January-July 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 14


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE ; 8 January 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18420108-TC-MAC-01; CL 14: 7-9


CHELSEA, 8th January, 1842.

MY DEAR MOTHER,—You have been wandering so about of late times, and there has been such confused trouble going on, that I have not got you regularly written to. It seems to me a long while since we had any right communication together. To-day I will scribble you a word before going out. Alick says you are for moving over to Gill again to bear Jenny company till the day lengthens. If you be already gone they will send this after you.

The great trouble there has been at Scotsbrig1 must have been distressing to every person there, from the poor father and mother downwards. You, in particular, could not escape. The weather also is sorely inclement and not wholesome for those that cannot take violent exercise; yet Alick assures me you are “as well as usual.” Nay, he adds that you mean soon to write to me. I pray you take care, dear Mother, in your shifting to the Gill and during your stay there in the stranger house; it is bitter weather and looks as if it would continue long frosty. Tell me especially how you are, what clothes you wear, whether you get good fires. A warm bottle is indispensable in the bed at night. You have books to read, daily little bits of work to do; you must crouch quiet till the sun comes out again.

A considerable noise has been going on about that little Review-Article of mine which I sent you. The last page of the Divine Right of Squires has been circulating widely through the Newspapers with various commentary and so forth. This I by no means grudge: as the thing is true, it may circulate as widely as it likes. It can do nothing but good (whether pleasant or painful good) being true,—let it circulate where it will. If a word of mine can help to relieve the world from an insupportable oppression, surely it shall be very welcome to do so! The man2 has paid me for this “article” (£24) but I think I shall not soon trouble the world again with reviewing. I mean something else than that if I could get at it. On the whole, what with Edinburgh Professorships, what with Covenanter Articles, we have had rather a noisy time of it in the newspapers for a while back. It is not unpleasant, but except for aiding the sale of one's books, perhaps it is apt to be unprofitable. Fame? Reputation? &c, as old Tom White3 said of the whisky, “Keep your whisky to yoursel'! deevil o' ever I'se better than when there's no a drop on't i' my wame [belly]?” which is a literal truth,—both as to fame and whisky.

My new book, I may tell you now, is to be something about that same Civil War in England which Baillie was in the midst of; I think mainly or almost exclusively about Oliver Cromwell.4 I am struggling sore to get some hold of it, but the business will be dreadfully difficult, far worse than any French Revolution, if I am to do it right:—and if I do not do it right what is the use of doing it at all? For some time I tried actual writing at it lately, but found it was too soon yet. I must wrestle and tumble about with it, indeed at bottom I do not know yet whether ever I shall be able to make a Book out of it! All that I can do is to try, till I ascertain either Yes or No. For the rest I am grown too old and cunning now to plunge right on and attempt conquering the thing by sheer force. I lie back, canny, canny, and whenever I find my sleep beginning to suffer, I lay down the tools for a while.5 By Heaven's great blessing I am not now urged on by direct need of money. We have arranged ourselves here in what to London people is an inconceivable state of thrift, and in our small way are not now tormented with any fear of want whatever, for the present.6 To myself my poverty is really quite a suitable, almost comfortable, arrangement. I often think what should I do if I were wealthy! I am perhaps among the freest men in the British Empire at this moment. No King or Pontiff has any power over me, gets any revenue from me, except what he may deserve at my hands. There is nothing but my Maker whom I call Master under this sky. What would I be at? George Fox was hardly freer in his suit of leather than I here:7 if to be sure not carrying it quite so far as the leather. Jane, too, is quite of my way of thinking in this respect. Truly we have been mercifully dealt with, and much that looked like evil has turned to be good. One thing I must tell you as a small adventure which befell, the day before yesterday. On going out for walking along one of these streets an elderly, innocent, intelligent-looking gentleman accosted me with “Apologies for introducing himself to Mr. Carlyle whose works &c, &c. He was the Parish clergyman,” rector of the Parish of St. Luke's, Chelsea!8 I replied of course with all civility to the worthy man (though shocked to admit that after seven years of parishionership I did not know the face of him). We walked together as far as our roads would coincide, then parted with low bows. I mean to ask about the man (whose name I do not even know yet!) and, if the accounts be good, to invite a nearer approximation.

Jack will be with us to-morrow evening, we expect; oftenest we see him only that once in the course of a week. He is healthy, cheery and as full of talk and activity as I ever saw him. His Patient and he walk daily, or drive, or ride several hours, which is a good encourager of health. He seems likelier than ever to stay a good while in this present situation, to realize a good purse perhaps,—and then retire as a half-pay. Jane sticks close in the house ever since the frost began, for near a week now; she is in very tolerable health. Poor Helen, our servant, heard the other night of the death of a poor sick (asthmatic) sister at Edinburgh, which grieved her to the ground for a while and still greatly afflicts her; we are sorry for the poor creature.

Alick's long letter, you can tell him, shall be answered by and by. I had also a letter from Jean not many days ago. I have extremely little time for writing letters. You must all be patient with me. Commend me to poor Isabella, whose affliction we deeply sympathize with. Yours affectionately.

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