TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 27 June 1834; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18340627-TC-AC-01; CL 7:220-227.
TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE
5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London, 27th June, 1834—
My Dear Alick,
The day has now arrived when I am to send you tidings about myself; our good Mother and you, as I guess, will be in waiting; and so as far as my part can go you shall not be disappointed. If Buller be not at hand with his frank, indeed, we shall go a little awry; but all precautions being taken, let us hope the best. I had Jean's Dumfries Letter yesterday, much to universal satisfaction; and can send back counter-news with better heart.1
You have heard of our progress and fortunes from the time when you embarked the Goods and goodwife at Annan; how after all risks and hardships they both arrived comparatively safe; how by searching we discovered a House exceedingly to our mind, and were with fair prospects struggling thro' the process of installation. If I add now that this same tumultuous process is at length all but terminated, and we in rather good health and spirits, and all doing well, are beginning more and more to feel ourselves at home in our new hadding [holding, house], it is again good tidings, for which I surely know you will all be thankful. We have nothing to complain of, much to be piously grateful for; and thus with a kind of serious cheerfulness, far different from vague dreams of Hope or dark shadowings of dispiritment, may gird ourselves up for a new career. As it was entered into without dishonest purposes, the issue, unless we change for the worse, is not to be dreaded, prove as it may. It is to be met and welcomed, be it, as regards the present brief Time, for joy or for sorrow. One of the greatest moments of my life, I think, was that when I waved my hat to you and Jamie from on board the Steamboat: my two Brothers, the last of my kindred I had to leave, stood there; and I stood here, already fast flying from them! Something like a tear trembled in my eyes, but did not fall from them, for I would not desecrate so solemn an hour by childish weakness. I turned my thoughts Heavenward; for it is in Heaven only that I find any basis for our poor Pilgrimage on this Earth. And so I could thank you all for your unwearied long-suffering love of me; could feel well that tho' parted in place we could never be parted in affection; and go forth to meet my destiny in no improper mood. That dewy May morning when you drove me down to Annan; the night before, when your figure rose on me in helpful waiting, at Shillahill Bridge: these are scenes that certainly will never quit my memory, but they do not dwell sad there; rather pure and beautiful and almost holy. Courage, my brave Brothers all! Let us be found faithful, and we shall not fail. Surely, as the blue dome of Heaven encircles us all, so does the Providence of the Lord of Heaven. “He will withhold no good thing from those that love Him.”2 This, as it was the ancient Psalmist's Faith, let it likewise be ours: it is the Alpha and Omega, I reckon, of all Possessions that can belong to man.
Neither my Mother nor you will interpret these reflexions of mine as if they betokened gloom of temper; but indeed rather the reverse. I hope we have left great quantities of gloom safe behind us at Puttoch; and indeed hitherto have given little harbour to such a guest here. It is strange often to myself with what a kind of not only fearlessness, but meek contempt and even indifference I can walk thro' the grinding press of these restless millions; listening, as “Teufelsdröckh” says, “to its loudest threatenings with a still smile.”3 I mean to work among the poor people according to my strength; and I know well that what strength God has given me no man nor no Devil can take away. As to riches, fame, success, and so forth, I ask no questions. Were the work laid out for us but the kneading of a clay brick, let us in God's name do it faithfully, and look for our reward elsewhere; understanding from of old that here (if indeed we deserve any reward) it does not await us. So, on the whole, to end moralizing, let us sing:
Or, what is far before singing, let us do it, and go on doing it.
The House here continues to satisfy us amazingly: it is spacious, well-aired, quiet, clean, every way sufficient. The two under-rooms (which by folding-doors are one) have got the old Puttoch drawing-room Carpet on them, with certain stripes of the dyed Blankets most judiciously fitted in to help; and now, with their two windows looking out into the quiet street where little but green leaves and branches is visible, and their one window into the garden, and clean flagged Court,—form, with their strong old-fashioned Scotch furniture, really one of the agreeablest apartments I ever sat in: unfashionable in the highest degree, but in the highest degree comfortable and serviceable. The green drawing-room Curtains are there; a pair of green venetian blinds are to be there very soon, for the two front windows. The Piano, just about getting tuned, is in the front-room, with the round drawing-room table, and chairs and etceteras enough: the little Clock is on his bracket in the back-room, with the dining-room oval table; it is here where we sit in dewy morning sunshine, and breakfast—on hot coffee, and the best of bread and butter. I myself am up stairs (as now) in the front-room, at my old writing-table, with one of the dining-room chairs for personal use, and some eight other ornamental London ones, of cherry-wood and cane-bottoms, bought for some 8/6 apiece, really very handsome. The cheapness of all that sort of things here surprised us agreeably: we bought very tolerable new rush-bottomed chairs all painted &c at 2/3 apiece (for kitchen and bedroom): they were to be had of good stained hardwood for 4/; not above half the price they are at in Dumfries. Hardware too, of which we have again a right stock, is decidedly cheaper. I bought a large secondhand Press for my Books, fully larger than the Scotsbrig one now our Mother's, and all of the best workmanship and beautifullest dark “Onjuras May-ugany” (Honduras Mahogany), for £4: a most sturdy, sufficient thing, with not a whit of veneering (for the very shelves, all moveable too, are of “May-ugany,” only “Spanish”); a great bargain. And now in this, and in two other strange wall-presses (with which the old House abounds), all my Books are safe stowed; and the red carpet and red curtains being fitted in, and every thing as dry as a bone,—I sit quite snug, and “far better than I deserve.”5 We also find Chelsea exceedingly convenient for shops and the like, which is a thing nowise universal in the other suburbs: we have discovered a Scotch Baker equal to the Waterbeck one; can get a “halfpenny farthing's worth” of porter at any moment of the day, actually get a morsel of cream twice aday, and can even (which is the chief miracle) realise sour-milk! Our Annandale oatmeal makes us the nicest supper; for which only an ungrateful heart would not return thanks.
Out of doors, the world wags on as yet without much interference of ours. The Magazine and Review people, seemingly in the last stage of straitenedness, have no work to offer; and for the present I have no employment bringing money in. Greatly to my glad surprise, however, I found that Books actually could be got published; to the writing of a Book therefore I will first of all again address myself, and am indeed already addressing myself in some measure. If all go well, you will see a Book with my name on it, before you see me: it shall be the best Book I can make it, and after that, the poor people can do with it and say of it and sing of it what is to themselves most comfortable. To the Magaziners I shall probably have little more to say: that, once for all, seems to me a finished trade for an honest man; so we will look about for something else. First get the Book done; that is the duty nearest thee! Mill's Review, after great despondencies, is I believe to go on after all, a certain Sir W. Molesworth (whom I see sometimes) having offered £2,000 out of his own pocket to set it agoing. With this it is very probable I shall have some rather effectual concern: but of this too I hold myself independent. “Blastit wonners”6 enough are living here: shall not I too live? On the whole, my literary position, if it have nothing whatever in it to encourage vainglory, has much to strengthen me in welldoing, and indeed is perhaps almost just such as a wise friend might wish it for me. The mob of scribblers make no account of me, go yowling, like huge packs of famishing hounds, after quite other objects; but every now and then, often from remote corners, some earnest voice reaches me, by some indirect way or other, to say: well done, Brother; hold on thy course, and let the hounds'-yowling hold its! This, I fancy, is almost precisely as it should be.
In respect of society, we have what perfectly suffices us; having indeed here the best chance. Mill comes sometimes, the Bullers were all here paying us their first visit; Mrs Austin &c: there is really enough, and might easily be to spare. Things go in the strangest course in that respect here. A man becomes (for some reason, or for no reason, discoverable by the unassisted faculties) in some way or other notable: straightway his door from dawn to dusk is beset with idlers and loungers and empty persons on foot and in carriages, who come to gather of his supposed fulness one five minutes of tolerable sensation; and so the poor man (most frequently it is a poor woman) sits, in studied attitude, all day, “doing what he can do”;—which alas is all-too little; for gradually or suddenly the carriage-and-foot empty persons start some other scent, and crowd elsewhither; and so the poor notable man, now fallen into midnight obscurity, sits, in his studied attitude, within forsaken walls,—either to rise and set about some work (which were the best), or mournfully chaunt Ichabod!7 according to his own convenience. I know people in various stages of this process at present; some nearly ruined by it; some beginning to be ruined: it is sad, but certain. A few persons, attached not to your repute but to yourself: there lies the only companionship. But on the whole as I often say, what is society, what is the help of others, in any shape? None but THYSELF can effectually help thee, can effectually hinder thee!— A man must have lived to little purpose six years in the wilderness of Puttoch, if he have not made this clear to himself. Let us hold fast by this, my dear Brother; for it applies to you also, as to me and all men.
Perhaps my chief favourite at present is Charles Buller. Really a fine sprightly friendly clear and genial young man; can tell you a most intelligible lively story about everything he mixes in; with the gracefullest ease of manners, a very look that bespeaks confidence and respect from you. If his health were good, which unfortunately it is not, I should prophecy of Buller that he would do more good in Parliament than any other man in it. Both he and the whole family like me very much: they are but some two miles and a half from me; so I sometimes, in an evening, step up to tea (only once since we came here), and find the pleasantest welcome, and generally something profitable to talk of. Mrs Strachey is gone again, without my seeing much of her.
Hunt and the Hunts, as you have heard, lives only in the next street from us. Hunt is always ready to go and walk with me, or sit and talk with me, to all lengths, if I want him: he comes in some once a week (when invited, for he is very modest), takes a cup of tea, and sits discoursing, in his brisk fanciful way, till supper-time, and then cheerfully eats a cup of porridge (to sugar only), which he praises to the skies, and vows he will make his supper of at home. He is a man of thoroughly London make, such as you could not find elsewhere, and I think about the best possible to be made of his sort. An airy, crotchetty, most copious, clever Talker, with an honest undercurrent of reason too, but unfortunately not the deepest, not the most practical; or rather it is the most unpractical ever man dealt in. His hair is grizzled, eyes black-hazel, complexion of the clearest dusky-brown; a thin glimmer of smile plays over a face of cast-iron gravity; giving him a singular, discrepant air. He never laughs, can only titter; which I think indicates his worst deficiency. In figure and complexion he somewhat reminds me of our late Uncle Sandy: there is the same honest cheerful look, tho' so differently expressed. I reckon Hunt a thoroughly sincere man; and find him entertaining by a time. His House here excels all you have ever read of; a “poetical Tinkerdom” without parallel even in Literature. In his family-room, where are a sickly large Wife and a whole shoal of well-conditioned wild children, you will find half a dozen old rickety chairs gathered from half a dozen different hucksters, and all seemingly engaged, and just pausing, in a violent hornpipe; on these, and around them, and over the dusty table and ragged carpet, lie all kinds of litter; books, papers, egg-shells, pil[lows?] and, last night when I was there, the torn heart of a half quartern loaf! His own room above stairs, into which alone I strive to enter, he keeps cleaner; it has only two chairs, a book-case and a writing-table: yet the noble Hunt receives you in his Tinkerdom with the spirit of a King; apologizes for nothing; places you in the best seat; takes a window-sill himself, if there is no other, and then folding closer his loose-flowing “muslin-cloud” of a printed night-gown (in which he always writes), commences the liveliest dialogue on Philosophy and the Prospects of Man (who is to be beyond measure “happy” yet), which again he will courteously terminate the moment you are bound to go. A most interesting, pitiable, loveable man; to be used kindly, but with discretion. After all, it is perhaps rather a comfort to be near honest friendly people, at least an honest friendly man, of that sort: we stand “sharp but mannerly”8 for his sake and for ours, and endeavour to get and do what good we can, and avoid the evil.
Allan Cunningham is hardly a mile from us in the way towards Town: I have meant to go up several evenings, but not made it out yet. There is a good deal of worth in Allan, but unfortunately no firm basis: he talks hither and thither, not without gumption; far from that; yet with too much nickering and guffawing, in the rustic Nithsdale style. His Wife unfortunately has got puffed up (in all senses), and become a woman “altered by prosperity.” Jeshurun waxed fat!9
But now, my dear Brother, I must certainly draw bridle! It is already probably the longest Letter you ever read, and all about myself. Now that the foundation is laid, and you have an idea of our foundation here, I shall be able to make myself intelligible in briefer compass.
Had it not been Jean's Letter yesterday, which satisfied me about many things, I meant to require of you with all vehemence an answer the moment this came to hand. As it is, you must not be long; take your largest sheet (even a long-shaped one), and in your smallest hand give me nothing but news, news!
There have been great things at Scotsbrig, as I now authentically see: the Honey-moon is not yet exhausted; so that all will yet be rose-colour there. My hearty love to the new Pair; my wish (with Mr Croaker) “that we may be all as well this time twelvemonth”!10 Seriously, it is better the thing is over, and now we partly see what ground we are standing on. Our dear Mother will get on tolerably among you for this year; and then with the next Whitsunday, if we be all spared, new light may rise. I need not entreat you all to be good to her; for I think that is a universal feeling in the family.
Jean mentioned Jenny and you as at Dumfries shortly before she wrote, and that her accounts out of Annandale were quite fresh, and all satisfactory. Let us be thankful!— Tell me how you get on; as minutely as I here shew you the pattern. Are you still for giving up Catlinns? It is a project not to be objected to, in my opinion; yet doubtless requiring serious thought. Perhaps you have already decided it.
Give my love to Jenny; to little Jane and my poor wee Namesake, who must be grown a big fellow by the time of my return. Bring up your family “in the nurture and admonition”11 prescribed by the Highest: I see daily mournful proofs how fatal is the want of that. Stand steadily to business, yet not over vehemently; it is “slow fire that makes sweet malt.”12 Without haste yet without rest!13— Finally, my dear Brother, take heed to your goings! You are now the Eldest in some sense, and the Head and protector of the rest of our separated Household; may God give you strength and grace to do that and all other duties aright! I had much to say, but will add no more. God's Blessing be on you and yours!
Ever your affectionate Brother, /
Jane is gone out, but charged me to send her love to you and every one. She is well, and thanks you all for help.
You will get the Newspaper, if Jamie Aitken is regular, generally on Sabbath; or at worst pretty certainly on Monday. It suffers no delay by Jamie; but profits much by the address in their hand.