The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO THOMAS MURRAY; 20 June 1826; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18260620-TC-TM-01; CL 4:105-109.


Scotsbrig, 20th June, 1826—

My Dear Murray,

I fear I must have seemed very ungrateful; for it is too true that your most friendly and acceptable letter has never yet been answered, tho' if I mistake not I had even in words engaged to repay that act of kindness without delay.1 You may believe me, want of will was not the sole cause. I feel as well as any one how good and helpful you are; nor is it among the least pleasing of my reflections to think that I still hold a place in your regards; that the friend of my boyhood (how rarely can this be told!) is still the friend of my riper years.

The truth of the matter is I have been unusually busy of late months; not so busy indeed that I had not vacant minutes and even hours; but still so jostled to and fro by my avocations and immersed in the cares of them, as to be peculiarly inept for letter-writing, which accordingly (if this is any palliation) except in the most pressing cases, I have altogether forborne. I calculated on writing to you when this Book was done: but a new act of your attention forces me to take the pen sooner, if it were but to thank you for your readiness and eagerness at all times, as at this time, to do me service.

As to the practical part of the Speculation, I am wonderfully in the dark and the distance: the business of magazine-writing and the profits and disprofits of magazine-conducting are utterly alien to my thoughts and still more to my experience; and your project, here in my rustic solitude, stands dim vague and unseizable before me, think of it as I may. One thing I know well: some periodical task would be peculiarly useful to me in all points of view. Another thing I am not half so sure of, but yet in a case of extremity it might be assumed as possible: That the duties of periodical Editorship, as they are discharged to various degrees of perfection, by many mere mortals in these Islands, might also be by dint of great effort, discharged by me, inexperienced in the world, unconnected with it, and in many other respects very unfit for such an undertaking as I cannot but feel myself to be. With these two propositions, however, I may say that my convictions on this individual matter are at an end; and what steps, if any, to take in it is by no means clear to me. The purchase of the copy-right,2 which you suggest, and with a true spirit, which I hope I shall not forget, offer to assist in, is a thing I must not think of. I have laid out nearly all my disposeable capital here in the purchase of farm and house ware; and to strip myself of daily ways and means, for an uncertain and probably distant future, were no wise policy. This therefore I must not do.

On the other hand, if in the vicissitudes of this ancient Periodical such a thing were possible, I think that on fair terms I could actually resolve to undertake the management of it. This is saying much, if you knew all my circumstances; yet such is my present view of it. It would be particularly suitable, and I would make an effort: for be it known to you (under the rose, somewhat) I actually purpose taking up my abode in Edinr next winter, and starting as housekeeper by my present craft.

Now the question is: Can such a project as this same Editorship be in any wise feasible? I know not, but rather think nay. One faint gleam of probability I see in the midst of my utter ignorance of the whole business: you speak of Black3 as likely to become proprietor; now Black and Tait I believe are relations, and on a cordial footing; both honest men also, and Tait I understand in some little flow of spirits with me at present about his German Novellists; from all which it strikes me as barely possible that the scheme might be worth asking one question about, the question: Will Tait and Black, or one or other of them purchase this Magazine, and make me the Editor thereof? If so, I shall be ready and happy to give the matter a most profound deliberation; and should their highest estimate of Editorial dues and my lowest be found capable of stretching till they meet,—to close a bargain with them, and start full speed and very shortly, in my editorial career.

With you, therefore, my good Friend, I must leave the decision. If you think it worth while, all things considered to speak with Tait or Black (in case you know him) on the subject: do so, and let me know the result. If you think it not worth while, then there is nothing more that I see for us to do in the matter, but to let it drop into deepest silence—till we meet in Ambrose's, whither I will venture for your sake, and drink one portion of whisky punch to the better luck of this old Scottish herring-boat, be it under the orders of Donald or the Son of Donald, or sunk in shoal water, and not sailing at all.4 Except Black and Tait I recollect no bibliopolical person in Edinburgh, whom I should care for engaging with; and except on this principle, I see not that I could prudently take any hand in the concern even with them. Some hour when you have leisure, you will throw me a word on the subject; not forgetting other news of a kindred nature, of which for a great while I have been wonderfully short.

I cannot regret your stay in Edinburgh, tho' in the mean while it must be a sacrifice, for Edinr at this moment cannot fail to be a lively type of Purgatory. We have the heat here; but the dust and perfumes are wanting. Today I bathed in the Solway flood, and actually my bath was tepid. Return thanks to Heaven that you are healthy, and can front all cities and countries with impunity.

What are you busy with since you relinquished the Church History scheme? Is Samuel Rutherford5 advancing? I think you have little cause to regret the failure of that other project, at least its present failure: the great labour was certain, the hope of profit with the Taits inconsiderable; and for the honour of the business, there are fifty ways as open to you for gaining it.6 The Cameronian subject is too much betrodden at present, and the interest of it in its present degree can be but transient, fading away with the first new gloss of Mr Clieshbotham's Tales:7 but even in your present walk, there are surely ample materials to furnish you with occupation of a far more specific and original sort; occupation too, which you are happy enough [not] to need except for its own sake. I have often wondered8 [at the meagreness and scantiness of] Scottish Biography, especially that of Scottish literary me[n. Except Bu]chanan9 (a heavy enough gentleman, he seemed to me) we have no account that I could ever find of any of our ancient worthies. Who was Gawin Douglas?10 Who was Sir David Lindsay?11 Who was Baron Napier?12 These questions we must answer in a half sentence. Did it never come into your head to start a regular series of Scottish (purely Scottish) literary Biography? A thousand interesting things might be brought to light; touches of old manners, illustrations of history, bright sayings and doings; and no one that I know of is so fairly on the track as you for digging up these ancient treasures. Begin such a thing, and mark me down for your first subscriber.— But I am babbling of things of which I know very little.

You mentioned nothing of the Newlands business to me when I saw you, nor in any of your letters. Be in no haste for a church; and feel happy that you can do very comfortably without one, till the time come, whenever that be. I begin to see, one is fifty times better for being heartily drilled in the school of Experience; tho' beaten daily for years with forty stripes save one.13 I used to reckon myself very wretched, and now I find that no jot of my castigation could have been spared. My last year, ungainly and isolated as it was, has been the happiest of my last half-score. I am getting healthier, nay more careless of health, more conscious that if the Devil do still please to torment me, I shall have nous [mind or intelligence] enough in me to get the weather-gage of him, and snap my fingers in his face. I have thousands of things to say, but you see—!—I am truly yours— T. C.

It is likely I may be in Edinr when this Book is published; some six weeks hence. I am in the last volume, but not far in it. The contents are of a strange enough sort, and motley as you could expect: fourfifths respectable manufacture, the rest perhaps creation! I here sign myself in full, your old & true friend.

Thomas Carlyle

You can talk to John about this matter, if you like for he knows all my secrets.