The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 3 February 1827; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18270203-TC-AC-01; CL 4:181-187.


21. Comley Bank, 3d Feby 1827—

My Dear Alick,

My conscience had begun to reproach me for my long silence, and I was about to write this day, without regard to the commercial principle of Debtor and Creditor, well knowing your bustle about this season, when to quicken my resolve your gratifying letter came to hand.1 What a blessing that we are all still in the land of the living, to hope for good, when so many of our fellow mortals are pining in sickness, or struggling with the miseries of famine! It has been an unhealthy winter this in Edinr: there is an epidemic [of] typhus fever in the city; the Hospital has been found to[o] narrow to accommodate the poor people, and a temporary receptacle fitted up for them is also almost full. Poor Cron has caught the infection (I suppose, at the Infirmary, for he is studying medicine); and yesterday when Jack called to see him, he was told that the poor fellow had been sent out to lodgings, and was lying among strangers, the shoulder-knotted lackey could not tell exactly where! O let us never murmur so long as we have bread to eat and raiment to put on, and can enjoy the blessed light of Heaven without any to make us afraid! The wealth of Rothschild the Jew can give him nothing more; and without contentment of mind, it cannot give so much.2

Jane said: “How cleverly that Alick writes; but I suppose he must have learned from you.” Thus I get the credit to myself, which belongs to Nature. But do you never mind whether you write “cleverly” or not; but continue to tell me of all and sundry in the old style; remembering that it is not the cleverness but the copiousness of your intelligence that chiefly concerns me. Word that all is well in Annandale, tho' written with the end of a burnt stick, is better to me than all the wit of poets.

I wish from my heart you were rid of that slender man His Honour of Hoddam, so that one might never have to mention his name, or bring the pitiful enough image of him before one's mind any more! Peace is better than kingdoms; but yet as Schiller says: “The peacefullest dwells not in peace if wicked neighbours hinder.”3 I hope the Arbiters will settle this matter finally, and you will wash your hands of it, and bid His Honour and all His Honour's Whippersin good b'ye forever and a day. One thing at least is comfortable: it does not seem that he can do you any great injury, however he may talk; so his snarling is of less moment, when biting is not to be dreaded. The very small individual! But surely the Devil is waiting for him, by and by to “show him another road to the well”;4 and to his tuition we may safely leave him.

Next letter you must tell me what you are ploughing and sowing, building and pulling down, what you have bought and sold; in short give me a full-length picture of Scotsbrig as it is. My Mother cannot write currently, or I am sure she has a hundred things to say. But tell her, there is a good time coming, and summer will give us all full tidings of each other. Are you sure she is as well and comfortable as of old? Does Mary still mind her with the same steadfast fidelity? Tell that kindest, glegest, and shortest-tempered of Nurses that I shall owe her a buckling-kame [back-comb] of the best quality, if she proves true till I come down. Poor thing! I know she needs no bribe to be so; for a truer-hearted soul never breathed in this Earth; and to me her short temper was many times converted into singular patience and long-suffering.— I heard some talk of Jane's coming up hither, as was long since arranged: but the “sister” will write a postscript herself.

Our situation here at Comley Bank continues to be unexceptionable, nay in many points truly enviable. Ill health is not harder on us than usual, and all other things are almost as one could wish them. It is strange too how one gets habituated to sickness: I bear my pain as Christian did his pack in the Pilgrims Progress strapped on too tightly for throwing off; but the straps do not gall me as they once did, and I wander on, enjoying in my walk the beauties of the road, like any other green-wallet. In fact I believe I am rather better, and certainly I have not been happier for many a year. Last week, too, I fairly began—a Book!5 Heaven only knows what it will turn to; but I have sworn to finish it; and I hope it will be something praiseworthy at last, and tho' only a novel may be one of those that are read by “some in Middlebie Parishon.” You shall hear about it, as it proceeds; but as yet we are only got thro' the first chapter. You would wonder how much happier steady occupation makes us, and how smoothly we all get along. Directly after breakfast, the “Goodwife” and the Doctor evacuate this apartment, and retire up stairs to the drawing-room, a little place all fitted up like a lady's work-box; where a “spunk of fire”6 is lit for the forenoon; and I meanwhile sit scribbling and meditating, and wrestling with the powers of Dulness, till one or two o'clock; when I sally forth into city, or towards the sea-shore, taking care only to be home for the important purpose of consuming my mutton-chop at four. After dinner, we all read learned languages till coffee (which we now often take at night instead of tea), and so on till bed-time, only that Jane often sews; and the Doctor goes up to the celestial globe studying the fixed stars, thro' an upshoved window, and generally comes down to his porridge about ten, with a nose dropping at the extremity, and red as a bloody pudding. Thus pass our days, in our trim little cottage, far from all the uproar, and putrescence (material and spiritual) of the reeky town, the sound of which we hear not, and only see over the knowe the reflection of its gas-lights against the dusky sky, and bless ourselves that we have neither part nor lot in the matter. I assure you, many a time on a soft mild night, I smoke my pipe in our little flowergarden, and look upon all this, and think of all absent and present friends, and feel that I have good reason to “be thankful that I am not in Purgatory.”7

Of society we might have abundance. People come on foot, on horseback, and even in wheeled carriages to see us; most of whom Jane receives up stairs, and gladly despatches with assurances that the weather is good, bad or indifferent, and hints that their friendship passes the love of women.8 We receive invitations to dinner also; but Jane has a circular, or rather two circulars, one for those she values, and one for those she does not value; and one or other of these she sends in excuse. Thus we give no dinners and take none; and by the blessing of Heaven design to persist in this course so long as we shall see it to be best. Only to some three or four chosen people we give notice that on Wednesday nights, we shall always be at home, and glad if they will call and talk for two hours with no other entertainment but a cordial welcome and a cup of innocent tea. Few Wednesday-evenings, accordingly, when some decent soul or other does not step in, and take his place among us; and here we converse, and really I think enjoy ourselves far more than I have witnessed at any beefeating and wine-bibing convention which I have been trysted with attending [engaged to attend].

But I must restrict this gossip, tho' I know it will not be uninteresting to you, since it describes your Brother's way of life. Jack is in good health here, and no bad heart, keeping himself busy with various studies. He has assaulted both the Spanish and Italian languages since last Autumn, and made good progress in both.— I had almost forgot to tell you that I have in my pocket a letter of introduction to Jeffrey of the Edinr Review: it was sent to me from Procter9 of London; one of these days I design presenting it, and you shall hear the result.— Our German Romance is travelling thro' the Cuddy-lane of Newspaper criticism, and most of these long-eared quadrupeds seem rather to smell at it with affection, tho' what manner of thing it is, they seem somewhat to wonder. If I see any criticism worthy of your notice, I will send it.— Doctor Waugh10 at Scotsbridge! By day and night, but this is wondrous strange! Poor luckless ill-less Waugh, I suppose no other shelter in the wide world remains to him. Will he not go back to Annan, like a wise man, and resume his practice? I declare, I see no other shed [shelter] for him. Assure him of my best regards, and be as kind to him “as the nature of the circumstances will admit.”— But I must have done, or Jane will have no room: remember me in love to the whole household, name by name; beginning with our Father, ending with Jenny. Write soon, and largely, not forgetting news of R———.11 Believe me ever (My Dear Alick) your affectionate Brother—

Thomas Carlyle.

—The postscript, you see, is for Jean—

[JWC's postscript:] My dear Jane

Within the last week or two our situation here has been assuming a more composed appearance; so that it seems as tho' your coming might now be happy both for yourself and us. You must beg of your good Mother, then, to make up her mind to send you away to us, which it will be hard for her to do doubtless, but which she will do nevertheless in the hope of promoting your good. Your mind I know is already made up, for you trust in our affection for you, and in that assuredly you will not be disappointed— For the manner of your coming, perhaps the easiest and safest way were that your Mother or some other of the family should carry you to Dumfries, and see you fairly established in the Edinr coach, under the charge of the Guard or driver. You would arrive at your journey's end about eight oclock and find some of us in waiting to bring you home. With respect to clothes which your Brother was talking about if your Mother provides you with shifts and flannel petticoats night gowns, night caps, a black stuff petticoat and some pairs of black-worsted stockings; the other articles of apparel that you will require will be better got here. Your Brother is sitting in great impatience to take this to the post office so I must add no more—only that some of you will be sure to write immediately what day we may expect you— And in the mean time believe me your affectionate Sister

Jane Welsh Carlyle

[TC's postscript:] We still owe you the boxes, but will send them certainly very soon. If not before, they will surely come when our good Mother's butter pot arrives. At present we are not out, having a stock from Templand.

[John A. Carlyle's postscript:] My dear Alick, There is barely room for me to tell you of my welfare and thank you for your kindness. Make my love to all. I shall probably see you this or next week if nothing come in the way, though one quack seems enough about any one house at a time.

[TC's second postscript:] If Jean thinks of coming before I write again, I wish you would advance this three pounds or so which she will need for her equipment; and I will honestly pay thee. I have no small notes at hand, or I would have sent them today. (Jack will see none of you this week, or the next either.)