January-July 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 14


TC TO THOMAS STORY SPEDDING ; 10 May 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18420510-TC-TSS-01; CL 14: 182-184


Chelsea, 10 May, 1842—

My dear Spedding,

Your melancholy tidings1 found me still in Scotland preparing just to quit it. I looked from the Firth into your Skiddaw mountains, and thought of Bassenthwaite still Church-yard and the new-made Grave. Alas, it is the law of man's existence here below; the sacredest ties, of Mother and Child, are appointed from of old to be cut asunder; the parent has to die and the son to be left living: it was the will of Nature from the first. Beneficent too;—yes, kind, tho' rigorous and stern; as the Great God, whose work we are, everywhere is.

Your Brother has a small cheery Note lying here for me, announcing in quizzical enigmatic style his safe arrival:2 the smile dies mournfully away in reading him; poor fellow, for him too a sharp pang is in store. Ah me, why did Death come into the world?— Say rather, why was it a world at all! We have no business to ask such questions. Adieu thou mild maternal Figure, entered now upon Eternity; we too shall soon be there!—

I staid two nights in Lancashire; on the morrow after my arrival in Liverpool, I went over to Manchester and returned. The most tragic circumstance I noted there was the want of smoke;3 Manchester was never in my time third-part as clear. What a strange country we are at this hour! Two thousand men and women assembled the other Saturday night before the Provost's door in Paisley, and stood, without tumult, indeed almost in silence: when questioned as to their purposes, they said they had no money, no food nor fuel, they were Fathers and Mothers, working men and women, and had come out there to see whether they could not be saved alive. The police withdrew to a distance, there were soldiers hard by to have checked any riot. By dint of great efforts the Provost collected a sum which yielded one penny farthing to each, and at sunrise they had gradually dispersed again.4 O Peel, O Russell—and indeed O England and all Englishmen! We have gone on the accursed Law of Egoism and Mammon, and every sort of Atheism, which was a lie from the beginning; and now it has broken down under us, and unless we can recover ourselves out of it, the abyss is gaping for us. We are all fearfully to blame, and make but a mad figure the best of us; but surely of all distracted Phenomena in the human shape at present, that of a volunteer Prime Minister à la Peel, à la Melbourne may be accounted one of the maddest,—for he might have avoided it! I consider sometimes that if we do not within very few years get some Prime Minister of a very different sort, Chartism or some still more frightful ism is as good as inevitable for us.

On Saturday last, having paused the night before at Rubgy, I went with Dr Arnold on pilgrimage to the Battle-field of Naseby. It was a most striking place for me; equal to Marathon5 or better. The poor old Saxon village, with its old Christian Church, its trim scattered huts, high-roofed, mud-walled, and the localities and burial-heaps of such a crisis and cardinal paroxysm still moderately traceable there! I pray daily for a new Oliver. Something it might be could we so much as get to see the old one! That, you will politely say, depends on me. Alas, alas! never in all my days, with a natural proclivity towards the Impossible, have I got so deeply sunk, covered over head and ears, in that element as even now! The dumb Oliver, I often fear, will have to remain forever dumb.

Yesterday the great encyclopedical Professor, last seen converting the Keswick population to true views of astronomy or rather of Theory in general, called here with his Wife.6 Most happy-looking both; somewhat argumentative he, and suspicious apparently that my intents in regard to several things were wicked and not charitable. Nature has many purposes to serve. Nature makes royal lion-souls, thick-hided rhinoceroses also, draught-oxen and the cattle on a thousand hills.

Adieu, dear Spedding; I am but wasting your time and my own. Many kind remembrances to your good Life-Partner. Send me a kind thought now and then; and good be ever with you both, and with you all!— Your affectionate, T. Carlyle