Take things easy and be as happy as you can

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1201.]

To his Father [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 191-192]

La Solitude, December 20, 1883

My dear Father,

I do not know which of us is to blame; I suspect it is you this time. The last accounts of you were pretty good, I was pleased to see; I am, on the whole, very well – suffering a little still from my fever and liver complications, but better.

I have just finished re-reading a book, which I counsel you above all things not to read, as it has made me very ill, and would make you worse – Lockhart’s Scott.

NPG D3607; John Gibson Lockhart by James Faed, after  Sir Francis Grant

John Gibson Lockhart (1794–1854), Scottish writer and editor, best known as the author of the definitive biography of his father-in-law Sir Walter Scott [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Lockhart’s ‘Scott’, 1839 and 2nd edition, in 10 volumes  [https://ia700404.us.archive.org]


It is worth reading, as all things are from time to time that keep us nose to nose with fact; though I think such reading may be abused, and that a great deal of life is better spent in reading of a light and yet chivalrous strain. Thus, no Waverley novel approaches in power, blackness, bitterness, and moral elevation to the diary and Lockhart’s narrative of the end; and yet the Waverley novels are better reading for every day than the Life. You may take a tonic daily, but not phlebotomy.


Scott’s ‘Waverley Novels’, 1863 illustrated edition, 48 vols [http://i.ebayimg.com]




Phlebotomy, 19th century [https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]


The great double danger of taking life too easily, and taking it too hard, how difficult it is to balance that! But we are all too little inclined to faith; we are all, in our serious moments, too much inclined to forget that all are sinners, and fall justly by their faults, and therefore that we have no more to do with that than with the thundercloud;



only to trust, and do our best, and wear as smiling a face as may be for others and ourselves.


RLS in 1889 [https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]

But there is no royal road among this complicated business. Hegel the German got the best word of all philosophy with his antinomies: the contrary of everything is its postulate.


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Hegel’s ‘Science of Logic’, where he sharply criticizes Kant’s antinomies, 1816 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


That is, of course, grossly expressed, but gives a hint of the idea, which contains a great deal of the mysteries of religion, and a vast amount of the practical wisdom of life. For your part, there is no doubt as to your duty – to take things easy and be as happy as you can, for your sake, and my mother’s, and that of many besides.

Excuse this sermon. – Ever your loving son,


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