candlestick

October 1831-September 1833


The Collected Letters, Volume 6


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TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 18 February 1832; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18320218-TC-MAC-01; CL 6:128-133.


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE

4. Ampton Street, 18th Feby 1832—

My Dear Mother,

I have got a Letter from the Doctor, and a Frank to hold it in; but unfortunately very little time to write myself: so you must take a short hasty word, rather than none. I wish I had more time, for I could speak gladly at great length; but I foresee many interruptions, and have already undergone some. My only chance is to make honest use of all the time I have: perhaps it may be better than I expect.

Jane's kind, calm Letter1 gave us great satisfaction: it was wholly in the spirit, and represented you all as wholly in the spirit which I wished and expected. Our sufferings here are not unmixed with mercy: nay, as faith teaches us, they are all mercies in disguise. My mind also is peaceable; and if sad, not, I trust, sad after an unholy fashion. Let us not mourn as creatures that had no Hope. We are creatures that had an All-Good Creator; and this Earth we live in is named “the Place of Hope.”2 For myself Death has long been the hourly companion of my thoughts: I can look upon this earthly world as, in very deed, smoke and shadow; and Eternity the only substance, the only truth. Thus is “Death, what mortals call Death, properly the beginning of Life.”3 How any reasonable being can exist here below otherwise than this, might justly seem a mystery.— I am also much gratified to learn that Jamie makes worship among you: nothing can be more becoming and needful than in all our ways and days-works to address ourselves, as the beginning of every other effort, to Him who has given us our whole Force; by whom our whole efforts are overruled, in whom we live, move, and have our being.4 Tell Jamie that I take this as a good token of him; and will hope all that is good and just and wise from his future conduct. Thank him for his kind and honest little Postscript; which I will answer, by the first opportunity; would fain answer now. He must write me again, at any rate. Finally, my dear Mother, take care of yourself; that we may find you well, when it shall please God to bring us together again.

You will see by Jack's Letter how it stands with him, and that all seems to be going on as one would wish it. I am much pleased with his Letter; I reckon it very reasonable and solid; perhaps the very best he ever wrote me. He had got all my Letters but one: that one I expect may be in his hands about this time; and will bring a cloud over his sky. On him too I urged the Duty of not grieving, but thinking, and doing. I wrote again the day before yesterday; and shall perhaps get one other Letter before leaving London.

What day we are to look forward to for setting out cannot yet be anywise fixed. I am in the middle of Johnson, which I wish to finish before setting out; it will take me at least twelve days yet, pretty hard work. Then I have to settle about many other little things: Napier indeed wrote to me (today) about another little Article for the Edinr Review to be ready “about the middle of March”;5 but this I rather think I shall try to write in Dumfriesshire,—say to finish it at Scotsbrig! On the whole, nothing can be fixed: only you may take this fact: Jane is about writing to her Mother to engage a Servant she (Mrs Welsh) was speaking of, to be ready by the first of April; we mean also to stay some while with you, before looking at Dunscore. This fact also is certain: we are neither of us disposed to lose any time; so the harder I work, the sooner I shall get into free air, and to the sight of dear Friends!— We were both of us very thankful that you had despatched Betty Smeal to keep the house of Puttoch: it makes us quite easy on that score; and Betty can be figured there as bolting and barring and burning fires, and keeping everything as it should be.— We cannot yet make out what Alick is specially doing; for he has never written: probably he is too busy with beginning his new enterprise; at all events I should like to know where he is, were it only for sending the Paper to him. By the way, it did not come this morning; but I reckon, that means nothing.

We have Cholera at last in this city, as you will see: such has been my expectation ever since I first heard of the disease. The people affected hitherto are few in number (perhaps not above the usual number of deaths) and far off this quarter of the city. I myself feel no alarm, nor does Jane: when they told me that day, “Cholera is here! Cholera is here!”—I answered: “When was Death not here?”— Far would it be from me to expose myself without strict necessity; I would even fly were the danger considered in any measure pressing, and did one know whither to fly (but which place is safe, or even much safer than another?). At the same time, equally far should I wish to be from pusillanimous terror—as if in the midst of the pestilence, as in the midst of health, I were not in God's hand.— The truth is this “Cholera” is little else, if one look at it, than an opening of men's eyes to behold what their usual blindness prevents them from observing: that their Life hangs by a single hair; that Death is great, and forever close at their hand. By a singular arrangement, too, this Disease seems to attack almost exclusively, not so much the poor, as the improvident, drunken and worthless: punishment follows hard on sin.— They are passing Acts of Parlt about it; for having the Poor clothed and fed, by assessment, where it is not done voluntarily. This is very right. If the Disease spread and become threatening, you shall instantly hear; and, in this case, may see us sooner than you expect, for we have nothing to detain us here, at any risk. But for the present, there seems none that we can calculate: so be not uneasy, dear Mother; commit us to God's good keeping, as we I hope endeavour to do ourselves; and fear nothing.—

Jane has a headache today; but considers herself, on the whole, and indeed evidently is, in an improving way, “decidedly better than she was.” She has had but a sickly time of it here, yet has not been unhappy, “there is such excellent company.” She has seen no “sights” hardly; and cares little or nothing about such. Good talk is what she delights in, and I too; and here, amid the mass of Stupidity and Falsehood, there is actually some reasonable conversation to be come at. She has met with some valuable people; and I believe has improved herself in more ways than one. Mrs Austin and she are very fond of each other; Jane is going up to her, on Thursday, “to have a whole day of it”: I also think Mrs A. a very worthy solid-minded woman.— Mrs Strachey I have never seen yet; having been so busy, and also not knowing whether she liked to see any one. I hear that she conducts herself with great propriety. The Bullers have been here, and were exceedingly kind about me: they have all left town (except Arthur, who is here studying Law); being obliged to it by the state of Charles's health, which indeed is far from satisfactory. He seems to have a decided tendency to Asthma, and is ever and anon violently attacked: so that they are much afraid he will be forced to give up his Law profession altogether. He is, in mind and character, a really promising young man.

Of Literary people I might see enough, did I care for seeing them. My own footing in the fraternity is quite satisfactory to me; and that is all I have to do with: for, as to the rest, “they go their way, and I go mine.” A wholly miserable Brotherhood; of whom one can say nothing, except it were a prayer for them. Of Work, as I told you, I have plenty and to spare. This Johnson is meant for Fraser (an honest, ignorant, simpleton of a creature, knowing little but that one and one make two): but if it do not suit his Magazine, I have other use for it. I must also tell you another thing: Fraser came to me the other morning, and, by Jane's help, got me to “stand for my Picture,” to be published in his Magazine! I suppose it will not be out for several Months: however, you need not be impatient; for I do not think it at all like me, except in the coat and boots, and hair of the head. Goethe's Picture is to appear in the next Number (of that dud Magazine); and I have been requested (just as I was beginning this Letter) to write a little Notice6 to accompany it; which perhaps I should consent to do.— The “Characteristics” have been well received; approved seemingly by every one whose approval was wanted: I am on all hands encouraged to proceed. Forward! Forward!

Meeting Irving the other day on the street, he appointed me to come and take tea with him. The “inspired-tongue” work, I think, is getting a little dulled; at least I heard or saw nothing of it going on, that night; only Irving still full of its importance, and his Wife (a melancholic half-hollow sort of person, not wholly to my mind) still fuller. Irving had read the “Characteristics,” with quite high estimation of the talent &c &c: nevertheless he seemed to think I was going a very wrong road to work, and should consider myself, and take into the “Tongues.” He was nobly tolerant in heart; but in head quite bewildered, almost imbecile. He put into my hands, as “the deepest view he had ever seen” a Paper (in his Prophetic Magazine “the Morning Watch”) written by a namesake of mine7 in Edinburgh, or rather not by him, “for it was given him”—by the spirit! This deepest view I glanced into, and found to be simply the insanest Babble, without top bottom or centre, that ever was emitted even from Bedlam itself.— Poor Irving! It is still said they are taking steps to cast him out of his Church: what next he is to bring out upon the world I cannot prophecy. A good truehearted man he will continue; the truer, the more he suffers from the world: but he has once for all surrounded himself with Delirium, and with the Delirious; and so stands quite exiled from all general usefulness. Nevertheless [if] he be spared alive, he is nowise done yet; but has other outbreakings in store.

I have now, my Dear Mother, contrary to expectation written you even a long Letter: and may with good grace draw bridle. I think perhaps the next Letter you get will be to tell you what day or at least week we are coming home! Jamie will come and meet us at Annan with the Gig, for that is the route we take. In Liverpool we do not mean to stop above four and twenty hours: less if we can manage with less. Neither in London will we linger a day after our work is done, or lose a day in the doing of it.— And now, Dear Mother, take our united filial love; and let us all be joined together more and more in true affection, and in well-doing above all, which is the only bond and basis of affection between reasonable beings. Let us live in thankfulness towards the good Disposer of events, faithfully striving to serve Him, as He gives us strength: then what is there that can make us afraid?— Be very careful of your health, for the sake of us all. God bless and keep every one of you!

Your Affectionate Son, /

T. Carlyle

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