The Collected Letters, Volume 11


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN ; 13 February 1839; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18390213-TC-JCA-01; CL 11: 26-30


Chelsea, Wednesday 13th Feby, 1839—

My dear Sister,

I have just returned home from a large breakfast-party all [noisy] with Political and other notabilities, my head and nerves considerably “dadded abreed [worn to pieces]”; from which, however, I have realised you a frank, and now I must endeavour in such hasty fashion as I can to throw you a word of thanks for your long full Letter,1 a most welcome messenger to me. It is the first word I have got out of Dumfriesshire since the great storm, which threatened to have laid you all in ruins; I had not heard of your little stranger at all, and of Mary's only by hint and implication.2 Happily I find you still all hanging together, and faring along better or worse in the old wholesome way. It is pity you are so harrassed with the bairns, rioting round you in that way; otherwise it would not be such a job to write to me, and I should hear oftener. Nobody gives a more authentic account of all public and private things than you do; one sees that it is naked truth by the very face of it. I sent your Letter on to Jenny at Manchester; judging that she too was most probably labouring under dearth of news, and a frank would take your word along with mine without trouble. They had heard nothing from me, nor have I heard anything from them, since the morning I left their house for London.

Your account of Craigenputtoch shews us a scene of desolation, tho' happily in the safe distance only, and capable of being clouted up again. Thank James very cordially for his trouble in that matter, and encourage him to persist in that charitable work. It is, I daresay, a luck, as you remark, that the woods were not weeded last year; tho' it will be very ruinous to leave them in their present state for another year. We are glad also to think of Corson inhabiting the poor mansion;3 there will be peats enough for him to keep out the damp with; and [corner of MS torn] to understand the necessity of not corresponding. More than once I have consider[ed with] a sort of mischievous interest what a swash that huge chimney would give [in the] dead of night as it came thwack down upon the rigging there;—right happy [there] was nobody one cared for under it! James has taken the right way: to get a slater and stick in the blown slates, keeping out wet in the rough and ready way; the place is not worth, nor like to be worth, much trouble for us now. The bricks, I hope, are all piled up safe on the ground, the chimney head consisting of a few courses only: let it stand in that state till we want it again! Corson and the peats will make a brave shift; and Heaven go with him, honest man!

Most likely you have seen the Naples Letter I sent off to Ecclefechan rather before you wrote: if not, send for it; I need not write the news a second time. Jack was well and doing well, tho' seemingly feeling Naples a little tedious; that is the smallest fault one could expect such a place to have. Since that date I have had nothing from his side of the world; only I understand John Mill (the Westminster Editor an old associate of mine) to be at Naples now,4 and probably Jack's patient, certainly if there his visitor and comrade more or less. Mill has been getting more and more dyspeptical, nervous and unhealthy, for the last four years; till now the Doctors have ordered him abroad, a thing they usually do when they know not what farther to advise: he will be a kind of resource for Jack; being a good intelligent man, and disposed to like him well, tho' otherwise he is not the most amusing of men.

Of our own household and procedure in it there is little new to be said except this that Jane, almost the very day I wrote, took cold, for the first time this winter, and gave us a considerable alarm. She had overworked herself, making ready for her Mother, who is now here. For a day or two she had a tendency to cough considerably, and we did not like it; but she is now considerably better again, and indeed at this moment has decided on going out to the pavement of our sunny sheltered street, to enjoy the spring air a little;—for it is about 2 o'clock and we have a bright February blink of weather. Her Mother voted against such a step; but the female mind is obstinate, and I ventured to sanction it. This is not good news; but I hope the business is mostly over for this bout, and that nothing will come of it. Another piece of news, however, you will call decidedly good: it is, that on Monday gone a week there arrived an American Letter, announcing that our F. Rn was all sold off there two months ago, that our Miscellany volumes were at press, all in order; and enclosing—what think you—a draft for £100 as clear profit on our Revolution book! Is not that brave work? £150 in all from that farther side of the ocean; not a copper as yet realised in one's own country. I have written to say that I never had money I was prouder of than that American money, sent me one might say almost by miracle. I shewed the thing to Fraser, and told him I hoped he would blush very deep. The poor creature did blush: but what could that serve? He has done with his Edition too all but 75 copies, he said: above £1,000 have been gathered from England for that book, but none seems to belong to the writer, it all belongs to other people? The sharks! But we will try them on a new tack with the second edition. They charge above 40 per cent, I find, for the [mere] function of selling a book, the mere fash [trouble] of handing it over the counter: ask Jam[es if] he ever heard of such a thing in Commerce. It is a thing which must be altered; [and] I if I can, ought to begin altering. We shall see.— For the rest, I am writing nothing but reading, reading. I was obliged to fling the Westminster substitute of Mill off to a certain distance from me: he is an Aberdeen Scotchman, a good kind of fellow, but rough and rude as an Ass in rashy-rope [rope made of twisted rushes]; you cannot do with the like of him,— unless bound to it by dire Necessity worse than the slavery of Algiers. Thank Heaven, I am no longer in that fearful case; but can take my breath a moment, and write or not write.— If I had a stomach somewhat better, we should be all right. But alas, the stomach will just stay as it is, and one must struggle on with it. I do think however of getting me a little horse-exercise this spring, especially if I lecture, which seems the likeliest of the two ways.

I rejoice from my heart that James finds his accounts point the right way; that he is able to pick his steps, and make progress in that confused system of affairs, where so many can only run to wreck. It is manfully done, and a great triumph. Let him persist and prosper more and more. I know no prosperity better than that kind of it; no course of life, among all the courses I have seen, that is more desirable for a wise man. Be wise and faithful, both of you; there is no fear of you, I think.— It often causes me regret that poor Austin and Mary cannot get a little farm they could live in. I have a great confidence they could do well if they were fairly tried. Will you explain to Austin, if he still do not understand it, that he is to please himself in getting of a farm; that if he could find one to his own mind, Jack and I would be very happy to help in setting him into it. I suppose they are difficult to find; difficult, but not impossible surely. Mrs Welsh had a notion of getting them to Templand if she took a new lease of that: it would be a very snug place; but it is almost two years off yet, and very uncertain-looking as yet. Let them do their best: we will hope a good issue, one way or another.— People have been here interrupting me, my paper too is done, for that double letter of Mrs Welsh's consumes my ounce. You can send it by Watson5 on Saturday, I think. Before long I will write again to my Mother or Alick: I had a Newspaper from him, but no written word yet. Poor Isabella I hope is getting better; it is an uncomfortable Scotsbrig doubtless till then: but one must be patient. Give my affection to all; Jane bids me say she would write to you were the cold gone. Take care of the young woman, and be good [to her.] Send my dear Mother word of me. God bless you all!— Eve[r your affe]ctionate— T. Carlyle.

One of my company at breakfast today was the Roman Prussian Bunsen, of whom Jack often used to write.6 He is a short thickset bigheaded, purplish-coloured man, a refined edition of W. Grahame of Burnswark;7 a worthy kind of man

[This F]riday morning I am summoned to be of a “Special Jury”: while you read this I am sitting in the Queen's Bench trying a Railway Cause;8 a very great nuisance to me; but not to be helped! I will decide justly [corner torn]; but hope the thing will not return on me.— I was glad of poor Aird's remembrance:9 did you see that?