October 1831-September 1833

The Collected Letters, Volume 6


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 10 November 1831; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18311110-TC-MAC-01; CL 6:37-43.


4. Ampton Street, Mecklenburg Square / London, Thursday November 10th 1831—

My Dear Mother,

We have often been speaking of you and thinking of you this week, and of what a quandary your fears must have thrown you into; especially after the arrival of the Examiner with its “Bristol Riots,”1 stack-burnings, Cholera morbus, and nothing on all hands but broken heads, broken hearts, woe, want, wickedness and madness over the whole world.2 In all this, I doubt not, your too anxious imagination often represented the possibility of some one dear to you being some how or other involved. I had determined on writing to you, at any rate, to quiet you with assurance that all went its old course; in which determination the arrival of Jack's Letter yesterday with nothing but good tidings confirmed me. Altho' franks are not easily to be come at for the present, our Advocate being out of London, I was minded not to stop on that account; for I knew that you would think the postage cheap, were it your last coin: however, it comes about almost by accident that I fall in with an “Honourable Member”3 this morning; from whom having secured a frank, I can now write you our news with all deliberation, enclose Jack's Letter, and make a quite complete job of it. Which grateful service I now proceed with all heartiness to perform.

There is no doubt but these are threatening times, full of risk and distress: a country agitated with political discontent, with economical embarrassment; the lower orders, straitened by want, exasperated by disappointment, all ready for any kind of change, whether by revolt or otherwise; nowhere any Wisdom, any Faithfulness to give them counsel; and now while the dark winter is setting in, a pestilential malady arrived on our coasts, to carry off doubtless many into the land of Silence! Truly may we say, God's judgements are abroad on the Earth: it behoves us all, and each of us for himself, to think deeply of it, and so far as strength is given us, with our whole heart, to “consider our ways and be wise.”4 Nevertheless there is always this strong tower of Defence, that it is of God's ordering; that not a hair of our head, of the very meanest head, can fall to the ground without his command;5 and the Faith, which is the beginning and the end of Knowledge teaches us that He commands all things well. The greater too ought to be our thankfulness, that we, as a household and kindred, are all spared; and still called only to sympathize with these miseries, not to share in them. Such thoughts, often or rather always more or less distinctly present in my mind, arm me as with triple steel6 against all the mad vicissitudes of this mad Existence; which I look upon rather as a heavy Dream, wherefrom, when the Night is past, we shall awaken to a fair Morning! God is great; God also is good:7 this is the sum-total of all the Wisdom I could ever learn.

To come into mere narrative (for my Paper, broad as it is, will not hold everything), I will congratulate you on poor Jack's welfare, safe passage of the Alps, and general good outlook; all which you will at your leisure decipher in his close-filled Letter. I will write him again very soon, to Florence where he must already be; and gratify his heart by the good tidings (I hope, still true) which I had from Scotsbrig, and more lately from Alick, who also has written me. You must give my best thanks to Jane, and the other kind contributors who made up that Letter, which was worth its weight in precious metal to me: tell them also not to be slack in repeating the operation, and that the oftener they do it, they will find it the easier. By the way, it might have struck me, that this Letter ought properly to have been directed to Jane: but after all, it is a common good, come in whose name it may; and somehow it is most natural for me to address myself to the “general meeting” with you in the chair.

There would have been some other Letters today, but my Goodwifie is unfortunately in bed (and I hope, at this moment, asleep): she has had a kind of disagreeable cold for some days; not coughing, but sneezing occasionally, and what she calls sniftering: so I, having this morning to go out to breakfast, strictly charged her not to rise; but to lie warm and take some prescriptions that I had ordered her; all which she has obediently done, and now lies, I hope, “in the fair way of recovery”: if not, I will try her again tomorrow. Her general health has been decidedly better, since she came hither; and she sees and hears many things to gratify her, and perhaps profitably.

As for myself, I feel in some measure getting to my feet again, after so long stumbling. Some time ago, I actually began a Paper8 for the Edinburgh Review, at which I am daily working: my hand was sadly out; but by resolute endeavour, I feel that it will come in again, and I shall perhaps make a tolerable story of it. So long as I can work, it is all well with me; I care for nothing. The only thing I have to struggle against is Idleness and Falsehood: these are the two Devil's Emissaries that, did I give them head, would work all my woe. My Book still lies quite safe in the Drawer, and I doubt must lie till Reform-Bill work is over: however, I think of beginning a new set of trials soon among the Booksellers, for there are some slight symptoms of Trade beginning to stir in that quarter again. At the same time, one must not hawk a Manuscript, or the blockheads begin to think it is nothing worth. A considerable Paper9 of mine came out the other day in the Foreign Quarterly Review (Cochrane's), which with several other things that you have not yet seen I hope to show you and get you to read when I return. Cochrane's pay, which I will demand when its time of need comes, will serve to keep mall in shaft [things going] till we turn northward.— Meanwhile all goes on as well as we could hope. Our Lodgings continue very comfortable, and very cheap; so that we can both live for little more than it used in my last London residence to cost me alone. The people are very cleanly, polite, decent-minded people; they have seen better days, and seem to have a heart above their lot.10 Both of us sleep well; our health is fully of the old quality; we eat and breathe and have wherewith to eat and breathe: for honest Thinking and honest Acting the materials are everywhere laid down to one.

Except the printing of my Book, or rather the trying for it so long as there seems any good chance, I have no special call at London. Nevertheless, there are many profitable chances for me here; especially many persons with whom I find much encouragement and perhaps improvement in associating. A considerable knot of young men in particular I discover here, that have had their eyes on me, and wish for insight from me: with these it seems quite possible some good may sometime be done. Among that number was my Landlord this morning; a secretary in one of the Government offices, whom I met with for the first time: he had a whole party to meet me; four of the best-mannered, most pleasant persons I have for a long time seen. All ingenuous persons, “lying,” what so few do, “open to light.” The disciple or associate I have most to do with is one John Mill (the son of a Scotchman of eminence) acquainted with the Bullers &c, who is a great favourite here. It was he that brought about my meeting this morning with my “Secretary” (called Taylor)11 and his friends, whom I hope to see again. Charles Buller also has come to town: he made his appearance here the other day, was in about an hour followed by Mill; and the two made what Jane called “a pleasant forenoon call of five hours and a half.” Charles is grown a great tower of a fellow, six feet three in height, a yard in breadth; shows great talent, and great natural goodness, which I hope he will by and by turn to notable account. I met him and Strachey amid the raw-frosty fog of Piccadilly this morning, and expect to see him some evening soon. Mrs Strachey is just returned from the country (Devonshire) whence she had written us a very kind true-looking Letter, and we expect to see her soon.— The Montagues go hovering much about us; but their intercourse is of inferior profit, their whole way of life has a certain hollowness, so that you nowhere find firm bottom: one must try to take the good out of each, and keep aloof from the evil that lies everywhere mixed with it.

Irving comes but little in our way; and one does not like to go and seek him in his own house, in a whole posse of enthusiasts, ranters and silly women. He was here once, taking tea, since that work of the “Tongues” began: I told him with great earnestness my deepseated unhesitating conviction that it was no special work of the Holy Spirit, or of any Spirit save of that black frightful unclean one that dwells in Bedlam. He persists mi[l]dly-obstinate in his Course; greatly strengthened therein by his wife, who is reckoned the beginner of it all: the Newspaper accounts are sometimes overcharged;12 yet a certain “speaking with tongues” does I understand go on daily in his Chapel, which lies very near us, which as I pass it I see mostly open, and often a dawnering [strolling] individual or two popping in, or popping out: “but and ben the change-house fills.”13 They tell us that poor Dow of Irongrey has also taken to the tongue-work. What it will all lead to I pretend not to prophecy: I do not think it can spread to any extent even among the vulgar here, at this time of day; only a small knot of ravers now rave in that old worn-out direction: but for Irving himself the consequences frighten me. That he will lose his Congregation seems calculated on by his friends: but perhaps a far darker fear is not out of the question; namely that he may lose his own wits. God guard him from such a consummation! None of you, I am sure, will join in any ill-natured clamour against him: defend him rather with brotherly charity; and hope always that he will yet be delivered from this real Delusion of the Devil.

Jane wanted me to tell her of the Examiner Editor; but I have not space here. The poor fellow has been thrown out of a Gig, and is tediously lame; so I have not yet seen him here: neither was he at home when I pilgrimed over (3½ miles to a spot in the west suburbs, not unlike Comley Bank) the other day, but gone to Brighton for sea air. My ideas therefore were only formed by candle light. He is a long thin tawtie [shaggy] -headed man, with wrinkly (even baggy) face, keen zealous-looking eyes, a sort of bell-toned honestly argumentative voice: very much the air of a truehearted Radical. He was all braced with straps, moving on crutches, and hung together loosely, you would have said, as by flail-cappins[.]14 However we got along bravely together; and parted, after arguing, and assenting, and laughing and mourning at considerable length—with mutual purpose to meet again. I rather like the man: there is far more in him than in the most of radicals; besides he means honestly, and has a real feeling where the shoe pinches, namely, that the grand misery is the condition of the poor classes.

Speaking of Newspapers, I may here tell you what I mean to do about M'Diarmid's.15 To me the Paper is of very inferior interest (chiefly except the Advertisements), and I could well do with it two days later: often I remember what my Father said: that it was “wholly a Hypothesis,” which indeed is the best possible description of it.— I have written therefore to M'Diarmid to send it on first to you; then if you can put it back into the Post-office any time before Thursday afternoon (or even before Saturday; Friday is of no use for there is no London Post that day) it would arrive here on the Saturday forenoon, and could still be read and sent back to Alick for Wednesday, which is as soon as he could [get it?] any way. Nay even the Saturday (at the Ecclefechan Post-office) would do, for I should [ge]t it on Monday, and send it off that evening. I care very little about it; the cover [with?] one of your handwritings would probably be the best thing about it for me. Despatch that Letter to M'Diarmid, therefore, on Wednesday next, and the following week expect that the new arrangement will begin.—— So much for business.

I had much to write about the State of matters here, and to quiet your fears especially about the Cholera, which so many torment themselves with. It is in truth a disease of no such terrific quality, only that its effect is sudden, and the people have heard so much about it: scarcely a year but there is a typhus fever in Glasgow or Edinburgh that kills far more than the Cholera does in the like cases. For my part I am even satisfied rather that it has reached our Coasts (where I have long inevitably expected it) and that now the Reality which is measurable will succeed the Terror which is immeasurable, and doing great mischief both to individual peace of mind, and all kinds of commercial intercourse. The worst effect here will be that same interruption; thus already the Coals (which come from Northumberland) are beginning to rise.— On the whole, however, it is our purpose to run no unnecessary risks: therefore should the danger really come near us, and the Disease break out in London under a shape in any measure formidable; we will forthwith bundle our gear and return to Puttoch till it is over. This we have resolved on: so disquiet not yourself my dear Mother; there is no peril for the present; nay it is a hundred miles nearer you than us.— As to rioting, and all that sort of matter, there is no symptom of it here; neither in case of its actual occurrence have persons like us anything to fear. We are safer here, I take it, than we should be in Dunscore itself.

I must now conclude, dear Mother, in very great haste; for the Post hour is at my very hand, and the note to M'Diarmid is still unwritten— (By the way, if you do not like to engage, you have only to burn that note, and it is done: I know not how much or little you care about the Hypothesis, and so cannot judge. The Examiner you will always get on Wednesday).—I had innumerable things to say, and kind messages to send; but my space is all exhausted. Take care of yourself my dear Mother, and of my Father: neither of you should expose yourself to any weather or rough treatment; it is a positive duty for you. My Father's Letter is still owing, but the debt not forgotten: assure him of my true affection. Cheer him, when he grows dispirited; he has struggled long, and now should lean a little on the rest of us. Jean and Jenny & Mary the writers I must thank a second time. Tell them to write soon. I will write, if aught notable happen, instantly. Farewell dear Mother! God bless you all!

T. Carlyle—

We were out at Enfield, with the Badamses for four days: that was the reason why your Examiner would once come a day too late; also why you had once to pay twopence for the Courier (it was the girl's stupidity, that last). The Badam[s]es were very hospitable and kind; seemed to be living in a strange unstaid sort of way: Badams is much better, but still far from well—I mean in mind chiefly. I hope the best for him. Jeffrey has been in Wimbledon (10 miles off) for about 10 days. He is getting better, but very slowly, and looks thin. Jane bids me thank the Sisterhood for their Letter (or perhaps it was only Mary in particular) and say that she will answer it. Maister Cairlill has not put pen to paper yet: Jane and I both expect to see his hand soon; but regards to him from both of us. Send my love to Alick: I meant to write tonight, and will soon.

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