1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 29 August 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240829-TC-MAC-01; CL 3:140-144.


Birmingham, 29th August, 1824—

My dear Mother,

I received the letter of my trusty and affectionate correspondents Alick and Jack1 three days ago; and at your request I make no delay, you see, in answering it. I felt a good deal of alarm at the first glance on noticing that you had been a little below your usual state of health for some days; but on looking at the statement a second time, and recollecting our mutual promise to be quite candid in our accounts to one another, I have persuaded myself that it is nothing serious, and that a little while will set you where you were. Nevertheless I shall expect farther news with no ordinary impatience; you must write yourself, or employ some other to write whenever you return from bathing. O my dear Mother, what thankless thoughtless creatures we must be! God has spared us all for many years in unity and affection for one another; while others that deserved it equally have been parted by the inexorable hand of Death; and yet, as you have often said, how seldom do we even recollect the blessing as we ought! But for you I should have felt myself utterly alone in this toilsome world; the idea of separation at this moment drives me to the borders of despair. But why should I dwell on this melancholy view of things? We are in the hands of the Good Being who called us into existence: let us humbly trust that He will not afflict us beyond what we are able to bear; that we may yet be spared long long in the land of the living, and that we may meet beyond the shore of Time, never to part any more!

You wish for nothing, you say, but to hear of my welfare. I know how much pleasure I shall give you when I shall be able to declare myself completely free of bodily ill health; a prediction I have often made, and as yet alas! in vain. Meanwhile I think I can assure you that I am rather in the way of recovery; at least I am certainly no worse than when you saw me. Badams sends me out to ride in the morning and at night; he feeds me on diluents (ask Jack) and spare diet, and gives me physic every alternate day; by which means tho' my strength has not been increased, I feel a great diminution in the irritability and pain and confusion of head I used to suffer; which things I incline to look upon as favourable symptoms of a partial, or perhaps finally of a total cure. For the last few days I have been thrown backwards a little; but that is but purchasing experience at the common price. Badams had gone to London, Martin the worthy minister of Kirkcaldy came hither in his way to see his son-in-law,2 and I, overpersuaded by my liking of the man, agreed to dine with him at the house of one M'Turk, a Galloway merchant of this place. I am now got nearly quite round to my former point; but I will not dine out again. Badams returned on thursday, and is getting me by degrees brought into a regular system. In the article of sleep, I am greatly better than I once was: I now enjoy my regular hours of rest almost like another man. On the whole I still hope confidently that I shall improve. In Badams' house I am completely comfortable: we go on liking one another better and better; he infuses trust into me by his own heartiness in the cause of my training; and his housekeeper, a sedate much-suffering quiet religious mother of a family such as there are very few, takes all the pains in the world to keep every thing in the most pleasant order. I ride, as I have said, about an hour before breakfast, on one of our doctor's stately hunters; then he gives me two soft eggs, with one thin, thin slice of bread, and (if I like) five cups of excellent tho' not strong tea; after which I read or saunter about or rest myself till half past two; then Mrs Barnet comes rapping at my door with two glasses of wine in a tumbler, which I keep sipping for half an hour till I am summoned down to a little bowl of soup and a little piece of meat with four potatoes, which constitutes my dinner: I have as much tea at six as I like to drink with no bread to it; then at half past eight, a soft egg with a bit of bread and another glass of wine constitutes my supper (when I come in from walking or riding); after which I sit and talk or read again till ten, and then betake me to repose. Such is my general mode of life. I cannot help wondering at the pains the people take with me. Indeed I have reason to wonder at the friendship I have met with since I left you from many quarters. It was but yesterday that Mrs Strachey sent me a very kind epistle, with the present of a book (Chalmers' Sermons), and a hint of some proposal to go down with her and Irving to spend some weeks at seabathing. Irving is to be here, perhaps to-morrow at any rate next week, when I shall hear more of this. Mrs Strachey is Mrs Buller's sister; but as unlike her as pure gold is to gilt copper: she is an earnest, determined, warm-hearted, religious matron, while the other is but a fluttering patroness of routs and operas, a vulgar fine lady. I shall very likely go with Mrs S; and if so I doubt not I shall be very happy. Next time you shall hear more of this. For my future destination in the world, I am grown vastly more composed on that subject than I was. I feel confident enough that I can fight my way among others, either in England or at home: if my health be restored to me, I even hope to do some service in my day and generation; if not I shall ever struggle on as I have hitherto done, and try to possess my soul in patience for the appointed time of my stewardship, and to give in the best account of it that my hampered and sorely obstructed circumstances will admit. Let me beg of you therefore, my dear Mother, to be in no distress on my account: I still feel assured that every thing will be for the best.

And now having listened to me thus far on the subject of myself allow me, my good Mother, to address you on one which I have more call to speak of. I think if I were beside you, I could now suggest some improvements in your diet and mode of life, which might be of service to you, who I know too well have much to suffer on your own part, tho' your affection renders you so exclusively anxious about me. I am convinced you should daily make some such breakfast as I do: I have felt nothing do me so much good that I have ever tried. Porridge Badams condemns, except for stomachs of considerable strength; food nourishing and small in bulk, with warm liquids, are infinitely better. You will say, you cannot be fashed [troubled]. O my dear Mother, if you did but think of what value your health and comfort are to us all, you would never talk so. Are we not all bound to you by sacred and indissoluble ties? Am not I so bound more than any other? Who was it that watched me and nursed me in frowardness and sickness from the earliest dawn of my existence to this hour? My Mother. Who is it that has struggled for me in pain and sorrow with undespairing diligence, that has for me been up early and down late, caring [for] me, labouring for me, unweariedly assisting me? My Mother. Who is the one that never shrunk fr[om me] in my desolation, that never tired of my despondencies or shut up by [a] look or a tone [of imp]atience the expression of my real or imaginary griefs? Who is it that [loves] me, and will love me forever, with an affection which no chance no misery no crime of mine ca[n do] away? It is you, my Mother! As the greatest favour I can beg of you, let me [k]now that I have in some degree the power be of some assistance in promoting your comfort. It were one of the achievements which I could look back upon with most satisfaction from all the stages of my earthly pilgrimage, if I could make you happier. Are not all of us animated by a similar love to you? Why then will you spare any trouble any cost in what is valuable beyond aught earthly to every one of us? If the sea bathing benefit you, stay at it, whatever be the consequence: if there is any thing (there must be many things) you can think of that would do you good, do mention it. I was going to write you many things about diet; but I fear you will pay too little heed to them. There is one sort of meal which I will mention, and which either by way of breakfast or dinner I am convinced you would find to be a marked improvement. It is a mixture of egg and milk, with or without a slice of toast and butter. Take the yolk of an egg (excluding the white) and break it among a few spoonfuls of cold sweet milk; have another stock of sweet milk (say a mutchkin [pint]) heated to boiling, which add gradually to the mixture, stirring well; then put in a little sugar; and you have a fine yellowish fluid, palateable, nutritive and digestible. You may take two eggs if for a dinner. Try this half a dozen times, and tell me how it suits: Badams says that for a weak stomach he knows nothing so good. When you need physic take a strong dose of Castor oil, three hours before breakfast, and drink plenty of tea. A strong dose is best, for you get rid of it at once. I would also have you get two bottles of wine to take a little of it before dinner, but I fear you will not, and I must write to Jack on the subject. One thing I believe, you should have animal food, and soft eggs are far better than flesh. Two eggs, two little slices of bread, with an egg-and-milk make a light and strong dinner, which I wish much you would try. Cut your bread into little stripes like threads, and chew them till they are ground completely; drinking largely of your warm fluid all the while[.] Excuse these directions, dear Mother; I am convinced they will benefit you. Try them, try them, and let me know how the prescriptions suit you. I advise you to take eggs often: they are nourishing and ready[.] But I must conclude my lecture, for obvious reasons. O that I had an acre of paper, or a week of speech with you! Thank Alick and Jack for their kind and interesting letter: tell Jack that he is to write the day he receives this, or the very next moment he can get; for I am not without anxieties to know how you are, and never without a keen desire for tidings about all connected with Mainhill. Is my Father well? I consider myself as owing him a letter, which I mean not to owe him long. Alick must keep an eye on farms: I long to hear more of him; I will write whenever they give me a chance. Jack must tell me of his studies and consult me, and describe you. What is Mag doing, and my little sharp-tempered, warm-hearted nurse?3 Say that I love them, and wish them to remember me. My love to Jane and Jenny (are they still at school?)and also to Mister Carlill.4 Good night, my dear Mother! I am ever yours

T. Carlyle

[In margins:] I have written this mostly between dinner and tea; so that I doubt it is rather dull; but I would not keep you longer waiting. The newspaper came to-day (Saturday) with its ganz wohl [all's well] from Alick, whence I infer you are at bathing. To-morrow as I said I look for Irving, tho' not very confidently. He is to ordain Crosbie.5 Crosbie is a very weak character, and of little internal worth; yet I wish him well as a countryman and not ill-meaning character. What is become of Lawson and the meeting-house? Remember me to Mrs Irving of Bogside[.]

The harvest is half way done here: they are leading home their stuff in wains drawn by four horses; the wains are like coal-sloops for size, and fill up the lane so that you can hardly pass. The stooks have only six sheaves. How are the crops at Mainhill? and when do you begin cutting? Tell Jack, I long to hear from him; of his books and thoughts and speculations. My love to all! Again, good night!