October 1833-December 1834

The Collected Letters, Volume 7


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 24 December 1833; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18331224-TC-JAC-01; CL 7:58-65.


Craigenputtoch, 24th December, 1833—

My Dear Brother,

Your last or Roman Letter,1 greatly to our Mother's satisfaction, reached her almost three weeks ago; and Jamie Austin, few days afterwards, unexpectedly stept in with it one evening here. You not u[n]reasonably lament a little that my Letter for Rome had not come to hand; which however I can calculate that it has long before this done: and now, having or making for myself an hour or two of leisure I will despatch you another, tho' you did not positively so appoint it. I easily guess how doubly and trebly significant Annandale Letters become on the Pincian Hill: if this only assure you again that all is still well, it will be amply worth its postage. Take that assurance, then, my dear Brother; and the more joyfully read the following development of it.

The description you give us of your Roman Life is copious and clear; very gratifying to us; such matter as we like best of all to see in your Letters. For myself, however, I can discern, what perhaps our good Mother does not so well, that with all favourable circumstances, you have need of your philosophy there. Alas, all modes of existence need such: we are once for all “in a conditional world.”2 Your great grievance doubtless is that properly your office gives you nothing to do. Three hundred a year with sumptuous accomodation you have; but that is all. The Days have to fly over you, and you seem to remain as it were windbound: little more than an article of Aristocratic state, so far as your own household goes: this I can well see and sympathize in. It is hard indeed, and grating to one's love of action; a thing intolerable, did it threaten to continue forever. But you are no longer a headlong youth, but grown a deliberate man; accordingly I see you adjust yourself to this also, from this also gather nourishment and strength. You are equipping yourself (in that strange way; so it was ordered) for your Life-voyage: patience, and the ancher [sic] is lifted. In the mean while too you know well no situation imposes on us the necessity of idleness: if not in one way, if not in one of a hundred ways, you will work in the hundred-and-first. Continue, I beg of you, to be mild, and either tolerant, or silently intolerant; let them go their way, go thou thine. What medical practice is to be come at, eagerly take. In defect of this, read your Win[c]kelmann, or any other solid Book most appropriate to the place; converse with all manner of mortals whose knowledge or whose ignorance can directly or indirectly teach you aught. I should prefer Romans, I think, to such a set of English as you have; in any case if it is a man and not a shadow of a man, one can get some good of him. My poor Segretario Ambulante,3 actually converting Disorder into Order here, in a small way, and realizing victual for himself, is worth a hundred men Clothes-horses and patent-digesters, by what glorious name soever they may call themselves, that either do nothing, or the reverse of Doing, which is even lower than nothing. Patience, therefore, my dear Brother! Ohne Hast aber ohne Rast [Without haste but without rest]. Let the Cooks boil, and the Tailors sew, and the Shovelhat emit weekly his modicum of dishwater disguised as water-of-life; it is all in the course of nature: “like the cranes' hoarse-jingling flight that over our heads in long-drawn shriek sends down its creaking gabble, and tempts the silent wanderer that he look aloft at them a moment: these go their way, and he goes his; so likewise shall it be with us.”4 Send me the minutest account of all you do and endure; and let us wait courageously for the day coming. It must and will come.

And now so for a little Dumfriesshire news. Our good Mother continues in her old state of health, or “rather better,” as they report to me. Her Pills she continues to find exceedingly beneficial: I forwarded a Box of them last time I was in Dumfries. I expect her here perhaps about Wednesday week: Austin and Mary are coming to Carstammon; will bring her to Jean's, and then on some appointed day, I go down to fetch her with the Gig. Austin can find no Farm, he told us; the whole country is running after every offer of one, and all are taken palpably too dear. What arrangement he will make for the coming year is not apparent yet; our Mother's destination, which partly depended on this, is therefore also uncertain; we shall talk of it fully when she comes up. Many a time, I think the foolish creatures, had they known better what stuff Hope is made of, might as well have staid where they were: but, at any rate, it was a change to be made; whether today or tomorrow is perhaps of little moment. A kind of sadness naturally comes over our Mother's mind at this new proof of terrestrial vicissitude; but withal she is quite peaceful and resolute; having indeed a deeper basis than Earth and its vicissitudes to stand on. I hardly know now another person in the world that so entirely believes and acts on her Belief. Doubt not but all will shape itself or be shapen in some tolerable way.— Jean, as you heard, is in her own house in Lochmabengate;5 to all appearance, doing perfectly well. Our Errand-boy, Rob Austin, draws up there on Wednesdays; and often brings us up a little Note from her.— Alick has got a new son, whom he has named or purposes naming Tom,6 after me. He can get along amid the bleak mud-acres of Catlinns, but with a continual struggle, one of his daydreams for many a year has been America; I have ceased to oppose it so firmly of late: indeed, I often enough think, What if I should go to America myself! Thousands and millions must yet go: it is properly but another section of our own Country,—tho' they rebelled, very justly, against George Guelph, and beat him, as they ought. We shall do or determine nothing rashly; the rather as for the present nothing presses.— Do you remember poor old Jenny Morrison?7 She was found burnt and dead in her hut at Ecclefechan some six weeks ago: a little piece of halfpenny Candle stood blown out on the hob,—never to be lighted again by her. Suspicions were entertained of violence and some travelling Tinker; but they came to nothing. Poor old Jenny, who could have begged with her Daughter “thro' the nine kingdoms,” has departed far beyond the boundaries of them all.8

As for Craigenputtoch, it stands here in winter grimness in winter seclusion. Nothing could exceed the violence of the December weather we have had: trees uprooted, Macadam slates jingling down, deluges of rain; one friday [sic] in particular did immense mischief to ships and edifices all over the Island; such a day as has not been seen for a quarter of a century, they say. We nestled ourselves down here; “better a wee bush than no bield.”9 The shortest day is now behind us; we shall look forward to a Spring which will be all the gladder. I continue to read great quantities of Books: I have also, with an effort, accomplished the projected Piece on the Diamond Necklace. It was finished this day week: a really queer kind of thing; of some forty and odd pages: Jane, at first, thought we should print it at our own charges; set our name on it, and send it out in God's name: neither she nor I am now so sure of this; but will consider it. My attempt was to make Reality Ideal: there is considerable significance in that notion of mine; and I have not yet seen the limits of it; nor shall till I have tried to go as far as it will carry me. The story of the Diamond Necklace is all told in that Paper with the strictest fidelity; yet in a kind of musical way: it seems to me there is no Epic possible that does not first of all ground itself on Belief: what a man does not believe can never at bottom be of true interest to him.— For the rest, I remain in the completest isolation from all manner of Editors: Teufelk is coming regularly out in Fraser, with what effect or non-effect I know not, consider not; and this is all I have to do with the world of Letters or Types. Before very long I shall most probably begin something else; at all events, go over again to the Barjarg Library, and so use my time and not waste it. I have a considerable quantity and quotity of things to impart to my Brothers in this Earth, if God see meet to keep me in it; and no Editor nor body of Editors, nor indeed the whole World and the Devil to back it out, can wholly prevent me from imparting them. Forward, then, getrosten Muthes [with a cheerful spirit].— Jane also is writing something but will not tell me what, “till she have got past the fiftieth page.” She complains of never having been so well, since we were last in Annandale.

What a kind of scene this may be you will begin to guess better when I tell you that poor Glen and his Brother Archy are both here, since Thur[s]day last; and a third friend that accompanied them from Glasgow only went off the day before yesterday. We had sat expecting them, for almost a week, not without trepidation. Now that it has actually taken place, all the worst is over. Poor Glen is many degrees better than I anticipated; indeed they say a very great change has taken place since he quitted Glasgow and Confinement; had even begun before he quitted it. So far as I can see there is little doubt but his Delusions will wholly evaporate, and perhaps leave him much wiser than ever. The foundations of his mind are evidently much sounder; his whole character more compact and pronounced, his very manner has a kind of quiet distinctness and manfulness, which it formerly wanted. Neither has he any fixed-idea; his malady seems rather a preternatural vividness of conception, whereby his actual recollections of things become hardly distinguishable from the thoughts of such recollections: a malady too which he himself seems already sensible of or dubious of; wherefore he for most part keeps his whims altogether to himself, and speaks very little, and that little of the most perfect sanity. Sometimes when he does state a whim, and you reason with him, he will give it up with appearance of shame. He expresses his past state in emblems, which (if you take them for emblems) are perfectly just: say, “it is a system”; a “ventriloquism by which all kinds of foul creatures are made to speak thro' you, and you cannot distinguish their voice from your own”; a “pèine forte et dure [severe and lasting punishment],” whereby however man learns much about “the Theory of the Planet,” and will come out all the clearer with “Sentience” or vision in place of probabilities and doubt. Poor Glen! This then was to be his practical Apprenticeship; this struggling against the Phantasms of his own mind; and manfully conquering them! He says with an air of Coolness such as I never saw in him (for his old indignancy is quite suppressed, and no man was ever quieter) “I have been quite a Martyr”; but “I wait now till my head grow clear, and I learn what is substance what is shadow: I shall then know how to act, and certainly be burdensome to no one.”—— I know not whether you can make much of all this: but the sum of it is that I have very considerable hopes of the poor fellow; and think if he will himself consent to take up his abode at Peter Austin's, it will be the best place for him. Our own house would perhaps suit still better, for he seems to have no squeamish feeling about being here; thinks it probably a “part of the system”; and indeed generally fronts me and all men with a kind of quiet manfulness and composure never visible in him before: but our little household with none but honest Grace Cavens to keep it moving could hardly stand such a thing. We shall see how it turns: for Archy Glen is to be here or hereabouts for some fortnight yet; something can be settled before then. Our “Patient” in the mean time has taken to reading (Schmelzle and Fixlein10 it was yesterday) and expresses his readiness to begin Homer with me whenever I like. Wish him good speed, then, since you are not here to Counsel. He spoke of your Letter to him (from Naples) with gratitude: that too, after dinner, when, as I observe, he is always worse. “Pity the poor white man,”11 and do all we can to help him! He may one day be rich—with the best riches.

To Badams I have never yet written; tho' I still mean to do it: nor have I heard the smallest tidings from him[.] I doubt with you there is nothing good to be heard. Holcroft still sends the Examiner; but his address too I have mislaid: he never came near Scotland that we heard of.— Mill was in Paris, I fancy, when I wrote last: he has since returned, and sent me a long Letter about things doing and to be done in Paris. A strange world that French one; in which I should like very well to look about me half a year: but at the present conjuncture it will not do; the cheapness of it, according to Mill, is very similar to that of London. I had better content myself for a while with French Books, and use them well. Adolphe D'Eichthal got me (thro' Mill) several questions, about the Diamond Necklace, answered, from an old eye witness12 of that Business: but the answers did not throw much light on it: I also expect a Map of the Environs of Paris, and a Book or two—of small price.

My thirty-eighth Birthday happened on the 4th last: I am fast verging towards Forty; either as Fool or Physician! The flight of Time is a world-old topic; I was much struck, and consoled, to see it handled quite in my own spirit in the Book of Job, as I read there lately. O Jack! Jack! what unutterable things one would have to utter, had one organs!— Waugh's Book on the Prophecies is absolutely not so bad. There is a kind of sincerity in it; graspings after a heart of Truth to hold by. Poor Waugh! I have heard nothing of him since last time; except that the meal &c had been duly delivered.— We have had some five or six Letters from the Advocate; mostly unanswered yet.13 He asks me why I am not as cheerful a man as you? babbles greatly about one thing and the other. They gave him a Dinner in Edinburgh;14 listened patiently to his account of himself; pardoned him for sake of Langsyne. We hear now (not from himself) that some Lord Cringletie15 or other is about resigning, and that Jeffrey is to be made a Judge. It will be a happy change. Macaulay goes to India with £10,000 a year: Jeffrey calls him the greatest (if I remember rightly) man in England not excepting even the Chancellor; how we are to get on without him &c &c[.] Depend upon it we shall get on, better or worse.16— Buller is also in Town. The Austins too; A. has got some Govt appointment as Law Commissioner (£500 a year); Mrs A. has a Booklet (from the German) on its way hither. These are all my news.

And now, my dear Brother, leaving all these extraneous things and persons, let me commend us all again to you the Absent, and therefore best Loved. We shall not see you at our Newyear's day; but I here promise to think of you quite specially; and even drink your health (from the heart) tho' it were only in water that day. Let us, as I said, be patient and peaceable: there are other newyears coming, when we shall not be so far apart. Meanwhile be strong! Remember always what you said of the Rush-bush here at Puttock on the way side: “It stands there because the whole world could not prevent its standing.” One of the best thoughts I ever heard you utter; a really true, and pregnant thought. So too with ourselves. Let us resist the Devil, the World, and the Flesh: alas, it is ill to do; yet one should forever endeavour. Cheer up your lone heart in the midst of those Roman ruins: there is a Time still young and fruitful, which belongs to us. Get impatient with nobody: how easy is it to bid you do this! Yet really it is right and true: the thing we have to do were to abolish and abandon the worthless; if we cannot do this (all at once), let us at least not make it worse—by adding our own badness to it.— God be with you, my dear John!—

Brother Tom

Grahame is still hanging together at Burnswark: I believe, a Letter from you would be most cheerfully paid for, and give great pleasure. I wrote to Ben Nelson, and asked for his Son; but have yet had no answer. Ben seems to be lazy in writing[.]

I fear there are many things I have forgotten, and that you will have much to ask. Put your darkness into questions, and I will do my best to answer.— It is the wretchedest dripping day with snow lying since last night: I have had no walk, but must now leave you. Felicissima Notte!—

[JWC's postscript:]

My dear Brother I am told there is great space left for me to add any thing I may have to say— Judge with your own eyes where. If I had known a letter was to go this week I should have been first in field[,] fo[r] my good intentions “always unfortunate[”]17 were frustrate[d] last time. but Carlyle always “chooses a day” for writing when I am particularly engaged with Household good and individual evil[.] God bless you however— someday I shall certainly repay your long kind letter as it deserves

I continue to take you[r] pills—the presc[r]iptio[n] is in four pieces— I am better than last winter but association of ideas is still hard on me

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