of them is very offensive. You may conceive their magnitude & extent when I tell you that London requires to be rebuilt every fifty years. Around the north & west sides (the fashionable quarters) of the town are large parks with the usual ornaments; beyond these the never-ending houses begin again. But far eastward in what is called the City, the oldest part of London, are lanes and dingy alleys the chosen abodes of poverty and vice; where no kindly breeze or sunlight, or the step of any messenger of peace ever penetrates. I saw St Giles's Seven Dials, and Dyott street: it is a city of Cuddy-lanes. There dwell 100 thousand Irishmen, in the lowest state of filth and poverty. Their children were puddling in the gutters, ragged, wild and careless: it made me sad to think that most of them were breeding for the hulks and the gallows! But such is London: you have the highest and the lowest, the happiest and most wretched, both internal and external, all huddled and simmering together in strange contiguity.

Of the buildings I have said enough at present: when I see you I will tell you of Westminster Abbey; and St Pauls, the only edifice that every [ever] struck me with a proper sense of grandeur. I was hurrying along Cheapside into Newgate-street amid a thousand bustling pigmies, and the innumerable jinglings and rollings and crashings of manycoloured labour, when all at once, on passing from the abode of John Gilpin,1 stunned by the tumult of his restless compeers, I looked up from the boiling throng, thro' a little opening at the corner of the street—and there stood Paul's—with its columns and friezes and massy wings of bleached yet unworn stone; with its statues and its graves around it; with its solemn dome four hundred feet above me, and its guilded ball and cross gleaming in the evening sun, piercing up into the heaven thro' the vapours of our earthly home! It was silent as Tadmor of the wilderness:2 gigantic, beautiful, enduring: it seemed to frown with a rebuking pity on the vain scramble which it overlooked: at its feet were tomb-stones, above it was the everlasting sky, within it priests perhaps were chanting hymns; it seemed to transmit with a stern voice the Sounds of Death, Judgement and Eternity thro' all that frivolous and fluctuating city. I saw it oft and from various points and never without new admiration.

Of the people whom I saw I have already said something, and have little space for saying more. Many of them were very kind to me, for Irving's sake; particularly two Hamiltons from Sanquhar3—merchants here, who got my bank bill cashed; took me to tailors and watchmakers, and seemed vexed they could not get more done for me. Allan Cunningham4 and all the other literary people Jack will tell you of. I once or twice saw Thomas Dickson5 from Annan, a precise, decent Small. I got one Beddoms6 a giant (reputed) in chemistry and physic to prescribe for my hea[l]th. He is to come & see me here one of these mornings. He is from Birmingham: the Montagus (of whom the father is mad and the mother very clever & I fear rather rigid & cold) introduced me to him. He says I want only to know how to eat, in order to be well. But the strangest person whom I heard of was—William Bogs of Ecclefechan! The scullion called on Irving one morning when I was out, with a young wife, and told him a thousand lies, about his fortune, his learning, his connexions; bragging that he learned French along with Brother Jack (who was quite wrong, he said, in the pronunciation), that he was a “professor of the belles letters,” &c &c! The abandoned Knave! I told Irving to trust him no hairs breadth beyond his sight; that he was married already, and was the most worthless person in the county he came from. Irving “knew that he was lying and determined to see no more of him.” I could not get the rascal from my thoughts. He has inveigled this silly woman, who seemed to be some shop keeper's daughter, they said; most likely she has a hundred or two of pounds, and the heartless Bigamist is prowling about on the strength of it, seeking whom he may take in! O these scullions are the disgrace of old Scotland; they should be whipped to Botany Bay with the cat o' nine tails at their backs. Do not mind telling that I saw or spoke of this swindler: let him work out his wicked way unmark[ed by] us. There is another sprig of Annandale lying sick at Wapping in London—David Johnston,7 a Doctor once of Hawbank, then of Satur, then of Banks Hill, now of that ilk. He drove himself mad with drinking, and was turned out of Hannay's packet at Falmouth; he still seems to be cracked; he wrote the other day to Edward Irving, requesting in a very crazy style a loan of five pounds to carry him down to Scotland! Irving had no answer to send. Davie's Brother is a gambler here, I understand, who lives by his skill in billiards and cards. What a dainty race of men we are, we men of Annandale!

But I am wasting my time with talking about all this. I have little more than room to beg of you to write as speedily as may be, and send me all your thoughts and purposes. Is Bardolph sold or Fingal? Many a time I have remembered my brave gray steed. Would that I had him here even now! Tell me all that is going on among you and about you, and how it is with every one of you. Present my heart's love to every one by name—to Mag, to Jamie, Mary, Jean and Jenny. Poor things! they are often in my thoughts, and always with the aspect of true affection. I doubt not we shall all do well: I solemnly believe that we shall all be honest men and women, and that is nine tenths of the whole matter.— Did you get Meister, and how do you dislike it? For really it is a most mixed performance, and tho' intellectually good, much of it is morally bad. It is making way here perhaps—but slowly: a second edition seems a dubious matter.8 No difference! I have the produce of the first lying here beside me in hard notes of the Bank of England, and fear no weather. I bought myself a suit of fine clothes—for six pounds; a good watch for six; and these were nearly all my purchases. I am going to London one of these days, to see what I can see; to get books &c &c.

Now let me hear of your farm-taking schemes: if you can fall in with any likely place, do not hesitate to snatch at it: I could still wish to have a place to came to in Scotland, in case my health did not stand this. Write to me largely: my paper is done; and my inward man9 warns me that I must go out and walk. God bless you, my dear Brother! We have stood together long, and will always stand together.— Ever faithfully your's,

Thomas Carlyle