April 1848-March 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 23


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN ; 19 July 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18480719-TC-JCA-01; CL 23: 73-77


Chelsea, 19 july, 1848—

Dear Sister Jean,

It seems a very long while since we heard directly from you, or since I wrote to you, as it was probably my turn to do. Indeed I suppose you are held very busy with your young Stranger;1 and writing is by no means so handy in your premises at present as it is mine! Many times has this reflexion risen upon me in late weeks, with an urgent impulse to take up the pen straightway: but always something or other has come in the way. Indeed it is strange, almost tragical, and to you I am sure altogether inconceivable, what everlasting confusions, impediments and inane distractions beset a poor man in this place; how little of his own will, except as it were sword in hand, he can get accomplished; and how one could often, almost with tears, address to the Human Species at large, in one's despair, “For God's sake, do not torment me farther; have the kindness to pass on, and never mind me more, but leave me utterly silent, squatted in my ditch here!”— — In fact, it is sad enough how little good one gets of one's fellow creatures here, and how much hindrance and mischief: but there is no help for it; there is no other place provided for one but what is worse! So one has to snatch an hour now and another then out of the gulph, as it were by the hair of the head, and turn them to account if one can. Today I decide on send[ing]2 you a little word before anything else is attempted; I snatch an hour for you from the top of the morning, and will leave work (if work there be) to follow.

We are in our usual state of health here, all of us; cannot specifically complain;—but poor Jane, it must be admitted, is very feckless, can eat almost nothing, sleeps as ill [as ev]er, and ha[s but a] poor share of spirits this long while. I too am out of spirits often enough,—which however means only that I am out of work; that I have not yet got fairly into my work; that I must get into it, or do worse! This I know from of old to be the secret; and there will be no cure for me till I act on it. If it be necessary I must grow still unhappier,—for it is needful that the wretch find his work, and get it done: there is no other use in him that I ever could discover!— Let us be quiet then; let us be patient, and use what little strength we have. And so enough of that for the present. The Town is getting emptier now, will be quite empty in [a]3 week or two: things will then be much quieter.

Jack expected, I daresay, to have been in Annandale long before this; but here he still is,—his work very near done, you would say, yet never quite done, and hanging on at a rate of inconceivable drieghness [tedious slowness], the ultimate tail of it! I do not like yet to guess how many weeks it may still detain him. Poor fellow, he is grown really thin over it, and will be much better for a bout of country idleness: but in return, I believe it is a piece of work not without value, and done right faithfully and well; which certainly is something and to the Doctor himself (apart from this temporary leanness) it has very evidently done much good already,—it has composed and quieted him, and given him a kind of internal comfort such as I have seen nothing do this long while. So welcome him when he comes among you, poor fellow; and let him do the best he can among you.

Jane and I have yet made up no scheme for autumn; various people ask us to go hither and go thither; I sometimes privately think, it will be wiser and briefer to sit honestly still where we are,—at least for me to do so: one can hardly be so private anywhere as even in London for the next two months, so well left alone; and that is what I often think would suit me of all things best at present. But we shall see. Indeed it is a feeling with me that I have not the slightest right to a jaunt this year; not having done any work at all since I was last jaunting! We shall see.

Our good old Mother, I sometimes think, must have gone to Moffat with Isabella in these days; we heard lately that she was to go, but do not yet hear whether the purpose is fulfilling itself or not. The other day I wrote to Jamie at Scotsbrig, asking him to write; pray write to me, a word on that subject, some of you.

Emerson, as perhaps you know, is gone to America again; left Liverpool by the Steamer of Saturday last. He was very kindly treated here by the people he got among; and is a man who praises everything, and in a languid kind of way is content with everything. I think he goes home, very happy with his journey hither. I found him very amiable, gentle-minded, sincere of heart; but withal rather moonshiny, unpractical in his speculations, and it must be confessed a little wearisome from time to time! The things and persons he took interest in, were things generally quite of the past tense with me; and the best I could do generally was to listen to such psalmodyings as those of his without audibly wishing them at the Devil! He got among a poor washy set of people chiefly, “friends of humanity”4 &c,—to keep wide away from whom is my most necessary struggle here,—so in fact I have not had very much relation to him at all; and as he sedulously keeps the peace with all mortals, and really loves me very well, I managed without difficulty to keep the peace to him; and our parting was altogether friendly.5 Poor Emerson,—I shall not see him again;6 and, alas, what good could the sight of him do me, or of me do him? That is the sad lot of mortals in this world. He zealously assured me of many deep (silent) friends in America; but I answered that for that very reason, I ought to continue silent to them, and never behold them in the body: if they once found what a “fiery ettercap [irascible person]”7 I was, and how many of their delightful philanthropies I trampled under my feet, it would be a great vexation to both parties of us!— I attended all Emerson's Lectures here,—pleasant moonshiny discourses, delivered to a rather vapid miscellany of persons (friends of humanity, chiefly), and was not much grieved at the ending of them: after which, near ten days ago, I accompanied him into Wiltshire (100 miles) to visit a strange old Druid Monument called Stonehenge (concerning which visit I wrote Jamie an account the other day), and so, after gifts given and kind wishes expressed or understood, we parted in peace.

My writing, as I intimated, has come to a kind of standstill for the present days. I have accumulated masses of things about me, but they will have to go to the fire mainly. In fact, my hand is sadly out; and the times are themselves strange, all out of joint,8 and one knows not well how to “write,” or what is the real way of speaking to them! We must just persist; grow more and more uncomfortable till one do force some kind of outlet for oneself again,— I do not trace the advance of old age yet in any respect so much as in the increase of laziness: getting very “stiff t'ye raise, Sandy, man,” but able enough for draught when one is risen!

But enough, dear Jean, for this day. You must write me a word soon, about what you are all doing, for I hear almost nothing except thro' you. Tell us how Jenny gets on; whether she has had her money rightly paid her: I suppose Jack would not neglect, but we depend on you to warn us if there occur an omission.— I have given up my Times Newspaper: I was fairly wearied out, reading night after night, the universal balderdash, and sorry accounts of human violence and imbecile delirium from Paris and all other places; and was obliged to say to myself, “What can I do for it?” This Genl Cavaignac is the younger Brother of the one whom we knew: the only rational man that hitherto turns up in France, and destined, as one can see, to have a very tragic job of it there. Our present Lord Johnnys and the rest are fast ripening towards dissolution too:9—"woe's me that I in Meshak am!"10

Adieu, dear Sister: be diligent, faithful, cheerful where you are: that is all one can conquer from the world anywhere, and few so much as that. Kind remembrances to James. Your affectionate / T. Carlyle

I have sent James a Westr Review today, which is worth nothing.