July-December 1858

The Collected Letters, Volume 34


INTRODUCTION; 2006; DOI: 10.1215/ed-34-introduction; CL 34: firstpage-34-xiii-lastpage-34-xxii


This volume includes letters from July to the end of December 1858. Of the letters, 69 are from JWC and 121 from TC.1 It is a period of significant accomplishment undermined to some extent by familiar demons. Frequent bouts of ill health, TC's preoccupation with Frederick, and memories of her idyllic Haddington youth continue to torment JWC. In moments of despair, she finds no outlet for her feelings, even in the act of writing, which becomes a burden that sharpens her sense of estrangement from the world. For both TC and JWC, the written word has been the rock on which their “sore life pilgrimage” (TC to JWC, 8 July) has been founded. When letters fail to appear regularly, the result is invariably panic and desperation on the part of the anxious recipient. From Annandale, where by the end of June he is seeking solitary relief from the frenetic but successful push to complete the first two volumes of Frederick, TC pleads with JWC to write: “What can I infer, in my gloomy thought, but that you are not better, more likely worse, and so in spite of my express request have kept silence lest the real news might drive me crazy altogether!” (TC to JWC, 9 July).

Her withering reply confirms his fears. She rejects his suggestion that the air of Scotland and the presence of her beloved Dr. Russell might strengthen her condition: “My constitution is completely worn out—my nerves, my spirits worn out! Can all the Drs on earth renew nerves and spirits?—You are indeed sanguine if you imagine any ‘air’ any Dr; any anything can ever make me into a healthy or even approximately healthy woman again—You will have to just put up with me, as I am; even as I put up with myself as I am—for the rest of my appointed time” (JWC to TC, 9 July). She is equally dismissive of his pitiful exhortations—“hold up thy little heart … there are yet good years ahead of us. … Courage, courage” (TC to JWC, 8 July)—which only serve to reinforce her conviction that he is incapable of fathoming her despair. With bitter irony she reminds him of his favorite doctrine, which suits her present mood in ways that he does not appreciate: “[D]on't you, ‘the Apostle of Silence’ find fault with me for putting your doctrine in practice—There are days when I must hold my peace, or—speak things all from the lips outwards—or things, that being of the nature of self lamentation had better never be spoken—” (JWC to TC, [16 July]). TC is frightened and perplexed by her “Silence.” He takes the unusual step of writing in confidence to Lord Ashburton's sister Louisa Baring with the delicately phrased suggestion that she invite JWC to visit the family house at Alverstoke, opposite the Isle of Wight.

Fearful of being accused of meddling, he immediately makes a “clean breast” of the matter to JWC, and begs her to “judge the situation fairly.” He admits that his plan “may be a hindrance not a help,” though he hopes “it will in fact be neither” (TC to JWC, 14 July). She is quietly touched by his consideration, but when recurring tensions surface in late October, JWC quickly forgets the part he has played in her temporary recovery. In a letter to Lady Stanley, she recalls: “I continued in a horrid way, till Miss Baring persuaded me away to Bay House … where in twenty four hours I became all healed—like a cracked china basin boiled in sweet milk!!” (JWC to LST, [late Oct.]). If the written word can exacerbate JWC's feelings of paralysis and “self lamentation,” it can also free her from the snares of her emotional claustrophobia. When she redirects her formidable powers of observation to the world around her, she achieves a perspective that conveys an exhilarating sense of release, both social and linguistic. Teeming with humor and drama, her two Chelsea set pieces, “Notes of a Sitter-still” (JWC to TC, [11 July]) and “Notes of a Still-sitter” (JWC to TC, [12 July]) are the very opposite of “still.” Like TC, she unconsciously lives through the people and places that she describes, and invests them with individuality and distinctness.

In her description of Turgenev's friend Vassily Botkin, she establishes a clear contrast between her practical Scottish nature and his “Cossack” character, “not that [she] ever saw a Cossack or heard one described.” He possesses “thin semi-circular eye brows—a wide thin mouth—complexion whity-grey, and the skin of his face looked thick enough to make a saddle of!” His entrance into the house is as boisterous as his enthusiasm for TC's writings, which he translates into Russian: “I begged him to be seated and he declared ‘Mr Carlyle was the man for Russia’ I tried again and again to ‘enchain’ a rational conversation but nothing could I get out of him but rhapsodies about you in the frightfulest English that I ever heard out of a human head!” She adds laconically, “It is to be hoped that … he reads English much better than he speaks it—else he must have produced an inconceivable Translation of Hero Worship” (JWC to TC, [11 July]). A somewhat relieved TC rightly remarks in his reply, “[T]he Picture of Botkin … seemed unsurpassable for fun & truth recogniseable thro' it” (TC to JWC, 13 July).

In her second “Note,” JWC sends a highly charged report of Lady Bulwer Lytton's extraordinary appearance at her husband's election rally in Taunton, where she publicly challenged him. Wholly identifying with Lady Bulwer Lytton as an abused spouse, JWC weaves newspaper quotations with her own descriptions to heighten the drama of Edward Bulwer Lytton's humiliation: “ ‘Your Wife is here’—Sir Liar staggered, turned as white as a sheet—cast one wild look at his wife—and—‘rushed down the companion ladder’! … near the bottom of which, by the kind foresight of somebody, his carriage and servants stood ready! He ‘jumped in—fell back almost fainting’—and was galloped back to Knebworth—leaving his friends to speak for him!— Dont you think The Lady had the best of the day here?—” (JWC to TC, [12 July]). JWC's anger and ardor are intensified by the subsequent details of Bulwer Lytton's successful scheme to inveigle Lady Bulwer Lytton to London in order to have her committed to a lunatic asylum.

TC responds awkwardly to her championing of Lady Bulwer Lytton, whom both he and JWC had helped with publishers in 1851 (see 26:9–12). Undoubtedly aware of the rumors about their own marriage that had been circulating following the death of Lady Ashburton, TC advises JWC to temper her enthusiasm with caution. He agrees that Lady Bulwer Lytton is “no more mad than I am,” but in a clumsily worded elaboration, he distinguishes “scientifically” between madness, which is beyond cure, and “folly,” with its “wild ragings and jealousies and diabolic passions,” which can be “stilled” by reason and a “change of heart.” Hopeful that his “Goody” will accept this distinction, TC then echoes her condemnation of Edward Bulwer Lytton, “the so-called ‘stronger vessel’” who is a “wretched profligate Quack” and the “ugliest of existing human creatures.” But there are limits to TC's indignation. Fearful that JWC may want to initiate a campaign of support for Lady Bulwer Lytton—a campaign that might throw unwelcome attention on life at Cheyne Row—he advises her “not to speak of it; for we can do nothing in it,—except easily enough mischief to ourselves and others. … Therefore, silence, silence!” (TC to JWC, 14 July).

A brief interval of relative peace follows, with both JWC and TC experiencing improved health. She tenderly admits to him, “My greatest comfort all this time has been just knowing you situated according to your needs—in full enjoyment of air, milk, and quiet” (JWC to TC, 19 July). Preparing for her visit to Alverstoke, she startles him by praising her new servant Charlotte Southam, who is “[a]bove all … my servant—does what I order at the first word—and not my mistress!” (JWC to TC, [30 July]). JWC arrives at Bay House, proudly and comically conscious of her class and her appearance: “How differently one's looks impress different people! The man who drove me from the station … evidently took me for well enough to be going to service at Bay House; for he turned round so soon as we passed thro the gate, to ask ‘Was he to drive round to the back door?’ and then the footman who received me took me for deaf!! coming close up to me, when he had any thing to say, and shouting it—into my ear!!” (JWC to TC, 2 Aug.). Nonetheless, she is relieved by the warm welcome that Louisa Baring and her sister Emily extend to her.

The effect of the new surroundings is immediate. She informs TC two days later, “I have not a single thing to complain of; and I agree with the place famously. I get a fair amount of sleep, am much less sensitive about the throat and breast, much less shivery in mind, and unless the glass here is made to flatter, my face is much less haggard and ghastly” (JWC to TC, 4 Aug.). In a letter to her maid Charlotte, she writes that “this life is the very wholesomest that could have been cut out for me! Sea-air blowing round me day and night—a drive in an open carriage every day … perfect comfort, without too much ceremony; and kindness without fuss!” (JWC to CSO, [5 Aug.]). Yet always there is the shadow of Cheyne Row and Frederick clouding her horizon. In a curiously poignant and pointed admission, she remarks, “I dont feel the least drawing to 5 Cheyne Row in your absence, indeed I dont mean to have any thing more to do with it than I can help, till you are there.—Don't think me crazy! … I have suffered so much … that even a month of respite looks to me a thing worth taking any trouble for! and spending any money for—that I can lawfully spend!” (JWC to TC, [6 Aug.]).

TC's decision to travel to Germany in order to visit Frederick's battlefields prompts JWC to accept an invitation from her cousin Janet Pringle to visit Lann Hall, in Tynron, near where she had spent summers as a child. At the end of August, JWC passes through London on her way to Dumfriesshire, and stays only one night in Chelsea. If TC can escape, so too can she. As she explains to Henry Larkin, “It is very dreary spending one's life coughing alone, in that House of Cheyne Row, with which I have hardly any associations that are not saddening, or worse!—very dreary! And why should I do it? … Whether Mr C goes to Germany or not, I dont think he will be home till October—So I have still a good few weeks in which to ‘wander at my own sweet will’!” (JWC to HL, 10 [9] Aug.). Her bristling language reflects her revitalized spirits. She warns TC against traveling with the liberal theologian F. J. Foxton, who “will bore you twenty times worse than Newberg! A constant scratching on plaster going on beside you! Please Heaven that he have an attack of rheumatism to confine him to his sofa till you are clear off!” (JWC to TC, 14 Aug.). With relief, she leaves behind Carlyle's brother John in London: “Each time I saw him, he left me with the feeling of having been whipt with a flail!” (JWC to TC, [29 Aug.]).

In Scotland she savors a temporary freedom from pain, remorse, and regret. Fêted by friends and relatives, she revels in the reception she receives: “And it is so much heartier a sort of hospitality than one finds in the South! It makes me feel younger by twenty years! I catch myself laughing sometimes with a voice that startles myself, as being not like my own but my Mother's—who was always so much gayer than I—Indeed it is good for me to be here!” (JWC to TC, [10 Sept.]). But her buoyant mood is punctured by the news of TC's plan to return home earlier than expected and by the sudden recurrence of a “severe and dangerous illness … [which] has quite snubbed my conceit about my wellness” (JWC to CSO, [21 Sept.]). Inevitably, she must prepare herself for the awful prospect of “returning to that horrid Cheyne Row where I am always ill and generally miserable!” (JWC to HL, [11 Sept.]). Yet she cannot bear the thought that TC will arrive in her absence, “seeking things like a madman, and never finding them!” The predicament of her new maid increases her anxieties: “[H]is depending on the tender mercies of Charlotte for his diet—leaves me no rest—partly on Charlotte's account, I confess, as well as on his own!” (JWC to HL, [21 September 1858]). She feels that she must join him at once, no matter what the consequences.

The return journey reminds her of the heavy price she has paid for leaving her native home. She reveals to Mary Russell, “[W]hen I travel from London to Scotland, I get quite fresh to the journeys end, however weakly I may have been at starting, But when I do the same journey back again, I am tired thro every fibre of me, and don't get over it for days? … I do begin to believe London a perfectly poisonous place for me” (JWC to MR, [1 Oct.]). A week later, she complains that “this London atmosphere weighs on me, I find, like a hundred weight of lead! no health no spirits one brings from ‘the Country’ can bear up against it! … So my evenings are now sacred to reading on [TC's] part, and mortally ennuying myself on mine!” (JWC to JGCO, [6 Oct.]). She blames the outbreak of another cold on TC, who had apparently insisted that she rearrange a bookcase in order to hang Antoine Pesne's picture of Frederick and Wilhelmina given to JWC by Lord Ashburton. The removal of a staircase window brings an unwelcome draft, and “now I am shut up for six months … with my cough and all the rest of it.” JWC mordantly reflects that “there is no sunshine in this world without shadow. That Picture is very charming to look at from my sofa; but such a cold is a heavy price for the pleasure!” (JWC to JPR, [ca. 23 Nov.]). Unaware that he has caused this relapse, TC tells his sister that he had wished the picture “had gone down the river rather!” (TC to JCA, 13 Nov.).

An unforgivable blunder, for which the painter Robert Tait took the brunt of the blame, sours JWC's mood further and conjures up painful recollections of her Haddington past. In a biographical article in the Illustrated London News of 23 October (possibly by TC's former secretary, Frederick Martin), the author erroneously describes JWC's father, Dr. John Welsh, as “a veterinary surgeon of good fortune” (372). Determined to prevent her from reading the passage, TC instructs relatives and friends not to mention it and hastily forwards without explanation the Cheyne Row copy of the paper to James Carlyle. Meanwhile, Tait, “who always does the flatsoled underbred thing” (JWC to JC, [early Nov.]), eagerly informs JWC of the error and compounds his gaffe by mentioning a correction by an M.D. from Walsall (probably John Burton; see JWC to JC, [early Nov.]), “a townsfellow of Miss Welsh's,” published in a subsequent issue. In his letter, the M.D. extols Dr. Welsh as “one of the most highly cultivated and locally eminent medical men of his day in Scotland” and JWC as one of “the most rare and happy combination of the beauties of mind and person.” But in his closing comments, he notes that JWC was an “early acquaintance of Edward Irving, who … used to call her his ‘child of intellect’” (Illustrated London News, 30 Oct., p. 404). Reporting the episode to James Carlyle in early November, JWC says nothing about the allusion to her former admirer. Instead, she claims that both she and TC are offended by the remarks about “my ‘charms of body and mind’” (JWC to JC, [early Nov.]). On the subject of Irving and his relationship with her, both JWC and TC instinctively agree to invoke “the doctrine of silence.”

TC's decision to seek refuge from his Prussian labors at The Gill, home of his sister Mary Carlyle Austin, inevitably inspires restlessness rather than rest. At first he enthuses about the “best of eggs &c, the best of coffee;—and such brown bread as … is hardly procurable in Great Britain elsewhere” (TC to JWC, 19 July). Idleness soon grows tiresome though, and his immersion in “six weeks of nightmare sleep” becomes intolerable. Like JWC, he is troubled by thoughts of the past, and in his solitude he has “felt and remembered only too many things” (TC to LS, 4 Aug.). In a vividly wrought passage, he expresses his sense of distance from the people whom he encounters on his daily rides: “A man at 63 has a strange feeling when visiting his native country,—as of a ghost coming back to the Earth! I rode one day, market-day, thro' [An]nan; did not see one soul whose face was known to me; only the old stone-walls were familiar; and strangers gazed at my ‘wide-awake’ hat and old grey beard,—asking, as their fathers or grandfathers would not have needed to do, ‘Who's that?’” (TC to AC, 15 Oct.). Thoughts of Lady Harriet Ashburton's death fill him with sadness and regret: “Last time I quitted these parts it was on a certain Highland Journey: a thing never to be forgotten by me” (TC to LS, 4 Aug.).

The looming demands of his only partially completed Prussian history oblige him to abandon these somber reveries. He is determined to realize his long-contemplated plan to visit Germany in order to see Frederick's battlefields for himself. The maps and sources he uses are almost completely useless to him unless he can visualize the physical features of the landscape in which particular events occurred. His primary material too often impedes his vision of people and places: “Alas, I am aware withal what a melancholy poverty of help lies in all such Books as are conceivably extant; not to speak of probably attainable.” He knows that an “actual sight … wd be of real value, beyond any other likelihood there is!” In a manner that anticipates Proust, he tries to extract the life of the past from inanimate “localities” (TC to JN, 22 July). With the help of the indispensable Neuberg and the “scratchy” Foxton, he organizes an exhaustive itinerary that includes visits to Zorndorf, Liegnitz, Leuthen, Mollwitz, Hohenfriedberg, Sohr, Chotusitz, Prague, Hochkirch, Torgau, and Rossbach. The prospect of the journey troubles him, yet he feels compelled to undertake it: “The enterprise, I confess, seems horrible to me: but a certain uneasy feeling,—something connected with literary conscience among other more questionable elements,—urges me forward; and it must be done” (TC to JN, 16 Aug.). On 21 August, he leaves Scotsbrig for Edinburgh, where he catches a steamer for Hamburg.

In his letters, and in a remarkable journal that he writes during the trip, TC records his impressions with energy, insight, and intelligence. The manuscript of the journal, which TC may have given to Alexander Carlyle, was eventually purchased by the Yale University Library. In 1940, it was meticulously and scrupulously transcribed, edited, and annotated by R. A. E. Brooks, who published it as Journey to Germany, Autumn 1858. His eloquent verdict on the manuscript is equally pertinent to TC's letters of this period: “The ‘Journey’ … clearly shows how sharply Carlyle was impressed by a human or personal detail and a study of Frederick the Great … only confirms this. With all his insistence on fact and with all his careful and discriminating search for the facts, Carlyle was most deeply moved by, and most clearly apprehended history through the action, gesture, tone, or emotion of a discrete human individual” (Carlyle, Journey xxxvii). Together, the journal and the letters provide a luminous record of TC's visit to Germany, and a crucial testimony of the manner in which past and present telescopically converge in the composition of Frederick the Great.

Exhausted by three sleepless nights at sea, TC arrives on the Continent disoriented and irritable. After a brief tour of Hamburg, he decides to accept an invitation to visit Baron and Baroness von Usedom at their home in Carsitz on the Baltic island of Rügen. A long train journey to Rostock, and the prospect of a longer one to Stralsund, weakens his resolve. But, at Rostock, he is saved by the “hand of an angel” in the person of the “incessantly explosively demonstrative” Baroness Olympia von Usedom, who escorts him by carriage to their home, from where TC writes to JWC, “a considerably rested man” (TC to JWC, 27 Aug.). The features of this “German Isle of Wight” fascinate him, “with endless paths but no roads, strange oak-brick, red beehives of cottages very exotic looking … in the moonlight.” The Usedoms' estate “is like nothing you ever saw; medieval, semi-patriarchal; half a farm-house, half a palace.” Amidst this whirl of new faces and scenery, TC frets about JWC, and wonders where and how she is: “Oh my poor little Jeannie, if I knew you were but well, I think I cd be almost happy here today, in the silent sunshine, on these remote Scandinavian shores” (TC to JWC, 27 Aug.).

The pleasures of the Usedoms' Baltic paradise fade quickly, as TC is “made [to] do the ‘picturesque’ all the time, and there was no end to the talk [he] had to carry on.” By the first week of September, he is in Berlin steeling himself for battlefield tours: “[S]leep or no sleep, we are off tomorrow, and hand sticks to plough till the furrow is complete” (TC to JWC, 5 Sept.). Repeatedly, TC compresses narratives: “Plenty to tell my poor Goody, had I once got speech of her again!” His descriptions often suggest her presence, as if he were trying to visualize scenes through her eyes. Breslau “is as queer an old City as you ever heard of. High, as Edinr or more so; streets very strait and winding: roofs 30 feet or so in height, and of proportionate steepness, ending in chimney-heads like the half of a Butterfirkin, set on its side” (TC to JWC, 10 Sept.). Again, in his account of a drive through the Riesengebirge into Bohemia, TC comments, “[L]ikest to it was that drive we once had from Buxton in Derbyshire across the Hills to Sheffield: you remember it no doubt” (TC to JWC, 14 Sept.). They both perhaps realize that his promises to share these experiences with her later are hollow. The recollections he gives in letters and in his journal will serve as raw material for imaginary conversations he conducts with Frederick, rather than with JWC.

During his journey, details from his historical sources constantly overlap in TC's mind with his observations. One of his most uncomfortable moments occurs at Pardubitz, in Bohemia, in a “[b]ig noisy inn, full of evil smells; contemptible little wicked village; where a worse than Jerry-shop [beer house] close over the way raged like Bedlam or Erebus,—to cheer one in a ‘bed’. . . 18 inches too short, and a matrass forced into it, whh cocked up at both ends, as if you had been lying in the trough of a saddle.” The episode contributes to his harsh portrait of the Bohemians as “liars, thieves, slatterns: a kind of miserable subter-Irish people; Irish with the addition of ill nature, and a disposition decidedly disobliging” (TC to JWC, 14 Sept.). In Frederick, memories of this inn surface in the “Tourist's” sketch of the Czaslau hotels, which “offer little of humanly edible; and, in the interior, smells strike you as—as the oldest you have ever met before” (Works 15:349). TC later conceives the Bohemians from Frederick's viewpoint, as “[p]oor dark creatures; not loving Austria much, but loving some others even less, it would appear. Of bigoted Papist Creed, for one thing. … We do not meddle with their worship more or less; but we are Heretics, and they hate us as the Night” (Works 16:27). The smallest detail can possess revelatory possibilities. At Hochkirch, where Marshall Keith and 700 Prussians were killed by the Austrians, the doors are “still holed with the musketry” (TC to JWC, 23 Sept.). In Frederick, TC recalls this “Fact” in order to demonstrate the illuminating power of history: “The strong outer Door of the old Church, red oak … is still retained in that capacity; still shows perhaps half-a-dozen rough big quasi-keyholes, torn through it in different parts, and daylight shining in, where the old bullets passed” (Works 17:424).

With great relief, TC reaches London on 22 September. An early favorable review of the first two volumes of Frederick in the Athenaeum—“the history is marvellously true and allusive” (18 Sept., 351)—does little to diminish his concern about the work that remains to be done. To his French correspondent, Émile Montégut, he writes, “I have still lying ahead a mass of dreary chaotic labour, which, in my now state of bodily strength and spiritual, is enough to make me shudder! I mean to get thro' it, if I can, and then rest forever” (TC to EM, 15 Oct.). But TC himself seriously underestimates the length of time he will need to complete the task. He confesses to his sister: “I have still a formidable two years ahead, if I live so long; and after that, I mean to work, at least hard work, no more, however long I live. My scheme is, To get mainly away altogether out of this ineffable pluister, where there is less and less left that is helpful or delightful to me” (TC to JCA, 13 Nov.). Engulfed by self-pity, he blames his Frederick research for cutting him off from the world: “I live altogether alone from my fellow creatures and their ways; I am often very miserable over my sad problem,—and may be said in general to resemble a man sunk to the eyebrows in quagmire, and left to help himself out, in a wet night, miles off any house, if he can!” (TC to JCA, 24 Dec.). Although, like JWC, TC has his moments of despondency, a significant amount of his correspondence tends to contradict these lugubrious intimations of his declining reputation.

Montégut's example illustrates the ways in which TC's influence could be felt by those working outside English political and intellectual circles. TC had apparently offered to send the Frenchman ten volumes of his recently published collected works, to which Montégut responded with enthusiasm: “I accept with gratitude your offer to send me the new edition of your collected works. Above all other contemporary books, these are the ones that I have read most often. It will be a great pleasure to read them in this new form. I always remember the moment in which I first discovered them, and the sense of wonder that I experienced. … It has been a very long time since then; it was August 1844. A happier time will never come again” (trans.; EM to TC, undated [Aug./early Sept.]). Soon after he receives these volumes in early September, Montégut writes again to thank TC “for this precious gift, which is more precious to me than any other gift” (trans.; EM to TC, undated [late Sept.]).

Montégut had already sent TC a copy of his Essais sur l'époque actuelle: Libres opinions morales et historiques, which had been published in June. In these essays Montégut explores a wide range of subjects in an overtly Carlylean manner: “Du génie françcais,” “La Renaissance et la Réformation,” “Des controverses sur le XVIIIe siècle,” “De toute puissance de l'industrie,” “De l'individualité humaine dans la société moderne,” “De l'idée de monarchie universelle,” and “De l'homme éclairé” [”Of French Genius,” “The Renaissance and the Reformation,” “Controversies of the Eighteenth Century,” “The Powers of Industry,” “Individuality in Modern Society,” “The Idea of a Universal Monarchy,” and “Enlightened Man”]. What unites them is an unsystematic and paradoxical approach, which Montégut defends in his preface: “These are not the expression of a system, they are not guided by any partisan spirit, nor are they inspired by any particular sect or school” (1; trans.). TC is impressed by the volume, which he finds “excellent reading” (TC to EM, 15 Oct.). Montégut replies several weeks later and urges TC to persevere with Frederick. Having been crippled by disease, he sympathizes with TC's mental and physical struggles to overcome his Prussian nightmare: “I understand too well the worries that Frederick has caused you, but in spite of everything you say, I know that this will be the best book that exists on this subject, so interesting and so unbearable, so original and so dry” (trans.; EM to TC, undated [late Sept.]).2

In spite of persistent “worries” about their irrelevance to the age in which they lived, TC and JWC continued to play a vital part in shaping its identity and in generating its debates, “consciously and unconsciously,” for both their present and our past.

David Sorensen