The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 17 March 1817; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18170317-TC-MAC-01; CL 1:93-95.


Kirkcaldy Tuesday night (17th March) 1817—

My dear Mother,

I have long been intending to write you a line or two in order to let you know my state & condition—but having nothing worth writing to communicate, I have put it off from time to time. I need not say how much I was rejoiced to hear of your complete recovery; there was little enjoyment for any person at Mainhill when I was there last year; but I look forward to the ensuing autumn when I hope to have the happiness of discussing matters with you as we were wont to do of old. It gives me pleasure to hear that the bairns are at school. There are few things in this world more valuable than knowledge—and youth is the period for acquiring it. With the exception of the religious and moral instruction which I had the happiness of receiving from my parents—and which I humbly trust will not be entirely lost upon me—there is nothing for which I feel more grateful than for the education which they have bestowed upon me. Sandy was getting fond of reading when he went away, I hope he and Aiken1 will continue their operations now that he is home. There cannot be imagined a more honest way of employing spare hours.

My way of life in this place is much the same as formerly. The school is doing pretty well; and my health through the winter has been uniformly good. I have little intercourse with the natives here; yet there is no dryness between us—we are always happy to meet & happy to part. But their society is not very valuable to me—and my books are friends that never fail me. I sometimes see the minister & some others of them, with whom I am very well satisfied; & Irving2 & I are very friendly—as well as Pears3—so I am never wearied or at a loss to pass the time. We had Bob of the Bank4 here some weeks ago giving us an account of all the people in your neighbourhood. They do not seem to be in a very flourishing condition, I think, for most part.

You will have heard of the miserable end of poor William Irving— Johnnie's son.5 It appears that his wife & he had been compelled to separate on account of poverty—and that she had engaged herself as a nurse in some family in Edinr. He had been meditating suicide for a considerable time—and, having been refused admittance one day when he went to see his wife, he swallowed a large quantity of laudanum upon his return home. But either he had been seized with remorse or some one had detected his situation, and a physician by means of a strong emetic rid him of the poisonous drug. However the same evening in the room I suppose where his children were sleeping, he tied a string round his neck and having opened the vein beneath his ear (anatomists call it the jugular vein)—he completed the desperate act which his mind had been it appears, sometime revolving. I was struck with horror to hear of his fate. He was a man of some considerable talents—and had his mind been directed by prudence (of which he was nearly destitute) and by religious or moral feelings—which in his wandering unhappy way of life had become greatly obscured in him—he might have lived to be a credit to his friends—and the country which produced him. Some days before his death he wrote a letter, which was found in his pocket, to Mr Gray teacher in the High-school6 who had been extremely kind to him, recommending to his care & protection, his widow& orphan children. It is pleasing to hear that they are provided for in some shape.

I had designed this night to write to Aiken, about his books and studies, but I will scarcely have time to say any thing. There is a book7 for him in the box—and I would have sent him the Geometry but it was not to be had in the town—& could not be procured till it would have been too late for the carrier. I have sent you a scarf as near the kind as Aiken's very scanty description would allow me to come. I hope it will please you—it is as good as any that the Merchant had—A shawl of the same materials would have been warmer, but I had no authority to get it. Perhaps you could like to have a shawl also. If you will tell me what colour you prefer, I will send it with all the pleasure in the world— I expect to hear from you as soon as you can find leisure. You must be very minute in the account of your domestic affairs— My Father spoke once of a threshing machine. If twenty pounds or so will help him—they are quite ready at his service—

I remain, / My Dear Mother, / Your affectionate son /

Thomas Carlyle

PS. Let me be kindly remembered to all my brothers & sisters about Mainhill—and all my other friends & relations in your quarter—