July-December 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 30


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE ; 29 August 1855; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18550829-TC-AC-01; CL 30: 48-51


Chelsea, 29 Augt, 1855—

My dear Brother,

Your Letter came to us a week or two ago; very welcome, as all tidings from you always are. I read it; sent it on to Jack (who was then at Scotsbrig), by whom it was communicated to the rest of the kindred. You must not neglect to write to us, to me in particular; so long as I live in this world, you may be always sure of one fellow-creature to whom nothing that befals you can be indifferent. We are all getting old now, I oldest; and must try to keep one another company, to cheer, and participate with, one another, the best we can. I must say, looking back, my Brothers and you as the nearest to me have been a great comfort to my pilgrimage, one way and another. Nothing that has been given me in life deserves better to be reckoned as a blessing and possession. For which let us piously thank the All-bountiful! Many Households, of less apparent capability, have gained far more promotion in this rather scurvy epoch of the world than our Father's Household has: of which we will make no complaint at all; nay probably we should take that also as a blessing, and silently thank God for it (really and truly so):—but in all our ups and downs we have loved one another; yes; and surely all the yellow metal of California and all the foul puffs of Newspapers now going, are but poor “wealth” in comparison to that!— I often think of these things: but perhaps it is good to know them, without speaking much about them.

We had heard of Tom's shifting into Hamilton;1 we of course did not know the details; but reckoned in general that it might be a natural and even proper endeavour and wish, on the part of the young fellow, to cut out some road for himself in the world; and hoped it might answer;—which it appears not to have done. Poor Tom; I remember him well, stepping gallantly thro' the Burn at Scotsbrig with Letters for us; invincible by wet or difficulty of way, tho' then hardly three feet high! I calculate always he has grown to be a sturdy fellow,—perhaps with a good deal of temper in him, which he should keep a severe and steady bridle over,—but I hope, with many capabilities, with various developed ingenuities; and, now and henceforth (I hope most of all), with a steady veracity and integrity of mind, like those that have gone before him under the same name! Be good to him, poor fellow; for he will naturally feel chagrined at this disappointment; and find his old place not quite the same after coming back to it on those terms. You must sympathise with him, even if you had your irritations at first; you must really consider what is fair in the unrest he has manifested; and let him have the benefit of his Father's longer experience to guide him cannily towards some good issue if you can. He is of course totally unacquainted with the ground, which lies all as a pathless jungle round him; and yet his wish to get into some wider field of activity may be quite the reverse of wrong on his part. The total want of such a feeling, in a young man so situated: this, for anything I know, would have been a far worse fault, and perhaps a disgraceful and unpardonable one.

I know you will pardon me for speaking about this; which mere affection and anxiety prompt me to do, tho' I am very ignorant about it, and speaking mainly into the air. I will only add therefore, that if you and the other Boys2 are really adequate to the labour of Bield, it were perhaps well to think seriously (seriously, tho' perhaps in secret) of establishing Tom in some other way. And if an opening of any kind, which you think reasonable and which he likes, do occur,—then I think I may answer for Jack and myself (for one of the two I can completely answer), we should not be backward in assisting such a work, according to means and opportunity. That is a certain fact;—and that is perhaps the only thing I had a clear right to say. And I will and do request you to bear it in mind, when the occasion rises. And that really is all I had to say, and the end of that head of my discourse.

London is utterly empty (that is, this west quarter of it, or those we know in it) at this August season: the air is often very clear and good; and certainly for “retirement” there are few places equal to it. The straggling individuals that do continue, even these seem to make a tacit rule of ignoring one another; and one is called upon by nobody, calls upon nobody. Sometimes, when the wind falls dead for a few days and the hot sky is cloudless (which has not been much the case this year), the streets get villainously baked, an unwholesome stew of bad breath coming out of every cellar and grocer's shop; so that Town-life, all imbedded in impalpable dust from so many wheeled vehicles withal, reaches its disagreeablest figure; and one is glad of rain and thunder again, which is pretty sure not to be far off. I had some thoughts of poor old Scotland this year; but they are gone again; the old scenes at any rate, as you may guess, are not the joyfullest to me just now. Jack, with his two Boys3 in vacation from school, went to Scotsbrig in july or june; he has been there ever since, his Boys till the beginning of this month,—he, I believe, is leaving it this very day, as happens. Poor fellow, he makes a business out of guardian-ing these poor Boys (to which post he has been appointed by Chancery, with plenty of money); he writes, travels &c &c, and fills his time, to some satisfaction, with it. Which is pathetic to look upon, poor fellow, and yet a kindly aspect of this world's destinies. There is not one of us so capable of finding interest for himself, out of next to nothing, as he. “From the youngest to the ouldest there's none of them so much resembles”4—No, you were wrong in that part of the account at any rate! He is far the happiest of the family I do believe; and it would be so easy for a grumbling discontented unhealthy nature to pick holes without and in the life he has had. I often look at him poor fellow, and his head (six years younger than mine) now old and utterly grey, with a tender and wondering feeling. He has a great deal of superior intellect running waste, and yielding no adequate crop at all; that is the worst of it: but that is nothing like the worst of bads in this world, among the outcomes of human lives! He and I never have any cross word now; for I have long since recognised that rebuking of him is of no use; that Nature is stronger than any argument against Nature; and that my poor Jack is even made so, and might have been infinitely worse made. “Ungrateful, how could he have been better made!” I often say to myself. He is a truly loving Brother; and from me has forgiven innumerable provocations, and superficial irritations from an old date!

Today, as I said, he is leaving Scotsbrig; bound by rail towards Edinr and Leith, where he takes Steamer for Hamburg in Germany. The eldest of his Boys5 (there are four of them in all) is in some kind of rigorous disciplinary School in Hamburg, having been a baddish boy at one time, and in violent quarrel with his Mother, owing perhaps to misguidance mainly: he is now doing much better; getting to be 17 or 18, I think, withal: and Jack is going across to have a personal survey of his affairs and him. Which will do good, I have little doubt; or will at least be satisfactory to poor Jack's feelings in the matter. He has there an acquaintance, an old Roman Medical comrade, established in a little Town some 200 miles inland:6 him he proposes next to visit, and to look at various things in the adjacency or in the distance (Weimar, probably among others); in this way he means to make a three-weeks tour of it: which may be pleasant enough in this fine season. You will see by my strokes on the Newspaper (if I continue the two strokes) that nothing is gone wrong with him that I hear of; till he himself write again. I suppose he is likely to come home this way, and to anchor here again for winter, but he does not say hitherto. He sails tomorrow evg, Thursday 30 August.— Jamie appears to have a fair harvest, tho' late, as all harvests this year. Farmers are prospering beyond wont: I privately suppose it is from the California gold in some measure:7—Jamie keeps very busy, and steadily improves his footing, and at a slow rate seems to do better and better. Jean at Dumfries, poor thing, is looking forward not without anxiety to an Event which ought now to be near hand: the Doctors say there is no cause for apprehension; but her last two births have been of dead children, and all precautions surely are prescribed in such a case. Of the Austins I hear good accounts too. And that is the general bulletin from Annandale. Poor old Graham8 has no illness, but sinks duller & duller.

As to myself I have had and still have a fearful tussle with that sad Book of mine,—which is yet far, far from being off my hands:—never in my life had I an uglier job; a sore year of hard labour, last, and almost without result, as I often think. But it is not so either: by and by, if I live, I shall get thro' that adventure too; and I think it ought to be my last of the kind.— My health feels often miserably bad; and yet is not so: nothing ails me still except perpetual indigestion, and that could be greatly relieved if I had a healthier trade; my trade chiefly causes that. We have run down to the shore once or twice (by cheap trains and otherwise) and got a bathe or two; I have a horse at present lent me: tomorrow we are going to Addiscombe, a lent country house some ten miles off, for a little while. All this it is calculated will sensibly help.— Paper done, my dear Brother; I must say Adieu!—

T. Carlyle