1854-June 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 29


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 6 September 1854; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18540906-TC-AC-01; CL 29: 144-146


Chelsea, 6 Septr, 1854—

My dear Brother,

In this week's Courier you will notice the announcement of the death of our poor Doctor's Wife:1 I know not whether he, in his great hurry and sorrowful confusion, may have written to you on the subject, nor is he just now beside me to be asked;—wherefore I will write you a little word myself, having long had it in view to write, tho' I did not expect so sorrowful a topic would occur among us.

John and his Wife, as you probably have heard, quitted Moffat in June last, having looked over many houses in Dumfriesshire, but found none that would suit as a residence for them: they came up hither, and settled in Lodgings within a mile of us, intending, as we could guess, to make choice of some residence in these neighbourhoods. Poor Phoebe, a very cheerful quiet and good lady, with whom it was easy to live pleasantly, used to come often down in the summer evenings with John: they ran about at a great rate thro' the day, “looking for houses,” also “seeing sights,” for she was of a travelling roaming turn like her husband, and they did not seem in any haste to fix upon a house,—tho', as she was five or six months gone with child, we always silently thought it altogether desirable they should be fixed. However, she was uncommonly strong; had been used to easy confinements; cared for no fatigue; and ran about, he and she, as if there had been nothing ahead. Alas, alas, this security has been sadly punished, if it was a crime! Some three weeks ago, they were in a railway, 15 or 20 miles off town (going about “houses,” as usual), when an alarm was given about some collision or accident likely to befal; and I believe there was imminent danger, but by the skill of their engineer no harm, or none to speak of was done,—none except the terror itself, which the Doctor strove well to moderate, I believe, and behaved very wisely in, but which in her tender state proved enough, and equal to the wreck of the world, for poor Phoebe! It had killed her child, now in its 8th month; and brought on all the sad tragedy that followed. For two days more, Phoebe made nothing of it, but ran about as usual. But about noon of the third day (Saturday) she was suddenly seized with fits, hysteria fits, and had the most frightful continued series of such for 30 or 48 hours,—in fact till the whole strength of life was worn out:—so that, tho' the Doctors (skilful men) gave us good hopes all along, and she even bore her dead child without difficulty, and was quite clear and cheery in mind, and to apearance suffered only from weakness, and we thought the danger quite past, it had been quite otherwise appointed; and suddenly, on Saturday evening, a week after her seizure, and only a few hours after the birth, she sank away among their hands, sheer weakness dragging her down; and without pain, was gone to her rest forever.

This is the brief history of the tragedy we have had: one of the saddest scenes, or perhaps the very saddest I ever was concerned with. We all thought this coming child, and this good and prudent and cheerful Wife might prove of the most marked advantage to all parties concerned; and now it has suddenly all vanished; and our poor Brother is mournfully thrown loose, and his poor Life-partner crushed down in that overwhelming manner. What he will do next for a life-arrangement I think he does not yet even much consider: he is busied with many things connected with his late Phoebe's affairs and the children she already had: he went three days ago, with two of these Boys (the only two in England) and one Dr Hunter a friend he has, to Leamington (a quiet Watering place 100 miles off this), there to repose for a week before going farther; there he still is. He bears well, seems stout in health too: but is of course much flurried, shocked and confused by the sad change that has overtaken him.

The rest of us, so far as I hear or understand, are all in our usual way of health;—Jane and I here thro' the solitary autumn, which proves none of the healthiest hitherto. But we could not think of the bother of travelling & lumbering about in the weak humour we are in. Besides I wanted much to get forward with work, a sad chapter in my history of late. And alas it does not much prosper with me, tho' I still try and try. Courage, dear Brother; let us hold on, and stand to it faithfully to the last!— I have found today the actual little bit of Writing sent once to Liverpool, and returned upon me; you receive it now, after 11 years:2 I have not the heart to look into it; and perhaps you too had better throw it into the fire! I certainly mean to write again before long. Why these long intervals occur I do not well see: want of thinking about you it surely is not, nor I think ever will be! God's blessing on you all, dear Alick. I am ever Your affectionate Brother

T. Carlyle

(Do you take charge about telling Jenny of what has happened)3