January 1829-September 1831

The Collected Letters, Volume 5


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 11 February 1830; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18300211-TC-JAC-01; CL 5:70-75.


Craigenputtoch, 11th Feby, 1830—

My Dear Jack,

Your Letter, tho' “too late” was stamped on it, reached us last night duly: the previous one we had also received, tho' not till the Tuesday week. I suppose the Moniaive Carrier had neglected it on the preceding Saturday; but I have quickened his diligence since then.

My errand to Dumfries, that Tuesday, was a very melancholy one:1 Alick and I had set out at six o'clock thro' the East wind and the new snow, to attend the funeral of our Aunt, Mary Stewart, whose painful career had at length, in violent suffering as we were told, reached its close. There has been doleful work among our relatives here of late: poor Uncle Sandy, very suddenly cut off, was buried on one Thursday; his Wife, who in the stupor of fever scarcely knew of his decease, followed him thither that day week; and on the Tuesday following poor Mary Stewart there likewise found her long home.2 The death of Sandy and his Wife was not the only calamity to that forlorn abode: Jamie Aitken was also lying ill of fever, and only about ten days ago was informed that his mother had departed; not till after he had twice attempted to get out of bed, and see with his own eyes how she was. We hear that he continues slowly to recover: there are three sisters and a brother left with him; the youngest girl only about eleven! God is great, as the Arabs say; but He is also good.— Jenny too, that is Mrs Currie, has been in distress, but is now recovered.3 From Templand we hear, at the same time, but indifferent tidings. The old man had fallen down,4 while Mrs Welsh was here, and had hurt his back; which injury still clings to him, so that Mrs W. who is herself sick has a heavy task: the other night, it appears, he had some apoplectic or paralytic shock, and for half an hour seemed altogether gone. This, I think, has been the sickliest winter, and every way the hardest that I can remember.

However, let us be thankful that we ourselves, and all more immediately concerned with us, are still spared in health, and only suffering by what we see others suffer. Elliot was at Scotsbrig three days ago, seeking meal; and brings word that they are all astir; my Father only, as Jean's Letter says, suffering somewhat from shortness of breath, but otherwise not complaining. Our Mother was overjoyed at your Letter, which she had hungered and thirsted for; having got nothing from you but Newspapers without even an “All well,” nay the last had something rubbed out on it, which frightened her exceedingly. Here too we are in the usual state: Jane recovered, and now knitting patiently beside me at a bright fire: the others held in indeed by frost and sleet, yet making what head they may against the “Force of Circumstances.” Again and again I say: Let us all be thankful!

Your last Letter, dear Brother, tho' but of a sable texture, gave me more real satisfaction than any you had written. It exhibits you in a figure of decided Action, which after so many weeks, of storm-bound Inactivity, we all heartily longed and prayed to see you in. Spite of all difficulties, and there are too many and too heavy, I now doubt not, a moment, that you will find yourself a settlement, and ultimately prosper there. But you are now at the pinch of the game, Jack; and must not falter: now or never! O my dear Brother, do not loiter, do not linger, trusting to the chapter of chances, and help from other men! Know and feel that you are still there yourself; one heart and head that will never desert your interests. I know the many difficulties, and hesitations; how wretched you are, while others only fancy you sluggish. But thank Heaven, you are now afoot, fairly diligent and intent: what way it is in you to make, you will make; and already I can well believe you are far happier; for Evil, as Jean Paul truly says, is like a Nightmare, the instant you begin to stir yourself, it is already gone.5

Meanwhile do not fret yourself over much: a period of probation, and adventure is appointed for most men, is good for all men. For your friends, especially, and testifying by deed your affection to them, give yourself no sorrow: there is not a Friend you have, Jack, who doubts for an instant of your affection: neither is their wish with regard to you to see you rich and famous but to see you self-collected, diligent, and wise, steering your way manfully thro this Existence, resolutely and with clear heart, as beseems a man, as beseems such a man; whether you ride in carriages, and drink Tokay, and have crowds to halloo after you, or only walk in Scotch clogs, like the rest of us, is a matter, so you do walk, of far smaller moment. “Stout heart to a stay brae [steep hill],” then, my brave Boy! There is nothing in this world to frighten a clear heart: they can refuse you guinea fees, but the godlike privilege of alleviating wretchedness, of feeling that you are a true man, let the whole host of gigmen say to it what they will, no power of this Earth, or of what is under it, can take from you. On, then, my Brother! Up and be doing; be my real, stout Brother as of old; and I will take you to my heart, and name you proudly, tho' in the world's eye you were the lowest of the low. What charm is in a name? Physician, Surgeon, Apothecary; all but Quack is honourable.6

To come to practice, for my mind is perhaps too full of these things: I must admit that the aspect of Warwick is hopeless enough; so hopeless that it seems strange how Badams should ever have invited you to come and look at it. Doubtless he meant and could mean only to do you kindness: but I have long known him for a painter en beau [in glowing colors], as here again he has proved himself. The only redeeming fact is that the Warwickers actually call ‘Physicians from Birmingham,’ which of course were there a good Physician among themselves they would cease to do. However, it must be owned, the thing seems hopeless. As for Banbury, which is a place I know nothing of, and Liecester [sic] and Derby, there seems to me to be little trust to be put in any of them. The truth is, I believe, there is no considerable place in England that has not already its complement of Doctors: a man must make his way among them for he will hardly find it.7 Dumfries was overstocked; so are they all, and have all their drawbacks of other sorts besides. On the whole, it was a wise advice of Johnston that you should choose the place you like, and there settle: a new settlement is very difficult anywhere.

Far be it from me to take the character of adviser in a matter which you understand so much better yourself. Nevertheless, from all that appears, I think were I in your place I should incline to prefer a settlement in Birmingham itself, rather than in any of their Banburys, or other obscure places, which besides the disadvantages of being preoccupied, of being sensual, pudding-eating towns, as all English towns are like to be, are little, are Kleinstädte [small-towns], and fuller of Kleinstadtereien [small-town affairs]. Do not despair of your Authorcraft: exert yourself, and it will do. Construct any good solid ‘Article,’ and Macvey Napier will be glad of it, if you grow tired of the Blacks. All your English friends are in Birmingham, and it is a boundless field for you. There are plenty of poor to practise on: if you gain but twenty shillings the first half year, do not despair. As for the poor ten pounds you got from me, you are heartily welcome to it thrice over: my only grief is that in the present posture of affairs I can furnish nothing more: the Blacks have not so much as paid me yet! However, times will not always be so bad; and while I have help to give, depend on it as your own. I really think I should be tempted to try Birmingham: however, do not regard me as counselling.

For the rest, you have done nothing to prevent your returning to Scotland: nor has Dumfries ceased in my opinion to be a place where profit and honour might await any man of real medical qualifications, of which sort, excepting the blackguard Thom,8 there is absolutely none in these parts far or near. The poor old Gawk, Maxwell,9 took a large fee lately from Jamie Austin (whose arm, having been slept on, obstinately fell asleep for two weeks, with total insensibility, swelling &c) simply for telling him the first time that it would mortify and he die, and the second time, when he could actually feel with it, that it was no better! Yet the man has four guineas every time he mounts his carriage: he gives dinners, and tho' a known Littleworth, rank[s] [esteems himself] with the best of the County. It is clear to me, as day, that a man might root him out. However, if your tastes lead you to England, more especially now, it will perhaps be better to try it. Courage, then! “Courage, Brother!”— Write to me soon, and in the last small type; for we shall be doubly anxious to learn how you fare. No topic, be sure, can interest us so much as your own history. You can write ‘Articles’ man; ‘the Devil's in it if you can't review.’—Wait not on Badams: his are Favonian gales,10 and no true trade-wind. Look with your own eyes, and think with your own head. Lastly love us all, as we all truly love you. Write soon. Your affectionate Brother, T.C.

William Gray,11 an Oxonian of whom you have heard me speak, was anxious to have met you in Warwickshire: he could introduce you to the Professor of Medicine in Oxford &c &c. I directed him to write to you at Ladywood: but the Letter perhaps did not reach him, being left at Dumfries with need not be forwarded on it. You may write to him, if you like, at ‘Magdalen College Oxford’: he is a kind rather clever little fellow.

Imitate the Birmingham Waggoners, when you write articles: “To stick by this trade—is not our intention; we are forced to it by—the mother of invention.” Honest souls! There is more ‘true Poetry’ in that quatrain than in some rhymed volumes[.]

Elliot takes this with him to the Coals, on Friday-afternoon. Good b'ye! Kind respects to all the Phipsons;12 especially her with the Squintkin. I believe I shall have to go to Edinr about Books for that “History”: I am disappointed in my hopes in that kind almost every week. Nevertheless I will be out with the first volume by the end of May: that is settled. Thank you for writing to Lichtenthaler.13 David Aitken has sent me the defacient [sic] volumes from Minto; and is about sending me many other volumes. Our Mother was coming hither with Elliot; but the wild weather prevented her. It is now thaw and wet. Jane has a pretty message from Kate Gilchrist for you: but defers it till a steadier time. The good Kate has been dreaming dreams. You will get the Courier as regularly as I can send it: some unknown man (the able Editor?) transmits it hither every Wednesday. When you settle, you will get me an Examiner, and so we shall exchange missive[s] weekly. At last, good night!

Try Brummagem [Birmingham]!

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