August-December 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 15


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE ; 7 September 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18420907-TC-MAC-01; CL 15: 73-75


CAMBRIDGE, 7th Sep., 1842.

MY DEAR MOTHER,—I am sitting here in the “Hoop Inn” of Cambridge, in a spacious apartment, blazing with gaslight and nearly solitary. It strikes me I may as well employ the hour before bedtime in writing a word for my good Mother,—to explain to her how I am, and above all what in the world I am doing here! There is a magnificent thunderstorm just going on, or rather beginning to pass off in copious floods of rain, and there is no other sound audible in this room; one single fellow-traveller lies reading the Times Newspaper on the sofa opposite, and the rain quenches even the sound of his breath.

Well, dear Mother, you heard that Jane was gone into Suffolk to Mrs. Buller's, and perhaps you understand or guess that she continues still there; nay, perhaps Jack may have informed you that on Thursday last (a week ago all but a day) I, after long higgling, set out to bring her home. Home, however, she was not to go quite so fast. Mrs. Buller, rather lively up in that region, wanted her to stay a little longer, wanted me also, I suppose, to go flaunting about, calling on Lady this and Sir Henry that, and lionizing and amusing myself as I best might in her neighbourhood. She is very kind indeed,—more hospitable and good than I have almost ever seen her to anybody. The place Troston is a quiet, sleek, green place, so intersected with green, wide lanes (loanings) all overgrown with trees that you can hardly find your way in it,—like walking in some coal-mine in paths underground; it or any green country whatever, as you know, is likely to be welcome to me. One day I walked off to a place called Thetford in Norfolk, about 8 miles from us. It was the morrow after my arrival, and I did not know the nature of the lanes then. I lost my way both going and coming, and made the distance 12 or 13 each way, but got home in time to dinner, and was all the better for my walk. Afterwards I never ventured out of sight of Troston Church-tower without first drawing for myself a little map of my route from a big map that hangs in the lobby. With my little map in my waistcoat pocket I feared nothing, and indeed in three days knew all the outs and ins of the country;—for Mrs. Buller in that interval had contrived to borrow me a farmer's horse to go about on. Was not that a friendly office to a man like me?

But to hasten to the point! Mrs. Buller's, I knew beforehand, was but some 30 miles to the east of Cromwell's country; his birthplace,1 the farm he had first, and the farm he had second, all lie adjoining on the Westward, either in the next County, which is this (Cambridgeshire), or in Huntingdonshire, the one Westward of this. Accordingly, having talked a long enough time about jaunts and pilgrimages,—about it and about it,—I decided at last (the women threatening to laugh at me if I did not go) on actually setting off, and accordingly here I am, with my face already homewards, the main part of my little errand successfully accomplished; and a “riding tour” through the country parts of England, which I have been talking of these dozen years or more, has actually taken effect on the small scale,—a very small scale indeed. I have ridden but two days, and on the morrow evening I shall be at Troston again, or near it. My conveyance being the farmer's horse above mentioned, my fatigue has been great;—for it is the roughest and dourest beast nearly that I ever rode, and today in the morning, to mend matters, it took to the trick they call “scouring,”—in a sullen, windless ninny niawing.2— Many a time I thought of Alick and Jamie in these Cambridge Fens, and wished one or both of them had been near me. But I let the creature take time (for it would have it), and it gradually recruited again, though not brilliant at the best; and indeed I shall be very willing to wish it good-bye to-morrow evening, were I at Troston again. Poor brute, it cannot help being supple [cunning or limp] and riding as with stithy-clogs3 at its feet! It has eaten four and a half feeds of corn to-day, or I think it would altogether have failed.

But at any rate I have seen the Cromwell country, got an image of it in my mind for all time henceforth. I was last night at Ely, the Bishop's City of this district. I walked in and about the Cathedral for two good hours. Thought vividly of Cromwell stepping up these floors, with his sword by his side, bidding the Priest (who would not obey his first order, but continued reading his liturgies), “Cease your fooling and come out, Sir.”— One can fancy with what a gollie [roaring] in the voice of him. I found the very house he had lived in. I sat and smoked a pipe about nine o'clock under the stars on the very “Horseblock” (louping-on stone)4 which Oliver had often mounted from, two hundred years ago. It was all full of interest, and though I could get but very little sleep at night, I did not grudge that price. To-day I rode still farther Westward to a place called St. Ives, where Oliver first took to farming. The house they showed as his I did not believe in, but the fields that he tilled and reaped are veritably there.5 I sat down under the shade of one of his hedges and kindled a cigar, not without reflections! I have also seen his native town Huntingdon, with many other things to-day, and am here now on my way homeward, as I said, and will not trouble my dear good Mother with one other word of babblement on the subject at present. No country in itself can well be uglier; it is all a drained immensity of fen (or soft peat moss), and bears a considerable resemblance to the trench at Dumfries,6—if that were some 30 or 40 miles square, with Parish churches innumerable, all built on dry knolls of chalky earth that rise up like islands. You can tell Jamie that it bears heavy crops! oats, beans, wheat, which they are just concluding the leading in of at present; the rest of the country being done a week or two ago.

Dear Mother, was there ever such a clatter of a letter written? And not one word of news, not one word even of the many hundred I could use in inquiring! We return to Chelsea, I expect, about Monday first. Saturday was to be proposed, but will not stand I believe. Jack is already gone, on Saturday last, to Cheltenham, and then for North Wales. Right glad am I for him and for you that he is to come into Annandale for a little while. Poor fellow, it is long since he has been there, and he too has his own feelings and straits which he does not speak about often. My dear Mother, I will bid you all good-night. I send you my heart's best blessing o'er all the hills and rivers that lie between us to-night. The thunder is gone, and the rain. I will send you a little word when we get to Chelsea; perhaps there is something from yourself for me already forwarded to Troston. I doubt it. Good-night, my dear true Mother.

Ever your affecte


I know not whether Alick has now any communication with the Whitehaven Tobacconist?7 A quarter of a stone might be ventured upon along with the Harvest meal, or by the Doctor or some other conveyance. It keeps in the winter; it could not be worse than my London tobacco all this year. Tell Alick about it; he rejoices always to help me whenever he can.