Chaplain’s Corner: XIX

“Never Give Up–Pick Up a Brick”

In 1834, the British philosopher, John Stuart Mill approached his friend Thomas Carlyle with a proposition. Mill had signed a contract to write a history of the French Revolution. But he had over-committed himself to other work.

Would Carlyle be interested in taking on the project, along with its handsome payment? Carlyle and his wife were barely making ends meet. He embraced the project passionately.

After completing the sweeping first volume of his literary tour de force, Carlyle brought his one and only manuscript to Mill. Would he be willing to read it and make suggestions?

Mill was delighted. But he absentmindedly left the manuscript at the home of another friend, where the maid-who could not read-used it to start a fire in the fireplace. A few charred strips of paper were all that remained of Carlyle’s masterpiece. And in 1834 handwritten documents weren’t exactly backed up by the Cloud.

Mill was beside himself with shame and grief. Carlyle took the news surprisingly well, at least when Mill told him what had happened. He didn’t want to add to his friend’s despair. But inwardly, he felt his world had come to an end. All that work. Irreplaceable investments of time and research. Nothing left but ashes.

Carlyle later said, “I remember and can still remember less of it than of anything I ever wrote with such toil. It’s gone.”

Some days later Carlyle found himself watching a brick mason building a wall. The work was ponderous. But the wall grew. One brick at a time. Carlyle concluded he could do the same. He restarted the project.

“The French Revolution: A History” was published in 1837. It is a Carlyle masterpiece and has been continuously in print for almost 200 years.

With the current pandemic it may seem as if one of your deepest dreams is in ashes today. A cherished relationship. Your health. Your family’s future. Your confidence in God. The Bible teaches us that hope is often most visible at the place of despair.

Will your story end in hopelessness, despair and futility?

Don’t for one moment ever give in to despair.

Pick up a brick. Start again. Christians have been doing that for over 2000 years.


Ron Naylor, Chaplain