The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 1 January 1827; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18270101-TC-AC-01; CL 4:176-179.


Edinburgh, 21 Comley Bank, / 1st January, 1827—

My dear Alick,

I stand indebted to you for two letters, to say nothing of the ample supply of kitchen ware which attended the last, and of which we have all this very day been enjoying portion. The tardy resolution of Mr Tait at length enables me to acknowledge your claims: our wavering Bookseller has determined on publishing on the 15th of January; the Books are all shipped for London, and I have brought over one today to send down for the amusement of your winter evenings at Scotsbrig. My sincere wish is that you may find in it twenty times the satisfaction its intrinsic worth can give you: of the writer, I know, you will not fail to think with all the favour he can desire.

I have to give you many thanks for your letters, and to beg that you would not let me want for the like in future. Consider that I have now no news from home at all except thro' you, and that go whither I may the most interesting spot the sun shines on must be the one where you are all gathered. We have been united, more closely than is usual even with brothers; nor is it impossible (for who can tell what changes the flight of future days1 may bring?) that we may be so again; and however separated in place, I will always believe that while existing in the world together we can never be divided in interest and affection. Therefore mind your writing, my good fellow; and let me have no farther remonstrances to make on the score of remissness in that particular.

You promised to tell me at large of your purposes and projects for an arrangement of your future life. As I anticipated, you have yet come to no final resolution; and herein I think you are wise; for truly this is a time, when it is not easy to resolve on any arrangement, and in your case, so far as I can understand, there is nothing spoiling by delay. This is an important consideration; especially as you seem yet free to select and reject. The state of your views, I believe, I had partly guessed already: your neighbour's “dark-haired daughter”2 has all along been an especial favourite with me, and had I to choose between two such rivals, I should not long hesitate. Yet there are many, many other things to be considered, and allowed to have their full weight in the scale: and on the whole, I am inclined to think, true affection on the part of the wife is perhaps even more essential than on that of the husband; certainly far more important than any shewy allurements and external qualification, which (unlike Mrs Primrose's gown)3 cast a fine dash at first, but after two or three on-puttings are forgotten or fade away. One thing I will advise: Do nothing unjustly, do nothing rashly! Decide not till your path is clear, that too-late repentance may not visit you. God send us all well and honestly settled, in due season! Meanwhile remember you have determined to do nothing without hearing my advice.

Of my own proceedings here I have little that can be considered definite to tell you. I am not unwell, not worse than I used to be in health; and my good helpmate is all to me that I could wish. But as yet I have no occupation! There lies the rub: and truly if you heard the Bookselling tribe talk about the “badness of the times,” you would think there was never more to be any occupation for literary men in this world. Poor Dr Brewster, when I saw him, was absolutely distraugh[t]; so balefully were “black inquietudes” hunting him to and fro. The man committed an error at first, which I have avoided: he commenced on too liberal a scale; and has all along too faithfully observed Will Brand's4 maxim, To expect his comfort rather in living above his income than below it. An unwise arrangement, from whence flow many tears! Nevertheless, I am not a whit downcast in spirit: employment I firmly believe will come sometime; in the meanwhile I study not to be idle, and determine like a wise Christian man, to cut my coat according to the cloth; and hard it will go with us, if even from this scanty well sufficient covering for all real uses cannot be found. In a general way I am comparatively very much at my ease here; when billusness allows me a respite I am even happy. For I have long learned to cease expecting what I once thought happiness on this earthly ball; long known that there is a root of bitterness in the bottom of our cup, which all the honey in the Earth cannot hide from the experienced palate. Happy he who learns to drink it without wincing! Happier and wiser who can see that in this very bitterness there is a medicine for his soul, far better than the bitterness of gentian or bark or any of Jacks many bitters for his body! There is much true philosophy in Dermot's remark to his unruly neighbour: “I say Paddy Blane, will ye compose yourself to your pratees [potatoes] there!”

Such is a sketch of my philosophy of life! But could you not come up hither some frosty week, and learn it all far better by word of mouth? I assure you, we could accommodate you very prettily; and depend on it, your new sister would give you the heartiest welcome. Positively there is a spare bed here! And you would see Edinr, and Macwhirter and all of us, and might stay at Hawick the first night, and walk hither so neatly before the next. Really if you are doing nothing for a week, what might hinder you? And I and all of us would find it so pleasant. Think of it, before the spring, and the busy seed time when you cannot come.

Two days ago we had a visit from the Targer.5 He is an exemplary character, the Targer, and bears the matrimonial yoke, as he has borne many other yokes in his time, with an edifying composure. From all hands we learn that he is doing well. Poor fellow! it is no hi[gh] happiness that he covets; and foul befall the man [who] would grudge him his innocent and humble one! His “Jenny” is doing extremely well: he was buying chairs and gowns and mustard, and reminded me much, as I looked upon him, of Richter's Quintus Fixlein.6 All hands are for marriage this season, let the “times” be as bad as they will. Little Murray was married last week; and today Jane and I were up calling on the new couple in their hired house, where they propose keeping boarders if such are to be had, and if not, like the rest of us—trusting to Providence. The new wife is from Wigtonshire; was a Miss Murray, not the old one he was engaged to, but a younger sister. Fair exchange—no robbery. They speak of Mitchell next: but as Jack says, it may be strongly doubted.

About four weeks ago, I had a call from our two unprosperous and not very deserving Cousins “Wullie and John.”7 I know not whether I acted right in never inviting them in; for this was one of those new scenes, in which one is not certain of the part he has to play. I regretted it afterwards. And yet what could I do? There was no harm whatever in the men being poor: but there was harm in their being skites [unpleasant people]; and dogbreakers are a class of creatures whom no accident of relationship can render me tolerant of. Since that day I have not seen them again: I did not speak unkindly to them, but I did not encourage them to return.

I am in doubt whether to send this packet by the Mail, or along with the boxes by the Carrier. I shall have to inquire tomorrow about his probable arrival, and then decide. However it may be, you will not fail to write whenever this reaches you. I have many things to ask, far too many for the salvage of a sheet. Have you sold Larry yet? There is a horse I meet often here which recalls the wild beast to memory. And is Keevil8 still with you? I positively intended buying him some snuff, but feared lest it might interfere with the other wares in the parcel. Will you give him this half-crown, instead, secretly, as a new-years gift from me to the trusty marine; to buy him awls and darning-needles, and otherwise keep his pocket? His heart would rejoice in the prospect of war; but there is to be none. Do you get the newspaper regularly? It is meant to come to you on Monday morning.— Up to this night, I purposed to give you this Book, my Dear Alick; but recollecting that our Father had never got aught of the sort from me, I seemed to feel it my duty to give it to him. He will not read it, I know, but others of you will, and he will like better to see it. For a new-year's gift you, therefore, have nothing my dear Brother but a new assurance of my Love. But this, I know you will not reject. Be content with it; come and see us if you can; and believe me always,

Your true Brother. /

T. Carlyle

The Hem seems to be of the very best Dumfriesshire species, we have hung it up to dry. The meal also is excellent: many thanks for all! The hem really ornaments the pantry.