January 1835-June 1836

The Collected Letters, Volume 8


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 24 October 1835; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18351024-TC-JAC-01; CL 8:236-242.


Scotsbrig, Ecclefechan, 24th October, 1835—

My Dear Brother,

On Sabbath last, when our Mother, Alick and I returned from Annan, and properly also from Dumfries, where we had been on an expedition of three days, we found Jenny in possession of your Munich Letter1 which she had got the night before. I assembled the whole household round me on the spot, and read your news; greatly to the solacement of all. That you are well, and safe in what seems likely to prove your winter quarters, is one of the cheerful sides of our position at present. Notwithstanding your strict charges I have been forced to lose one post; and even now shall not be able to write with the composure or perspicuity I could have wished: I write as it were by the wayside; in the large room up stairs, which has now a pretty constant thoroughfare thro' it towards the inner or cooking and main room; neither is my own mood, in this gusty October weather, with the whew [whistle] of moist winds scattering decidua2 all round us, one of the briskest: however, I will do what is in me; you shall know at least that we are all in health and heartily well disposed towards you: with this itself, carried to such a distance as Munich; you would feel as one that had got something considerable.

It is three weeks and two days now since I arrived here; after the usual unpleasant tumbling of a journey by land and sea: unpleasant always; to me in my actual mood highly so. However, my actual damage by it was only a slight sniftering of cold, which went off in a day or two: after two days of rolling and hurrying I found myself transferred from No. 5 Cheyne Row to Mary's little habitation in Wellington street, Annan; little, but full of hospitality; and next night Alick and I roused the Scotsbrig people from their premature dormitories, and we were welcomed by a Mother. How glad she was to see me I need not say; it will be more pertinent to assure you that she looked wonderfully well; has really a snug lodging up stairs here, and with the neat-handed Jenny beside her, gets along, so far as I can judge, really in a comfortable handsome way. The front-room is new painted by James Aitken, the walls ornamented by some Italian “pictures,” that you wot of, all in goodly frames, among which my sulky figure3 also hangs (right opposite the window between the uomo di ritorno [man of return] and the Donna di Caraffin;4 the “eminent Reformer”5 looking towards the Book-case, with the end-wall wholly to himself); not to speak of tables with covers, with japanned work boxes &c; and all kept clean as a pin. The big bed, where I sleep, with curtains new-dyed red, looking very smart, occupies the corner opposite the fire; the side parallel to (and almost in contact with) the staircase wall; old Bookcase and chest of drawers at its feet. I assure you it is all very tidy and sufficient looking. Then the other inner room, which is the room of use, this being the room of state or ceremony,—I assure you, you would be surprised to see what an improvement is wrought on it by the breaking out of the front window (a window of old, but walled up), by the papering of bed, by sorting and siding, judiciously applied. It is quite light now; free of smoke; warm and dry. The bed (papered inside) stands fronting the fire, room for breakfast or dinner to be held in front of it; the head end is towards the new window, yet quite out of its light: the space between the wall and that head-end is full of pegs and hooks with a shelf or two, where the kitchen-tackle can stand or hang; a bunkerpress [window seat chest] is under the new window; at the foot end of the bed is another large press (once “Box-bed,” but painted and altered now); a chest of drawers and clock (shone on by the old window) occupy the other wall. There is a good thick rustic carpet all over the floor; fuel-box on the right hand side of the fire, well screened by the little four-footed table, which is kitchen-table, and stands level with the sill of the new window. I am afraid, dear Jack, you have already lost your reckoning in all this; however I determined to let you have a trial at picturing out the abode kindliest to you of all others in this Earth. It is more significant to mention that “Isabella,” Jamie's wife, is a very nice-looking rational natural country woman, with whom it is quite easy to live with my Mother's rational temper: hitherto I think they have all been a mere benefit to one another, and at no time, even by chance, anything else. Jamie goes about rough and hearty as formerly, tho' the last two years have been hard on him, as a farmer; bad harvests, prices never seen so low: however he struggles on, and “can do as usual.” Isabella and he have a new Jamie, whom I hear croaking at this moment down stairs; a very giant of a fellow for his months, whom all the house often amuses itself with. In reference to Scotsbrig I must also add in a whisper that we have had a visit of Rob Haining6 since I came: Rob Haining wonderfully transformed into a kind of Manchester buck; a most shifty-looking [active-looking] fellow, without any kind of speculation, but full of practical adroitness; whom, it is guessed, Jenny at length looks on with some favour. The youth is as I describe him; very likely to make loads of money: if Jenny dare risk him, who has right to say her nay? Thus at Scotsbrig, with our Mother in tolerable health and cheerfulness of mind, and the rest healthily following their courses, all is as well as one has business to wish.— As for Mary and Alick I doubt they feel the pressure of these miserable times more than is good: Mary's husband is one of the most industrious laborious men; but finds work sometimes scarce, and payment for it generally scarcer; if he can keep himself and household (of wife and three fine children) by that occupation, it is thought to be all he is doing. Mary is a most assiduous little wife, thrifty, tidy; Jamie talks often of America,7 but she will not hear of that yet. Poor Alick I think is still worse situated; at the Howes without profitable occupation or outlook, with an injudicious helpmate, a vehement mind, and habits which are not yet bad, but which decidedly give one qualms sometimes. He has made nothing of that summer's jobbing but lost some twenty pounds; and has now given it up. He has been with me a good deal; and I have talked with him as my own languor and dispiritment would allow: his temper is tolerably clear and deliberate; he finds there is distinctly nothing to be done in the trade-way at Annan (which is greatly fallen, of late); he has some aim towards the Orchard farm, near by this; but small reasonable hope of getting it on terms that will enable him to live; elsewhere in this country nothing at all in the shape of prospect. He speaks, not much but with a certain tone of resolve about upper Canada in the spring. It is a stern resolution; but really one knows not how to dissuade him. The aspect of everything among the working men of this country fills one with trouble and sorrow. Alick went from Scotsbrig this morning to go home tonight: he has been here exclusively several days; working at the repair of the Ecclefechan houses8 with a mason; I mean if the day be good to go down to him tomorrow (Sunday), and speak with him by ourselves: tho' what to advise him I know not. I am wae, very wae to think of what seems to await us: but one should be prepared for the inevitable, acknowledge it as the best. Alick's main possession, I think, will be his children; his eldest lassie, especially, is a very fine wise little creature; and he loves them much.— I told you I had been at Dumfries too; I was twice there. Jeans9 looks well, like a young mother; blithe and douce; a very clever, clear, brave woman. Her James also displays himself as a punctual faithful very intelligent man; and makes way in his business, and what is better a right kind of way. They are in the house our Uncle John lived in, and seem very happy together. Their little son Alick is a queer looking little cricket of a creature, without speech yet, but with sense for three times its bulk; not thriving very well, tho' better now than of late. You have, at the present time, eight nephews and nieces. As I said to Jane, “there is a quackling and rocking in all these houses: one generation passeth away, and another cometh.”— (My Mother has just been here with a driblet of whisky and water; for it is afternoon.)

I have seen Grahame and Nelson, and even since your Letter came; and delivered your compliments. Ben they say has been scandalled somewhat about a maid-servant that went away from his house a mother and no maid: but, as I hear, most probably without ground. He had nothing new to set forth when we met; looked considerably hoarier and older. I yesterday (Jenny and I having ridden to Annan) saw for the second time the youth Edward;10 as taciturn, abrupt of manner as ever: he goes to Edinr this winter to graduate; is studying all manner of things: he wants affection, that youth, and will not I doubt come to much. Waugh I saw twice on former days; a very imbecile man: he is writing a new “Theory of Medicine” or something like that, and on sabbaths a “Commentary on the Revelations”;11 practices what is indispensable for (coarse) victual with Aunt Marion; farther not; looks old, yellow, crowfoo[t, in]different towards all persons. Man cannot help that man: insanity, to a considerable extent, has marked him for her own. It was Annan Fair when I went thither the previous time: old houses and streets with a thoroughly new people in them; not one in the two hundred whom I recognised. I called on Tom Grahame and his Sister: T. is from America; the old straggling brambly unprofitable man: in the Town Council he last year struck Dr Thom12 unexpectedly, yet not without provocation, on the seat of honour, and has had damages (£80) to pay for it. He lives now on his means; has a house in Edinr; does not attempt Advocateship; will be nothing in life, but a consumer of fruits. Other Annan people I did not see: old Mrs Irving,13 whom I had mind of, they told me had been given to Spirits: I did not like to venture. Robert Dickson's eyes, I heard, were again growing towards cataract, and an operation.14 Grahame of Burnswark has been here and I have been there: he is fatter, or say rather heavier in all senses, than formerly; a most friendly wearisome man; talks incessantly about “Mr Men-zies” Minister of Hoddam; a worthy enough man perhaps, but to me unknown, without significance. I cannot but love the sociable large heart of Grahame; otherwise there were nothing in him for me. They all, these people, asked kindly after “my Brother”; whose posture at present I had to describe with more or less minuteness. I have endeavoured to live in perfect solitude since I came hither; but have nevertheless had people enough about me. There is a considerable curiosity about me, “the literary man”; which paints itself in strange figures in the rustic imagination. Clow of Land they tell me is a declared admirer: I saw him twice here, and have had to promise that I would go to him. Wull Brown's daughter (a female Wull, so like him is she, with youth and femininity); Wull himself: eet-a!15 He was here last night, with others. Nothing suits me so ill at present as the company of men. Rest, rest: that is all I ask of the world at present.

But, alas, dear Jack, the sheet being so near full, how can I enter on my own multitudinous humours and interests by this opportunity? Suppose it, thyself; it is all as might have been supposed! I felt more shattered, excoriated, sensitive to all things on getting hither than I looked for: but I really feel better for the journey, and shall be stronger. It is like the Rhinoceros' mudbath; or in more respectful terms, like Antaeus, flung to the Earth for a new supply of strength. I am sometimes sad enough; but that too is profitable. Reality is always profitable, be what it like. I have moments of inexpressible beauty, like auroral gleams, on a sky all black. My Book seems inexpressibly despicable; however, I will write it: after that there remains for me—? On the whole, exactly what God has appointed! Therefore we will take it thankfully. Jane writes to me that she is getting better and better: her Mother stays till I return; all for the present goes on as it was wont there. My day of return is not fixed yet: very likely the Tuesday or Friday of week next but one; the Steam-boat being then at a right hour. I have had troublesome work, hiring servants: I have got one, an Annan Lass, of promising aspect, who is to go with me; who we hope will be a great blessing at Chelsea.— I do not wish to stop a day in Liverpool; the racket of it cuts me quite asunder. Last time I only waited till the Boat sailed; some five or six hours. I almost fought myself away: Arbuckle escorting me. Poor Arbuckle! We shall hardly meet again. He was just about setting off, you must know, for Maranham (near Pernambuco, S. America) a Cotton Station of English and Portuguese, to practice there: £300 a year certain, & what he can make. We parted solemnly, at one in the morning; as I shall always remember. He commended himself affectionately to you: would have written, but &c &c.— Here is my Mother come to hear this read over, and send her message before it be sealed up. To the margins next!

[In margins:]

My Mother has heard this blash [weak mixture] read over, and approves of it, blash as it is: she would send “a hundred messages but has not words to put them in.” She commends you for counsel to the Great Source of Guidance; trusts He will counsel you what is best. I am not to forget that she would like unco' weel to have a Letter for herself from you. I asked her what you could say to her that were specially acceptable? “Aught, except cursing and swearing”! I promised that you would write to herself soon, as she desired. We had already made up our minds that you were likely to stay at Munich over winter, and thought it best so. What you are to do next time when it comes will shew. I perceive a new project in your last Letter: of continuing should the Lady need you. Who knows whether this were better, or even not better? Your own feeling must have great weight in it: no man can counsel with any effect: it is enough to do what is before one to be done. We shall figure you as much freer and more contented while at Munich.16 Be diligent; be clear, and justminded. Let us all be, and all will be well. God bless you ever! T.C.

There were tents on Burnswark (of Military Surveyors), right upon the old Roman Camp; very curious to see: the new transient upon the old perennial. They are gone now. Have you ever seen the Comet? I have; only twice: the first time, with its long train, in the solitude of Scotsbrig, it was very august, almost awful.

I have written to R. Welsh Edinr17 about our Cousin Thomas Carlyle, who wants to be a Clerk there. T. is a very good young man; quick, clear; left sadly isolated in the world: his Mother is not in sound mind; his Uncle the triviallest of men.— O for more paper! I have forgot a hundred things. Adieu!

Jane & her Husband have arrived this instant—on foot; and send their love along with all the rest. I was about sealing when they entered. Pity Alick was off to Annan!—

Johnstone of Grange18 is dead; to the great grief of Grahame and all that knew him.

Did you remember American Andrew Beattie? I have seen him: he is a “voluntary” preacher19 here now!

I shall be in Chelsea about the time you get this: write thither without delay.

My weariness and stupor is great: I end here. farewell dear J.

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