1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 8 January 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250108-TC-AC-01; CL 3:240-243.


London, 8th January, 1825—

My dear Alick,

Your letter came to me the day before Christmas; it is time that it were answered. I am much obliged to you for your punctuality; a virtue which in my situation, I am called upon to rival or even to surpass. I have no news for you; only harmless chat; but that, and the assurance that there is no bad news will repay you for the charge of postage. The creature M'Diarmid1 after frightening our Mother has almost begun to frighten me. His tidings of maladies and deaths in your quarter wear an alarming aspect: I long to be assured that those dear to me continue to be mercifully spared from such visitations. You will not fail to write the very first moment you can spare.

Every thing goes on with me here very much as it was doing when I wrote last. My health is not worse, nor do my spirits fail. I feel determined to regain a sound state of body, at whatever cost; to remodel my whole manner of proceeding, and at length to begin living as a reasonable man in my circumstances ought. There is no want of resources in my fortune: it only behoves me to apply them wisely, and resolutely to abide by my determinations with regard to them. I think I have well nigh decided on returning to Scotland, when this Book is off my hands. This tumultuous capital is not the place for one like me. The very expense of it were almost enough to drive me out of it: I cannot live in the simplest style under about two guineas a week; a sum that would suffice to keep a decent roof of my own above me in my Fatherland. Besides I ought to settle somewhere, and get a home and neighbourhood among my fellow creatures. Now this London, to my mind, is not a flattering scene for such an enterprise. One hates, for one thing, to be a foreigner anywhere; and this after all that can be said about it, is the case with every Scotchman in this city. They live as aliens here, unrooted in the soil; without political, religious, or even much social, interest in the community; distinctly feeling every day that with them it is money only that can “make the mare to go.” Hence Cash! cash! cash! is the everlasting cry of their souls. They are consequently very “hard characters”; they believe in nothing but their ledgers; their precept is like that of Iago. “Put money in your purse”;2 or as he of Burnfoot3 more emphatically expressed it, “Now Jock! Get Siller; honestly, if thou can; but ony way, get it!” I should like but indifferently to be ranked among them; for my sentiments and theirs are not at all germane. The first improvement they make upon themselves in the South is to acquire the habit of sneering at their honest old country; vending many stale jokes about its poverty, and the happiness of travelling with one's face towards the sun. This is a “damnable” heresy, as honest Allan Cunningham called it. I have no patience with the leaden-hearted dogs. Often when appealed to that I might confirm such shallow sarcasms, I have risen in my wrath, and branded them with my bitterest contempt— But here they are staple speculation with our degenerate compatriots. Bull [underscored twice] himself, again, tho' a frank, beef-loving, joyous kind of person, is excessively stupid: take him out of the sphere of the five senses, and he gazes with a vacant astonishment, wondering “what the devil the fellow can mean.” This is comparatively the state of all ranks, so far as I have seen them, from the highest to the lowest; but especially of the latter. Of these it is unspeakably so! Yesterday I went to see Newgate, under the auspices of the benevolent Mrs Fry,4 a Quaker lady who every Friday goes on her errand of mercy to inspect the condition of the female prisoners. She, this good Quakeress, is as much like an angel of Peace as any person I ever saw: she read a chapter, and expounded it, to the most degraded audience of the universe, in a style of beautiful simplicity which I shall not soon forget. But oh! the male felons! The two hundred polluted wretches, thro' whose stalls and yards I was next carried! There were they of all climates and kinds, the Jew the Turk the ‘Christian’; from the grey villain of sixty to the blackguard boy of eight! Nor was it their depravity that struck me, so much as their debasement. Most of them actually looked like animals; you could see no traces of a soul (not even of a bad one) in their gloating, callous, sensual countenances; they had never thought at all, they had only eaten and drunk and made merry. I have seen as wicked people in the north; but it was another and far less abominable sort of wickedness. A Scotch blackguard is very generally a thinking reasoning person; some theory and principle of life, a Satanic philosophy, beams from every feature of his rugged scowling countenance. Not so here. The sharpness of these people was the cunning of a fox, their stubbornness was the sullen gloom of a mastiff. Newgate holds, I believe, within its walls, more human baseness than any other spot in the Creation.

But why do I write of it or aught connected with it, since in a few weeks I hope to tell you every thing by word of mouth? We are on the fifteenth sheet of Schiller; six more will set us thro' it. The moment it is finished, I purpose to decamp. I have given the creatures four weeks (they engage for three) to settle every thing: I should not be surprised if you met me at the Candlemas Fair on the plain stones of Dumfries! Soon after the beginning of February I do expect to see old, meagre, but true-hearted Annandale again. No doubt, you will have the wark-gear afoot, that is, the pony in riding order, and every thing in readiness for me. When arrived, my purposes are various, and inviting tho' unsettled. I have written to Edinburgh about a projected Translation of Schiller's Works; Brewster sends me word that Blackwood (the bookseller) “has no doubt he will be able to engage with me, in Schiller (which, however, he does not seem to relish) or in some other literary object.” Blackwood, I believe, is but a knave; and I put no faith in him. Nay since I began to write this sentence, I have a letter from the scoundrel Boyd “respectfully declining” to engage in that speculation of Schiller!5 So that I rather suppose it must be renounced. No matter! There are plenty more, where it came from! I am bent on farming, for the recovery of my health; nay “Marriage” itself is sometimes not out of my ulterior contemplations! But I will explain all things when we meet.

The Bullers are living at Shooters' Hill: their boys are not prospering u[nder the] present arrangement. Thro' Mrs Strachey, they made me a kind of offer about taking [Arth]ur under my management here, and letting him live with me, at the rate of £200 a-year, till next october. This I “respectfully declined”; the board alone of the boy would be £150; and £200 more were but a reasonable compensation for the trouble of him. If they choose to send him with me into Scotland at the rate of £300 per annum, I may listen to their proposal: but this I hardly expect; nor do I greatly care about it.

But the day is breaking up into fair sunshine; and I must out to take the benefit of it. Let me have a letter from you, a long one, and a good one like the last, by the very earliest opportunity. Thank my kind true Mother for her note: tell her it will not be long till I answer all her queries by word of mouth. In the mean time, I have a message for her, which I know will please her well, because it is to do something for me. Badams prescribes warmth above all things: he made me wear close stocking (flannel or rather woolen) drawers even in summer. My Mother once offered to get Peter Little to work me such a pair: tell her that now if she has any wool, I will take them. If she has not, she need never mind in the least: we can settle it—when—we meet!— Do you regularly hear of Jack? He is a letter in my debt for ten days. But I hope the good soul is well. Does he send you the Examiner? Has he written you a translation of Goethe's letter to me? I was very glad to hear from the old blade, in so kind tho' so brief a fashion. I mean to send him a copy of Schiller's Life, so soon as it is ready.

Now, my dear Boy, I must take my flight. I have purchased me a small seal and the Carlyles' crest with Humilitate and all the rest of it are engraving on it. The thing lies at present in Oxford-street, and was to be ready about this time to-day. I am going thither: if I get it, I will seal this letter with it, for your edification. Write directly, and tell me all; the progress of the Gheen6 and every thing notable, in and about Mainhill. The smallest incident from that quarter recorded in your pithy style is valuable to me.

Irving and I are as friendly as ever. He is toiling in the midst of many difficulties and tasks, internal and external, domestic and ecclesiastic. I wish him well thro' them! He is the best man I have met in England. But here as I told him lately he has no home; he is a ‘missionary’ rather than a pastor.— My Father has never written to me: I should like much to see his hand in London. Give my warmest love to him and Mother, and all the brethren & sisters, beginning with Mag and ending with Jenny. Write soon good Alick! I am ever your true Brother,

T. Carlyle—