The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO JAMES CARLYLE, THE ELDER; 22 December 1827; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18271222-TC-JCE-01; CL 4:296-299.


21. Comley Bank, 22nd December 1827—

My Dear Father,

My Mother will not let me rest any longer till I write to you: she says, it was promised that a Letter should go off the very night Jane and she arrived; and nevertheless it is a melancholy fact that above two weeks have elapsed since that event, and no better tidings been sent you than a word or two in the blank line of “The Courier.” I would have written sooner, had I been in right case; or indeed had there been anything more to communicate than what so brief an announcement might convey as well as a much larger one.

The two wayfarers did not find me waiting for them at the Coach, that Wednesday evening: unhappily it was quite out of my power to keep that or any other appointment; I had been seized about a week before with a most virulent sore-throat, which not only detained me close prisoner in the house, but incapacitated me from speaking (except in a pitiful humming snivelling tone of voice), and for three days, even from swallowing. The suppuration (bealing)1 finally gave way, that very night they came. All that I could do, in these circumstances, was to send out a trusty substitute, a Mr Gordon who kindly undertook the office: but he, mistaking one Coach for another, went and waited at the wrong inn; so that our beloved Pilgrims were left to their own resources, and had to pilot their way hither under the guidance of the Porter who carried their box. This, however, they accomplished without difficulty, or accident; and rejoiced us all by their safe and, in part at least, unexpected arrival.

Since then, all things have gone on prosperously: my sore-throat has been slowly amending; so that tho' still rather weak, I can now venture out (well wrapped up) at any hour, and am in all points about as well as when the thing began. Jane has been busy and is still so, getting ready suitable apparel of bonnets and frocks: my Mother has heard Andrew Thomson2 (not much to her satisfaction in his “braw kirk,” since he “had to light four candles before ever he could strike”); she has also seen old Mrs Hope, the Castle of Edinr, the Martyrs' Graves,3 John Knox's house, and who knows how many other wonders; of which, I doubt not, she will give you a true and full description when she returns. As yet however the half has not been seen: the weather has been so stormy that travelling out was difficult; and I have been in no high condition for officiating as Guide. In stormy days, she smokes along with me, or sews wearing raiment, or reads the wonderful Articles of my writing in the Edinburgh Review. She has also had a glimpse of Francis Jeffrey the great Critic and Advocate; and a shake of the hand from a true German Doctor!4

Nevertheless she is extremely anxious about getting home; and indeed fails no day to tell us several times that she ought to be off. “She is doing nothing,” she says; and “they'll a' be in a hubble [bustle] of work” at home. I tell her that she was never idle for two weeks in her life before, and ought therefore to give it a fair trial; that the “hubble” at home will all go on rightly enough in her absence; that in short she should not go this year, but the next. So I am in hopes that we shall get her persuaded to stay where she is till after new-year's-day, which is now only nine or ten days distant, and then we will let her go in peace. The two Janes and she are all out in the Town at present buying muslin for sundry necessary articles of dress, which we have persuaded the Mother to undertake the wearing of: these may keep her, I hope, in some sort of occupation; for idle, I see, she cannot and will not be. We will warn you duly when you [are] to expect her.

Of news or speculations here, excepting these things, we are [ver]y nearly barren. I have not yet got my work resumed, but I am coming on towards that point. Meanwhile there has been a fresh enterprize started for me: no less than the attempt to be successor to Dr Chalmers in the St Andrews University! He, Chalmers, is at present Professor of Moral Philosophy there, but is just about removing to Edinr, to be Professor of Divinity: and I have been consulting with my Friends (Jeffrey and others)5 whether it would be prudent in me to offer myself as a Candidate for the vacant office. They all seem to think (sincerely) that if the Election proceeded on fair principles, I might have a chance of rather a good sort: but this proviso is only a doubtful one, the custom having long been to decide such things there by very unfair principles. As yet nothing is determined, but my Patrons are making inquiry to see how the land lies; and sometime next week we shall know what to do. Most part are inclined to think that I ought to try. At all events, if I do try, it will be several months before anything decisive is known. You shall hear regularly as the business proceeds. The London People, meantime seem to be altogether at a stand.— John's second Letter (from Munich) I have sent down to Sandy, wrapped in the heart of a great-coat, which I hope he has some time ago received from the Dumfries Carrier. By some opportunity or other, I think he will contrive to send you over the Doctor's Letter, that so you may see with your own eyes how it stands with him. He has been kindly received by the Baron, is living in a strange castle of a house, with marble-covered stoves, and heaps of strange servants, who however carefully respect his private apartment. The Doctor is confounded and astounded at the strangeness of everything: next time he writes (which should now be rather soon, for I answered his letter almost three weeks ago) he will tell a straighter and clearer story.

I had no notion, till my Mother told us, how very ill you had been. I do hope and trust the disease has left you, or at least by care may be kept at bay. Doubtless you know by experience that cold in every shape, especially all manner of wet, must be carefully avoided. I trust you will soon be well enough for a journey hither; for you too, my dear Father, must see Edinr before we leave it. I have thoughts of compelling you to come with me, when I come down. Mean time excuse this letter, so hasty and so thin; it is a poor return to yours, which I was more than usually glad to see after so long an interval. I am ever, Your affe Son,

T. Carlyle

Mag and Jamie and Jenny are warmly saluted by one and all here assembled. Will Mag tell the woman of the Myer,6 that her straw-bonnet arrived here without any damage, and was pronounced by judges to be one of the very finest that could be made in Leghorn or out of it. I got it deposited in the Highland Society's rooms by the Laird of the Isle of Harris, a leading man among them. I accompanied it with a proper narrative. It seems there properly is no prize offered except for Orkney: yet the great Laird thought something still might be done. Adieu!