October 1833-December 1834

The Collected Letters, Volume 7


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 27 March 1834; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18340327-TC-JAC-01; CL 7:118-126.


Craigenputtoch, 27th March, 1834—

My Dear Brother,

There is no bigger sheet in the house, except monstrosities of scrolling-sheets; and to procure another, as you know, will detain us some too [sic] weeks. My hand shall be cabin'd, crib'd, confin'd1 to the very uttermost: you shall have my news, and my blessing with them, still. We had a kind of hope of hearing from you yesterday, which was Wednesday; but it yielded nothing; so, as we are for Thornhill tomorrow, I will not wait another week.2 My last despatch to you was dated some four, or more likely five weeks ago; either of which is far enough back. Your last to me bears “January 21st,” and one since to my Mother “Feby 13th”: this is our lastest [sic] account from you. To look at these two Letters, which are now on the table here, excites still stronger hopes for next Wednesday; you are in general so punctual; neither did I know, till this moment by actual inspection, that you were so far in arrear: Time passes here in so noiseless unproductive a way, one has no natural feeling of its course; each day being the express image of last (and most of them, like Macadam's Dutch crockery-image, “clean toom [altogether empty]”), you are apt to lump large masses of them together, and wonder how they went.— For me, if you received my last Letter, there will be nothing of great moment to add to it: wherefore, as I have been at Scotsbrig since, I will begin with that. It was yesterday gone three weeks that I yoked my clatch again, after waiting out all the winter deluges, and looked abroad again into the living world, not without a kind of gladness and almost surprise to find that there still was a living world. At Dumfries whole bags of Letters lay waiting me: about our London Expedition from Mrs Austin and Mill, about the finer sensibilities of the heart from Mrs Montague; an inarticulate shriek from poor Mrs Badams, as late announcement of her loss, long rambling speculations on the same sad subject from Tom Holcroft, whereby nothing I think was learned except that the mortal body of our poor Friend3 lay in Paddington Churchyard, and that while alive he had been wont to stop over from Bartlett's Buildings and drink in Fearon's shop some large measure of brandy every day: alas, the whole of it is a Tragedy all too heart-oppressing; such as has often been, such as we also were appointed to witness! Hastily glancing over these Documents and hastily despatching them home, I dined on “three light-boiled eggs with salt” (a favourite travelling dinner of mine) at Jean's, whom I found well and doing well; and again taking the road was at Alick's about sunset. He was mending a stone-dyke near yon old ruinous mill of his, and the “Brig of Danger”;4 he joyfully answered my hail, led me over, and up the brae, to a clean house[,] two clean rosy children, and a blazing coal-fire. I learned from him the particulars of an occurrence I had been apprised of quite unexpectedly at Dumfries by a funeral-letter: the death of our poor old Aunt Fanny.5 She had been buried the day before. The end of her Life was like the course of it; resolute, indomitable: and as soft almost as the falling asleep of a tired labourer, his day's-work being done. She was out (among the cows, overseeing something done to them), tho' weak as weak could be, the very day before: that night (or rather next morning) about 2 o'clock, she bade Will, who was watching with her, go to bed and leave her, for he was nothing but disturbing her; Will obeyed, but rose again about 4, and went to look: his Mother had been up, had lighted her pipe, had smoked it, and laid it with the candle first carefully extinguished on the back-bar of the bed; and fallen asleep—to awake no more! She was the last of a race: one generation we have seen pass away; we ourselves are the next, also rapidly passing. There had been some absurd procedure on the part of Will, and dangers of squabbling between him and the rest, which Alick and Jamie had been helpful in suppressing. If I had no other topic I might tell you of them; but shall hardly find room here. Nell, whom I saw, astonished me much: the strangest semi-artificial, semi-sybilline oldish woman, clanging and twanging in loud metallic recitative, above the “loight from above,” about being “sore harassTed” and so forth, in a dialect I with all my philology could not quite at once make out. She is back again to Carluke; and will not sink while there is swimming, I imagine.— Old Mrs Clow6 is also gone: she died at last without much additional sickness; apparently of the old disease. Neither, alas, is my obituary yet complete: I read last night in the Newspaper the Mrs Nivison (of Middlebie), whom I saw at Jean's wedding seemingly the healthiest woman there, was suddenly no more. The minister of Lochmaben7 too, whom you have heard of, died the other morning at breakfast; and thus abruptly finished his fat career. These are things which it were meritorious not indeed to see, yet to see and see over: we have a Life that is ever wonderful; fearful yet also sublime.— But to collect my scattered threads and go on knitting: You are to fancy that Alick has rolled me down, like Jehu,8 with lamps burning, to the astonishment of the country, and the joyful surprise of Scotsbrig, part of which was even to bed. Our Mother came rushing out of Mary's: one thinks of all these things with joy yet with sadness. Of all things there are only so many times; one time is the last.

Various plans were agitated for our Mother's Whitsunday settlement, with much vague speculation, out of which it was not easy to frame any practical result. All things that could be thought of offered objections: it was only a choice of the bad best. Our Mother herself was quiet, yet sad as was natural, and recoiled from the prospect of change, which nevertheless by the adventurousness of the younger ones had become inevitable. The scheme of Alick's Cottages, as suggested in the margin of your Letter, had already struck Alick, and seemed to most of us one of the likeliest: but then the state of the Cottages themselves, which was very bad, Alick's loose hold of the farm, and its general muddiness, blackness and discomfort threw a repulsive air over the whole. The Austins were privately not much inclined to enterprise, should any other offer; my Mother “had never lived in any such hullan [heap],” and seemed to think it questionable. Meanwhile, in the total hopelessness of all farming industry in Annandale a new project had been started for Austin: that of becoming a Carter or Carrier at Annan. Robert Brown was said to advise it rather decidedly. We went all down to Annan, Alick Jamie and I in the Gig, Austin riding on flank, to go and look at the matter with our own eyes. Brown, tho' in a languid sickly condition himself, seemed sanguine about such a project: three Carters or Carriers had died of a late epidemic in the Burgh (among these, honest John Scott, whom you remember; and Will Johnston, or Peter's son, whom I once fought with); wages were good, there seemed decidedly room for such an enterprise: a house too with fit accommodation, seemed not difficult to attain. Ben Nelson, whom I consulted, was inclined to hope, but not decided: he would go and consult with Brown, and then meet me next day at Scotsbrig; which accordingly he did, with a vote distinctly in favour of the scheme. New talking at great length: however, Jamie and I went over finally to the Austins, to ask in plain words and ascertain, whether they, for their own separate part, were still bent on trying for a Farm next year, or would be content to go on at the Carrier business if they found it maintain them. Contrary to Jamie's prophecy, they answered clearly that there seemed no chance of farming now or henceforth, that if they could live in the other way they should be well content. Resolved, therefore, that they should be off to Annan without delay. As for my Mother, so much being now settled, it was judged better, since both Jamie and she so objected to a change, that she for this year should continue under the Scotsbrig roof, occupying the two upstairs rooms as her own house, with Jenny, who however meant to pass most of the summer in Dumfries, improving herself in sewing and the like. If the Austins prospered at Annan, our Mother was then to remove thither; a scheme recommended both by the decided wish she had to be near Mary, by the conveniences, and opportunities for reading, for sermons, for acceptable company, which the place holds out; but still more conclusively by this consideration, That Alick too has it in view to remove thither, after another crop at Catlinns, and try to get on in the way of meal-dealing and grain-dealing and the like, for which now that the Steamboat has brought Liverpool so near there is a very tolerable field. I rather welcomed this scheme of Alick's; for I pity him at Catlinns, plunging amid glar [mud], and doing nothing, or enjoying nothing, except providing for the day that passes. Were he too settled at Annan, I really think I could fancy our dear Mother better there than anywhere, and think of her there with more satisfaction. This then was the last state of matters. Austin, I hear, did, as he talked of doing, go down to Annan the week after I saw him to look after a house (in which, as in all things, Ben Nelson kindly undertook to aid him); but whether he has got one (there was one of Will Brown's, at the Battery, talked of), or what length the matter has gone, I know not, and Jean too had no word when she wrote yesterday. As for my Mother at Scotsbrig, tho' I calculate that she will find a change which neither she nor still less the too vehement Jamie anticipate, yet we imagine she may get along tolerably for one year: we have got her a nice little Pony (of Mrs Welsh's), and if that do not answer she is to get Harry; so that besides her own home, she will have Catlinns, Annan and Dumfries all within reach of her, and taking them in rotation, she need not feel much tedium. She will mount her wheel too, and have Books. It is one very g[reat] mercy that her health is fully better than usual rather than worse: her feelings also towards her prospecti[ve] daughter-in-law are wholly of a most proper sort. Poor Mother! I was very sad to see all the old scaffolding of her life falling asunder about her; and I doubt not, all of us very heartily vowed that nothing we could do should be wanting to repair what she loses. One has now and then a little grudge at James and the others, but that too is unfair, and neither Alick nor I will show it; for, as we said, it was some time or other to be, and why not now, when our Mother is stronger and not weaker to bear it?— I must not end this long story without saying how glad she expressed herself to have been and to be at your Letter and the good tidings it brought: I had to “run it over” aloud another time, tho' it had been repeatedly spelled out before. Our departure for London naturally grieved her much, but she bears up as well as possible; admits willingly that we are doing no good here, and must go. I drove her up to Catlinns that morning I returned; and left her there; Alick escorting me with his “black mare” thro' Lochmaben, when again the “must” interfered, and we went thoughtfully each his way.

This then is the Scotsbrig business, which mainly concerned us at present. With our Craigenputtoch doings I must be much briefer. The house has been twice advertised to let; but no tenant offers, or indeed is rightly expected: Mrs Austin writes in the most cheerful way about undertaking to get us a house; nay last week there came a Letter that she had already got one (in Kensington, rent £32, and seemingly quite suitable for us); only that we “must decide before the 19th,” and, alas, the 19th was within three hours or so of terminating when the Letter arrived! I walked over to Minnyhive, next day, with an Answer: “Take it by all means”; but I fancy it would be too late, and so we are still at sea in that respect. I got my walk however, as Glen did who went silently with me; over the wild grim moor, which as it lay there in its stony deadness and the bright white village afar off (a stone moor and a poor petrified man) made, I find a very deep impression on me. I have farther despatched two Boxes of old useless Books to be sold in Dumfries; and put questions, but received no answers, about the expence of the various modes of carriage to London; and so lie waiting, till in a few weeks now, the time of departure come. We have farther determined now not to “burn our ships,” in the way of sale by auction which would involve us in much trouble with uncertain issue, but to use them in the way at worst “of firewood,” laid up here, or sold as chance opportunities may occur. The disposal of the House and etceteras lies still dubious; but perhaps something may be made of it. Let me mention too that we heard last night, for the second time, from Bessy Barnet:9 she is with the old Badamses at Warwick; will go and serve us anywhere under the heavenly sun; “wages are the last of her thoughts,” kindness and to be with those she likes are the whole matter. Poor Bessy! So you see we are provided with a servant, on whose fidelity at least we can rely. As to London generally my thoughts are of the dimmest, earnest, huge character. To go thither seems inevitable, palpably necessary; yet contrasted with these six years of rockbound seclusion seems almost like a rising from the grave. Like an issuing from the Bastille at least: and then the question is, whether one shall not, like that old man, request with tears to be taken back!10 On the whole, I hope; and my little Dame (whom I often call 'Spairkin, Despairkin) declares naively that “she is not a coward for all that she is desperate.” Forward then and try! As to “fame” and all that, I can honestly say I regard it not: my wish and hope is that I may live not dishonestly, nor in vain; and it is my confidence too. Soon, soon does a high Eternity swallow up all the littleness of Time, were it joyful, were it painful. Curiously enough, the Rhetoric Chair at Edinr, just about this time, has fallen vacant: but I make no whisper of pretention to it; Jeffrey as good as assured me he could do nothing for me, beforehand, and we hear and shall likely hear nothing farther from him. They will give it to T. Campbell, or let it lie vacant: at bottom, I believe this better for me.11 And so I go on reading and studying here, and for exercise digging up and trimming the garden flower-borders, tho' I shall not see them blow. Glen whom in spite of all contradictory appearances I consider as improving looks at Homer nightly with me; we are nearly thro' the 4th Book, and my delight is still great. Glen is very perfunctory in his scholarship, vague and inaccurate here as in all things; knows much Greek, but knows it very ill. I have got Heyne's Homer now and Voss's Translation, &c,12 and really make something of the business, or try to do it. Voss's is the best Translation I ever in my life looked into: it is poetical even, yet closer than Clarke's school one.13 I have also a heap of Annual Registers (very interesting) from Liverpool, and abundance of Books from Barjarg.— O this dirty little sheet! It has quite lamed my fingers, writing so small; and lamed my thought too: besides I have been interrupted by a woodman coming to clear and prune the woods. Next time better! God bless you, dear Brother! Farewell and love me, and come safe back to me!

T. Carlyle

Jane sends her sisterly love.—I saw Terauncht-Deeraingit14 (Robie Johnston), at Annan, looking very dried: he, like all, asked for you. I will send the Teufelk wo irgend moglich [whenever possible]. It goes on; and Fraser complains still that the world complains. The last two Papers I call goodish. Tandem sit finis [at last I am to finish]!— Continue to tell us more and more about your Roman household and ways: we find it very right and pleasant. Adieu for the last time tonight!

At Annan I saw various things, which there are no room for. Little Edd Nelson's appointment was to the Hospital Ship in the Thames, without salary; and his father expected him home again in a week. Waugh has quitted Marion and is said to be practicing with “ragged clothes.” Him I did not see.

Davie Fergusson15 sent me up his vol. of Poems some weeks ago with the most forlorn of little notes: I promised to go and see him, and went: he is hardened into a little snubnosed tasket16 of a body, with clean patched clothes, and eyes that betoken violence, and drink. Aus dem nichts oder wenig [From him (will come) nothing or little].

Archy Glen is to be here this day week. Willm can remain with Peter, we think[.]

We had a Letter last night from Miss Donaldson at Haddington; and learn with real sorrow that James Johnston's Wife and eldest child are thought to be in a declining dangerous way. It was quite new to us, and very sad news.

Andrew Anderson, M'Diarmid told me, was trying to practice there, and “to get a rich wife,” but did not yet seem to fall in with either of these commodities. There is a great stir (some stir at least) in the world medical at present, as you see in the newspapers;17 not less in the world Ecclesiastic or rather Anti-Ecclesiastic[.]18

The Dante hangs here in my frame: one of the finest pictures.

Sorrow on the little sheet! It will hold no more.—Adieu!

Ahndungen einer Schwangeren Zeit. “O AHNdungen einer besseren Zeit!”— Wahr? [Premonitions of a more pregnant time. “Oh, premonitions of a better time!” True?]

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