1854-June 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 29


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN; 7 May 1855; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18550507-TC-JCA-01; CL 29: 303-304


Chelsea, 7 May, 1855—

My dear Sister,

It did often seem to me a long time since I had heard from you or written; but I had the notion always that you stood on the debtor side, and so I always put off my good intentions in that matter from day to day. As I am too apt to do in all matters! It is certain enough to me, a word from you, or to you, will at any time do me evidently good: nevertheless being so sore “hadden doun wi' the bubbly,” as the poor little “ganging boy” said—!— The truth is, I am generally very weak and low; isolated from most things and persons, in the sad dusty dreary work I am upon. No such job ever fell to my hand before as this, the last I think of trying in the world. It is a mass of immeasurable confusion; wd have needed a man 30 years younger;—and I have in general no hope at all of ever doing any good by accomplishing it,—no good, no benefit or beauty in it, to myself or others; nothing but the stiff determination not to be beaten with it; and since I am doing it, to do it honestly, if I can do it at all. So I dig and bore,—more properly “howk” (that, I often think, is the suitable word),—day after day; and my progress is so small, and my heart so dark otherwise, I have really no spirit left to meet my fellow creatures or their daily topics; and find it best, like that memorable man I once heard of from James, to “work aye maistly in a place by mysel'!”1— However, you need not think me worse than I am either: the fact is, no labour is a joyful thing,2 but a grievous; and truly when I compute, except it be labour unsuccessful (whh, possibly may succeed some day!), I ought to confess there is nothing very deadly or peculiar to complain of!—

Yesternight Jack came in to us again, by surprise, for we had heard no announcement of him, no news for above a week. He reckons he is as good as cured again, and has got thro' everything well. Certainly he looks decidedly better; was full of talk, and seemed in good spirits:—his little Boy, who was here too, is to sail in a couple of days, and seemed very cheerful also. Of course we had an ample account of the Day at Gill, and of all manner of Annandale matters. I hope the poor fellow will not have any farther concern with these sad surgical affairs at any rate. He has a great stock of hopeful buoyancy in him; and is of far sunnier temper than some others of us known to me!

Your little James must not grow impatient about the want of briskness in trade: there is little outlook of improvement in that for some good while; and it extends everywhere; and I fear still worse things (sometimes) than want of trade. In fact one sometimes feels as if the poor Nation altogether were going to cant over, and fall upon its face, with its nose in the gutter, to drown there in two inches of dirty water! There never was such a scene in my time as the Govt of Britain now presents Their Turk war, into whh all the world went voluntarily galloping (like a herd of loose nowt,—really with little more sense in their heads) may come to cost us all very dear I resolutely hold my tongue; but my private sorrow and gloom over the prospect that seems to be opening, is considerable. Is the end come, then, altogether, which I have long been prophesying as inevitable? I will not quite believe that: but, near or not so near, said end seems to me too fatally certain; and I compute often with a kind of terror, what kind of preparation the people are in for it.

Today (at this hour) I am due for a consultation about a certain poor old woman,3 age 78 and fallen very indigent, who was actually God-daughter of Dr Samuel Johnson; and remembers, from her 7th year, being carried to the Awful “Doctor,” that he might lay his hand on her, and bless her. We are to try and get some fraction of public help for the poor old gentlewoman;—it is I that am to try; and truly I had no need of the job just now.

But there—there actually goes the clock, and I am 2 minutes too late,—sad to say, as a fact!

You got the Fraser this (Monday) morning?— Adieu, dear Jean. Take care of yourself; commend me to James.— I remain ever

Your affecte Brother, /

T. Carlyle