1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 24 June 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250624-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:338-342.


Hoddam Hill, 24th June, 1825—

My Dearest,

After two weeks of patient and two of impatient waiting, your letter at last arrived. It seems I ought to thank Providence rather than you for the favour; and indeed to me it makes little difference which. So long as Providence shall please to give you “several things which you cannot do without telling me,” I am perfectly content. For the rest, what use is there in telling you that I long for an answer? Do I tell my Mother that, generally speaking, in the forenoon of every lawful and unlawful day, I desire to have some morsel of breakfast? She makes it for me, and there is an end.

I rejoice to hear that you are busy, and constant in your business. The theory of happy living grows plainer to me every day: Let thought be turned to action, or dismissed entirely; there lies the whole secret: it is pity only that the practice should be so much harder than the demonstration! I can give myself and you the sagest rules of conduct: but for the fulfilment of them—alas! alas!— I expect that Life of yours will do us both good: the advanced stage of its progress already rebukes me for my own inaction; and when you arrive, what a choice text will it be for long volumes of philosophy! What a sweet termination too! “On the——day of July, my beloved Mr Sansterre [Landless] was waiting for me in the lower district of Annandale; he had the audacity to clasp me in his arms, and kiss me, and here my Life came to a close.”

Your arrival in these parts promises to form a sort of epoch in our domestic history. All hands are waiting for you with a sentiment compounded of terror and delight. My Mother sends her kindest compliments, and says in various phraseology that so long as you can tolerate her rude irregular ménage, she will be proud to have your company. My Father too expects you, I believe, with considerable impatience, and without any of the fear that overhangs the hearts of others. For him, he could open the wattled door of his wigwam, if he dwell in one, and welcome with a serene spirit the monarch of Europe; or dismiss him as serenely if he thought that better. On the whole, however, this royal visit is anticipated as a great affair. I expect for my share, that notwithstanding all your practical philosophy, you will be considerably astonished at the Hibernian aspect of things here; but as Laertes says, was thuts?1 You wish to see Man as he is, I wish it also; so come and make the trial. If you can live contentedly on the resources of Repentance Hill, with no society but that of honest-hearted toilsome people, to whom rest is the highest recreation, you are far advanced in your domestic culture; you might live even at Craigenputtock for two months with an angel. If not, I will persuade you to stay till you have seen and understood; and then to think, with how very little means the human spirit may be kept in happiness and raised to its full moral stature.

When are those currants to be ready? I wish the Sun would shine, and your Aunt bestir herself, and get them fairly preserved, and let you go. Your Mother was particularly kind to give her permit so readily; I think the arrangement of your journey is now much better than it was; nothing is wanted but the execution. You need not go so far as Annan; three coaches pass every evening within two miles of us: direct the guard to stop with you at Kelhead (three miles from Annan); Jack and I will be there with a pony saddled and bridled, and tea will be waiting for you here. I will shew you Kirkconnel churchyard, and Fair Helen's grave2 if I can find it; I will take you to the top of Burnswark, and wander with you up and down these woods and lanes and moors, and talk of all things new and old. Earth sea and air are open to us here as well as anywhere; the water of Milk3 was flowing through its simple valley as early as the brook Siloa, and poor Repentance Hill is as old as Caucasus itself. There is a majesty and mystery in Nature, take her as you will; the essence of all poetry comes breathing to a mind that feels, from every province of her empire. Is she not immoveable, eternal, and immense, in Annandale as she is in Chamouni? The chambers of the East are opened in every land, and the Sun comes forth to sow the Earth with orient pearl; Night, the ancient Mother, follows him with her diadem of stars; and Arcturus and Orion call me into the infinitudes of space as they called the Druid Priest or the Shepherd of Chaldea. Bright creatures! How they gleam like spirits, through the shadows of innumerable ages, from their thrones in the boundless depths of heaven!

“Who ever gazed upon them shining,
And turned to Earth without repining,
And did not wish for wings to fly away
To mix with their ethereal ray?”4

I have, twenty times; tho' now and then also I have not. Would you go with me? Come, and let us consult. In plain prose, we shall have peace and quietness here, and if our minds can amuse themselves, well and good; if they cannot, they may even go unamused.

I must not terminate this valuable sheet (excuse the beautiful stamped border, for [in truth] I had no other) without sending you a paragraph about myself, and my specific [occu]pations. Happily, the whole may be summed up in little compass. F[or my]self, I am gradually and steadily gathering health; and for my occupations, they am[ount] to zero. It is many a weary year since I have been so idle or so happy. I have not done two sheets of Werter yet; I read Richter and Jacobi, I ride, and hoe cabbages, and like Basil Montague, am “a lover of all quiet things.” Sometimes something in the shape of conscience says to me: “You will please to observe, Mr Tummas, that time is flying fast away, and you are very poor and ignorant and unknown, and verging towards nine and twenty. What is to become of you in the long run, Mr Thummas? Are you not partly of opinion that you are—an ass? The world is running past you, you are out of the battle altogether, my pretty Sir; no promotion, knowledge, money, glory”— To which I usually answer: “And what the d—— is the matter? What have knowledge, money, glory done for me hitherto? Could they quench the burning of my soul, or get me one hour of deep rest? Time, you say, is flying: to how many mortals have you seen this same Time yield any portion of contentment and dignity? how much has it yielded me? Let it fly, twice as fast if it like!”— On the whole, however, I hope this humour will not be my final one. It is rather a sort of holy truce, a pax Dei which exhausted Nature has conquered for herself from all the fiends that assaulted and beset her; as her strength returns, the battle will again commence. Yet, never, I trust, with such fateful eagerness as of old! I see the arena of Life lying round me, desolate and quiet as the ashes of Mount Aetna; flowers and verdure will again spring over its surface, but I know that fire is still beneath it, and that it or I have no foundation or endurance. O human life! O soul of man!— But my paper is concluded.

I am glad that you have answered Mrs Montague, and liked her. She labours under some delusion, I believe, about your secret history, but she has skill to manage any thing. I have had a letter from her, full of eloquence, in which she tells me that “your heart is in England your heart is not here.”5 This is the “romance of real life.” She lays down in distinct and minute language the duties that my most enviable wife will have to engage with; that also is romance; but you shall see it when you come. On the whole, she is a noble woman, after making all allowances. In the midst of all that rhetoric, there is sincerity and goodness and highmindedness enough to furnish fifty ordinary women. I must write to her again.6 Mrs Strachey is in my debt. To Edward Irving, I have not written a syllable! To-morrow, I purpose it; for I am very wrong in this case.— When will you write? When will you come?— What more can I say, except that “I would gladly give my life for thee, who wouldst gladly have given thine for me withal”!— God bless you, my own Jane! Write, and come. I am ever yours,

Th: Carlyle

Take my best thanks for your attention to poor Johnstone's affair: I have written to him, and think the place may suit him; it is possible he may come and see Mr Burns in person.— The missing volume of your Molière is her[e—] come and fetch it.—

Jane is not here; Mary has detained her at Mainhill for the sake of having company to school. Jack sends his best compliments: he sits in a little room, reading medicine and poetry and history, from the rising to the setting sun, and chopping logic with all men women and children.— Is your head well, is your Life nearly done (Heaven for[b]id!)— Write soon, and tell me all, all.