1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 18 September 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240918-TC-JAC-01; CL 3:152-157.


Birmingham, Friday, 18th Septr, 1824—

My dear Jack,

Being all but entirely idle at present, I feel it a privilege rather than a duty to sit down and scribble to you; knowing as I do that while enjoying the enviable pleasure of talking about subjects most interesting to myself, I shall have the farther advantage of willing and sympathizing hearers. Your letter reached me by the double agency of his Majesty's post, and old hook-nosed Barnet (who travels daily to the office, with an immense long-backed collar-less coat of the last age floating out behind him and flapping over his spindle legs, as if he were the fragment of a Jew's clothes-horse); and happy was I to gain by it a confirmation of the good tidings which the Courier had more briefly conveyed on the previous sabbath. I cannot but think how great a mercy it is to me in particular that all my friends are spared around me in the moderate enjoyment of this world's blessings, when any evil, and especially the greatest of all evils that could befal me, the loss of those dearest to me, would be so doubly overwhelming. We are not sufficiently sensible of the kindness that is mingled in the cup of our afflictions. It is not every one that has his parents to care for him, his brothers and sisters to love him: I might have been sicker than I am, and utterly forsaken of friends; alone in a scene of noise and heartless bustle, which even in the fullest health and vigour were a dreary wilderness without affection. Let us be thankful, and love one another, and live in hope!

I trust our Mother is persevering in her ordinary state. You as family physician ought to take some farther charge of regulating her proceedings: I feel convinced that with a little care in the article of diet, she might be put into a better state than she has been in for years. The secret of health with her consists, I am persuaded, in eating little food and that little of the most nutritious quality. You should make her stick to eggs (boiled a minute and a half) with warm diluents, among which good tea of moderate strength with plenty of milk seems to be particularly wholesome and pleasant. I rejoice also to hear that you have procured some wine; a glass of it before dinner is a special thing: a little brandy with about twice its bulk of water is equally effective; and perhaps can oftener be got in a state of purity. Do you attend to all this, Jack; not for our Mother's sake alone, but for our own also, if you needed any farther motive. A man that does not love and reverence his mother must be worse than a wild beast of the forests; and few have such a mother as we to love. Charge her in my name to take every precaution, and to stint herself in no convenience; money will not fail us, and what is it but dross and clay except it serve to benefit those dear to us.

I need not tell you with how much proud approval I hear of your unwearied industry in study. Fear not, you will conquer the golden fleece in due season; honest intellectual labour will meet its reward in all cases, and when coupled with gifts like Tongleg's that reward cannot fail to be splendid. Guard only, for heaven's sake guard against the rock on which I have all but made shipwreck: cast not away your health, desert not the common ways of men. Barring these accidents, which I maintain from stern experience no human energy is able to withstand, I have little apprehension for your destiny. The paths of duplicity, and dissipation, and every shape of vice I know you abhor and will continue to avoid: let your stay be true unassuming charity of spirit with manly worth, and solid fundamental knowledge both general and professional; these as two strong cables stretching fore and aft will keep you riding safely in the rudest gale of life. People at your age have many fears, and you are not without your share of them: but this is as certain as the Gospel that genuine accomplishment and honesty are prized and loudly demanded in all departments of society. When I see the paltry persons that live and reap the honours of the chief posts in the world, I should scorn the thought of flinching from a conflict with them. Medicine especially seems to me as rich and as unoccupied a scene as any, perhaps more so than any. O the inept, inane palabra that I hear and see among even the better sort of Doctors! “Quack, quack, quack!” is but the literal English of nine tenths of what they say. A man like Sydenham, or Mead or Gregory1 would drive ten thousand of them from before him, like chaff, with the breath of his nostrils. Up, Jack! up and be doing what thou canst! In our day I expect to see some marked improvement in this most important of all sciences; especially in the diffusion of it, in the application of it to the common concerns of life, and those dire affections of the mind which have their source in its domain: I expect this confidently from a multitude of indications; and I hope to see a certain small-featured gentleman among the foremost in the race. Arise, daring Tongleg; gird up thy loins, and hasten forward like a strong man with never-wearying speed!

I have asked Badams for your list of books; but tho' he promises every hour, he has not yet contrived to find the necessary leisure. The truth is, I suspect his own reading is not so extensive as he would have it thought: shrewd natural sense coupled with assiduous observation has furnished him, I take it, with most of the skill he has. In dyspepsia he has been his own textbook. He keeps books about him; Sydenham and Mead and Boerhaave2 and so forth; but he never or rarely looks upon them. You will find it your best plan, I imagine, to study the elements of the science in Good and such books as he recommends; and by the time you are thoroughly master of these, you will be at no loss for scope of future effort. Your knowledge of German and French as well as Latin and Greek will be of singular use to you in the pursuit of medicine, as they are essential portions of a good education in all professions. One Book Badams often commends—Philips' translation of the London Pharmacopeia;3 he reckons it the best Materia medica extant: if without a treatise of the subject, you might purchase it; the cost cannot be great.— But independently of Badams' or any one's advice, I see you are at present on the right track. To make a good physician or a good practical professor of any science, a man must in the present age be skilled in general knowledge; and this I rejoice to see you are aware of, and sedulously acting up to. Keep on your course: let medicine be the main beam of the edifice; but neglect not the inferior timbers. Tell me about Stewart and whatever else you are doing. Persist in Homer at the easy rate you mention. To understand two-thirds of Stewart is a fair proportion: Playfair's dissertation is much plainer.4 In the Supplement you will find many able articles on medical and other philosophical subjects which you would do well to read. Go down and loo[k] at the book, a[nd] select for yourself. Tell me how you do: go on, and prosper!

But I must tell you something of myself. Badams and I go on very lovingly toget[her. He] calls me philosopher by way of eminence, and I discuss and overhaul and dissect all manner of subjects with him— A closer acquaintance diminishes the sublimity but scarcely the pleasing quality of his character. A certain tendency to paint en beau [in glowing colors], a sort of gasconading turn in describing his own achievements and purposes is all the fault I can discover in him; his kind-heartedness, his constant activity and good humour are more and more apparent. In spite of all his long-bow propensities (his running away with the harrows as our Father would call it) he is a man of no ordinary powers. Nor has he any particle of dishonesty in his nature, however he may talk: in fact if I admire the man less than I once expected, I like him more. Strange that so many men should say the thing that is not,5 without perceptible temptation! Hundreds do it out of momentary vanity; Frank Dickson and many others: it is the poorest of all possible resources in this world of makeshifts; thou and I will never try it. With regard to health, it often seems to me that I am better than I have been for several years; tho' scarcely a week passes without a relapse for a while into directly the opposite opinion. The truth is, it stands thus: I have been bephysicked and bedrugged; I have swallowed say about two stoup-fulls of castor oil since I came hither; by all which means tho' my carcass is rendered much clearer and purer than it was, the natural functions of the organs are of course still more inert than formerly. Unless I dose myself with that oil of sorrow every fourth day, I cannot get along at all. On the third day I feel almost well; weakish indeed, but quiet and contented; my mind languid but serene. Badams declares that by persisting in my present course, physic will ultimately become superfluous, and I shall be regularly healthy! How this may be I know not: I must even try. I have already gained some knowledge of my disease and also of the plan of treating it. Abstinence and exercise are my recipes: I must persist for a time; if I cannot recover I may at least mitigate my grievances. My resources are more numerous than they have been, and I am free to use them. Am I a man, and can do nothing to ameliorate my destiny? Hang it! I will set up house in the country, and take to gardening and translating before I let it beat me.— Birmingham has not yet tired me, tho' I have few ties upon it; in general I am not unhappy. Of late I have begun to grudge being so long idle. Schiller is almost at a stand: I have been thinking of it, and preparing improvements; but the Taylor creature is slow as a snail. I suspect little will be done till I get to London. There I expected to have been ere now: I saw Irving here; I wrote to him since stating in distant terms a proposal to board with him thro' winter; he has not answered me, but I expect daily that he will. If he consent, I shall go with him and Mrs Strachey to Dover (for thither they talked of going); if not, I think hardly. My better plan will be to go and take lodgings, till this pitiful book is off my hands; and then look about me farther; return to the north or stay in London as I reckon best. In ten days if you do not hear from me before, write again directing hither. Ten days hear you; not a minute longer. Rot this paltry sheet! it is done before I have said one twentieth of my say. I am shamefully in my Father's debt; my next letter I purpose shall be to him. Adieu my own dear Tongleg, and all my kind and beloved Mainhillites every one by name! I am ever your affectionate Brother— T. Carlyle

[In margins:] Now I have spoken of ten days; but recollect I meant the ten days to be counted from this, not above a week, after you hear of the arrangement. Write in a small type, or any type you please, and on any subject. Tell me news of all kinds.

Of Meister I hear little: Boyd has got it stuck into the front of his catalogue (with various eulogies) in the Edinr and Quarterly Reviews; but he says he has still a considerable quantity on hand. I believe pretty firmly that he has cheated me out of 500 copies. Nevertheless I still expect a second edition, tho' when is not so certain. The Opium Eater6 and various small deer are carping at the work; but on the whole the reception has been very far beyond what I anticipated. I have some thoughts of starting with some other of the same class by & by. Goethe has not answered my letter, but I think he will in time[.]

Do you hear of Cron, and if his well-merited preferment is authentic? Where is the Child, and what says he? Tell me George Johnstone Surgeon's address and I will write to him. Does any body know about the Targer?

Tell Alick that I expect to see his hand in the next letter, and also a line from My Mother. My heartfelt love to all—beginning at Mag and ending at Jenny: I often paint them out in my mind, and pray for blessings on them all.

I saw Lichfield yesterday and Dr Sam's [Johnson's] house! I have also seen Warwick and Kenilworth. O for paper!