October 1833-December 1834

The Collected Letters, Volume 7


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 5 August 1834; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18340805-TC-MAC-01; CL 7:256-261.


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London, 5th August, 1834—

My Dear Mother,

Tho' I have written twice to Scotland without any answer, and indeed have great reason to lament the want of epistolary diligence among my loved ones there, yet this third long Letter shall go off as cheerfully as if nothing had happened. Nay were I inclined to resent that really grievous silence of my Friends, it surely were not on you, dear Mother, that I could take amends for it: your blame it is not, I know full well; were the hand with you as ready as the heart I should have nothing to complain of. Meanwhile let me again entreat you, you yourself, to take the Pen, and do as you can: a single line to assure me that you are well would be abundantly precious sometimes. Alas, it is now full three months (and looks almost three years, so much has intervened) since I left you, and in all that time, except one Letter from Jean, no “scrape of a pen” has darkened paper for me! Let any one of my lazy Correspondents ask himself how he would feel in the like circumstance. The week before last no Newspaper, I mean no Courier, came from Dumfries; and my apprehensions about Jean, and what she has to look for, gave rise to endless painful conjectures. It was not till a fresh Paper arrived, and I called to mind how a prior once had come to hand wrapped in string (the wax having given way), that I got to any quiet solution of the mystery: I fancy now that nothing was wrong, except the sealing-wax in too cold a state, or too sparingly applied, and so the cover had utterly started, and the News remained as waste paper! Tell Jean or James of this, and how to avoid it: two wafers (if they have time to let the Paper lie an hour) will hold it as firmly as anything. And so here, hoping that all is better than I have any evidence of its being, I will conclude my murmuring. Alick's Letter I have been expecting daily for weeks. Tell him that I know his hurry in this season, and that his pens are not always in order; that I continue expecting with patience still, but that a willing patience should be handsomely used.1

This new Letter of Jack's came some few days ago, and as franks are still going, the Parliament not being over yet, I make speed to send it you. Rejoice over it, my dear Mother; it is one other of the mercies we have to be thankful for. Our good Doil is in health and fair prosperity; health of body and of mind. There is even a prospect that we shall see him sooner than we expected. I wish much he were home and fixed, for I think he has a capacity in him for doing well in his calling: meanwhile we must not get impatient, but feel glad at the progress he can already make. Without money there was no outlook for him; and most opportune it was that he attained this method of acquiring that outfit. He seems very serious always, yet not unhappy, not unoccupied; and I confess, seriousness, in a world so serious (with an Eternity all round it), seems to me an indispensable quality for a man. Cheerfulness will follow when it ought; and these good Thoughts he is continually uttering will sink down to the roots of his mind, and working blessedly there will less need special utterance. I like my good Jack well, and feel the world much more a home to me on his account.

Life here in Cheyne Row goes on in the steadiest manner; nothing to glory in; much to be glad of, and humbly thankful for. Our House is all settled and swept long ago, and proceeding at a fixed rate, our accounts all paid off; so we know in some measure what we have to look for. Living is really not very much dearer than at Puttoch; one has a less plenteous supply in some things; but on the whole what it amounts to “ultimately” is no such grand matter, “after all.”2 We calculated that we could live here everything included for £200, and seem as if we could for less. At all events there will be no more “fifteen pounds for fodder,” or other provoking items of that sort to pay; but for one's money there will be real ware [stuff] of some kind. In all other respects, as you at once judge, I am much better off, and feel habitually that here or nowhere is the place for me.3 Old Annandale itself seems lovelier than it ever did: often in the still sunset, when I am alone, it comes before me with its green knowes [small hills] and clear-rushing burns, and all the loved ones that I have there, above the ground and below it; and I feel a sweet unsullied affection for it all, and a holy faith that God is there as here, and in His merciful hand is the life and lot of every one of us for Eternity as for Time. Unspeakably wearisome, in such seasons, were the light cackle of the wordly-minded: but indeed I am not much troubled with that. Once for all one should “set his face like a flint”4 against the idolatries of men; and determine that his little section of Existence shall not be a mad empty Dream, but as far as possible a Reality.

I have not written anything whatever for Reviews or Magazines since we came hither; and am not likely to write. In fact, it is rather my feeling that I should abandon that whole despicable business, and seek diligently out for some freer field to labour in. Nothing can exceed the hollow frothiness and even dishonest blackguardism of Literature generally at present: but what then? This is even the very thing thou art sent to amend! Mill's Review is to go on, about Newyearsday next; there, it is possible, I may contribute something: but there too I wait till I see farther before taking any very fixed hold. My former Book, that came out thro' Fraser, is happily at last all printed within these last days: I hope to send you, and some others of them, a full Copy of it about the beginning of next month by the Dumfries Bookseller. You will have leisure to peruse and consider it; and finding it very queer, may not find it altogether empty and false. It has met with next to no recognition that I hear of in these parts; a circumstance not to be surprised at, not to be wept over. On the other hand, my American Friend (you remember hearing of him at Puttoch) sends me a week ago the most cheering Letter of thanks for it (with two bra' [fine] American Books, as a present), and bids me go on in God's name, for in remotest nooks, in distant ends of the Earth, men are listening to me and loving me.5 This Letter which did me a real benefit, and will give you (the Philosopher's Mother) great pleasure, shall be sent to you: I would send it today, but that I fear the frank will be already too heavy. The vain clatter of fools, either for or against, is worth nothing, for indeed it is simply nothing: but the hearty response of earnest men, of one earnest man, is very precious.6 Meanwhile I employ all my days in getting ready for the new Book (on the French Revolution), and think, if I am spared with health, there is likelihood that it will be in print, with my name to it, early in spring. I will do my very best and truest; give me your prayers and hopes! This task of mine takes labour enough: I am up once or twice weekly at the British Museum for Books about it; these are almost my only occasions of visiting that fiercely tumultuous region of the City, which is at least four miles from me. I walk slowly up the shady side of the streets; and come slowly down again, about four o'clock, often smoking a cigar, and feeling more or less independent of all men.

Several of our friends (the Bullers for instance) are gone out of town. We have made, at least Jane has made, a most promising new acquaintance, of a Mrs Taylor; a young beautiful reader of mine and “dearest friend” of Mill's, who for the present seems “all that is noble” and what not. We shall see how that wears. We are to dine there on Tuesday, and meet a new set of persons, said, among other qualities, to be interested in me. The Editor of Fox's Repository (Fox himself)7 is the main man I care for. Yesterday I called on Irving; could not find him; was informed that he was again very ill, and at Bayswater which is nearer us: I mean to try there once more, ere long. Not a word is ever spoken of him, in any circle where I am. Allan Cunningham had us to dinner lately; a very dirty creature (defaced with whisky sparables, and what goes with these), one Dr Hislop,8 from Dumfries originally, was the only disagreeable, the only notable thing there. Hunt, nor the Hunts, does not trouble us more than we wish: he comes in when we send for him; talks, listens to a little music, even sings and plays a little, eats (without kitchen [condiment] of any kind, or only with a little sugar) has [his] allotted plate of Porridge, and then goes his ways. His way of thought and mine are utterly at variance; a thing which grieves him much, not me. He accounts for it by my “Presbyterian upbringing,” which I tell him always I am everlastingly grateful for. He talks forever about “happiness,” and seems to me the very miserablest man I ever sat and talked with. Poor fellow! And one can do nothing for him, except letting him eat his plate of porridge, and sit and talk there. He has a whole “scrow” [swarm] of children, all coming up, without the slightest nurture, like wild asses' colts; some of them one can see little outlook for except the Hulks or Treadmill; and yet he talks about “the world” getting wiser, and one day all-wise! “Bray a fool in a mortar”:9 poor Hunt!— Mill I see from time to time, and other serious-thinking persons; for there is a small scantling of such here: a great comfort to me.— Bessy continues a most comfortable servant, and good girl; our health is satisfactory (in spite of the hot thundery weather); perhaps both Jane and I shall get decidedly healthy! M'Diarmid10 has let the shooting of Puttoch (to some Haddington people known to Jane) for £10. This is all the good news I will tell my Mother today.

O my dear Mother, how gladly would I know as much of you! I often try to picture you out in your new Scotsbrig arrangements; but, except Jean's Letter, have not the smallest light for it. A slight hint informed me that you were at Dumfries lately, and I sent two Newspapers thither; but the last straight to Ecclefechan. Are you healthy? Are you in any measure comfortable? Complain to me if anything is wrong; even here I may do something to help it, at all events I will sympathize with it, as I well may. Have you been to sea-bathing? Now is the right season for it. Tell Mary, she should write to us: give her and her little thrifty household our kindest blessings.— Alas! I am got upon the cover, and must not here start new topics! Insist upon Alick's writing to me; in any case, write yourself. Tell me about Jean, whom the lost Newspaper frightened me for. Has Jamie done at the Ha'?11 How goes the new Scotsbrig Household on? Especially the “young folk”? It is in vain, I suppose, to ask Maister Cairlill for a Letter; otherwise I were very glad of one. Does our new Sister not write? Suppose you make her your clerk, and so sit independent of them! There is no other but yourself to be depended for punctuality.

I see the foolish babbling about the Hoddam Minister, and how it is all hushed up. Much good may it do them! Duncan, I think, behaved very well.12— I see, poor Irving of the Swaagh has been hastily called away: a harmless man, whose work seemed done, who had a right to rest.13

Coleridge, a very noted Literary man here, of whom you may have heard me speak, died about a week ago, at the age of 62. An Apothecary had supported him for many years: his wife and children shifted elsewhere as they could. He could earn no money, could set himself steadfastly to no painful task; took to opium and poetic and philosophic dreaming. A better faculty has not been often worse wasted. Yet withal he was a devout man, and did something, both by writing and speech. Among the London Literaries he has not left his like or second. Peace be with him!

Here then is the end dear Mother! My kindest brotherly love to all, including Jenny; Jane is not here at the moment to add hers, but would grieve much if it were not habitually understood. All good be with you all!—Ever your affectionate Son,

T. Carlyle.

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