TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN; 14 February 1854; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18540214-TC-JCA-01; CL 29: 30-32
TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN
Chelsea, 14 feby 1854—
My dear Sister,
You are very good to write to me twice, since no answer came to your first. The second Note has stirred up my conscience, among various other effects upon me; and as there is a half hour, between jobs, at present; I may as well answer now as later and with a worse grace.
My poor Mother's good old Missives, turning up again in this manner, caught me keenly by the heart. Alas, alas, she is gone from us; and we must not lament her, cannot complain of the universal inevitable law. She was lent to us, as it were, to the very last day that it could be profitable: many a time in these hard cold mornings I think, “She is not suffering by it!” We could not protect her farther; the time was come when we had to part. God is over all! I could not destroy these poor old letters; yet some day they must be destroyed, for they belong to ourselves alone, and stupid “posterity,” if it thought of such a thing, would make mere nonsense of them: I have sealed these two up, in a safe place; I have others also scattered about in certain parcels in my drawers: one day before I die, I must sort all that, and call in the aid of fire in behalf of what is sacred.— My good, my kind and dear old Mother! I speak of her to nobody; speak with people about anything that is of the day and place: but the instant I am left alone, her meek image rises on me; her face as she lay in bed that last sunday; her kind smiles on me, flickering thro' the gloomy clouds of death in those last two days,—and then backwards thro' all the scenes and passages since memory began with me:—all this is constant enough in its attendance: I often think it is with me as with Ulysses (in old Homer); at the utmost and worst passage of his wanderings he converses with the Shade of his mother!1 My heart does not lament; but it is sad often as heart can be. And yet not a bitter or unblessed sadness: God be forever thanked that He gave us such a mother; and spared her with us so long. I will speak no more of these things.
As you seem to have seen my last letter to Jack, I can have no news to occupy your paper with. We are both of us in the usual ineffectual state of health, not worse, rather better I; nor am I quite useless for work, tho' my success is, it must be owned, inconceivably small! I keep mining, and digging and shovelling; something will and must come out of it yet, if I live. If I don't,—well, it is perhaps little matter to any one, and to me certainly none, if I have done my best. I feel in my heart every day a greater contempt for what they talk of as “fame,” “success” &c in this poor Anthill of a world; and looking at it thro' spectacles, as I now do, the royallest figures in it do not seem too royal. I am getting freer and freer of a great many ugly coils, delusions and encumbrances, by dint of seeing them better and myself better,—with old eyes instead of young.
We have dry brisk, but excessively cold and barren weather here; a bitter frost every night, rime lying white every morning; and all day, with or witht sun, an easterly air which only vigorous walking can subdue the cold of. Everything is very dear in markets, Jane says; everything. A better harvest will be very agreeable next time.— People babble greatly about a Turk war;2 and cannons &c of ours are actually under sail thither: yet I always think to myself, it surely never can come to serious fighting on our part in such a quarrel: one man I know at least who never will fight upon it, but wait for a thousandfold better one!— — What a business you have had with your “Helps”3 (as the Americans call that plague of life)! James, however, is cutting his brushwood to the right and left, I see; which is something comfortable. Good be with you both, and with all yours. Mind poor Aird,4 too; and save him from the horror of cocks! Yours ever T. Carlyle