1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JAMES JOHNSTON; 26 October 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18251026-TC-JJ-01; CL 3:398-400.


Hoddam Hill, 26th October 1825.

My dear Johnstone—I was last night assisting at the late but jovial celebration of the Mainhill Kirn,1 and happened among other members of the party to meet with honest Gavin of Bogside,2 one of whose first announcements was that he had a few days ago had a letter from you, containing compliments to me, and a memento that in the article of correspondence I was your debtor. This I had for some time known, and felt with proper repentance, and purposes of alteration; Gavin's hint falls in timefully with a slight interval in my occupation; and today I mean to clear scores.

Your last letter3 with the news of your Haddington journey found me in a season of busy dissipation, but was cordially welcomed, and afforded true satisfaction, I may say, to every individual of the family. We all rejoice in your prospects of a settlement, and feel great confidence that you will succeed both in obtaining and happily conducting the employment. In Haddington and its neighbourhood you will find many worthy persons of the stamp you like; among whom you will be able to fix down, as in a home, and feel yourself “a man among your fellow-men.” Gilbert Burns I regard as a most estimable character; and I think you may now count on his forwarding your object by all means in his power, as well as rendering it agreeable to you should you attain it. I am told that he has far more to say in the affair than any other. I will give you more introductions should you go to settle there; and in a short time you will need none. Brown the late Burgher Preacher has left that quarter, and come to settle at Moffat; so that the coast is now clear. Let us rejoice in the prospect of any luck at all, in this most magnificent earth; and “be thankful,” as the late Mr. M'Leod of Brownknowe was wont to say, “that we are not in Purgatory”!

Of my own history since you left these parts, I need say but little. Few persons in the British Isles have spent an idler summer than I, and it is long since I spent one as happy. Basil Montagu of London wishes it to be written on his tombstone that he was “a lover of all quiet things”; but in my opinion I (and several snails) may with justice dispute him the pre-eminence in this distinction. I have done, thought, felt, or spoken very little since I saw you. At times I get into a Highland anger at this arrangement; and of late I have begun to change it a little; but on the whole I think it prudent to content myself with my present modicum of even negative good fortune, and like a prudent Christian to jook [duck] and let the jaw [wave] gae by, however hard my stance may be, so it but even moderately shelter me. I believe myself to be improving in point of health; and with health I calculate that many other blessings will be restored to me. I have been at school for many years under the tuition of a pedagogue called Fate; he is an excellent teacher, but his fees are very high, and his tawse4 are rather heavy. By and by I shall become a good child, and the old knave will cease to flog me.

We live here on our hill-top enjoying a degree of solitude that might content the great Zimmermann5 himself. Few mortals come to visit us, I go to visit none; I have not even once been down at Ruthwell since my return to Scotland! No news, literary, political, or economical, get at us; except perhaps a transient hint of the Stagshaw or Falkirk Tryst, or a note of jubilee at the present fairish prices of oats and barley. Like Gallio6 of old I care for none of these things. My heart is weary of the inane toils of mortal men; I have gladly given them up the world for a season “to make a kirk and a mill of,”7 if it please them; all I require is that they would be so good as “leave me, leave me to repose.” Perhaps a better day is coming; if not, qu' importe [what does it matter]? “The mind of man,” it appears from Mr. Smith, late cordwainer in Ecclefechan, “can accomodate itself to circumstances.” Let it do so, and be hanged to it! …

Edward Irving was in Annan last week for a little while; and I passed half a day with him. He is of a green hue, solemn, sad, and in bad bodily condition. The worthy man (for so he is, when every say is said) has lost his boy at Kirkcaldy, and left his wife there, who had brought him a daughter only ten days before that event. He bears it well; for his heart is full of other wondrous things, from which he draws peculiar consolation. He seems, as his enemies would say, still madder than before. But it is not madness: would to Heaven we were all thus mad! He is about publishing another Book, or Prophecy. Irving is actually one of the memorabilia of this century.

In the last Edinburgh Review you would find a critique of Wilhelm Meister, apparently by Jeffrey himself.8 It amused me not a little; and, I may say, gratified me too. I think the critic very honest, and very seldom unjust in his feeling of individual passages; but for the general whole, which constitutes the essence of a work like this, he seems to have no manner of idea of it, except as a heap of beautiful and ugly fragments. True criticism, thanks to our Reviews and Magazines, bids fair to become one of the artes perditæ [lost arts] ere long: And then—“then joy old England raise,” for thy mob of gentlemen9 will have halcyon times, goose feathers will rise in value, and paper will again be manufactured from straw! Jeffrey's little theory of Goethe is an exquisite affair. Yet Jeffrey is an honest and clever man, and by far the best of them all.

Gavin tells us you are coming down to Annandale this winter; my only prayer is, come soon. John, who is sitting by me, hopes to see you as you pass through Edinburgh, and sends you his best regards. All the rest salute you kindly. John has been very busy all summer, and is to leave us in a week or two. Write when you have any time, at large and at length.— I am, ever your affectionate friend,

Thomas Carlyle