July 1847-March 1848

The Collected Letters, Volume 22


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN ; 25 December 1847; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18471225-TC-JCA-01; CL 22: 178-181


Chelsea, 25 decr, 1847—

My dear Jean,

Many thanks for your Letter; which was very welcome to us indeed. The ink was extremely faint; and the morning-light yesterday (as today) was very drumly [gloomy] and gray: however, by standing with my back to the windows, I made out the writing, and read it, while Jane manufactured the tea,—with hearty satisfaction. Our good old Mother! The image of her, sitting in her little end-room reading Cowper,1 a little speck of light in the great dead heart of Universal Winter, is infinitely interesting to us! Thanks for all your details about her. She is evidently very frail,—as she may well be,—and ought to take every care of herself, and to be tended (as I think she is, thanks to Isabella's goodness) with all care:—me you would do an especial favour if, with your clear eyes, you could discern anything, I, so far off, and possessed of nothing but money, could get for her; any service whatever that I could do her. My continual love she knows, at any rate; my thankfulness to the All-Merciful that still spares her for a head to us. In the world I have not any dearer possession.— If she will be very canny till this bad season go, and the Sun come out again, I shall be much obliged to her! The weather must certainly be very unwholesome somehow; there never was as much sickliness, in all corners of the world, that I remember: not all Influenza, I believe; for everybody falls ill, and everybody labels his disease Influenza, whatever the real ailment be. We have almost twice the usual number of deaths weekly in London, for some time past. But, they tell me, it is abating now; and I believe, if good hard frost would come, of which there are some symptoms occasionally, the distempered state of things would alter for the better.

Thanks for your attention in the matter of the Books: if you will send me the Account, it will now be all right. I do not yet very well know what the eligiblest conveyance to Annandale is, indeed it is perhaps not yet settled, while there are so many changes; but I am glad to know Dumfries subsists, and we may continue that method till a better turn up. I think I will keep a F. Revolution also for my Mother; as it is decidedly better printed, this time, and has an Index over and above. I will also send one to your James, that he may bind it and have the thing in such order as he likes. The two Copies will come, I hope, about New-Years-day: My Mother's to be bound as before,—I suppose, in the exact style of the Miscellanies, if that is approved of. And so that is settled too.

We are in fair health here; wonderful, considering the general average. Jane is a little shivery when the cold winds begin; but she never fairly gives in, and indeed I think is in tolerable case. We are all, we London people, in the very heart of Christmas goose-eating, you in Scotland never dreamt of such a time as the London Christmas is: huge walls of slain sheep and beeves; all railroads groaning with fat turkies, capons, hares, the whole world intent seemingly on one thing, that of being filled with excellent victual and liquors:—“wae's t'em wi' their bags [woe to the wealthy]!”2 With all which, however, there are two “London people,” a dyspeptic two, that do not in the least concern themselves: these two are to dine, this Christmas day, upon I know not what,—perhaps nothing, except some small pudding of ground rice or the like! The dark weather, and the turn of the year make me always serious, if nothing else would; and I never could rejoice very heartily at Newyearsday, not when I was much younger and merrier than now.— We have got to decide, in these days, about going down into Hampshire again, where the people want a new visit from us. Grand enough people, and very kind, both the elder Ashburton Lordships and the younger; they want us “from the 7th of Jany to the 15th of February,”—which, in so idle an element, seems much too long a time. Nay, there is one of us that would about as soon be off altogether,—so perverse is the matter, with its fashionable idleness, its &c &c! But I suppose we shall have to go, for a shorter or a longer time: kind souls, of any rank, especially of that rank, ought to have their kindness recognised, by the like of us.

No work is yet lying disengaged on the stithy, with a hammer in one's hand freely smiting at it! Work, I do imagine, goes on; but, alas, I think it may be a long while yet before much of it get fairly to the stithy,—for the nature of it is indeed a little abstruse. Nothing hurries me from without; nothing. I have grown absolutely to care not one penny about all the “fame” &c &c that such a generation as the present could give me or withhold from me,—indeed, from any generation of Adam's Posterity, it seems a mighty small matter to me;—and for the rest, I have money to buy meal and broadcloth with; and I do not know what else particularly “the world” has in it that could be superlatively useful to me! Really one feels, with one's head getting grey, and one's heart long tempered in the Stygian waters, very independent indeed; and quite as a kind of secret emperor among these beggarly populations, all hunting like ravens, all hungry as ravens, tho' with heaps of ill-smelling carrion already piled round them!— So let us be quiet;—let us be pious-minded, and listen to the Silences, to the “small still voices,”3 ourselves silent.— — I know not if you read that Paper in Fraser; or have heard that there is a kind of audible bustle about it, in the Athenaeum and other such barren regions here; many long-eared persons insinuating, or saying openly, that I have been hoaxed in the matter.4 To all which I answer, and shall answer, nothing:—only, if it go too far, I think of sending my “Unknown Correspondent”5 in person up to the people (who is a terrible tower of a fellow, true as heart-of-oak, and half-mud); he, stamping a huge cudgel on the floor, might chance to settle the “hoax”-argument in a very sudden and unexpected manner!— — Poor Mrs Howitson! She should get a right surgeon immediately: there is no pain in operations none now: I fear her complaint is very dangerous.6— Adieu, dear Sister: Jane sends with me her love to our Mother and to you and to all. I mean to write to some Scotsbrig person very soon again. Ever yours, T. Carlyle

Saw Jack last night; who is brisk and well