1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 15 December 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18251215-TC-JAC-01; CL 3:430-435.


Hoddam Hill, 15th December, 1825—

My Dear Jack,

Your letter came about eight days ago, to satisfy us touching your welfare, and found us all pretty much as you represent yourself, “in the old way”; each minding his several duties, and struggling on thro' this rough pilgrimage of life with the usual proportion of glar and Macadam1 on our path, and the usual mixture of vapour and sunshine in our sky. It was very mindful in you to write so punctually; the more so as our Mother says that negligence in that social duty is a sin which easily besets you. There is still a kind of vaakum here in your absence; and many times at night when I lie down to bed, I think that poor Jack is sheltering himself beneath the roof [of] the stranger: but what can we do? One must follow the ball just where that slippery jade Fortune chuses to trundle it; and even if we could continue in a place, the place itself would crumble away from beneath us, and we should find that take it as we may, we are foreigners and wayfarers in this Earth, and have no continuing city2 within its limits. Ach, Du guter Gott, erbarme Dich unser [Dear Lord, have mercy upon us]!

I am happy that you have betaken yourself to earnest business, the blessing, disguised as a curse, of sublunary beings; and are diligently meditating to do quickly whatsoever your hand findeth to do. I think this Thesis3 ought to answer well, and profit you both in the composition of it, and perhaps also in the foundation of a character which you may lay with it. No doubt you are thinking of it often: the more maturely the better. And be not discouraged tho' at first your pen should be restive, and the sheet remain white after many hours of brainbeating. It is never too good a symptom of a man that he composes easily at first. “In a crowded church,” says Swift in some such words, “the doors get jammed as the audience disperses, and the outcome is slow and irregular; when there is none but the parson and the clerk, they come out rapidly and without disorder.”4 Thus likewise it is with ideas in issuing from the secret dormitories of the mind. Æneas Rait5 could write a poem sooner than Virgilius Maro6 did.

Last time I wrote I talked rather distantly about my journey northward: I now find that adventure lying much closer at my door than I expected. Musäus is done off, three nights ago; and I find myself within a cat's leap of the end of my existing materials. Undine, which I thought a month's work will scarcely be a week's; and I feel considerable inclination to omit it altogether.7 It has been translated, and admired by the tea critics already; and there seems to be another little novel by the same Author in the Advocates' Library, which has not been meddled with: if not too long, I should prefer this in some respects. You will be surprised to learn, as I was on calculating, that two volumes of the Book are already in manuscript, or very nearly two! I have thoughts of writing Musäus Life and sending it off with his tales forthwith to let the Printers have a stroke at it before my arrival: if Johnston or the other Carrier be about setting out next week I really think I may. It was [a] pity Tait sent for Meister: that was nearly the only book in my list which I had good chance to find in Edinr by way of loan. But as you say there is very little hope of any thing being done in the business to any good purposes till my own arrival.

Therefore I wish you would investigate the state of things in regard to this, and let me know, as soon as possible. I care not much what sort of rooms we have, so the bed-room were moderately quiet (I do not think I feel quite so skittish on this point as formerly), the vent moderately free from smoke, and the landlady not a slattern. After all you need not vex your heart much about these things; the worse the accommodation is the shorter may be my stay; for with all its drawbacks the country is the place for me at present. I no sooner get below my usual temperature for a single day, than all my miseries rise up from their lurking-places, which I thought their graves, and grin at me with their spectre visages as briskly as ever. But I know my cure: I mount Larry; and set forth upon a ride at the rate of twenty miles an hour, and the hellish squadron vanish into air behind me. Larry rides like a good Christian beast with his new curb; and for speed after being two days in the stable, he absolutely surpasses all quadrupeds I ever bestrode. I incline voting not to sell him after all.

I must not forget to tell you that I wish you would send down the Birmingham box by Farries, the first time you can get him: I shall need it for carrying out my desk; and the promised Christmas store of cakes and so forth can come along with me, which will save trouble. I will annoy you with no more messages to Tait: let him fecht his awn bettle, till I come out. I shall simply send and buy what books I want, and higgle no more about the matter. Doctor Julius (of Hamburg, whom I saw in spring) has sent me a letter the other week, written in English, which you shall see, and wonder at. A few more books will serve my turn.

But I must really quit this tittle tattle about myself, before your sheet be altogether done. For news here I may tell you that the Major (Creighton) has been in these parts, kindling wild wishes in the minds of farming men. Our Father is all agog for Shawbrae; has seen this Nithsdale Bashaw of three tails, been kindly received by him, and actually purposes going over the ground tomorrow with “his Sons,” and making a formal offer for the farm. I have written to Miss Welsh to second this heroic determination; and they all have considerable hopes of prospering. Mrs Irving of Bogside with her Brother “Davie of the Hill” are about offering for Supplebank, Trams Bob being destined to live elsewhere if at all. Charlie Rae is also to evacuate Gedgills, for the clay dwellings are to be levelled, and the “soot” will “come in torrents” no more. With His Honour things still stand on the former inscrutable footing. After three journeys to Annan, Farish has at length given them his edict on the matter, in the shape of a formal letter giving up the place, which they are to sign and address to His Honour; after which the Hill farm will again be in the market, and “if they like to offer for it afterwards, they may speak to Farish.” Alick dreads mischief in the document, and determines not to sign it ti[l the] Squire sign a counter-document, admitting them to unfettered egress at Whitsunda[y. He and] our Father have determined to wait upon His Honour tomorrow morning, and bring the business to an issue. Next time I write I shall thus perhaps be able to tell you something positive about this most pitiful of all the affairs that man's celestial reason was ever troubled with. His Honour I believe has got no good of it himself: Major Creighton had heard of the dispute, and given it at first sight against His Honour.

Yesternight I had a letter from the Targer;8 brimful of the Haddington School: I wrote him a certificate and sent it off today. There is a contest for the thing; but in all probability the Targer will be preferred. From Miss Welsh's account and his own there seems to be little doubt of this. It is not to be settled till the twenty-fifth of January; before which time the worthy James will have neither eye nor ear for any other object in the universe. No wonder! He has had a battling perverse journey thus far in existence, and longs for some hole of the Earth wherein to lay his head. I sent him an emphatic certificate; and honestly, for there are very few men extant of whom as little can be said in censure. I have not been at Belcathill yet; but I design to go and get the books before I see you. Neither have I been at Ruthwell, much as my conscience has been reproaching me on that score. Indeed I am very lazy; far happier at my desk than talking quiddities with idle Christian people; and the weather too has been very unpropitious for travelling; one day slippery as glass, so that riding was breaking of necks; the next rain or Liddisdale mist. One bright Sunday in the slippery season, I went down to Annan; eat two flewks with Waugh, took tea with Ben Nelson, and tawlked for the space of three hours: but except this trip I have never been from home farther than to Mainhill, and that only once. What boots it? Like Jamie Halliday, I am an unkennt Christian in these parts; and the common places of the natives are “very good for Country people.” Andre Zeiten andre Braüche: better times are coming for us all. So prophecies the spirit in me, and I do not think it lies.

Have you written to Miss Welsh? If not, do so without loss of time. She says in her last letter, “Our beloved Doctor is a letter in my debt, which I am daily expecting him to pay.” Did George Irving get the place of Clerk in the Hospital? His sister-in-law passed through these parts lately; is perhaps still in them, for I have not seen her. Do you ever see Murray or Mitchell? Make my compliments to the Immortal: Tom Thomson tells me he has got the promise of a Kirk, at which I feel less surprised than the Immortal himself will do; for he well merits it. Our Mother rejoices that you go to sermon: she often dreams about you dreams which no one of us can read.— Good night, my trusty Jack! I am very wearied, and ravening for supper. You w[ill write] without delay? I am ever—Your true Brother

T. Carlyle

[In margins:] Friday Morning. Our Father is returned from His Honour, but without the slightest shadow of an intelligible deliverance on the matter in debate. His Honour seems very cross, it would appear; and declines having any concern farther with the business: apparently he wishes to be clear himself, and to keep the other party fettered in the noose that he may lead him to and fro to any measure he himself may chuse to fiddle. Let him, if he can! Among domestic events, I might have mentioned the desertion of “The Laird,” who “slanted the Bog” monday gone a week:9 he felt the task of thrashing for the cattle rather heavy; and Alick found traces of his having foddered some of them with barley; an expeditious but too expensive method; for which being rebuked, the Laird departed in considerable dudgeon. His father says he must send him back; and we partly expect him to-day. Meanwhile Mr Vary[?] is threshing very diligently; and the presence of the Laird appears to be a thing that can be dispensed with.

I am in a strait for this Undine; halting between two opinions; I have begun reading it again today, but still cannot fairly make up my mind. I wish I had the Todes-bund10 from the Advocates' Library

I got the stiffener safe. Today is a market at Ecclefn, and my Father is to carry this thither. Write soon, and tell me about lodgings. What sort of a Landady is your present one? I think I might almost sleep two-in-a-bed for a night or so in case no better might be. Have you heard of Simpson? He was inquiring your address, and got it. I suppose you have not fixed on any newspaper yet? Did you ever see the Edinr Times? It is only four pence per week, an da paper moderately well spoken of.


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