The Collected Letters, Volume 4


JWC TO ANNA D. B. MONTAGU; 7 May 1827; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18270507-JWC-ADBM-01; CL 4:219-222.


[7 May 1827]

My dearest Mrs Montagu

I was just proceeding to finish a letter to you which had lain in my desk some days, full of apologies about long silence and so forth which you could hardly have had patience to read at the present time, when your unexpected communication1 put all such impertinences out of my head and has afforded me unhappily a far more interesting topic for writing. Would that this strange Boy were come to us; that I might send you better comfort than mere vain condolence! I should be so happy to write: your Charles is here. It would be all well then; or I greatly overrate both Charles's capacities of good and my Husband's powers of persuasion. In the meanwhile we do most sincerely sympathize in your anxieties about him, and most earnestly wish, that finding life not just so manageable as it looked he may speedily relieve them by his return. And yet, who knows but this wild step shall be productive of the happiest consequences, compressing for your wayward Son the experience of years within a few bitter days; and so the deep concern thereby occasioned to his friends only a price to be paid for the greatest satisfaction in him? Heaven grant it may thus turn out! Will you write immediately some further particulars of the matter. How long is it since he left home? Did Edinr seem to be the place of his destination? In what way was he likely to try the project of earning bread; and what quantity of money had he to begin with. In short leave nothing untold which can throw any light on his present course, and make inquiry after him less hopeless. Had we but once the slenderest clew to lay hold of, you should not, my dear Friend be kept long in suspense: for neither Mr Carlyle nor I would rest from tracing it out until the lost one was found. Surely if he be in Edinr we shall discover him or, in case of his coming to difficulty, he will discover us. Did he but know the feeling with which I regard his Mother and the feeling which his romantic procedure has given me towards himself; he would come to me in any case without hesitation, as to a Sister whose arms were open to receive him. Poor Boy! there must be many a desolate moment in his self-imposed exile; but all such will work together for his good. I feel more and more confident of this the longer I think about it.

Of myself I have much to tell you when you have leisure of mind to hear. For life has not been stagnating with me all this while; but rather, flowing in a fuller tide than usual—now vainly beating against grim obdurate rocks of necessity, now overflowing delightful shores of hope: where happily, one treasure at least, of great price is come safe to harbour, while on the cruel rocks not a few gay pleasure-barks have suffered wreck. My Husband's health is not improved since we married; sometimes I am almost certain it will never improve. And then again I bethink myself: surely God has not put such gifts in him for no end; he cannot mean that they should be always thus overclouded,—that the eagle-spirit straining upwards in passionate longing should be always held back by this crushing nightmare of disease! And so good a Man, so kind and sympathizing towards all living, worthy of the most perfect happiness earth affords, is it possible that pain should be the lot appointed him for his life long—continual corroding pain, eating away all the sweetness and beauty of existence? No! surely No! and I shall yet see him well, contented, blessed. Do you not think I shall? Ah! whether or not there is here no room for complaint. In what terrestrial paradise since the Garden of Eden has not some one fair tree been set apart; from pining after which in ungrateful regardlessness of all the rest more than the first Woman have fallen? Let me take heed that I do not add another to the number.

I hope much from a new plan of life we are just arranging, which offers him at least a fair chance of recovery. What say you to our quitting Edinr in Spring next, to settle down in the wildest place of all Dumfriesshire, leaving the world to run its own race and bear away its prizes; content might we but walk thro' life with unfettered limbs? A tract of the worst land in this country belongs to us, which one of my Ancestors (apparently no lover of sweet sounds) has named Craigenputtock! There is a sort of house upon it which, I am told, it is in the power of man to make habitable, and trees,—starred belts of scotch fir, and dark melancholy lakes—of moss water. In short it is a place where Thomas Carlyle and I may live in great content,—where most people would die of ennui in a month. A Brother of my Husband's is going thither with us to farm the land; he himself is to study and ride and garden and write books; while I am to ride and study also, work, paint, play, and pet great quantities of live-creatures— There will be nothing of what is generally called pleasure in all this; but there will be peace which it is harder to do without, and which, under existing circumstances seems unat[t]ainable in any other way. Oh will you and Dr Badams come to us there?2 Such a party we should make in the wild waste! the old grey craig would lift up its head and sing for joy! But I must stop for Mr Carlyle wishes to write a postscript and you are already weary. All happiness be with you my honoured friend, and if not all happiness, patience and fortitude such as you have hitherto displayed, and which make me your true admirer and affectionate friend

Jane BW Carlyle

[TC's postscript:] Doubt not, my Dear Madam, but I truly feel with you in your just anxieties, which the imagination of a mother so naturally aggravates. Yet fear not over much; for there is far less danger than you think. Many a boy I have known wander far and wide with far greater risks than your Charles, and return unhurt, and perhaps amended of his folly. The spirit of youth, especially of such a youth, strives towards immensity on all sides; and not till it has felt its limits, and felt that they are impassable and everlasting, can there be any peace or pure activity. Poor boy! he has early put himself to school with Experience, a wise schoolmaster, but a harsh one. Doubt not it is for the best: I feel that Charles has sense and honesty to learn his lesson, and where a lesson must be learned, it cannot be learned too soon. I wish, I saw him; I am persuaded it might do him good. Write to us if you have reason to think him in Edinr: send me out on any quest, and surely if he is here I shall find him, and restore him to himself and to you. God bless you, my dear Lady, and help you to bear this as you have borne much! I am ever yours,

T. Carlyle

Thank Mr Procter for his kind letter, the enclosure of which I failed not to employ. I saw Mr Jeffrey, and talked with him boldly for an hour; a man of the kindliest and richest nature, which the perverse utilitarianism of the time has all his life been striving vainly to spoil. Me he seemed to look upon as an enthusiast, distracted nearly, but amiable in my distraction. We shall meet again, I believe and hope.