January-September 1856

The Collected Letters, Volume 31


TC TO LADY ASHBURTON ; 7 August 1856; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18560807-TC-LA-01; CL 31: 156-158


Gill, Cummertrees, Annan, Dumfriesshire 7 Augt, 1856—

Dear Lady,

Here have the promised “large impressions” of the Little Drummer and his Sister arrived; and along with your copy of them, I am permitted to write a word. Jane sent you, I suppose, the smaller “first impression” of all: I fear you care nothing about any of them; but to me they are very pretty, a new fruit of the goodness of Bath House withal; and very welcome today as the term I had set myself for again send you a word. A word de Profundis [from the depths]; for there is not out of La Trappe, if in it, any depth of seclusion in the remote corners of the universe equal to mine. You vanished from me, this day gone a fortnight, out of Barry's Hôtel,—Mason and the valetaille [team of flunkeys] just hastily bowling off when we returned;—My Lady gone north to the ultima Thule,1 and I to go south hitherward into very still quarters. I have almost nothing to say, whatever I may have thought: an inarticulate suspirium [sigh] “from the deeps,” towards one whom I figure, and have always figured, as soaring and sailing naturally in the clouds, looking down with a goodness to me which partakes of the nature of miracle to my mind.

Certainly you did a good thing that day in tearing me up from Chelsea, and whirling me off, with burning axle, in a whirlwind of dust, into these dumb regions:—how beautifully you did it, too; I really never saw better behaviour under baddish usage:—but you do belong to the clouds, in a sense, you; tho' some others of us do not.— I reached this, Sunday gone a week; went at once into a vigorous, rigorous, rustic regimen; maximum of action, minimum of speech: and actually the change in my poor nervous system is already becoming conspicuous. I hope it will turn out for good! I gallop daily on boundless expanses of sea-sand vacant of any creature, except sea-mews and my horse and me; ten miles of it if I like, Skiddaw Fells and the Solway far off on one hand of me; nearer, on the other, innocent white cottages (of farmers skilful in bog and marsh; of poor weavers, fishers of flounders &c,—who are happy creatures, with their cat and dog, and wife baking in the silent yellow of the evening sun,—at least so one of them was, to appearance, when I entered to inquire my road)—innocent white cottages and the whole of Scotland with its Hills and Memories Loch Luichart among the rest. Nobody speaks to me, I to nobody, except time of day. I bathe diligently in the sea, also in fresh douches (so surprising to yr French friend);2 I live literally altogether upon farm-produce, eggs, milk, ground meal, with a modicum of chicken-broth; my drink is the crystal well (or sweet whey, upon which I am carousing at present), and one desert-spoonful of brandy mixed with the sauce of my daily bread-pudding. Man wants but little here below!3 I have a wild lonely walk of 3 or 4 miles and back direct into the evening twilight; cacklings of children at sport coming from the hamlets on either hand; and the wilderness growing darker and darker, till it has all fallen silent, and gone to a vague dream, before I get home about 10.— I also do a little at writing; have not yet amassed much that way. Nor do I seem to be growing wiser: my silence is very sombre; not cruel or malignant, but sad to a high quiet degree;—one or two House[s]4 I used to know in these parts; but their old inhabitants have all vanished to Eternity: it is strange to look upon the old masonries, and hear them answer, “Away, away!” under the clear twilight sky. The gods are stern, but the gods are true; let us follow them and their law (leaving the retired Bishops &c to shift for themselves),5 and it will be well with us still.

The new leaf warns me to close this babble.— I am greatly bitten by insects, mosquitos, horse-flies, gnats and rubbish,—what on Earth becomes of your poor Ladyship in the Highland Heather? I am sure if I were an insect I wd rather bite you than almost any creature; and here, where it is not so wild, they fall with avidity upon the like of me. One night my hand was actually as plump as one of yours,—tho' perhaps inferior a little in colour and form. By Heavens favour the wretches are tiring of me again.— For the rest, we have for a week past such a heat as was not seen for 30 years,—welcome to the farmer;—and today is the second day of thunder; which however does not seem to cool us at all, the rain vanishing again straightway.

Thackeray sent me a Steel Pen which he had found answer; “just going away somewhither,”6 he says. The rest of my London Correspondence is bother and not service to me. Jane writes from her Fife Cousin's well content with everything there (for indeed it is a pleasant place, and the Cousins are kind and worthy): she is expected and disposed, she intimates, to make some stay there; and has not yet decided anything farther.

And will I come to the Highlands, I myself?— Bright Lady, believe me, if it stood with me, the answer were not difficult. But it stands with so many persons, and with so many things and laws, I dare not yet answer at all; but keep mutely praying,—in the way of endeavouring I can do but little, or that also should not be wanting. For two weeks or more I should still be here: then Scotsbrig waits me, perhaps Jane coming south,—I know not what, in fact. Not till the end of September do I generally contemplate Chelsea again.

You will write me a word, now that you have twice got my Address;—will you not, you beneficent woman? I wish you well; I do, and not ill. Yours Ever / T. Carlyle