August-December 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 15


TC TO JANE WILSON ; 9 December 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18421209-TC-JWI-01; CL 15: 222-224


Chelsea, 9 Decr, 1842—

Dear Miss Wilson,

You are very kind to me, very tolerant of my manifold perversities! Had I the wings of an eagle, I would fly to several places; did one's inner thought radiate out of one, in free clearness, as the Sun's does, there might be less to tolerate: But, alas, we dwell in houses of clay, houses of dyspepsia, contraction, obscuration,—like sunbeams buried under rubbish-mountains; and do need all kindness of interpretation from our friends, now and then!

One night, some two weeks ago, feeling as if I were destined never to see you more, I equipped myself after tea, and instead of sitting down lazily to books, actually went off to Eccleston Street,1 in hopes of finding you there for an hour. What a pitch of resolution this indicates is known to Dyspeptics alone! You were not there; you were still at Malvern, and Mr Wilson too; uncertain as to your date of returning.— And now here comes your cheerful friendly Note. Let me at least have the privilege of a written word with you by favour of that.

My way of life, for many months past, has been in the highest degree solitary; sunk in the very Death-Kingdoms, in the inmost regions of Night. Oliver remains unutterable; he is clear, burning before my heart: but the means of ever in this world bringing him rightly before another heart remains invisible, impossible. There is no use writing another dreary vacuity of a “History of Cromwell”; we already count them by the score. I feel as if England had forever lost her great Oliver; neglected, persecuted, overwhelmed him under “dry rubbish,” till it was too late.— Alas, all remains unutterable with me; all, or nearly all. I write much: but it goes into the fire, into the lumber-drawer, regularly in a week or two. Let us speak no more of that melancholy department of affairs. I consider myself generally as a man lost; absorbed by the “Mud Nymphs” of Pope's Dunciad; who will never more be heard of, who has to reconcile himself to that unexpected destiny, and be content with it as handsomely as he can. In all cases, are we not bound to say, “So be it!”

Meanwhile I see nobody; converse with nobody except the Manes and the Demogorgons. My Wife does all the company; I escape, late in the afternoon; walk, for an hour and a half, anywhither, nowhither; return, glad to get in again out of the uproar, out of the smoke and fogs. For the last week, we have had the most appropriate ghost-weather; dim endless slate-coloured Fog; the human creatures with their equipages hanging in it like distracted ghosts, like grey shadows, which I believe in fact they are.

Not very long ago, however, I did see Henry Taylor and his wife; cheery, not at all ghost-like; just returned from a comfortable rustication in the North. Elliott too I once saw; he and his household are over to Paris for the present.— Alas, it is too true about poor Mrs Reeve.2 We had not heard of it till your Letter; but on inquiring I learn that it is even she. Her disease, they say, was bronchitis, coming on in a weak state at her Father's house in Roxburghshire;3 the poor young creature is rapt away into new unknown scenes. Everybody loved her. Who knows whether even this is not best? Life has many worse things in it than swift death among our loved ones.

Perhaps the cheerfullest phenomenon I have fallen in with, of late, is Alfred Tennyson's new Book of Poems. It is infinitely gratifying to find one true soul more, a great melodious Poet-soul, breathing the vital air along with us. Such I discover, to my own satisfaction, in this Book of Alfred's. There has no man tried Singing for a long while in whom I found such a talent for it. Praised be Heaven!— You do not know Alfred? A massive, irregular, dusty, brown-complexioned man; a large rough-hewn face, full of darkness, yet of kindness even of good humour; large, gloomy-kindly, Indian eyes, an immense shock of dusty black hair;—and one of the best smokers now living! Right well do I like a pipe beside Alfred: his speech, in that deep clear metallic voice, is right pleasant to me; his very silence, amid the tobacco-clouds, eloquent enough.— As you can have no hope of ever smoking with him, I will advise you at least to read his Book.

Another Book I have in store for you, is the “Life of Jean Paul,” which an American Mrs Lee4 has lately sent over hither. Did you never think of putting pen to paper; with your new German and much old intelligence and insight? Perhaps the distinction is, at present, not to do that! Here however is an American woman, who with little labour of soul,—mainly by having an open sense and a good pair of scissors,—has put together a very readable and useful pair of volumes.

The task meanwhile that I will first of all lay upon you is, to perfect your Wasser-Cur [water cure];5 get quite well again, and come back to us, as soon as may be! That is the great thing to be done that;—and forgiving me this mad epistle, which I write in the mere nurseryroom of Demogorgon, with Eris, Discord, the Three Fates and all the rest of them pipeing and squalling round me; but conclude in all sanity with real gratitude and good wishes for now and for ever; being indeed very truly and heartily always,

My dear Miss Wilson, / Yours /

T. Carlyle