The Collected Letters, Volume 25


INTRODUCTION; 1997; DOI: 10.1215/ed-25-introduction; CL 25: firstpage-25-ix-lastpage-25-x


An analysis of the letters of this volume once again shows how much is fresh in the study of the Carlyles, but now with a slight difference. This volume contains a total of 247 letters, of which 47 percent have not been previously published, approximately 12 percent previously quoted, 13 percent printed in incomplete form, and 25 percent published elsewhere for the most part in full form. Although proportionately few of their letters of 1850 have been easily available in print, as the headnotes dutifully set out, fewer of Jane Carlyle's letters than usual (only 22 percent) have been previously unpublished, probably because they are generally fewer in number and of more personal interest.

With slight exceptions, one in particular, the correspondence of the Carlyles in 1850 is tender and affectionate. Left on her own in Cheyne Row in August and struggling with decorators and the servant problem, Jane wrote to Thomas to thank him for his long letters:

Today's did not come by the mornings post, not till twelve. … It is sad and wrong to be so dependant for the life of my life on any human being as I am on you: but I cannot by any force of logic cure myself of the habit at this date, when it is become “a second nature.” If I have to lead another life in any of the planets I shall take precious good care not to hang myself round any man's neck either as a locket or a millstone!

Having survived Thomas's frustrated anger against “things in general” in the Latter-Day Pamphlets and having remained at home while he was away on his usual summer vacation, Jane seemed to recognize that many of her problems arose from her health. Yet Thomas took much for granted, though he wrote to her, on 6 September, after more than a month's absence:

it is at once a duty and an undeniable pleasure to me, in this sabbath stillness of my days, to open my closed pack to you and talk a little. Nothing so like a “sabbath” has been vouchsafed to me for many heavy months as these last ten days at poor Scotsbrig are. Let me be thankful for them! They were very necessary to me, they will open my heart to sad and affectionate thoughts which the intolerable burden of my own mean sufferings have stifled for a long time.

He saw that in his aggressive concern about his relation to society he often lost touch with those closest to him, as was to happen in his rough response to his wife's anxiety after her accident at home early in December.

Perhaps Thomas Carlyle's often hidden concern and love for his wife can be seen in an incident noted by Amalie Bölte, the German governess and writer working in England who regularly called at Cheyne Row. The German artist Carl Hartmann painted a portrait of Jane (the frontispiece to the present volume) for Bölte that was completed by July 1849 (see JWC to TC, 3 July 1849). Bölte apparently took it with her to Germany later in the year and brought it back to London in 1850. Thomas pounced on it and impounded it, giving as an excuse, so she says, her having taken some autographs by Caussidière for Varnhagen von Ense, a renowned collector. She wrote to Varnhagen, 3 April, after a visit to Cheyne Row:

Yesterday I was at the Carlyles where, as ever, the hours flew like minutes. He is still ruminating on the treachery committed by me on Caussidière, as if it were an amazing deed. I on the other hand consider the theft committed against me far more amazing and say that he puts the principle “la propriété c'est le vol” into practice. When I yesterday tried to take possession of the picture, I learnt that he had locked it into his room. That really was too much! Saturday he is going into the country to Lady Ashburton's, then I will see if I can't get hold of it. Just for the fun of it. At the same time I believe that this very picture has had the most wonderful effect. His pleasure in it, the infinite value attached to it, has shown the original once for all what is really in his heart, and how she lives there and will continue to live there.

Bölte concluded that Jane “has while living seen herself treated as dead, and has since then [since the incident] become mellower and gentler. How glad I am to have brought this about” (Böltes Briefe, trans. 78).

The importance of 1850 otherwise lies in the Latter-Day Pamphlets, which mark a turning point in Carlyle's career and reputation. Emerson and Trollope can be seen in the notes to the letters as recognizing his integrity and also his hatred of falsehood, but many of his old associates fell away. Yet both his and Jane's skill and attraction as letter writers remain unaffected. Both retain their intimate, spontaneous, and adaptable style, especially in her case for writing about her pet dog, Nero, and in his accounts of his meetings with Sir Robert Peel and Peel's subsequent death.

Our basic editorial procedures remain much the same for this volume except that we now shall begin publishing a single volume at a time. In addition, in the hope that it will be for the readers' convenience, we will place almost all the biographical notes (mainly those of the Carlyles' contemporaries) in alphabetical order at the end of the volume before the index. These notes will hereafter be carried over, with suitable modification, to later volumes.

Clyde de L. Ryals and Kenneth J. Fielding