January 1829-September 1831

The Collected Letters, Volume 5


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 26 August 1831; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18310826-TC-MAC-01; CL 5:366-370.


6. Woburn Buildings, Tavistock Square, / London 26th August, 1831—

My Dear Mother,

I flatter myself you have heard pretty minute accounts of my arrival and proceedings here; for I both desired Jane to write and wrote myself a little line which I think you would receive yesterday by the hands of Notman. But this evening, as I have a little time, and some prospect of a frank tomorrow, I will send you a few lines direct; well knowing that few things could be more welcome to you. Of your own welfare I hear but very brief accounts, and can only pray and hope that all may be right: Jane informs me yesterday that you and the girls were seen at Lockerby Lamb Fair, apparently in health; for which piece of news, meagre as it is, let me be thankful. If I am to continue any time here, which seems not unlikely, Jean, my kind serviceable Correspondent must take pen in hand, and transmit me the produce, either directly; or if she cannot manage to fill a sheet, round by Craigenputtoch whence it will come free, and be heartily welcome were it never so brief.

As Jack proposes writing my Father tomorrow by this conveyance, doubtless he will mention the good tidings he has to tell: namely of an appointment to be Travelling Physician to a Lady of great rank, the Countess of Clare, with a salary of 300 guineas a year all travelling expences included. This is the work of the Lord Advocate Jeffrey; and is looked on by every one as a piece of real good fortune. For yourself, my Dear Mother, I know how you dislike foreign voyaging, and that all your maternal fears will be awakened by this arrangement. However, you too will reflect that anything in honesty is better than forced idleness, which was poor Doil's condition here: also you may take my word for it that the dangers of such a Course of Travel are altogether trifling; not equal to those of walking the London Streets, and running every time you cross lest Coaches break a limb of you. The Lady herself is an invalid, and must journey with every convenience; Italy (whither they are bound) is the finest of climates; and the sailing part of it is simply of three hours continuance, in whole, twenty-five miles. I have seen some people who know the Countess; and all give her a good character: she is young (perhaps 33); courteous, and has behaved in this transaction with great liberality. Jack also is much more prudent and manly in his ways than he was: so that I think there is a fair prospect of his even doing the poor Lady some good, and getting into a friendly relation to her, which also may eventually do himself much good. Something mysterious there is in the condition of this high personage: she was married some years ago; and shortly after that event, she parted from her husband (they say by her own determination), the nearest friends know not for what reason; and now she lives in a sort of widowhood (her husband is Governor of Bombay in India and said to be “a very good sort of man”); so that being farther in ill health, she is probably unhappy enough; and has need of good counsel every way.

It is calculated that if Jack can secure any favour with her, she may be of vast importance to him subsequently in settling here as Doctor: these things all go by recommendation; and some Physicians of the highest practice in London began precisely in the same way. Indeed without an independent fortune to start with, there seems to be no other way of beginning. I am also more and more of opinion that Jack has the materials of a Good Doctor and good man in him, and will one day show this, if he be spared alive, to the whole world. So that, in any case, I think we are to regard this as a setting of his “foot fairly on the fog [moss]”; 1 after which let us see what waygate [progress] he will make. Therefore do not afflict yourself, dear Mother; but thank God for His great goodness, and commit, as is your wont, the issues to Him, in whose Hand we are all, and thro' Eternity shall be.

And now I must tell you a little about my own doings. The business of the Book proceeds but crabbedly: the whole English world, I find, has ceased to read Books of late; which as I often say to the Booksellers is the wisest thing the English world could do, considering what wretched froth it has been dosed with for many years under the false title of “Books.” Every mind is engrossed with Political questions, and in a more earnest mood than to put up with such stuff as has been called Literature. Meanwhile, tho' I cannot but rejoice in this state of public opinion, yet the consequences to myself are far from favourable. The present too, I find, is the deadest part of the whole year for business: so that every way the matter moves heavily; and I require to have my own shoulder at it always, or it would not move at all. Hitherto I have made no approximation to a bargain; except finding that man after man will not act, and only at best demands “time for consideration”; which except in very limited measure I cannot afford to give him. The Manuscript is at present in Jeffrey's hands, whence I expect to receive it in some two days, with a favourable or at worst unfavourable judgement; in either of which cases I shall find out what to do. Little money, I think, will be had for my work: but I will have it printed if there be a man in London that will do it, even without payment to myself: if there be no such man, why then what is to be done, but tie a piece of good Skeenyie [packthread] about my Papers, stick the whole in my pocket, and march home again with it, where at least potatoes and onions are to be had, and I can wait till better times. Nay, in any case, I find that, either in possession or pretty certain expectation, I am otherwise worth almost £100 of cash: so that while the whinstone House stands in the moor, what care I for one of them, or for all of them, with the Arch Enemy at their head?

Of my permanent settlement here there is as yet nothing definite to be said. I see many persons here, some of them kind and influential, almost all of them ignorant enough, and in need of a Teacher: but no offer that can be laid hold of presents itself, or fixedly promises itself. This also I will see thro'. If God who made me and keeps me alive, have work for me here, then here must I pitch my tent: if not, then elsewhere; still under His kind sky, under His All-seeing Eye: to me alike where. I am rather resolute sometimes, not without a touch of grimness; but never timid or discouraged: indeed generally quite quite and cheerful. If I see no way of getting home soon, I have some thoughts of bringing Jane up hither, for she must be very lonely where she is. We shall see.

One thing we have reason to be glad of: our good lodgings. We are in George Irving's house; one of the healthiest, pleasantest situations in London; and far the cheapest I was ever in,—for this reason, that his Housekeeper is not thief. We can both live here, for very little more than it used to cost one of us, even me who am the thriftier. It is a sort of right-angled street (shaped like a joiner's square), thro' which there is no passage for carriages, for one part of it is flagged quite across: we live very near the Corner of the street; from which looking out of this window (along one of the arms of the square) I see into one of the most crowded thoroug[h]fares in London, and a perpetual torrent of Carriages pouring by: the other arm, which I must poke out my head to look along, leads into quiet Squares (such as Tavistock) where are green spaces and trees. The houses about us are all clean shops, and I look (from this upper bedroom where I generally write) over their roofs, and see the top of St. Pancras' Steeple, with its silent carved-work and stone cross, and the beautiful dappled August sky stre[t]ching out above it. Downwards into the street stands one object at which I know not whether to laugh or cry: it is a huge sign bearing these words: “the cheapest shop in the world for Combs and Brushes”; and, alas, the window is shut, and this cheapest Shopkeeper has bankraped and gone out of sight!2 Some courageous Adventurer he was doubtless, that staked his little all here in this huge Lottery; and lost it. The best concerted schemes of mice and men gang oft aglee!3

I have seen the Stracheys (Mrs Strachey has long been unhealthy, and looks weakened and secluded): the Bullers pressingly invite me down to Cornwall. I find the Montagues all at sixes and sevens; very unprofitable to me, and irritated beyond all just measure at Badams. Poor Badams himself is far from well in any sense, yet I hope he will get round, both in body and mind: Jack and I were at his House (ten miles off in the Country) yesternight and returned today; where I took better hope of him than I had formerly; and found at all events much cause to love him and pity him. For the rest of my Friends here I must wait till I have more space of paper: or far better, till you can hear it all by word of mouth.

Thus, my dear Mother, does it stand with us: I write you all this to satisfy your anxieties. Be of good cheer: trust for us, as for all things, in the Giver of Good, who will order all things well.—— Had not Jack been writing to my Father, this Letter had perhaps been addressed to him; or at least some Brother to accompany it. Assure him of my entire love; and say that I hope to tell him many things when I return. I have heard of Jamie, and fancy that Alick also is with you: my kindest love to all; not forgetting Jean or any of the girls. God keep you and all of them! That is ever my heart's prayer. Many times, too, does she4 that is not now with us any more, revisit my thoughts; inexpressibly sad, inexpressibly mild: but I mourn not, I rather rejoice that she is now safe, in the Land of Eternity, not in the troublous ever-shifting Land of Time and of Dreams. Oh often I think that she is with me, in my heart, whispering to me, to bear and forbear even as she did; to endure to the end, and then we shall meet again, and part no more. Even as God will, be it!

I conclude mournfully, but not unhappily. Shall not the great Father wipe away the tears from all eyes?5 Again and again I say, let us trust in Him, and Him only.— Nay is it not a great mercy, the most precious mercy that so many of us are yet spared together to see good. Let us ever live in Hope, in Faith! God bless you all! I am ever, Dear Mother, Your affectionate Son, T. Carlyle—