1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 11 August 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240811-TC-AC-01; CL 3:124-127.


Birmingham, 11th August, 1824—

My dear Alick,

I have just been writing Jack a letter; and lest our kind mother should be getting anxious about me, I have determined on sending you one also, while my hand is in. Jack's letter and your newspapers have found me here in due course of post, and comforted me with the intelligence that you are all in your usual way: I am happy to inform you in my turn that I also am as formerly, if little better, at least nothing worse. Jack gives me sundry articles of news; but he neglects to say whether ever that weighty packet of letters from London, directed to my Mother, reached you, with the two Examiners that followed it. The packet contained a little sheet for you, and one for Frank Dickson: I think there can be no doubt that it would arrive in safety, tho' it was put into the post-office in a somewhat irregular manner. Satisfy me, if you can recollect.

Since coming hither I have followed Badams' prescription with as much regularity as I conveniently could; but I do not find that I have yet made any very marked improvement. Indeed I can hardly expect it: he has had me under physic for the last fortnight, and tho' in general a little easier than I used to be, I am just proportionally weaker. However, he predicts confidently an improvement or even a recovery, and I am content enough to abide the issue for a few weeks longer. My way of life has been a little irregular since my arrival, as my kind doctor has been trying a variety of experiments with me, to discover properly what it is that ails me. In general, I ride and read and talk, and pass the time with a sufficient allowance of comfort: all my views and hopes are directed towards the reestablishment of my health; without which I am but a lost man. Badams and I are sufficiently familiar: I feel entirely at home with him. Independently of his skill in medicine and other arts, I find him one of the most estimable men I have ever met with. In another month I shall know better what to say about his skill in stomach disorders: at present I have some faith, but not by any means complete. There are several other people here to whom he has introduced me; men of pleasing exterior, and not without a certain worth; but my taste is rather for private meditation and careless talk than for laborious conversation with such persons. Nevertheless I do stir out sometimes: to-day I am to go with one Crosbie1 (from Dumfries, a Scotch minister here) to dine at a Mr Lawrence's, to whom Irving sent a letter by me. I was one day thro the iron and coal works of this neighbourhood—a half-frightful scene! A space perhaps 30 square miles to the north of us, covered over with furnaces, rolling-mills, steam-engines and sooty men. A dense cloud of pestilential smoke hangs over it forever, blackening even the grain that grows upon it; and at night the whole region burns like a volcano spitting fire from a thousand tubes of brick. But oh the wretched hundred and fifty thousand mortals that grind out their destiny there! In the coal-mines they were literally naked, many of them, all but trowsers; black as ravens; plashing about among dripping caverns, or scrambling amid heaps of broken mineral; and thirsting unquenchably for beer. In the iron-mills it was little better: blast-furnaces were roaring like the voice of many whirlwinds all around; the fiery metal was hissing thro' its moulds, or sparkling and spitting under hammers of a monstrous size, which fell like so many little earthquakes. Here they were wheeling charred coals, breaking their iron-stone, and tumbling all into their fiery pit; there they were turning and boring cannon with a hideous shrieking noise such as the earth could hardly parallel; and thro' the whole, half-naked demons pouring with sweat and besmeared with soot were hurrying to and fro in their red nightcaps and sheet-iron breeches rolling or hammering or squeezing their glowing metal as if it had been wax or dough. They also had a thirst for ale. Yet on the whole I am told they are very happy: they make forty shillings or more per week, and few of them will work on Mondays. It is in a spot like this that one sees the sources of British power. The skill of man combining these coals and that iron-ore (till forty years ago—iron was smelted with charcoal only) has gathered three or four hundred thousand human beings round this spot, who send the products of their industry to all the ends of the Earth.

But I must close my descriptions of these indifferent matters, and travel towards home. What is going on about Mainhill, my dear Boy? How do you fare, and what cheer are you of, since I went away? Do you ever think of farms, or hear of any? You must not give up your ideas on that point, tho' I am out of the Buller family. I shall make money enough, if I were fairly on my feet again; I do not fear it; and unless my health improve a good deal there will be nothing for it, but to come and stay beside you somewhere, and mind my writing for Edinr as before. Be upon the look-out, therefore; and if any thing strike you let me know. Tell me also pointedly how our Mother is; and if she wants any thing. Thank her for her little letter, which I read with no usual feeling, and beg another from her. When were you at Dumfries, and how are Robie and our uncle John and Nancy2 and all the rest? Remember me kindly to them when you have opportunity. How does our worthy Father like the aspect of affairs at Mainhill this autumn? I trust he is as well and hearty as we wish him. Mister Cairlil it appears has read Sandford and Merton:3 he may lend it to the rest if he sees good. I myself am going to be upon the Book adventure once more as I was hinting to you last t[ime.] This Life of Schiller, after many delays has at last, [as I] understand it, been consigned to the care of Taylor & Hess[e]y, the Magazine Booksellers, for another fifty pounds; and is to come out in a separate volume about November. I expect to make somewhat not very far from £100 of it, altogether. It is to be enlarged with new translations &c &c, and to have a portrait of Schiller at the beginning of it. I expect it will be a pretty enough volume. I am at present engaged in looking out for pieces to translate for it, and meditating improvements. You shall have copies of it forthwith—that is immediately on its publication.

But Badams is calling me to go out and ride; so I must draw this confused scribble to a close. Now remember you must write to me without delay. Jack may not return from Kirkchrist for some time; but you must not wait for him. Tell me all the news, important and unimportant. Nothing that belongs to you however remotely can be indifferent to me. What is the child of Misfortune4 doing or about to do? Make my respects to him, and tell him to arise and saddle his ass,5 and set forth on his journey while the sun is shining; for the night is coming when none can travel.6— I saw the Targer, as I told you—on his way to France; but yet I have heard no farther news of him. Send my compliments to the worthy goodwife of Bogside7 when you tell her this piece of news. Remember me in brotherly affection to Mag and Jamie, Mary, Jane and Jenny: tell all of them to write me a word of remembrance that can write a single stroke. May the Great Father be with you all! I am ever

Your true Brother,

Th: Carlyle

Edward Irving has a son:8 he writes to me like a trusty fellow as of old. The fashionable tumult about him is subsiding, and he is going to be a right fellow after all. His Mother-in-law, the snell [chilly] wife of Kirk[c]aldy whom you have seen, together with a very affected daughter, arrived just the night before I left London. The minister Martin, and the grandfather Martin are coming too. Irving projects that he and I and his Wife and child shall go to bathing quarters for six weeks and live like recluse philosophers. He is a good man with all his vanities.— James Moyes, the soot-drop,9 asked for you in London where he is a clerk— “Confound your writing!” Badams cries. Adieu my brother! A letter soon! T. C.

Tell my dear and good Mother to send a line whenever she can; if possible when you write. Tell her I am surprised and pleased that she likes Meister; I suppose it was out of love to the Translator. Mrs Strachey was quite delighted with it:10 they are still reviewing it, some censuring, most praising. It must and will do.— Write soon.