There are two sides to all things, and the old scalded baby had his noble side

RLS had been asked by his father to look over the proofs of a paper which the latter was about to read, as President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, ‘On the Principal Causes of Silting in Estuaries,’ in connection with the Manchester Ship Canal Scheme.

‘Mr Dick”, is James Dick, for many years head clerk and confidential assistant in the Stevenson firm at Edinburgh.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1379.]

To his father [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 263-264]

Bonallie Towers, Bournemouth, 14th January 1885

My dear Father,

I am glad you like the changes. I own I was pleased with my hand’s darg [= a day’s work]; you may observe, I have corrected several errors which (you may tell Mr. Dick) he had allowed to pass his eagle eye; I wish there may be none in mine; at least, the order is better. The second title, ‘Some new Engineering Questions involved in the M[anchester] S[hip] C[anal] Scheme of last Session of P[arliament],’ likes me the best.


The Manchester Ship Canal is a 36-mile-long inland waterway in the North West of England linking Manchester to the Irish Sea. The scheme was first presented to Parliament as a bill in 1882. Faced with stiff opposition from Liverpool, the canal’s supporters were unable to gain the necessary Act of Parliament to allow the scheme to go ahead until 1885. Construction began in 1887 []


Plan of the Manchester Ship Canal as applied for in the Session of 1884 []


Construction works on the Manchester Ship Canal, 1887 []




The official opening ceremony of the Manchester Ship Canal attended by Queen Victoria in 1894 []


I think it a very good paper; and I am vain enough to think I have materially helped to polish the diamond. I ended by feeling quite proud of the paper, as if it bad been mine; the next time you have as good a one, I will overhaul it for the wages of feeling as clever as I did when I had managed to understand and helped to set it clear. I wonder if I anywhere misapprehended you? I rather think not at the last; at the first shot I know I missed a point or two. Some of what may appear to you to be wanton changes, a little study will show to be necessary.


Yes, Carlyle was ashamed of himself as few men have been; and let all carpers look at what he did.


Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) in the 1860s, Scottish philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher []

He prepared all these papers for publication with his own hand; all his wife’s complaints, all the evidence of his own misconduct: who else would have done so much?

NPG x5665; Jane Baillie Carlyle (nÈe Welsh) by Robert S. Tait

Jane Welsh Carlyle (1801–1866) in 1855. Their marriage proved to be one of the most famous, well documented, and unhappy of literary unions. Over 9000 letters between Carlyle and his wife have been published showing the couple had an affection for each other marred by frequent and angry quarrels []


Although she had been an invalid for some time, Jane’s death in 1866 was unexpected and it greatly distressed Carlyle who was moved to write his highly self-critical “Reminiscences of Jane Welsh Carlyle”, published posthumously.



Is repentance, which God accepts, to have no avail with men? nor even with the dead? I have heard too much against the thrawn, discomfortable dog: dead he is, and we may be glad of it; but he was a better man than most of us, no less patently than he was a worse. To fill the world with whining is against all my views: I do not like impiety. But — but — there are two sides to all things, and the old scalded baby had his noble side.

[…] — Ever affectionate son,




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