October 1831-September 1833

The Collected Letters, Volume 6


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 26 March 1833; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18330326-TC-AC-01; CL 6:354-357.


Edinburgh, 4. Great King Street, / 26th March, 1833—

My Dear Alick,

I am making up a Parcel to go this day, by the Dumfries Bookseller, to Scotsbrig; and will not neglect, as the very first thing I set about, to answer your kind and acceptable Letter,1 which we have now had in hand since Saturday morning gone a week. You will not expect much sense of me; for I have many Letters to write, little time, and many interruptions. Mrs Welsh, and her Niece from Liverpool (a very pleasant young damsel) have been here for about a week; our servant Nancy has plotted [scalded] the skin off her foot, and goes hirpling [limping] along in most lame style: so that, for the time, it is but a confused kind of house. We removed into it, out of the old one at Stockbridge, as our Mother has perhaps informed you, to get rid of the abominablest neighbourhood, which honest people could find themselves in. That great point happily has been attained, and so all the rest may be put up with.

It gave us great satisfaction to hear from you so good an account of everything at Scotsbrig and Catlinns; and to see that for the present at least your labour does not prove in vain. It is saying much, as things now go in this distracted country. Millions (a frightful word, but a true one!) millions of mortals are toiling this day, in our British Isles, without prospect of rest, save in speedy death, to whom for their utmost toiling food and shelter are too high a blessing. When one reads of the Lancashire Factories and little children labouring for sixteen hours a day, inhaling at every breath a quantity of cotton fuz, falling asleep over their wheels, and roused again by the lash of thongs over their backs, or the slap of “billy-rollers” over their little crowns;2 and then again of Irish whitefeet,3 driven out of their potatoe-patches and mudhovels, and obliged to take the hillside as broken men,—one pauses with a kind of amazed horror, to ask if this be Earth the place of Hope, or Tophet where hope never comes! A good practical inference too every one of us may draw from it: to be thankful that with him it is not yet so, to be content under many griefs, and patiently struggle on towards a better day, which even in this world cannot fail to dawn for the afflicted children of men. One grand remedy against the worst still lies partly open: America and its forests, where you have only the wild beasts to strive against! I understand there never was such emigration from these parts, at least from Edinburgh, as this year. People of all sorts are going: Labourers, shopkeepers, even writers to the Signet, and Country Lairds. They are very right; they will be all the better, and the country all the better for the want of them.— But, in the meanwhile, do you, my dear Brother, go on tilling the Dryfesdale clod, while it will yield you anything: surely, it is probable, the Government, before matters come to the utmost pass, will apply itself in earnest to Emigration, as the sole remedy for all that most immediately presses on us. Let us “possess our souls in patience, and await what can betide.”4

Nothing in your Letter has given me more thought than what you say about Jean.5 I feel internally the utmost reluctance that she should, especially in this headlong manner, connect herself with James Aitken: he is a young man not without several qualifications, yet of whom I never could get any assurance; nay there is something in the very cast of his face that bids me doubt him. But on the other hand what a delicate matter to interfere in! Suppose you even threw aside anxieties about “reflexions on yourself,” and cheerfully undertook to bear such in any quantity that you might do your Sister good, yet how are you to set about it with no better light than mine? A young woman has need to be married some time; if by a solemn monition you put her off this engagement (and even an advice to delay may turn out to break it), who knows whether, among such a scandalous set as men are become, she may next time make a better? I know not well what to do: yet will, this day, write her an opinion of mine that she ought decidedly to delay. I do not like the man, at least considered as her husband; yet cannot prove even to myself how I ought to dislike him. May God turn all to good; for we ourselves are blind!

Jack's Letter, which arrived on the same day with yours, is sent along with this; will inform you of his movements and prospects. It seems not improbable that we may see him this summer after all. What he will next do must then unfold itself: I really could hardly give him an advice. However, he seems grown very greatly wiser since his last return home; to the wise man wise conduct is always possible.

Edinburgh continues one of the dullest and poorest and on the whole paltriest of places for me. I cannot remember that I have heard one sentence with true meaning in it uttered since I came hither! The very power of Thought seems to have forsaken this Athenian City; at least, a more entirely shallow, barren, unfruitful and trivial set of persons than those I meet with never that I remember came across my “bodily vision.” One has no right to be angry with them: poor fellows, far from it! Yet does it remain evident that “Carlyle is wasting his considerable talent on impossibilities, and can never do any good.” Time will show: for the present, poor man, he is quite fixed to try. At any rate there are some good Books here, that one can borrow and read; kindly-disposed human creatures too, who tho' they cannot without a shudder see one spit in the Devil's face so, yet wish one well, almost love one. The best is that I have been rather busy writing, and have finished a long sort of thing for Fraser's Magazine, to be called Cagliostro: it is very wild, but not untrue, so may do its part. Write away, my man! that is thy only chance; these poor persons, demean them as they may, “can do the' neither ill no' good.”6 We have liberty to stay here till near whitsunday; but shall not likely continue far beyond the end of April: in May we can hope to see you at Catlinns. Except house-rent it seems hardly more expensive here than at Puttoch, so much have things fallen in price; or perhaps, mainly, so much has housewife-cunning risen! We have not so comfortable a roomy life as there; but all else is far superior.— What we are to make of ourselves next winter, if we be spared so long, is not clear yet; but will become so. I wonder if we could not get ourselves established somewhere “under the immediate eye of some little Grier,”7 or other! A man of that kind to take care of one were a blessing indeed: Poor little Grier, “after all”! as the Doctor would say: one feels a kindly wish towards him, a thankful sentiment towards Providence, everytime one's eye is turned that way.— There will be time for another Letter before we return: you know the address now.— Jane does not seem to improve of late: however, she has far more entertainment here. She is out at this moment, or would send little Namesake and you her love. And so God bless you all!

Your affecte Brother,—

T. Carlyle