The Collected Letters, Volume 13


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE ; 2 January 1841; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18410102-TC-MAC-01; CL 13: 3-6


Chelsea, 2nd January, 1841.

My Dear Mother,—I designed to begin the New Year with writing a Letter to you; but I was interrupted yesterday: Jack came to me yesterday, he and several other interruptions, so that I [am]1 driven upon to-day, and much hurried still, as I usually am. Perhaps Jack himself may be writing to you at this very time: we were to meet again to-day at his inn up in town, when I go out for walking—which must be in an hour or so now. He had come in with his Patient and his Patient's Aunt,2 seemingly upon a mere excursion of amusement: he looks well and cheerful; tho' he is still in daily doubt as to continuing in his situation; and indeed speaks as if it were possible that in these very days he might get some intelligence which would lead him to give it up very soon. He has much correspondence with the many parties interested in his Patient's sanity or insanity; for great estates of money and land would be taken from the poor man, and put into other people's possession, if he were once proved to be mad; hence endless jealousies one of the other, anxieties, surmises, &c., &c.; add to all which that several of the persons concerned seem to be naturally gomerils [fools], and even noisy gomerils; so that there is confused folly enough, and oftentimes much ado about nothing. Jack appears to manage all very handsomely, and rather to amuse himself with the gomeril part of the correspondence than otherwise: happily the people who alone have any power are people of sense, with whom he has nothing but satisfaction. Besides, he seems not to care a doit about giving up the place at an hour's warning any time; this is an immense point in his favour. He tells the fools on all occasions that if they don't hold in their ineptitudes a little, he will be off, and leave them to rid their troubles. He expects, I think, very soon, to get several matters straightened, and so the matter to go on more smoothly for time coming. I think it quite an uncertainty whether he may not continue in it yet a long time, or cut it short very soon. Such uncertainty would be, perhaps, more unpleasant to any of us than it is to him—in his own present uncertain humour, unable to fix on any plan for himself if he were free of this engagement. He has plenty of travelling, sees all kinds of places, reads a little, has nothing to overburden his mind; and gains the royallest wages—as much as all the rest of us do, put into a lot! Whenever it becomes pressing upon him to settle and sit down, he can do it with a good supply behind him now. Poor fellow, I am sorry he is not settled, notwithstanding; there is little real profit for a man rolling about in that fashion; but one cannot help him, save with silent wishes: I have undertaken not to speak with him, again about that subject: all speech is useless or worse.— All these things observe, dear mother, are secrets; not to pass beyond your own walls: I should be finely rated if Jack got any wind of them coming round to him again!

Jean sent me a Letter last week with news that poor Jenny had got handsomely through her work.3 Yesterday Alick confirms that; adding also that mother and daughter continue to do well. I am right glad to know it; I mean to send poor Jenny a “scrape of a pen” before long.— What Alick says about Mary Harkness, her dumb surprise, then her silent purchase of cotton sheets and clothes, is deeply affecting to me.4 Alas, the hardship, hunger, and misery of thousands on thousands in this world is frightful. Jane here has been looking out a little into one case that came before her; the emblem of a whole world of others: a woman with famishing, naked children, husband out of work; frost, despair, starvation: Jane got something done for the poor body, who seemed capable of help, willing to work and struggle; all seemed to be going fair, when the unfortunate wretch was discovered to have stolen a miserable hat-brush from the lobby here! It would be worth to her at the Pawnshop about ninepence. The unfortunate who want only food can be supplied; but they that have lost their honesty, alas, are beyond man's help! One's heart is sore to think of all this.

Our frost, however, is over now; it has ended in a beautiful thaw, and to-day the sun is shining out of clear skies. It will be better for us all. Jane has got out again: she declared she was threatening to “stock [become stiff and numb],” as the horses for want of exercise do!— You never told me anything about your cold: not a word! Has it in reality left you? I again and again recommend all manner of care and caution. I hope you will get no harm on this Sacrament occasion;5—if all go right, perhaps you will get this Letter on the Monday, and Alick and Jenny will make you a good cup of tea, while you read me, before taking the moor again! Jemmy had a Letter from me;6 but he makes no kind of response,—the lazy fellow.

You may tell Alick there is some sort of confusion about that Ecclefn. Library; but that now I see how to clear it again. Having once got their copy of the Book they ordered, it is of course irrevocable, no Bookseller can be asked to take it back. Had I known this, it had been all straight. But not hearing anything at all, on Fraser's day having finally arrived last Tuesday, I was obliged to proceed: I addressed a copy of the Miscellanies to James Aitken at Dumfries, with an inscription on it for the Ecclefechan Library, and there it will probably be lying while you read this!— Well, I will write to James not to send forward the Book; we will get the inscription changed (that will not be difficult), and make a present of it to W. Grahame.7 I want to hear simply one word first,—that the Ecclefechan Library people do not expect the Book from me now! Pray let me have this, some of you, without delay: you, dear mother, if no other will. One word is easily written; and a penny will carry it!

Good be with you all, my ever dear mother, my dear kind friends one and all. Here new “interruptions,” on foot and in coach! Jane shall receive them, not I. There is no end to tumult here. I struggle to work in spite of it; threatening sometimes to cut it, and kick it to pieces. Adieu, dear mother.

Your affectionate, /

T. Carlyle.