The Collected Letters, Volume 26


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN; 3 April 1851; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18510403-TC-JCA-01; CL 26: 54-55


Chelsea, 3 April, 1851—

Dear Jean,

It is a good while since I heard directly from you; and I know not on which side the debt lies; but having a few minutes to myself this morning, I will send you a word before going farther. Along with this comes, as some former Nos of the same have done, a current No of the Critic,1 a wretched literary Newspaper which some unknown hand has taken to forwarding for my perusal of late: it seems to come once a fortnight; gets from me a very cursory inspection;—and is usually forwarded to Dumfries, in hopes of being better studied there. Truth to say, it does not seem worth much study anywhere: but for my own share I am profoundly indifferent to all manner of Athenaeums,2 Critics &c &c, and am obliged to sweep both them and the chaffy stuffs they handle, resolutely off my threshingfloor,—which is more comfortable to me empty than unswept and full of more chaff.

We have had tempestuous wet weather here, and bitter icy dry,—attended with influenzas and so forth;—but that is mostly off now, and the April spring advancing in due form. Both Jane and I, as perhaps you heard, had influenza, she for a series of weeks: a very vile complaint, which we are glad to be well rid of in the mean-time.— The world is as loud and as idle as it usually has been at this season here. “Papal aggression” with its empty ineffectual noises has got to silence for the time: nothing but the “Crystal Palace,” and its still emptier syllabub of nonsense, is now talked of by the fools among us. The Crystal Palace, covering 21 acres (with several huge trees growing in it), and all of glass, except the walls which are of board, is certainly the biggest glass edifice ever built,—a birdcage such as never was before; thousands of idle blockheads sauntering about it at all hours:—but in the late tempests it took to letting in rain dreadfully; hundreds of sappers (a kind of artillery soldiers) were set to bale in the last wet days: and, alas, I fear privately (remembering our Craigenputtoch Sky-window) it will never be got to turn water altogether, nothing but a double roof would enable it to do that, in high fierce winds from Southwest! We hear also that thousands of sparrows have got into it, by the ventilators &c; and can't be got out; they have called in the aid of arsenic, and in fact, with dead sparrows and 'live, have their own ados.— Bearded foreign people are already beginning to encumber the streets; and I suppose, in six weeks hence, there will really be a great and a very ugly crowd of British and Foreign blockheads gathered here. My fixed determination is, to hold myself in readiness to fly out of it,—I know not in the least whitherward, to Germany perhaps; it depends on so many things. You must tell the good Mrs Charteris, if she ask farther, that if we did both come to Scotland, surely her offer about Cullivate3 wd be highly acceptable, and in the meanwhile that I am much obliged by it; but that we are far too uncertain to be counted on, and that practically she must not depend on us at all.

I have been scribbling, for five or six weeks past a very slight performance, a life of John Sterling (a valued friend of mine, and a very fine fellow, who died 7 years ago): the Bookseller has got it away this morning; when once trimmed out, it will make a readable volume if we decide on publishing it just now. I do not think it will be good for much; but Jane advises printing.— A very short Note from John reported that Isabella was ailing a little with cold, that our Mother (after a short cold) was tolerably well, as the rest.4

Adieu dear Sister, with my blessings to you all! T. Carlyle