The Collected Letters, Volume 4


JBW TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 25 January 1826; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18260125-JBW-MAC-01; CL 4:25-28.


Haddington—Wednesday [25 January 1826]

My dear Mrs Carlyle

Thomas mentioned your wish to hear from me, more than two weeks since, and the intimation, I assure you, would have placed me at my writing-desk forthwith; but that it happened I had a cap for you just then on hands, which, I somehow settled in my own mind must go along with the letter— Now, I am by no means, the very speediest needle-woman in the world, as you had ample opportunity of noticing, while I sojourned at the Hill; and besides I have been unfitted for working at anything lately, but by starts, owing to an almost continual severe pain in my head: so that, all things considered, it is sufficiently intelligible, how, with the best intentions I should not have put the finishing stitch to this labour of love, till within the present hour— And what is it after all my pains? Alas that I have to fall on so paltry a shift to manifest my affectionate remembrance of you! Alas that it has not pleased Fate to make me a powerful Queen, or even a powerful subject!— Alas, finally, that the whole universe is not ordered just according to my good pleasure!— It is better, you are thinking, as it is— Well! at bottom, perhaps I think so too— But yet the wide discrepancy between my wishes and my powers will, at times, send a sharp pang thro' my heart, and tempt me to doubt, if indeed whatever is be best—

Will you believe it, Mr Carlyle has been within sixteen miles of me for three weeks, and we have not once seen each other's face! Now, is not this a pretty story? Can any one fancy a severer trial of patience? Positively, I am expecting to have my name transmitted to posterity along with the Patriarch Job's; for the woman, who could undergo this thing, and yet not die of rage, could also survive, with a meek spirit, the carrying away of oxen and apes, the burning up of sheep, and even the smothering of sons and daughters— However, it seems probable that he will speedily return for a longer period; and in the meantime, perhaps Fate may get into a more gracious humour: if she does n[ot,] I see nothing for it, but to take the upper hand with her—if we can— Enter James Johnston—

Well! here is one thing settled to my heart's content; the Parish school is actually ours. Honest James was told the good news of his election, sitting by my side, and it would [be] difficult to say, whether he or I was the happiest. For, besides the pleasure which, I knew, this termination to the business would give to ‘Somebody’; I have very great cause to be rejoiced at it, upon my own account. Mr Johnston will be worth his weight of gold to me, in my present situation; I am so ill off for someone to talk to about—Greek and Latin.

Were the Schawbrae affair but come to as happy an issue; I should take heart and think that the [“]wheel of my Destiny” had made a turn. But “when an equal poise of hope and fear does arbitrate the event, my nature is, that I incline to fear rather than hope.” The Major will surely not [kee]p us much longer in suspense— I mu[st] write a few lines to Jane in return [for] her postscript.

P S—I will send a proper front for my caps when I go to Edinr; but there is no such thing to be got in all this royal Borough— A certain barber in the place is the happy possessor of three red ones; A black one, I suppose, would have been too much— The muslin cap you will perceive has met with an accident behind, which I hope you will put up with on account of the excellence of my darning—

Remember me in the kindest manner to all the rest— Make much of Thomas now that you have got him back again. And never cease to think of me with affection[—] It will be long before I forget you—or the time I spent beside you—Jane Welsh


In the beginning of 1826, or perhaps before that year quite began, I went to Edinr, to start the printing of German Romance; and staid some weeks, watching and directing till that busss was fairly under way. Printers were the Ballantynes;—their incomparable Foreman, M'Corkindale,1 a giga[n]tic man, with anxious patient eyes, voice do but strangely stammery (blurted out on you as if one syllable, whh, on study, you found to be a sentence, admirably, brief good-natured and intelligt; man “capable of sitting thirty hours there,” I was told, “witht sleep and witht erratum,” is still memorable to me. Of course I was at Haddington now & agn; the Translating, I conclude, was suspended till my return home;—exact dates now lost. Letters themselves turned up unexpectedly, last summer; honour to the dear Repositress, my ever careful & pious Mother,—preparing for her Son some beautiful & solemn hours as yet far off!——

The ‘James Johnston’ spoken of here was a townsfellow, and then a college acquaintance, of mine; 6 or 7 years my elder, but very fond of discoursing with me, and much my compann while in Annandale togr & within reach. A poor and not a very gifted man, but a faithful, diligt and accurate; of quietly pious, candid, pure charactr,—and very much attached to me. In return I liked him honestly well; learnt something from him (the always diligtly exact in Book-matters); perhaps ultimately taught something; and had great satisfactn in his company (in the years 1814–'16, and occasionally aftds). Poor James cd not succeed in the world: perhaps it was abt 1820 when (after much sorry schoolmastering, having renounced Divinity pursuits), he went to Halifax, Nova-Scotia, on a Tutorage, well-paid & hopeful enough; got almost frozen there, got fever-&-ague there, &c &c; and returned in a year or doubtless so, with health permanently injured, and outlook, more forlorn than ever. Dark times for poor Jas,—I mostly distant, in Edinr, not‘corresponding’ much. At length he heard of Haddingtn Parish School; applied to me; I sent him with his Testimonials &c to Her.— She, generous Heroine, adopted his cause as if it had been mine & her own; convinced Gilbert Burns (a main card in such things), convinced &c &c;—and, ere long, sees him admitted, as fairly the fittest man!— He started, prospered, took an Annandale Wife: “fortunate at last”!—but, alas, his poor agues &c still hung abt him, and in 5 or 6 years he died. I think I saw him only twice after the prest date; once at Haddingn, in his own house with Wife & little Daughter; once at Comley Bank2 on a “Saturday-till-Monday”: rather dreary both times;—& I had, and agn have, to say, Adieu my poor good James!

‘Shawbrae’ (anglice, “Wood-Hill,” tho' there is not now a stick near it) was a “Duke's Farm” fallen vacant; which my Brother Alick now pressingly wanted, but (happily) did not get. She knew the Queensberry Factor (a popular Major Creighton, very omnipotent in such cases), knew intimately well his clever Wife; and it was thot a word in that quarter might be useful! I declare I now almost blush (in fact I do internally blush) to have sent my Noble One, with her Ariel wings, on such earthly errands. But, in some sort, I cd not well help it (these two times);—and to Her any errand of mine was now itself noble and ennobling!