1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 22 January 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250122-TC-JAC-01; CL 3:259-263.


Pentonville, 22nd January, 1825—

My dear Jack,

In a paper which would reach thee yesterday, I promised to write, whenever that Life of Schiller was off my hands; an event which I expected would take place this present Saturday. A man may speculate about his own capacities of action; but woe to him if his calculations include the indolence and capricious mischances of others. Two sheets of this poor book are still to print; and I do not hope to be rid of it for another week. On the whole it is going to be a very pitiful but yet not utterly worthless thing; a volume of 350 pages with portrait, extracts, &c; not well printed, worse written, yet on the whole containing nothing that I did not reckon true, and wanting nothing which my scanty and forlorn circumstances allowed me to give it. So I “commit it silently” either to “everlasting Time,” or everlasting oblivion; caring no jot about what the despicable gang of newspaper and magazine critics say of it, or whether they speak of it at all. I do find there is nothing but this for it: Convince yourself that your work is what you call it, as nearly as your honest powers could make it; and the man who censures it, either tells you nothing that you did not know before, or tells you lies; both of which sorts of intelligence you will find it a very simple matter to light your pipe with. There was a luckless wight of an Opium-eater [underscored twice] here, one Dequincey, for instance, who wrote a very vulgar and brutish Review of Meister in the London Magazine:1 I read three pages of it one sick day at Birmingham; and said: “Here is a man who writes of things which he does not rightly understand; I see clean over the top of him, and his vulgar spite, and his common-place philosophy; and I will away and have a ride on (Badams') Taffy, and leave him to cry in the ears of the simple.” So I went out, and had my ride accordingly; and if Dequincey, poor little fellow, made any thing by his review, he can put it in his waistcoat pocket, and thank the god Mercurius. A counter-criticism of Meister (or something like one) is to appear in the February No.2 I believe: to this also I hope I shall present the same tolerant spirit. The ‘reviews’ of that book Meister must not go without their effect on me: I know it and believe it and feel it to be a book containing traces of a higher far higher spirit, altogether more genius than any book published in my day: and yet to see the Cockney animalcules rendering an account of it! praising it, or blaming it! sitting in judgement on Goethe with the light tolerance of a country Justice towards a suspected Poacher! As the child says: “It was grend!”

With regard to my own movements after the conclusion of this most small of literary labours, there is yet nothing fixed determinately. That I shall return to Scotland pretty soon is I think the only point entirely decided. Here there is nothing adequate to induce my continuance. The people are stupid, and noisy; and I live at the easy rate of five-and-forty shillings per week! I say the people are stupid, not altogether unadvisedly; in point either of intellectual or moral culture, they are some degrees below even the inhabitants of the “Modern Athens.” I have met no man of a true head and heart among them. Coleridge is a mass of richest spices, putrified into a dunghill: I never hear him tawlk, without feeling ready to worship him and toss him in a blanket. Thomas Campbell is an Edinburgh small, made still smaller by growth in a foreign soil. Irving is enveloped with delusions and difficulties; wending somewhat down-hill, to what depth I know not; and scarcely ever to be seen without a host of the most stolid of all his Majesty's Christian people, sitting round him. I wonder often that he does not buy himself a tar-barrel, and once for all fairly light it under the Hatton-garden pulpit, and thus ex fumo giving lucem,3 bid adieu to the gross train-oil concern altogether. Then Procter, poor little Procter! I often feel that were I as one of these people, sitting in a whole body, by the cheek of my own wife, my feet upon my own hearth, I should feel distressed at seeing myself so very poor in spirit. “The which upon perceiving my mind would be staggered not a little.” Literary men! The Devil in his own good time take all such literary men! One sterling fellow, like Schiller or even old Johnson would take half-a-dozen such creatures by the nape of the neck, between his finger and his thumb, and carry them forth to the nearest common sink. Save Allan Cunningham, an honest Nithsdale peasant, there is not one man among them.

In short, Jack, it does not seem worth while to spend five-and-forty shillings weekly for the privilege of being near such penmen. I will come to Scotland, and have back my health. This, of the health, I have as good as sworn. It is impossible for me to go weeping and wailing, thro existence, as I have been doing: if I should take to breaking stones upon the highway, I will be a whole animal, not a bundle of disgust and torture as for many a long year I have been. Philosophy I have got and given myself in abundance; and I question often whether the most philosophical of all my tutors could have exerted as much of that gift as I myself was silently doing at the very moment of his pallabra: Philosophy! It is not to be tolerated, that a man should be schooled so! An ounce of castor-oil is more effectual on the heart of man than the whole Enchiridion of Epictetus. I will be whole then, tho' I should invoke the very powers of Darkness to aid me. The means, the earthly means of this are in my power, I think; if I knew how to guide them. Exercise and abstinence: these I must practice. Sometimes I think of commissioning Alick to go and get us a farm: I would fit up a comfortable room in it; delve and ride six hours every day; write two, and talk and sleep the rest: this thing, if I could persist in it for a year, would certainly help nay cure me. I believe there is simply nothing wrong about me; but a general want of vis and tone in the nervous system. So Badams thought, so I think. Well, how to mend it? Employ the body more, the spirit less! This is the general problem: oh for a clear head and a steady heart to solve it theoretically and practically! Canst thou not help me, thou youngest of the disciples of Galen? Hast thou not l[earned] “the doses”? Then learn them, in Heaven's name! Read Gregory's Conspect[us]4 and study English composition; and be a Doctor and cure me!

The Bullers made a kind of proposal that I should take Arthur with me to live, till next october, at the rate of £200 per annum. This I rejected. But I have since been thinking, that it might perhaps answer me to get two or three such pupils, at the rate of £250 or £300 and set up house with them in Edinr! I design to speak with Irving on this matter. Several people here might help me: Mrs Strachey (one of the best women living) would do her utmost for me. On the whole I am not too partial to this scheme: the farm one, as most conducive to health, would perhaps suit me better. Let us all stick together, boy, all true as the Holland sheaf of arrows, and there will be no fear. Per ardua ad alta.5

Brewster's letter was on the subject of Schiller's works: his Book-sellers fight shy; it was to be looked for: the scooneril Boyd, whom I since sounded on the matter ‘respectfully declines.’ I have another scheme for them in the matter of these Lives; I mean I would give a series of such. But I purpose letting Schiller's Life come out, before I talk more of it. It will shew at least that I am an entity. I expect it will be with you early in February.

Now Jack, my dear Boy, thou seest this letter has been taken up exclusively with myself: do thou sit down directly, and fill one with details upon the corresponding topic. How art thou? Is thy cold gone? Take care of it, and thyself, I prithee. How prosper thy studies? I look to thee, my honest boy, with confidence and hope, for much influence on the comfort of my future life. Be patient and strong and fear nothing.— The Mainhill people said ganz wohl last week, but they owe me a letter. Tell Murray I got his letter and saw his protegé,6 whom I introduced to Irving, and got all done for that could be done: he (Torrance) is evidently an innocent man, far too innocent for prospering here.— Write instantly! Man was never in a hurry such as mine: the post hour is just at hand, and I have far to run; for the near offices are shut already. Good night my dear Boy! Ever thine,

Thos: Carlyle.

[In margin:] This is the Carlyles' motto, this seal-impression!7