The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO BRYAN W. PROCTER; 17 January 1828; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18280117-TC-BWP-01; CL 4:303-307.


Edinburgh, 21 Comley Bank, 17th Jany, 1828—

My Dear Sir,

I have long felt that I owed you a letter of the kindest thanks: yet now I am not intending to repay you, but rather to increase my debt by a new request of favours. The case is this: I am, since yesterday, a Candidate for the Moral Philosophy Professorship in the University of St Andrews, soon to be vacated by the transference of Dr Chalmers to Edinr; and thus my task for the present is to dun all such of my friends as have a literary reputation for Testimonials in my behalf. Considerable support in this way I can promise myself, and except in this way I have no hope of any; being altogether unconnected, as you know, either with Church or State, and at all events unfit for the dark ways of political intrigue, which too often, I am sorry to own, lead safeliest and soonest to such a goal as I am now aiming at. However, the St Andrews Professors, the Electors to this office, boast much that they have amended their ways; and under terror of the late Royal Commission, who knows but the Melville interest1 may have ceased to be omnipotent there. In this case I have some hope, in any other case little; but in all cases happily no great degree of fear. Meanwhile the business is to try, and try with my whole might, since I have entered on the enterprize. Your friend Mr Jeffrey is my Palinurus,2 and forwards me with great heartiness: I may also reckon on the warm support of Wilson, Leslie, Brewster and other men of mark in this city; and now I am writing to London for yours and Mr Montagu's. If you and he, or you yourself can with freedom speak any word in my favour, I cannot doubt that you will do it readily.

Perhaps you will tell me that you have no special judgement in matters philosophic; and think within yourself that any skill I may have possessed in this province must have been kept with extreme secrecy, during our acquaintance, in the recesses of my own consciousness. It were now too late to prove the error of these opinions, especially the latter: but I may observe in refutation that it is not skill in Philosophy alone, but general talent, and all sorts of literary gifts that come into play here; in which case, who is better entitled to speak than “Barry Cornwall,” if so be his conscience will let him?

The Editor of Bacon3 will be another name of weight in a professorial election: may I count on your laying this matter before him, and Mrs Montagu's friendly intervention in inciting him to act? I would have written to him in particular: but why, thought I, two letters on one subject, and to one house? The rather, that I am busy to a degree; for tho' the business may not be settled for many months, it is judged important by my friends that I should produce my documents without delay. Shall I hope then to ornament my little list with two other names? To see you, an English Poet, beside a Scottish one and a German, for Goethe also is written to? I believe, I shall. For the rest, I need give you no directions as to the form of your Testimonial; this being altogether arbitrary, equally effectual were it a Letter to me, or a Letter to the Principal and Professors of St Andrews, or a general Testamur directed to all men at large. Edward Irving moreover knows the whole matter, and can explain it all if you have any difficulty, which however you will not have. And now enough of this poor business! Only do not think me a sorner [one who intrudes or sponges] on your friendliness, and I will say no more about the matter. Speak for me also to Mr Montagu, and explain to him why I have not spoken for myself. Do I not hereby give you a full power-of-attorney; and for which you are to be paid——in windmoney, on the other side of the Border!

What do I not owe you already for one of the kindest and most pleasant friends I ever had! Francis Jeffrey is a man meant by Nature to be an intellectual Ariel, with a light etherealness of spirit which the weight of whole Courts of Session resting on it for quarter-centuries has not been able utterly to suppress. There is a glance in the eyes of the man, which almost prompts you to take him in your arms. Alas! that Mammon should be able to hire such servants, even tho' they continue to despise him!

And where are you, my Friend? What is become of your sevenstringed shell that once gave such notes of melody? Do you not reckon it a sin and a shame to bury that fine sense, that truly Artist-spirit, under a load of week-day business? Ought not your light to shine before men, in this season of d[im] eclipse, when the opaque genius of Utility is shedding disastrous twilig[ht over] half the nations?4 I swear that I will never forgive you, if you keep sile[nce] long. My only ground of patience is that you are lente festinans [hastening slowly];5 fusing richer ores in the hidden furnace, that they may be cast in fairer moulds of purer metal, and become Shapes that will endure forever. Positively this is no idle talk, but the true wish and feeling of my heart, growing clearer to me and clearer the longer I know you. Remember my warning: it is your better Genius that speaks thro' me.

Do you ever see Mr Fraser,6 and why lingers his Review? The other day I met a little man, whose eyes sparkled with fire in speaking of it, and he wished to enlist me into his own corps on the other side. I answered that like Dugald Dalgetty7 I had taken bounty under the opposite flag, and so as a true Soldado could not leave my colours; under which however I reckoned myself bound to fight not him, or Gillies, or Cochrane,8 but the Devil (of Stupidity), and the Devil only. Seeing matters take this turn, the little man's eye grew soft, and he left me.

What is this periodical of Leigh Hunt's, and have you seen that wondrous Life of Byron?9 Was it not a thousand pities Hunt had borrowed money of the man he was to disinhume and behead in the course of duty afterwards? But for love or money I cannot see Hunt's Book; or anything but extracts of it, and so must hold my tongue. Poor Hunt! He has a strain of music in him too, but poverty and vanity have smote too rudely over the strings.— Today too I saw Dequincey: alas poor Yorick!

But enough of gossip also, in which I delight more than I can own in writing! My Wife sends her kind regards to you, and I believe would prize two stanzas of your making at no ordinary rate. Is Mrs Procter well and safe? Alas! It was for all the world such a night when I sat with you in Russel-street till the ghost-hour, and forgot that Time had shoes of felt. These times and places are all——away.— Will Mrs Montagu accept my thanks, at this late date, for her so kind and graceful letter. Jane would have written, but was making silk-pelisses and cloth-pelisses, and had semstresses white and black, and only three days ago obtained entire dominion over Frost, and marched the needlewomen out.— Adieu! I am ever yours,

T. Carlyle