October 1831-September 1833

The Collected Letters, Volume 6


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 29 March 1833; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18330329-TC-JAC-01; CL 6:359-367.


4. Great King Street, Edinburgh, 29th March 1833

My dear Brother,

Your Letter1 has been here now within a few hours of two weeks; and I bethink me this morning, for the first time decisively, that it has been too long unanswered. I determine accordingly; tho' the morning otherwise was not favourable. Should you have left Florence before this reach you, it will be a very foolish business: but surely you will not leave in a week; therefore I hope better. Our house has been very confused, for the last two weeks, Mrs Welsh and her Niece from Liverpool being here since then; I myself too am bilious, as after a spell of writing, bad lodging and bad weather: these are my excuses for delay. Let me hasten however to inform you that nothing has gone wrong with us, worth calling wrong: I had a Letter from Scotsbrig this morning, and there too all is well.

We are very proud of the prospect of seeing you this summer. May it realise itself; may it prove happy for us all! You will find much changed in Dumfriesshire; but not the affection of those that remain for you. There will be much to tell, much to speculate upon, and devise for the time that is to come. After all manner of deliberate communing some resolution will arise, something that one can put his hand to and begin pushing onwards. I have thought much about your future, of late; see it, like all our futures, full of obstruction; nevertheless will not cease to hope good. It is a most ruinous chaotic Time this of ours; a Time of confusion outward and inward, of falsehood; imbecillity [sic], destitution, desperation, unbelief: woe to him who has within himself no light of Faith to guide his steps thro' it! My main comfort about you is to see the grand practical lesson of Entsagen [Renunciation] impressing itself, in ineffaceable devoutness, on your heart: herein it is well said, eigentlich beginnt das Leben [life actually begins];2 whoso is a Man may in all seasons scenes and circumstances live like a Man. Let us take the world bravely then, and fight bravely to the end, since nothing else has been appointed us. I have inquired with myself often whether you should settle here, at London, or where: but cannot get so much as a dubious light to found an advice on. This is but a pitiful place; but indeed all places are pitiful. In the grand universal race towards Ruin (economical) we are as I judge almost a whole generation behind London; this I infer from various symptoms, mainly from the blessed feebleness of our system of Puffery. Nevertheless here too things are advancing with most rapid pace, a few years will bring us a long way. Universal Poverty is already here; numerous persons, and these are the wisest, determine this season to fly over seas, to America, Australia, anywhither where the Famine is not. Ruin economical is not far distant: and then in regard to Ruin spiritual I should say that it was already triumphant among us; while in chaotic London there were blissful symptoms here and there discernible of Palingenesia. This makes the difference. In London amid its huge deafening hubbub of a Deathsong are to be heard tones of a Birthsong; while here all is putrid, scandalous, decadent hypocritical, and sounds thro' your soul like a lugubrious universal Naenia [funeral song], chaunted by foul midnight hags! There is misanthropy and philanthropy for you; expressed with poetic emphasis enough! The truth is, as thou seest, dear Jack, this Edinburgh yields me for the present small solace, small furtherance: nevertheless, except in thought, perpetually protesting against most that I see and hear, I do nowise quarrel with it; leave it to go its road, I meanwhile going mine. In sober truth, however, it might almost surprise one to consider how infinitely small a quantity, not of enlightened Speech one catches here, but even of Speech at all, for that jargon that is uttered without conviction, from the teeth outward, who would name that Speech, more than the inarticulate cawing of rooks and magpies? Peace be with it! There are Books to be got at; air to breathe; and lastly a Coach to carry you back moorwards, when that becomes more tolerable.

Most likely I mentioned last time that I was writing a Paper on Cagliostro. I might perhaps with advantage have asked you some questions about his last scene of Life, your Roman St Angelo and St Leo;3 but I did not recollect that possibility: and now the thing is all finished off, perhaps more carefully than it deserved to be. It is for Fraser, and may perhaps suit him well enough; otherwise I value the Article below a pin's price: it will do no ill, and that is the most one can say of it. I am partly minded next to set forth some small Narrative about the Diamond Necklace4 (once so celebrated a business); but must wait a day or two till I have freies Feld [free run]. Our Ladies go to Haddington next week; I may then begin if I like: it will serve me till about the time of our departure homewards, which we date a month hence. We shifted into this new King-Street house some three weeks ago: the old Carlton Street one had grown quite disagreeable with noises, no less than a “woman of bad character” being established above us! This had been our Landlady's reason for letting her house; but on finding it out we made her retract again, and were off. This house which we have at the same rent is exactly the North-east Corner of the Street (first floor) quite close to where John Gordon used to live. He is now on the quite opposite end of this same King Street; as loving as ever, but alas as strange a mixture as ever of Scotch shrewdness and oblivious stupidity, honest-heartedness overlaid with Blackwood rubbish; a very monotonous, uninstructive man. I suspect he means to wed about Whitsunday, for his new College Secretaryship will enable him: very sincerely do I wish and expect for him all reasonable felicity.5 A man Aird6 also comes about us; author of a mad imitation of Chalmers, called “Christian Characteristics,” or some such thing. A person of decided innocence, openness almost genius, without the smallest culture, except from Blackwood's backshop. You can fancy him; his narrow prominent hirsute brow, kind grey eyes; huge stupid chin: the strong Roxburgh accent agreeably reminds me of old Church. Wilson I have met only once: I had called on him before; as he never returned it, I could not go near him again; more especially after all the blethering stuff he had uttered on that matter for years past. I still read his Magazine-palaver with an affectionate interest; believe that there is nothing to be got from him. We will not quarrel, but also need not agree: this night Gordon invites me to meet him at supper; but I cannot resolve to go; the man is not worth an indigestion.7 Dequincey, who has been once seen out this winter, sent me word he would come and see me; he will do no such thing, poor little fellow: he has hardly got out his cessio bonorum [means of satisfying his creditors], and for the present (little Moir, his friend, pathetically says) “is living on game which has spoiled on the poulterer's hand”; having made a bargain to that effect with him, and even run up a score of £15! Let D'Israeli8 remember that. Sir W. Hamilton I like best of any; but see little of him. I even met the “hash Blackwood”; who has mounted a Carriage now, and rides prosperously: “I saw the wicked great in power.”9 It was at Moir's this rencounter, at dinner; the “hash” somewhat reconciled me by his presence; I traced in him several features of my friend Cagliostro; and said honestly: Live, then, enjoy thy life, as subaltern Quack; the Devil is busy with us all. Naso10 I visited in the dining way, yesternight, for the first and probably last time. He affected to be extremely kind, and our party (with an American Anti-slave Enthusiast in it) went off quite happily: but Naso wants that first fundamental requisite of genius, I fear: common honesty. He has paid me, and shabbily, and on compulsion that last debt of his; and now, as I reckon, our editorial relation may have terminated. That pecuniary defalcation of his has again sorrowfully altered my scriptory method of procedure: but we cannot help it, must even turn ourselves elsewhither. Old Dr M'Crie11 too I have made acquaintance with; an honest ancient divine, of the Dutch sort; very learned in Scotch ecclesiastical history, a thing I take some interest in of late. Dr Irving12 is as leaden-gloomy as ever; Repp got me down Agrippa de vanitate13 yesterday with great briskness, and gaiety of heart: he has made a party for himself among the younger sort of Advocates. But I must finish this. Did you hear of Ballantyne the Printer's14 death? Last Sunday poor M'Corkindale whom you remember well, took ill of inflammation, in the afternoon, and was dead on monday [sic] morning!15 So goes the world.

Oh Jack, what pains do I take with this thin paper and soft pen to write small; hampering myself in a hundred ways, so that like M'Nab of old, “I can hardly spell with such a pen”! You must take it as it comes: I will now give you a little London news. The Reformed Parliament disappoints every one but me and the Tories. Endless jargon, no business done. I do not once a month look on the side of the world it sits on: let it go to the Devil in its own way. Jeffrey has never tried speaking in it: he keeps his health better, this winter; about a fortnight ago he sent you his regards. Buller made a speech but I think with little effect: the elder Bullers have had losses in India. I wrote to Glen, under cover to Mill, who however cannot yet find him out. You must know Mill as you pass thro' London, a man worth your knowing. By much industry we procured a Letter from Holcroft:16 he reports very badly of several things. Badams gets more and more addicted to that fatal habit; the worst may be feared for him. A small indistinct Letter from himself gives no better omen: it bears to have been written in the interval of sickness and “many family troubles.” Poor Badams! My own private hypothesis is that if he and his Wife were once well parted, it were better for both. Yet how make such a proposal! He evidently likes Bessy Barnet17 better than all other creatures; to her he again is the first of men and benefactors: she alone of all that household has a character equal to the emergency. Under her and her Mother's care there were a chance for him; hardly otherwise that I can see. Neither in my opinion does his Wife care much for him, tho' she weeps much I daresay for her own husband; and her artificial inconstant vehement nature makes bad worse for all of them. Why did they ever wed? Badams bids me address “At the Atheneum” for him: if you wrote it could do no harm; the sight of you and advice from you might do much good, and I hope will. Of the Montagues nothing worth repeating. Of poor Edward Irving your Galignani18 will perhaps have told you enough. He came to Annan to be deposed; made a heroico-distracted Speech there, Dow finishing off with a Holy-Ghost shriek or two; wher[e]upon Irving calling on them to “hear that” indignantly withdrew. He says in a Letter printed in the Newspapers that he “did purpose to tarry in those parts certain days, and publish in the towns of the coast the great name of the Lord”;19 which purpose it appears he did accomplish; “publishing” everywhere a variety of things. He was at Ecclefechan Jean writes us: gray, toilworn, haggard, with “an immense cravat the size of a sowing-sheet covering all his breast”: the country people are full of zeal for him; but everywhere else his very name is an offence to decent society. “Publish in the towns of the coast”! Oh, it is a Pickleherring Tragedy,20 the accursedest thing one's eye could light on. As for Dow he must surely ere long end in the madhouse: for our poor friend one knows not what to predict.— Smith of British Museum Printroom is dead.21 Lamb has out a new “last[”] Book.22 Leigh Hunt's Subscription Poems have come to me, price 1 guinea.

It will be proper now to give you some sort of guidance about future writing of Letters. The whole secret lies in this: we are to be here till the first of May; after that we shall be moving towards Craigenputtoch, and our address will be Dumfries. I shall attend to your instructions, and not write again save in answer to your Letter; which we may still receive here if you write again directly; otherwise there must needs be some delay.— I wish one could bethink him of many things you might still get and do before leaving Italy: but I have no remembrance at present. Cheap lithograph portraits, if they are attainable, please me much: I recollect no Book: Dante is one I can borrow; and indeed all Italy is much sealed to me as yet; I know not even how to inquire. Be sure your Schöne Seele's religious conversation with Goethe is not forgotten.23 Resume your Journal, and keep fast by it: you know not what may one day come of it. I must meet you at Paris with a Letter any way.

As to the Annandale people I have already told you in a sentence the cream of what was to be told. Alick had written to me just the day your Letter came: he was well and in good heart, had paid his rent and was struggling manfully along. At Scotsbrig nothing but sowing and gardening; our Mother had not been so well for a few days but was decidedly come round again. Alick said she was wonderfully resigned and even contented. To see you again will be one of the brightest points of her future: I suppose no day passes but she tries in her simple Love to picture out what you are doing in that so strange world. Perhaps I did not mention that Mary had another daughter; that her husband and she were not likely to get any farm this year, but are likely to continue at Scotsbrig over summer[.]

There is no cholera in Britain, but still diseases enough. A very violent and fatal erysepalas [sic] (rose in the head) prevailed in this town some two months ago, and cut off several very suddenly; one was a Brother of Menzies's, not the one that was in Germany, I believe, but another.24 That too is now gone, and we have only the usual catarrhs and rheumatisms of a wet blustery March. Thus I myself have worn a horrid plaster of Burgundy-pitch on my breast for the last nine weeks, and will not tear it off till the weather mend. I have gone about all winter with a great-coat, and am heartily tired of it.— Shall you see Walter Savage Landor25 at Florence? I understand him to be a wrong-haired inaccessible kind of person: ein Zorniger aber Tüchtiger [an angry but competent man]. You should try Lady Clare in the Wanderjahre [travel years]; if she have any Schönheitsinn [sense of beauty], she cannot look on that without profit.26 I prattle at a strange rate, dear Jack: but the reason is my time wears short, and my pen is as bad as ever. I may mention therefore that we have dug out little Edward Nelson27 here, and had him twice over to tea: he is a shy, silent, rather repulsive youth, very small of stature, quick of feeling, nowise without talent. He is about passing Surgeon's Hall; for graduating he is already too young by two years. Something useful in a moderate way may come of him if he lives. Both he and his Father are always very minute in their inquiries after you. Mitchell still continues sickly, yet able to discharge his duty, and puts on a contented face. Murray is in high health, and high prosperity in the boarding way: a most limited man; I have seen him only twice. The Paper is full here, and I must fly to the margins. Turn over getrosten muthes [cheerfully] to the beginning. Jane has walked very strictly by old Dr Hamilton's law; without any apparent advantage. Her complaint seems like mine, a kind of seated dyspepsia; no medicine is of avail, only regimen (when once one can find it out), free air, and if that were possible cheerfulness of mind. She bears up with fixed resol[u]tion, appears even to enjoy many things in Edinr, yet has grown no stronger of late[.] We must take the good & the ill together, and still hope for the better. She sends you her affection, and hopes we shall all meet at Craigenputtoch once more. Be it so, if it please God! All things, as your Faith tells you, will turn out for good; if we ourselves prove good. Meanwhile the only clear duty of Man lies in this, and nothing else: Work; work wisely while it is called today. Nothing in this universe now frightens me, tho' yearly it grows more stupendous, more divine; and the terrestrial Life appointed us more poor and brief. Eternity looks grander and kinder, if Time grow meaner and more hostile. I defy Time and the Spirit of Time: I (this I) am of Eternity, and shall return thither!28 Farewell dear John[.]

Ever your Brother /

T. Carlyle

I hope I have not obliterated the address: 4. Great King Street. But indeed the Postman knows us, no Letter will be lost. Did you hear of John Clark's Sale of Pictures, and how the Floor fell in, and one man (providentially only one) was killed? Book-sales are frequent and the Books cheap beyond experience: I mean to buy a few. A Bayle's Dictionary29 a Series of some Annual Register or Magazine30 (for the history of last century) were very useful to me.— Helen Welsh speaks kindly of Arbuckle and Geo: Johnston;31 the former she says, however, has still little or no practice[.]

I here finally take leave: God ever bless you!

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