August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


TC TO JANE WELSH CARLYLE ; 5 August 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430805-TC-JWC-01; CL 17: 13-16


Scotsbrig, Ecclefechan, 5 Augt (Saturday Evg), 1843—

My Dearest,

Here I am since yesternight, a most wearied tide-tossed man; and proceed to despatch you a line significant of that fact, there being hardly any other to signify.

I took leave of Maryland Street and all the remaining Cousins at their hour of bedtime on Thursday evening; and stept over to Chorley, who is a late sitter, and had invited me for that hour. Walter M'Gregor had been with us; looking much better than formerly, tho' limping with a lamed shin at present. Little Jeannie and all the Cousins parted from me with kind wishes and, I do believe, hospitable hearts: the Doctor had come over to fetch me; and so towards midnight we wended along Rodney Street; found Chorley with his lights all trimmed, and a small supper-collation on the table, which being declined he at once removed it, and substituted cigars and mere conversation in its stead. His conversation was not bad; two o'clock came on, and we all sallied forth to the slumberous streets again, and my two guides landed me at last in the Chaos of the Victoria Steamer, and took their leave. In the Victoria Steamer, it was, as I say, Chaos; cloudy, dim, bewildered, half-asleep more than half drunk;—altogether like a nasty damp, clammy Dream of confusion, dirt, impediment and general nightmare. I had no bed; could hear no tidings of my luggage till a drunk sailor helped me to find it—it will be a winter evening's tale for us some time! All well, if it end well. At half past three in a rainless but thoroughly drenched morning we got into the Mersey Stream; and I, at liberty now to smoke at least (for in the Dock they permit no fire, no light that is not sealed within a bottle) took leave of Liverpool, gazing on it in the ghastly damp dawn really with some interest. I could have staid longer, had not my “constitution” been so bad,—nay, had I not spurred myself up with the greatest severity to shake away idleness, and keep my set time. All regrets, suggestions &c I could not but admit to be mere indolence, lazinness, on my part; and therefore I had spurned them out of doors.

The voyage itself, thanks to a bright sunshine all day, was far tolerabler than it promised to be: nay, in spite as it were of very fate, I snatched some five hours of sleep at various dates, from various shelves and benches;—I on the whole fared well enough. My poor native Annandale never looked so impressive to me that I remember. Black rain curtains hung all around; but there, when I saw it, was a kind of bewept brightness: all seemed so small, remote, eternally foreign; I said to myself, “There among these poor knolls thy life-journeyings commenced, my man; there didst thou begin, in this outskirt of Creation; and thou hast wandered very far since then,—far as Eternity and Hades, so to speak, since then!”—

Nobody was there to receive me; Jamie's Letter, owing to the Liverpool Post-Office which is not equal to the London one, had not reached him, tho' he inquired for it, at the time set. I got a kind of gig straightway at Benson's Inn, and came hither to kind welcome, to dinner, tea and sleep, all in the lump almost. My determination is to rest here for a space; I feel quite smashed, done up, and pressingly in need to pause and do nothing whatever.

I have spread out my things; cut up even a piece of my Iceland Grammar; I sit in the little easternmost room, saved from interruption; I really will rest now. My poor Mother is very cheery; but very pale, thin, and has evidently been suffering much since I saw her. She speaks about Alick and all manner of things quite composedly; sees clearly that there was the finger of Necessity in it, and no remonstrance to be made. Jenny is here; very active, orderly; and has her two poor little lassies in good trim, in right obedience; today I heard her teaching them to read,—poor little Jenny. Isabella is fallen worse again; is kept mostly in bed, thro' sheer weakness, they have a wet-nurse for the infant: Jamie goes on in the old cheerfully stoical manner in these “worst of times.”— I declare I am sorry for all people! Yesterday, was and1 old dirty feckless-looking man in tattered straw-hat sitting in the Steamer, notable to me all day; at night a rugged hearty kind of old woman came on deck, who proved to be his wife: they had been in America, where all their children 11 in number were, “but the auld man, ye seiy, wadna bide,” tho' they had sent for him; and so here he was with his old dame come daundering back again to beggary and the Hawick2 native soil! Poor old devil, I was heartily sorry for him;—and the sturdy old wife I honoured her as a true heart of oak, the main stay of her old man, who grinned intelligence as he saw Scotch land again. Their goods were in certain duddy pokes [ragged cloth bags] and one old painted chest, of which the woman carried the key; her sturdy way of undoing the padlock had first attracted my attention to her. Is not life a “joyous” kind of thing to this old woman? “I declare I'se quite shamed,” she said, “to gang hame sae dirty: a's dirty, and I could get nothing washed!”— —

O Goody, why do I twaddle to thee about all and sundry in this manner! Really silence would be preferable, and the saving of a penny stamp. I shall perhaps grow a shade sensibler now that I am left a little to myself. For one thing I decide not to write so often.

Art thou gone to Ryde? What art thou doing; what is all the world doing? There will be no Letter tonight, I fear;—but tomorrow! And next day—or at latest Tuesday, the day after that!

Adieu, dear Goody; the tea is ready, and Jamie's messenger to Ecclefechan. All salute you here. Good be ever with you, Dearikin!