The Collected Letters, Volume 10


TC AND JWC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN ; 1 May 1838; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18380501-TCJWC-JCA-01; CL 10: 70-73


Chelsea, 1st May 1838—

My dear Jean,

Will you accept a very small and hasty Note in return for the long, interesting and thoroughly instructive Letter you wrote me.1 I know with what difficulty you would write it, the little imp of a boy “climbing up on the table” beside you, excellent little imp that he is: but you contrive to draw me, in rude hard lines, a very significant and distinct image of what is going on: many, many thanks to you for it. I had another Letter from Alick not very long before:2 he too is still unanswered; perhaps I should have written to him rather; but you will convey my news to him, some way or other; and I think this is more certain of being delivered directly than a Letter to him would be. I know too you will all excuse me at present: my brevity, nay my silence altogether would not be inexcusable if you saw how I am situated.— I sent off your Letter and Alick's to our Mother in a parcel of Magazines and old trash of books going to Manchester: I have just bought a Times Newspaper to speed off to her today, and shall have to write thither also before long. You too I hope will see some glimpse of some Newspaper too; I will try to send you or get you something of the kind sent, at least once before this thing of Lecturing be over. But, indeed, as Corrie said “What's ta use on't?”

First then let me tell you that a Newspaper came yesterday from Jack, with the mark of “all well” on it. It is from Rome; which City I suppose they must now be soon purposing to leave. Jack's last Letter, which came some three weeks ago and was sent off directly to our Mother, and which perhaps you have not heard of, reported that some delay was like to take place,3 but that they still calculated on being here early in June. We shall hope to see the poor Doctor arrive safe to us once more.

And now for Chelsea and London. After much trembling and preparation, yesterday our first Lecture was actually got delivered. The Times I spoke of above contains a very kind notice of it (written I understand by the man that reviewed my Book there):4 I fancy my Mother will send it forward to some of you and that you will all see it. I wish it could be kept for me; it and the rest that may follow; they will be worth looking at 10 years hence: but on the whole that is no matter.— Our entrance into the enterprise was, as usual, performed under mixed auspices. My health, or rather I should say my nerves and heart were not good: tremble, tremble, like an ague fever, now hot with hope, oftenest cold with fear, and on the whole extremely sour many times that I was bound to be so shivered and quivered when all I prayed for was a life of quietness, of silence! To worsen the matter, poor Jane caught this Influenza that is going here, and after escaping all winter and spring much better than we could have hoped, fell ill and very ill just three days before the grand Business was to begin! Thank Heaven, she got as suddenly round again, and even got herself smuggled away yesterday, and in a private manner heard me preach. It was not so bad as last year; nor perhaps so good. I was very quiet; kept my tremblings down; and in the sick state I was in my mind felt half lame,—like a spavined horse which I did not whip into heat. We shall be in many moods yet, before the “six weeks” end. But I suppose the thing will be got over in some tolerable way; and that is all I request of Heaven about it.—One thing is to be regretted in it, that the arrangements, and announcements and the rest of that, do not seem to be considered as what they ought to have been. I left it all to two idle friends of mine, a Mr Wilson and a Mr Darwin;5 and I believe they did what they could, but “Easter-week” and small circumstances which you would not understand were against them: whereby the thing is not fairly tried after all, and the money-produce of it may be somewhat less than it would otherwise have been. I expected vaguely perhaps £300 for it, but shall now be well content with 2. These as you may guess are family-secrets; no one else has any business to know about them. Perhaps the audience may increase a little as the thing goes on; perhaps not: they seemed already (I am told) to be some 140; but the expenses of the business are huge in proportion. And now enough of all that. Nothing could be friendlier than my reception;6 I have kind friends there, whom I ought never to forget. Hope with me that it will all end handsomely, and I be at liberty once more to “get out of this.” If I had health and impudence, great things lie before me here; but I have neither the one nor the other; and on the whole do not want great things— O Heaven, peace, peace, that is all I want!

Thank James for his care of Craigenputtoch; bid him do what farther with it he judges fittest. Thank him too for his diligence with the Revolution; it gratifies me greatly. I send my brotherly love to one and all. Glad am I to learn that Alick is doing well; right glad. I will write to some of you again ere long. And now enough O Sister Jean! I have physic in me, I am weary, and have much to do. Your ever affectionate

T. Carlyle

My dear Jane

When a man—at least when this Man has “physic in him,” it appears to me that he should make a distinct announcement of the fact, in the very first sentence of his letter, instead of mentioning it by the by at the end. as the reader then takes in all he may say or sing with allowance. Thus had he begun with “My dear Jane I this morning swallowed “quite promiscuously” a doze of castor-oil—mixed up by my own hand too (my wife being in bed at the time) and sit down to write under its “dark brown shad”7 “You would have formed to yourself, as you proceeded, a much cheerier as well as truer picture of “the wark”—I can assume his nerves were a vast deal stiffer than last year— I took one glimpse at him (just one) when he came on the stage—and to be sure he was as white as a pocket handkerchief—but he made no gasping and spluttering as I found him doing last year at the fourth lecture. By and by when the rate he was getting on at, told me I might look with safety he had recovered all that “bonny red in his cheeks” which Miss Corson of Craigenputtoch8 so highly admired—and having a very fine light from above shining down on him he really looked a surprisingly beautiful man— His lecture was to my taste better than any he delivered last year in my hearing. tho' he himself thinks foresooth there was not enough of fire in it. and he delivered it very gracefully; that is to say, without any air of thinking about his delivery, which is the best grace of any. I in a manner, ‘took up my bed and walked’ to hear him—for I was hardly up after several days of tugging on with Influenza like a fly among treacle when the arrival of a Gentleman with a close carriage to take me,9 was a temptation not to be resisted—and I just waited to send off Him with my blessing, and then flung on my cloak and drove after him. arriving at the door from opposite sides in the very same instant with himself—but I turned away my face and passed on without taking any notice—as the pheasants when they want to hide think it enough to stick their heads into a hole. Beware however dear Jane how you encourage that little morsel of yours to follow the trade of being a Genius—it is a considerable risk—one way and another—and for my part if I had the power of administering it, I should advise it much as our good Doctor used to do with his senna—“you had better give it him or perhaps you had better not.”10 My Mother complains that you take no notice of her and the only news she gets of any of you is by way of London— For shame—you who can write so well ought not to be so slack— Ever your affectionate Sister

Jane W Carlyle

Remember me very kindly to James whose sympathetic looks on my wayfaring at Dumfries I shall long be grateful for