October 1831-September 1833

The Collected Letters, Volume 6


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 24 January 1832; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18320124-TC-JAC-01; CL 6:106-110.


4. Ampton Street, Grey's Inn Road / 24th January, 1832—

My Dear Brother,

It will be a sad thing, as it is by no means an unlikely one, if this Letter should reach you before any of the other three which I have written, and which, it appears by the last news from you, had not come to hand. Prepare yourself for a heavy loss: it has pleased God to call our dear Father to his final rest. This morning, quite unexpectedly as you will see, I received a Letter from our Sister Jane, of which I send you an exact copy:

“Scotsbrig, January 22nd 1832.

“My Dear Brother,

“It is now my painful duty to inform you that our dear Father took what we thought was a severe cold last monday night:1 he had great difficulty in breathing, but was always able to sit up most of the day, and sometimes to walk about the doors; last night he was in the Kitchen about six o'clock, but he was evidently turning very fast worse in breathing. He got only one right night's sleep since he turned ill, and had been sometimes insensible; but when one spoke to him, he generally recollected himself. But last night he fell into a sort of stupor, about ten o'clock, still breathing higher and with greater difficulty: he spoke little to any of us, seemingly unconscious of what he did; came over the bedside, and offered up a prayer to Heaven in such accents as it is impossible to forget. He departed almost without a struggle this morning at half past six.— The funeral is to be on friday2; but my Mother says she cannot expect you to be here; however you must write to her directly, she needs consolation, tho' she is not unreasonable, but it was very unexpected. Poor Alick will receive the mournful tidings by J. Austin tonight. The Doctor durst do nothing.— Oh my dear Brother, how often have we written “all well”! I cannot write more at present— Your affectionate Sister,

“Jane Carlyle.”

Subjoined in our Mother's hand are these words: “It is God that has done it; be still my dear Children— Your affectionate Mother.— God support us all.”


I have written back a long Letter to them this day, and promised that I would instantly write to you. Your last Roman Letter (2nd January) with a heap of others written only yesterday, was already on the road, and probably the two will arrive together—on thursday. It was Sunday morning when the event took place, this is tuesday evening. We have given orders that no one is to be admitted here till after Friday: that space I devote to recollect myself, to consider my calamity, and what I have lost in the Departed.

To you, dear Brother, I will only say what I have said already elsewhere: Mourn not more than is unavoidable; lay the matter solemnly to heart, and study to turn it to good. We have reason to say that mercy has been mingled with our affliction; that our dear Father's end was happy. He had lived to do all his work, and he did it manfully and truly. Let us imitate him; let us labour as he did in patient honesty, in prudent diligent welldoing. His departure too was soft and speedy: that last strong cry of his in the death-struggle to God for deliverance; that is one of the things we must remember forever. Was it not the fit end of a Life so true and brave? For a true and brave man, such as there are too few left, I must name my Father: if we think what an element he began in, how he with modest unwearied endeavour turned all things to the best, and what a little world of good he had created for himself, we may call his life an honourable, a noble one. In some respects, there is perhaps no man like him left. Jane and I were just remarking two days ago that we did not know any man whose spiritual faculties had such a stamp of natural Strength: alas we knew not that already he was hidden from our eyes! I call such a man, bred up in poor Annandale, with nothing but what the poor chances of Annandale gave him, the true Preacher of a Gospel of Freedom, of what man can do and be. Let his memory be forever holy to us: let us, each in his several sphere, go and do likewise.

For myself, Death is the most familiar of all thoughts to me, my daily and hourly companion. Death no longer seems terrible; and tho' saddest remembrances rise round you, and natural grief will have its course, we can say with our heroic Mother: ‘It is God that has done it.’ Death properly is but a hiding from us, from our fleshly organs; the Departed are still with us; are not both they and we in the hand of God? A little while, and we shall all meet; nay perhaps see one another again! As God will! He is great; He is also good. There we must leave it, weep and murmur as we will.

Wednesday Morning.— I feel, my dear Brother, how this stroke must pain you: speak of it as we may, Death is a stern event. Yet also a great and sacred one. How holy are the Dead! They do rest from their labours, and their works follow them. A whole section of the Past seems departed with my Father; shut out from me by an impassable barrier. He could tell me about old things, and was wont most graphically to do so, when I went to Scotsbrig: now he will do so no more; it is past, past! The Force that dwelt in him had expended itself, he is lost from our eyes in that ocean of Time, wherein our little islet of Existence hangs suspended, ever crumbling in, ever anew bodying itself forth. Fearful and wonderful! Yet let us know that under Time lies Eternity; if we appear, and are (while here) in Time and thro' Time, which means Change, Mortality,—we also stand rooted in Eternity, where there is no Change, no Mortality. Be of comfort, then; be of Courage! “The fair flowers of our garland,” said Novalis, “are dropping off Here one by one, to be united again Yonder, fairer and forever.”3 Let it so please God! His will, not ours be done!—


It were quite foreign to your mood of mind, as it is to mine, to enter on any lower matter for the present. I will only tell you what little it seems indispensable for you to know; properly the summary of what you should have known already, had not some unaccountable irregularity of the Posts prevented. Your Letters have all come safe and duly to me: how is it then that not one of mine, as duly written and despatched, has come to you? Since the Turin one I have written three, closely filled and minutely narrative: the last went off (I think) on the 10th of January; the others at about intervals of a month during the space before. Could the address be wrong? It was thus: “Al Signor / J. A. Carlyle M.D. / Poste Restante / in Firenze (Florence Italy)”; the next two “in Roma.”—I inquired at the General Post-office here; but could obtain no clue to the phenomenon; no accident that they knew of had happened to any Italian mail, Letters paid and put into any receiving office were perfectly safe. Jeffrey advised the Foreign Office, which accordingly (by his help) I mean to try this time. I am very sorry for you, my dear Brother: three months without tidings is quite grievous. My comfort is that knowing my punctuality, you will even now impute the mischief solely to the Carriers of the Mail. I will go on writing at short intervals (of some three weeks, as you propose); and you I trust will do the like. Your Letters as I said come quite correctly: they are very precious to us; and always very interesting, except (and I pray you again to note this) when you become topographical and cease to be biographical. Write all that faithfully down in your Journal, but tell us exclusively about Persons, above all about yourself. Nothing else has any the smallest interest for us. I send forward your Letters regularly to Scotsbrig. I hope and trust this Letter or some of the others before it will get to you. Alas! Except this with the bad news, there was nothing of intrinsic importance in any of the others. I had said in general that they were all well in Scotland; that Alick had got an Annandale farm and was leaving Craigenputtoch. That my Jane had been sickly and was still so, but improving; that I had bargained for publishing my German Literary History (£300, two volumes, with Lardner), had given up the idea of getting the other Book printed; and that we meant to return home in the month of March.— Death also was not idle, tho' not till now had he struck our little household. Mr Strachey died very suddenly three weeks ago: Dr Becker also at Berlin, some months sooner, of cholera. The cup goes round.

I must now, my dear Brother, again bid you farewell. Be a good man: herein and herein only have we a tower of strength. Let us not weep for our Father; let us go an[d] imitate him: let us honour his memory by being good men, and so increasing and continuing the good he was the means of. I shall write to you more cheerfully next time: one's heart is too much in heaviness at all times; at present it is excuseable. Let us love one another, one and all; and in silence (if we have no voice—which is a misery) pray for one another. Jane sends you her sisterly love: perhaps she may write it, if she join me in time. She too is growing (I rejoice to see) more and more earnest; and will one day (by God's grace) become perfect thro' suffering,4 or be found faithfully struggling towards perfection. God's blessing be with you, my dear Brother! I am ever, Your affectionate, T. Carlyle

[JWC's postscript:]

My dear John— I deeply sympathize with you in this affliction—I know by sad experience it is ill to bear. Yet we have all of us much left to be thankful for; and our duty is not to mourn without hope over those that are gone before;5 but to make much of those who are still with us. God keep you and all of us and help us forward thro the sorrows and temptations of this phantom-world to a better and more lasting. Believe that I think of you with affection

Your Brother bears himself nobly under his present loss—as he always does[.] Your affectionate Sister Jane WC