The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE ; 23 August 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18400823-TC-JAC-01; CL 12: 229-232


Chelsea, 23 Augt, 1840—

My dear Brother,

A Letter was promised from me today; and shall now get itself despatched. I did not calculate that the Sunday would intervene; that there could be no Letter for you “the day after tomorrow”: but you will know what is what. To my Mother I made a similar engagement; which I wish she may be able to interpret as well.

My Lecture was finished yesterday; tho' not till after the toughest fight. People interrupted me, my hand was out, all went awry; I had nothing for it but to say and swear that it should and must be done: so the tea was up before I would stir from the spot; it was towards sunset when I first got out into the air, with the feeling of a finished man. Finished, you will say, in more than one sense! Eviting [shunning] crowds and highways, I went along Battersea Bridge, and thence by a wondrous path, across cowfields, mud-ditches, river-embankments, over a waste expanse of what attempted to pass for country,—wondrous enough in the darkening dusk, especially as I had never been there before, and the very road was uncertain! I had left my watch and purse; I had a good stick in my hand. Boat-people sat drinking about the Red House;1 Steamers snorting about the river, each with a lantern at their nose; old women sat in strange old cottages, trimming their evening fire; bewildered-looking mysterious coke-furnaces (with a very bad smell) glowed, at one place, I knew not why; Windmills stood silent; blackguards, whores and miscellanei sauntered, harmless all; Chelsea lights burnt many-hued bright, over water, in the distance,—under the great Sky of silver, under the great still Twilight: so I wandered, full of thoughts, or of things that I could not think. I mean to revisit the place; but in daylight. The days now are so hot and bright, one cannot walk well till towards evening. I go in Steamers and omnibuses; I have the lightest dress in the world, a coat of female serge or something of the sort, which hardly weighs two pounds, and yet being bright black passes for a coat; nankeen trowsers without drawers; all made at Thornhill, on easy terms every way. With a light heart and a thin pair of breeches, a man may go far!

Before the steam fall again, which I have had such work in getting up, I mean to proceed straightway with the last of these sorrowful Lectures.2 They will be off my hand; I shall have that satisfaction. For the rest, nothing I have ever written pleases me so ill. They have nothing new, nothing that to me is not old; the style of them requires to be low-pitched, as like talk as possible;—the whole business seems to me wearisome triviality, wearisome yet toilsome to produce, which I could like to throw into the fire! Some ten days more will get me to the end of it. That is the best. Ah me, I sometimes feel as if I had lost the art of writing altogether; as if I were a dumb man, whose thought could not so much as utter itself on Paper now, not to speak of utterance by Action! I do lead a most self-secluded, entirely lonesome existence. “How is each so lonely in the wide grave of the All!” says Richter.3— — Jane comes, here, to take me out to walk. Adieu!

7. p.m.— After an interval of four hours or more, having now despatched Dinner and Tea, I resume. We went to Allan Cunningham's, to pay a long-delayed visit; found Allan in,—rather better now than when you saw him last. He looked rosy enough (perhaps too rosy); was quieter than usual, and in his conversation there seemed a kind of halt, not defect of utterance, but defect of ideas.— We have not seen Darley for long: he was out of health last time when here; in as bad spirits as ever. The other night I went up to Mill: he was sitting over Book, and office-paper, a worn-looking man; he twitched excessively and twinkled all the time I was there; very kind nevertheless: he told me it was not Macaulay that had reviewed me, which I was glad to hear, but a certain Herman Merivale, a writing Barrister, of common Philister4 qualities whom I remember meeting years ago, and discerning the Philistriosity of. I have heard no other speak of the critique. Hat Nichts zu bedeuten [It's of no importance].

Did I mention that my Horse went actually away almost a fortnight ago? W. Marshall would not accept it as a present; undertook, however, to sell it: James Fraser, who had once talked of buying, was supplied in the interim: whereupon I rode the Citoyenne up to Marshall's place, and left her there to his tender mercies. It struck me that I could not well accept a horse to sell from the Marshall's; but that, in any case, it would be well they knew what cash was got for it, accept or not! We shall see what results. I do not find myself better in health for disuse of riding; but also hardly or not at all worse; and it saves me a great deal of expense and constraint. Constraint; for I felt a kind of consciencious [sic] obligation to ride daily.

The Town is altogether empty for us; and even singularly empty to the mere walker on the streets: hot withal as an oven; I seldom look near it. Darwin still lingers; the last to go, the first to return. Miss Fergus, Elizabeth Pepoli's Sister5 was here lately for ten days; at her Sister's, that is. We went, one evening last week, to her closing soiree. Immense heaps of Tea-cake and waxlights; a Piano, and Italian men in moustachios,—men or chimeras. None but Mazzini seemed to have much reality: they sang and fiddled. Lady Morgan entered with an enormous green fan, to save her eyes, which indeed stand awry in her head, and look very wild;—a most chimerical-looking little woman she too. Most Irish: do you remember Daft Sally?6 Can you figure her half a foot shorter, dressed in the extremity of mode, green fan advanced,—and persuaded that she is a “woman of genius”? I did not introduce myself to her. A certain withered Pea-bloom Lady Stepney7 insisted on being introduced to me; as weak a “distinguished female” as I have ever had to talk with in this world. We were home before eleven.

Light is failing me, dear Jack. I know [not] what to say about that of coming to Scotland, coming to Oban. I fear the latter is too far west! A man8 invites me to come and see him in Dublin Castle: Il n'y a pas de moyen [The means are lacking]. The Sterlings are gone to Ryde; Jane declined to go with them. The Wilsons are at Malvern.— I must have my Lecture done, and then. Enough, dear Brother. Paper and Lights are both literally done.

Yours ever truly, /

T. Carlyle—