The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 11 August 1827; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18270811-TC-MAC-01; CL 4:243-246.


21. Comley Bank, 11th August, 1827—

My Dear Mother,

I sent you down a Dumfries Newspaper two days ago for a token that we had arrived safely; but I have not forgotten my engagement to write you fully on that matter; and so before settling to any regular occupation I set about clearing off that debt. Fear not, my good mother, that I will ever neglect to write regularly for your satisfaction: it is a pleasure to me to fulfil that task for one who loves me so well; and if it were not, the thought of what I owe my Mother would make it a duty. How can I forget your dumb pleading look? Do I not feel that you would write a hundred and a hundred long letters for me, if you could? Well, if you cannot write to me, I will imagine your answers, and write for us both.

It was pity we were all so wae that day we went off; but one cannot well help it. This life is but a series of meetings and partings; and many a tear one might shed while these “few and evil days”1 pass over us: but we hope there is another scene, to which this is but the passage, where good and holy affections shall live as in their home, and for true friends there shall be no more partings appointed. God grant we may all have our lot made sure in that earnest and enduring country! For surely this world the more one thinks of it seems the more fluctuating, hollow and unstable: what are its proudest hopes but bubbles on the stream of Time, which the next rushing wave will scatter into air. You have heard of Canning's death,2 the Prime Minister of Britain, the skilful statesman on whom all eyes in England and Europe were expectingly fixed.

What is life? A thawing ice-board
on a sea with sunny shore
Gay we sail; it melts beneath us;
we are sunk, and seen no more.3

But I must leave these moralities, in which perhaps I am too apt to indulge. Before this time, it is likely, Mary will be with you, and have reported progress up to monday last, the day when I left Craigenputtock. She will have told you how Jane and I were overtaken by rain in Dumfries, and how we spent the night with the hospitable man in Academy street, and how his daft maid came bouncing into the room after we were in bed, to the astonishment of “Goody” altogether unaccustomed to such familiarity. For the rest, however, we did as well as might be; and the order of “Mary Stewart's” apartment4 was even considerably admired.— On Monday evening after parting with the Doctor, I cantered along without adventure to Templand; was met two bowshots from the house by a young wife well known to me and glad to get me back; and next morning by ten o'clock both she and I were safely mounted on the roof of the Edinr Coach, where, the day being fine, we continued comfortably enough seated till, about half past eight, the natural progress of the vehicle landed us safe and sound in our own neighbourhood. Alison5 was in waiting for us, with tea and other solacements: the house was standing quiet and trim, almost overgrown with flowers, and within, all clean and burnished like a new needle. Jane declared herself particularly satisfied with Alison's general and special demeanour; and so next day everything returned to its old routine; and we were sitting in our bright, still, little cottage, as if we had never stirred out of it.

I set to work to trim the garden till my mind should settle after its wanderings; but as yet I am not half thro' with it. Indeed the second day after our arrival, I was interrupted. News came directly after breakfast that the packet from Goethe had arrived in Leith! Without delay I proceeded thither; found a little box carefully overlapped in wax-cloth, and directed to me. After infinite wranglings and perplexed misdirected higglings I succeeded in rescuing the precious packet from the fangs of the Custom-house sharks, and in the afternoon it was safely deposited in our own little parlour. The daintiest boxie you ever saw! So carefully packed, so neatly and tastefully contrived was everything. There was a copy of Goethe's poems in 5 beautiful little volumes “for the valued marriage-pair Carlyle”; two other little books for myself; then two medals, one of Goethe himself, and another of his father and mother; and lastly the prettiest wroughtiron necklace with a little figure of the poet's face set in gold “for my dear spouse,” and a most dashing pocket-book for me. In the box containing the necklace, and in each pocket of the pocket-book were cards, each with a verse of poetry on it in the old masters own hand; all these I will translate to you by and by, as well as the long letter which lay at the bottom of all, one of the kindest and gravest epistles I ever read. He praises me for the Life of Schiller and the others; asks me to send him some account of “my own previous history,” &c &c; in short, it was all extremely graceful affectionate and patriarchal: you may conceive how much it pleased us. I believe a ribbon with the order of the Garter would scarcely have flattered either of us more.6

But I must say no more of this at present; except that you shall see it all, when you come hither in winter: for come you shall, that is a settled point, so you must lay your account with it. My Father and you may journey together; by Hawick, or many ways; Alick was even calculating the relative costs and profits of coming out to Edinr himself with a cart-load of potatoes and other nece[ssaries;] in case of his visiting us, you might all three come together. But any [way?] you must come [must underlined twice]: it would be a greivous disappointment if I could not have the pleasure of showing you this city and its wonders; and if we missed this opportunity, there were no saying when another might occur. So settle it with yourself that you are to come; and in the meantime just consider when you can do it best, and we will study to conform.

I am to write also to Jack, a letter which is to lie waiting for him at Dumfries on Wednesday. For the present therefore I may be briefer. If Mary is not gone when you receive this, I think you may tell her that if she have any little superfluous butter-pot even now, we could accept of it with advantage: the shop-butter is sometimes good and sometimes otherwise, and so not to be depended on. You will tell her more minutely how to put it up, and how to pack it. The Dumfries Carrier will be the best conveyance.

I went on Saturday to see Jeffrey; but found him from home for a week.7 So soon as I have got Goethe a letter written, and various other little odd things transacted, I design sitting down to my large Article for his Review;8 after which, I shall be ready for the poor Book, which alas! has been dreadfully overlooked of late. It is pity one had not twenty minds and hands; double pity one did not faithfully employ the mind and hands one has! But I will turn a new leaf shortly; for idle I cannot and must not be. The sweat of the brow is not a curse, but the wholesomest blessing in life.9— I hope the weather has been more favourable for your agricultural operations than we have had it; broken and rainy ever since Thursday. Nevertheless two days ago, I saw a large field near us of fine barley stooks.— You must excuse this very incoherent and hasty letter: this time, I will even excuse you for some difficulty in making it out, for the pen is truly no good one. Remember me in warmest affection to every one at Scotsbrig from my Father down to Jenny. I would give a shilling for a long letter: surely you may club one up amongst you!— I am ever [My De]ar Mother's Son— T. Carlyle.

Jane sends her kindest remembrances to one and all.— We have got very fine oatmeal here, so you need not trouble yourselves waffling with the Waffler on that score any longer. Eggs also are to be got in perfection, at 9d per dozen— Enough!