October 1833-December 1834

The Collected Letters, Volume 7


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 25 February 1834; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18340225-TC-JAC-01; CL 7:102-109.


Craigenputtoch, 25th Feby, 1834—

My Dear Brother,

Your Letter,1 which as I compute must have been finished off on the very day my last was written on, got hither on the 7th of Feby; a space not much above a fortnight. I mention this to give you a scale for computing by, which will be accurate if you know your own date accurately: I can report it only by memory, the Letter itself being at Scotsbrig. This writing on the same day2 (which has so often happened to us), does it not indicate the great punctuality of both; almost, as an occult Philosopher might say, a kind of secret sympathy? Very pleasant, to think that at the very hour when I am specially thinking of you at Craigenputtoch, you at Rome are doing me the same brotherly service! But indeed the same thing happens, in a degree, every day; for I may say there are few days in which I do not specially enough remember you, and think of you. My strangely bewildered destiny has perhaps no foreign element in it that is as full of hope as you are. Let us be thankful for all blessings!

Since I wrote last nothing outward has happened here, of the smallest moment; tho', as you shall hear, something inward has, which will become outward. Holcroft has never answered my Letter; so we have heard nothing more about poor Badams and his end, or Bessy Barnet and those he has left. On Saturday I wrote again to Holcroft; enclosing also a note for Bessy,3 which, if he could find no better address, he was to forward with the address it had: “Lately with Mr Badams, Warwick.” We had a new Letter from Jeffrey; and no other that I think of worth specifying. Jeffrey struggles to eat his asperity about the Astronomy Professorship; regrets, has hope, has sympathy, in any case “heaves the wish”;4 and on the whole makes it plain to me that in him of all men there is not the faintest shadow of help for me. I have not answered his Letter; and fancy that here our Correspondence may profitably close for indefinite periods. My last Letter was of the smoothest sort, and finished everything off as handsomely as was needful.

But now comes the inward change, just on the point of expressing itself as an outward one. We learned incidentally last week that Grace our Servant, tho' “without fault to us,” and whom we with all her inertness were nothing but purposing to keep, had resolved on “going home next summer.” The cup that had long been filling ran over with that smallest of drops. After meditating on it for a few minutes, we said to one another: “Why not bolt, out of all these rocky despicabilities, of Kerrags [Hags], and lying draggle-tails of byre-women, and peat-moss, and isolation, and exasperation, and confusion, and go at once to London?” Gedacht, gethan [Contemplated—done]! Two days after, we had a Letter on the road to Mrs Austin to look out among the “Houses to Let” for us, and an advertisement for M'Diarmid to try for the letting of our own.5 Since then, you may fancy, our heads and hearts have been full enough of this great enterprise; the greatest (small as it is) that I ever knowingly engaged in. We bring anxiously together all the experience we have gathered or got reported; look back and look forward; make the bravest resolutions; and in fine seem to see a trembling hope that we may master the enterprise (of an honest life in London); at all events a certainty that we ought to try it. Yes, we must try it! Life here is but a kind of Life-in-Death, or rather one might say a Not Being Born; one sits as in the Belly of some Trojan Horse; weather-screened, but pining, inactive, neck and heels crushed together. Let us burst it, in the name of God! Let us take such an existence as He will give us; working, where work is to be found, while it is called today. A strange shiver runs thro' every nerve of me when I think of taking that plunge; yet also a kind of sacred faith, sweet after the dreary vacuity of soul I have thro' long seasons lived in, as under an eclipsing shadow. I purpose to be prudent, watchful of my words; to look well about me, and with all the faculty I have pick my steps in that new arena. Thousands of sillier fellows than I flourish in it: the whole promotion I strive for is simplest food and shelter in exchange for the honestest work I can do.— So you see, Jack, we hope you will find a home three hundred miles nearer you, next time! What effect this farther may have on your own final settlement we will not count at present, however much we may castle-build about it: many things will be clearer before the date of your return, which I more and more pray God may be safe and prosperous.— But to give you a little particularity of insight. We purpose, for many reasons, to make this a whole measure, not a half one: thus the first thing will be to give up our Establishment here, to sell off all the furniture but what will equip a very modest house in the Suburbs of London; to let the House if we can, if we cannot to let it stand there and not waste more money. This Jane calls a “burning of our Ships”; which suits better with our present aim than anything else would. For indeed, I feel, this is as if the last chance I shall ever have to redeem my existence from Pain and Imprisonment, and make something of the faculty I have, before it be forever hid from my eyes. No looking back, then! Forward! Advance or perish!— We imagine some suburban house may be got for £40: Leigh Hunt talked much about a quite delightful one he had (for “ten children” too) at Chelsea, all wainscotted &c for 30 guineas. With £200 we fancy the rigour of economy may enable us to meet the year. I must work, and seek work; before sinking utterly I will make an “a'fu' struggle.”6 Thus it is, we will either, according to the Proverb, “make a spoon or spoil a horn,”7—in truth, nigh spoiled already. Andar con Dios [Go with God]! this is the thing I say and feel; and on the whole address myself to the enterprise in a mood perhaps rather to be approved of.— Now dear Jack what say you of all this? I know your good heart is fluttering with kindliest apprehension for us, yet also with approval, with a religious thankfulness even. Write all that you think. Before my next Letter there will probably be tidings from Mrs Austin (who long ago invited us to set her on this task); more light also about the disposal of matters here: you shall get it all, as it comes to us. Hitherto you observe nothing irrevocable is done; nor indeed will be, unless our House were let here of which there is next to no hope: however, we do not intend to take advantage of that posture of affairs; but are both determined enough, and Jane, I think, as much as myself. Our house-advertisement has perhaps appeared at Dumfries today; at all events, will appear this day week. The next will be a roup [auction sale of household goods]-advertisement!

Our dear Mother has not yet heard of this; for tho' I wrote to Alick a week ago it was not then thought of. I will send her word of it tomorrow; and also that I shall see her in a day or two. It will be a heavy stroke, yet not quite unanticipated, and she will bear it. My Brothers and she are the only ties I have to Scotland. I will tell her that tho' at a greater distance, we are not to be disunited: regular letters, frequent visits: I will say who knows but you and I may yet bring her up to London to pass her old days waited on by both of us! Go whither she may, she will have her Bible with her and her Faith in God. She is the truest Christian Believer I have ever met with; nay, I might almost say, the only true one.— I heard from her last week; by a short Letter from Mary (no, it was the week before last): she professed to be better than usual; had not taken any pills for three weeks; spoke in her old cheerful hopeful style[.] There is still a kind of tagrag tail of a negociation going on about that Howcleugh farm; but I do not think Austin will get it: so the whole destination thro' even the Summer that is coming remains doubtful. I meant to go down at any rate, and try whether I could do nothing towards forwarding it; and now, with this new call, I think I shall set off without delay: probably (if the Wednesday Letters say nothing to the contrary) on Saturday first. I wrote to Alick about it, this day week (as was said); he was at Dumfries, at the “Candlemas Fair” that was there, and reported all well. Our Boy Rob Austin calls weekly at Jean's, and acts under her superintendance. He is engaged (like all else here) till whitsunday [sic].

Glen goes on in a kind of indifferent way, one cannot well say towards what issue. If I were obliged to declare whether I thought him improving or not it would puzzle me. In general I think him very slowly mending; but he shifts in the suddenest fashion, and every new day has something new in the appearance he makes. Twice, I think, just after I had been declaring that he was evidently getting better, he came upon us next night with a fresh utterance of what we have all, he too, agreed to call jinner-janner; about all manner of fooleries, in which generally military conquest acts a great part. When sanest he speaks little; if he begin to speak much great part of it is sure to be absurd. His insanity seems like a subtle poison flowing along his nerves; all on a sudden he will emit some utterance about his deeds of valour “before 1815,” when “he was not incubated”;8 his features contract in uneasy fluctuation, his eye gets restless energetic, and so it lasts for a minute or two; then he ends it with a smile, gets himself again, and seems rather ashamed of the fit. But never at any time does he show the smallest ferocity, or even violence; indeed his whole temper is merciful, affectionate; after one of his splutters, I answer him “Ως εφατ̓ jinner-janner ομενος,”9 and he quits it all with his submissive laugh. His dietetics, of which he will take no charge himself, still act the most important part. We give him one of Jane's pills every night, or sometimes omit a night, when we judge (by his intellect alone) that he has had too much. He speaks quite favourably of his accommodation at Peter's; walks about (yet hardly enough, if the weather threaten); smokes a pipe; reads in some old Greek book, or rather turns over the leaves; prepares a couple of Propositions (and often only with difficulty can manage one of them); is here at seven o'clock, and after finishing lessons gets a tune (De tanti palpiti10 is his constant favourite); and then returns to bed at half past nine. He begins of late to complain occasionally of his bodily health (tho' evidently improving in that respect), which I reckon perhaps a favourable symptom. As before, we must leave him in the hands of Time.— He and I have gone on very regularly with our Homer, tho' more I think to my profit than to his. I begin it nightly at 5 o'clock, otherwise a quite worthless hour for me, and have once or twice had 100 lines ready; but the most general number is about 50. We are nearly thro' the second Book. Nothing I have read for long years so interests and nourishes me: I am quite surprised at the interest I take in it. All the Antiquity I have ever known becomes alive in my head: there is a whole Gallery of Apelleses and Phidiases that I not only look upon but make. Never before had I any so distinct glimpse of antique Art: those Pompeii Engravings of yours, and all of the sort I have seen, first get their significance. By the by, can you tell me what the subject of that Picture is (which you brought), where a man seems speaking among other men and women, some of the latter weeping? Do you remember it by that description? The speaking man (I think) holds a roll as of writing; is seated, and naked down the back.11— Also have they any other engravings of ancient Pictures, cheap, about Rome? There is one of Medea killing her children, which is the sorriest copy (that English Pompeii, copied from a French work), produced the deepest impression on me. Still und einfach-gross [Still and simply great]!— I have plenty of other Books from Barjarg (of small note, this journey), and so keep always “doing a little.” The next leaf is yours.

Indeed, Jack, we are very happy that you get on so smoothly; and doubt not you will turn these two otherwise so silent years to good account. You can always have Books, you see; even in Rome. Few young Physicians get any such opportunity of furnishing themselves in that way. I feel also a kind of satisfaction at having you in Switzerland thro' the Summer; almost as if you were half home again. The Switzers are honest Deutschen [Germans], among whom you will feel more like a Countryman. And then their Country, tho' few men set less value on views, yet that is a thing I too would give somewhat to see. If you go to Geneva you will again find English enough: there is on[e] Sir Egerton Brydges there, whom I fancy you might rather like to meet with. We have been reading in his Censura Literaria lately, and find him a good man, with more talent than one might conjecture at first, and an appearance of a true affectionate heart.12 Lady Clare I suppose must know about [him]: he was applicant for a Peerage many years ago; I think, the Barony of Chandos.— Walter Savage Landor, I think you could not hear of at Florence, nor perhaps was it great matter.13

I will gladly forward you Teufelsdrockh if it be ready and a conveyance possible: in London there will be a better chance. I corrected the fourth Paper of it lately; and found some pages of it gelungen [well done]; a great comfort to me. Thy own faculty! God has given it, the Devil cannot take it away.— One day perhaps I shall actually be able to write a Book.— Nothing in the least determined yet about the Necklace. Two Quartos from A. d'Eichthal have been received and read: I shall have to alter one or two things; wonderfully little. The most probable issue of the business is that we shall make it a Magazine Article for the sake of £45, which will prove wonderfully useful to us in those coming days. It is not good enough for a Book; at least for losing money by. However, I wrote one Hayward (who had volunteered in the matter) that he might speak of it to Booksellers and let me know. Mill's Radical Review, to judge by his silence, rests on its oars.— This then, dear Brother, is all I will say at present. I have striven to write close; yet have made but a poor hand of it. You will figure the kind of unquiet, excited, not unhappy mood I am in: our Letters for some time will be more interesting than ever. All things among your friends here are in a transition state; yet all in some measure moving round the everlasting Pole! In our love of you there is also no change, nor will be— But here at the right moment is Dinner!— Farewell, my dear Brother! Yours ever truly

T. Carlyle

[JWC's postscript:]

My dear Brother—Here is a new prospect opened up to us with a vengeance! Am I frightened? not a bit. I almost wish that I felt more anxiety about our Future; for this composure is not courage but diseased indifference. There is a sort of incrustation about the inward me, which renders it alike insensible to fear and to hope. I suppose I am in what Glen calls “the Chrysalis state” or “the state of Incubation.” Let us trust that like all other states which have a beginning it will also have an end; and that the poor Psyche shall at last get freed! In the mean time I do what I see to be my duty as well as I can, and wish that I could do it better. It seems as if the Problem of living well would be immensely simplified for me if I had health. It does require such an effort to keep myself from growing quite wicked while that weary weaver's shuttle is plying between my temples; Unhappy Melina14 &c. I have reason to be thankful that I have had less sickness this winter than in the two preceding ones which I attribute partly to the change in my pills— Your receipt is worn to tatters but Glen copied it for me. The notebook you gave me is half filled; with such multifarious matter; no Mortal gets a glimpse of it. My poor little goose egg if not entirely rotten is cooling most alarmingly long [?] in these tumultuous times. I wish Carlyle would let me begin a letter instead of ending it he leaves me nothing but dregs to impart— Would you recommend me to sup on porridge and beer? Carlyle takes it. We have got a dear little Canary bird which we call “Chiko” which sings all day long “like—like anything”

Love me dear John as well as ever you can

[TC's postscript:]

The Dante's Portrait you gave us is to have a fine frame; it was made in Edinr for me; but I look shockingly ill in it, and it fits Dante to a hairsbreadth. There has also a frame been discovered for the Munich Goethe:15 a fine gilt one in which at present sticks—Sandy Donaldson!

This moment Jane came in to me with what she calls a “good omen”: the head of a breast-pin which I lost more than four years ago, which M'Adam's Boy found, all in a bruised state, today! It is curious enough.— Glen has been here, rather wild, yet not absolutely fatuous; wiser than W. Corson,16 who was here also. Good night, then, dear Brother! Yours auf ewig [eternally].

Do not think too much about yourself, or about whether you are right or wrong. You are too good?

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