1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 7 November 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18241107-TC-JAC-01; CL 3:184-189.


Dover, 7th November, 1824—

My dear Jack,

You are naturally surprised at my long silence, and you are like to be still more so when I tell you the reason of it. I have been in France, my boy! In the ancient city of Paris! I returned only yesterday; and thus the voice of your anxiety never reached my ear. My heart it did reach, however; and I twice began a letter to you from the Grand Hôtel de Wagram, to tell you of my abode and my welfare; but the bustle of the modern Babylon, the chaotic tumult of my own situation in it, had put me into such a mystified condition that I felt myself unable to indite three lines of sense without a mighty effort, and so judged it better to give up the attempt entirely, and wait till I reached old England to inform you that I had ever left it. I fully expected a letter from you yesterday on my arrival: I was disappointed here; but your customary ganz wohl,1 and your kind eagerness to hear of me were recorded duly in the last Courier. I lose not a single post in answering you; tho' as yet considerably muddled; writing in an upper room of the Shakespear hotel; and after fourteen hours of sleep, still sleepy. You will excuse every thing.

My expedition to Paris was nearly as unexpected to myself as the news of it will be to you. Strachey, a little bustling, logic-chopping, good-hearted, frank fellow, came down to Dover three weeks ago; and finding himself, I suppose, rather dull in the region of the Cinque Ports, and tempted moreover by the persuasions of his cousin Kitty, as well as by the daily sight of the French coast, he determined at last on a journey thither; and after infinite pleadings and solicitations I was prevailed upon to be of the party. They were to travel in their own carriage; Kitty and her maid inside, Strachey on the coach-box to see the country; the additional expense for me would be nothing; it would be so pleasant, and would do me so much good. In fine after a world of perplexities, and miscalculations and misventures, I having first half consented, then wholly refused, then again consented, we at length all assembled by different routes on the sands of Boulogne-sur-mer in the afternoon of Thursday gone a fortnight, and set off with the utmost speed of three lean horses of the poste royale for Paris. After adventures and mistakes, which will keep us laughing many a winter night, when thou and I meet, we reached the capital on Saturday about four o'clock; and forthwith established ourselves in the Hôtel de Wagram, and proceeded to the great purpose of our journey, the seeing of the many sights with which the metropolis of France abounds beyond any other spot on the surface of the earth. By degrees we got into a proper train, and every thing went on wonderfully well. Strachey and I went out, singly or in company, to purvey for dinners and breakfasts in the cafés and restaurateur establishments, Miss Kirkpatrick generally boarding at home; and after wandering about all day at pleasure, a neat little chambre à coucher [bedroom] awaited me, where I lay down to sleep in spite of all noises, and awoke next morning ready to renew the work of discovery in some new quarter of the city. Sated at length with wonders, we left Paris last Wednesday; and after a not unprosperous journey, arrived here yesterday afternoon. Irving with his household had left Dover a few hours before; Mrs Stracheys house had no room for me; so I travelled a few paces over to the “Shakespear” and took possession of a little garret bed-room, fronting the western face of the Castle, and moderately quiet; where I am now writing to my good Jack, and where I purpose to continue for another night before setting out for London to begin a serious course of work after all this idle wandering to and fro, the enjoyments of which I have now pretty well exhausted. I have a standing invitation to the Stracheys' table and house; but I am very well at my ease here, and want to have some time for thought and rest. To-day I shall dine with them; to-morrow I think of departing.

On the whole I cannot say that I regret this jaunt: I have seen many strange things, which may people my imagination with interesting forms, and perhaps yield some materials for reflexion and improvement. France as it presented itself to me, on a most cursory survey, seemed a place rather to be looked at than be tarried in; and in the former point of view I relished it considerably. Oh that I had space to paint to you the strange pilgarlock [pilgarlic: peeled garlic, weak miserable-looking] figures that I saw breakfasting over a few expiring embers on roasted apples; ploughing with three ponies with ploughs like peat-barrows; or folded together in long trough-shaped wicker carts, wearing night-caps and dresses of blue calico, with a black stump of a pipe stuck between their jaws, and a drop hanging at their long thin noses, and faces puckered together into the most weepy-mousie aspect! Or the women riding on cuddies with wooden saddles; or the postillions with their leather shovel hats, and their boots like moderate churns; often blind of an eye, or broken-legged, and always the coolest liars in existence! But better than all was our own mode of treating them, and Strachey's French when he scolded the waiters and hosts of the inns “C'est bien imposante [imposante underscored twice]!” said he at Beauvais; “c'est une—une—rascalitie [rascalitie underscored twice]—vous dis-je; vous avez chargé [chargé underscored twice] deux fois trop! vous etes &c”; to all of which they answered with the gravity of judges passing sentence of death: Monsieur, c'est impossible; on ne vous surfait nullement; on ne &c. “Où est [est underscored twice] les chevaux?” shrieked he at the end of every post: vont venir, Monsieur, said they; Kitty and I were like to split with laughing. At length Strachey himself gave up the cause entirely and took to speaking French-English without disguise. When a man asked him for quelque chose à boire; je vous ai conduit très bien; Strachey answered without looking at him “Nong! vous avez drivé devilish slow”;1 which suited quite as well.— Of Paris I shall say nothing till we meet. It is the Vanity-fair of the universe, and cannot be described in many letters. As a city its aspect resembles that of Edinburgh; high houses of white stone, with immense stacks of chimneys occupying nearly all the gable; and projections with perpendicular windows in the roof. With very few exceptions the streets are narrow and crowded and unclean; the kennel in the middle, and a lamp hanging over it here and there, on a rope from side to side. There are no foot-paths; but an everlasting press of carriages and carts, and dirty people hastening to and fro among them, amid a thousand gare-gares! [look out—look out!] and sacrés [damns] and other oaths and admonitions; while by the side are men roasting ches[t]nuts in their booths; fruit-shops, wine-shops, barbers, silkmerchants selling à Prix juste (without cheating), restaurateurs, cafés, traiteurs [restaurant keepers], magazins de bon-bons [sweet shops], billiard tables, estaminets (gin-shops) débits de tabac (where you buy a cigar for a half-penny, and go out smoking it), and every species of dépôt [storeroom] and entrepôt [warehouse] and magazin [shop] for the comfort and refreshment of the physical part of the natural man; plying its vocation in the midst of noise and stink, both of which it augments by its produce and its efforts to dispose of it. The Palais Royal is a spot unrivalled in the world; the chosen abode of vanity and vice; the true palace of the tigre-singes (tiger-apes) as Voltaire called his countrymen; a place which I rejoice to think is separated from me by the girdle of the ocean, and never likely to be copied in the British isles. I dined in it often; and bought four little bone étuis (needle-cases) at a frank (9½d) each for our four sisters at Mainhill. It is a sort of emblem of the French character; the perfection of the physical and fantastical part of our nature, with an absence of all that is solid and substantial in the moral and often in the intellectual part of it. Looking-glasses and trinkets and fricassées and gaming-tables seem to be the life of a Frenchman; his home is a place where he sleeps and dresses; he lives in the salon du restaurateur, on the boulevards or the garden of the Palais royal. Every room you enter, destitute of carpet or fire, is expanded into boundlessness by mirrors; and I should think about fifty thousand dice-boxes are set a rattling every night (especially on Sundays) within the walls of Paris. There the people sit and chatter, and fiddle away existence as if it were all a raree-shew; careless how it go, so they have excitement, des sensations agréables. Their palaces and picture-galleries and triumphal arches are the wonder of the Earth; but the stink of their streets is considerable, and you cannot walk on them without risking the fracture of your legs of [or] neck.

But peace be to the French! For here I have no room to express even my ideas ab[out them,] far less to do them any justice. Suffice it to observe, that I contrived to see nearly all [that] could be seen within 12 days, and to carry off as much enjoyment as it was possible for sights to afford me, at the expence of about five pounds sterling. I saw the Louvre gallery of pictures, the Tuileries palace, the Jardin des plantes, the churches, and cemeteries and all that could be seen. I saw Talma2 the actor, and almost touched his most Christian Majesty Charles X. What was more interesting still, I heard the Baron Cuvier3 deliver his introductory lecture, on comparative anatomy, and contrived to pick up some not altogether useless information about the study of medicine in Paris. I find it will not be unattainable for you to go thither, nor unadvisable, if all things prosper when you have done with Edinburgh. There are about a hundred and fifty students from Edinr & Dublin there at [pr]esent; the expense need not be much greater than in Edinr; and you have dissection ad libitum for the general purposes of anatomy; three large hospitals, where every patient that dies is opened for the purposes of anatomie pathologique (a science, I understand, almost peculiar to France); and lectures and books of the best description, to any extent, gratis. Cuvier's students could not be very rich; many of them had a hallanshaker [beggar] look, worse than Barclays.4 Cuvier himself pleased me much: he seems about fifty; with a fair head of hair, growing grey; a large, broad, not very high head; a nose irregularly acquiline, receding mouth, peaked chin, blue eyes which he casts upwards puckering the eyebrows with a look of great sweetness and wisdom; altogether the appearance of an accomplished kind and gentlemanly person. His lecture lasted an hour and a half: I made out nine tenths of it, and thought it very good, and wonderfully fluent and correct for an extempore one.— Nay what do you think, I made bold to introduce myself to Legendre,5 and was by him taken to a sitting of the Institute, and presented to Dupin6 the celebrated traveller in England, who charged me with a packet of letters for Constable of Edinr. Here also I saw Laplace and Lacroix and Poisson the mathematicians,7 and Vauquelin and Chaptal and Thénard the chemists,8 and heard Magendie9 read a paper on the fifth pair of nerves. Dupin was exceedingly polite, and would have introduced me to Laplace and others; an honour which I declined, desiring only to impress myself with the picture of their several appearances, all which I promise to give you orally when we see each other face to face[.] For the present, however, you see I must begone. Write to me the first instant after you have read this. Direct to Irving's 4. Middleton Terrace. I got your Birmingham letter early, and having written twice since then, I expected another ere now. You will not keep me longer waiting. If you be in Edinr, Alick will write; he owes me a letter immediately. From Edinr I expect news the moment you are settled. I have a million of things to say, but not a point of room to say them. Give my constant and warmest affection to our father and mother, and be sure you tell me how my mothers health continues. Alick was right to buy a larger pony: it seems probable enough that I may use it yet. Have you lent it to Waugh? I think you should. I have a notion of coming to establish myself, with work &c, in Scotland after all. My health will improve with care: at present, in spite of all irregularities, it is not worse. Adieu my dear Jack! My love to all about Mainhill! May good bless them all forever!

Th: Carlyle—