January 1835-June 1836

The Collected Letters, Volume 8


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 26 January 1836; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18360126-TC-JAC-01; CL 8:285-292.


Chelsea, London, 26th January 1836—

My Dear Brother,— Notwithstanding my objections to the overlapping system, and my hope to get out of it by a rigorous maintenance of silence till you wrote again, I find that under penalty probably of considerable atrabiliar misgivings to you, I must resume the pen just as we are. Your last Letter to me had no other than welcome news except this that mine to you had not got to hand; as I hoped it might do in a day or two after yours had come off. My own dilatoriness in sending it ought to have been a reproach to me. However I kept silence, and patience; and now about a week ago there has come Notice of a Scotsbrig Letter duly received and with continuance of good news; in which Letter it is stated that my luckless belated one did arrive “the next day.” I know not how it did not strike me that I ought thereupon to write instantly: but so it was; Jenny in her report of your intelligence, gave no precept to that effect; which I carelessly thought there would have been, had you not (mark my greed!) been minded to write hither also. Add to this that I was, am, and am like to be, extremely busy, getting on extremely ill; amid distractions; and hardly, both in morning and evening, can accomplish anything like the beggarliest task either as to quantity or quality. Not till this night does it strike me in all its glaringness what a villainous procedure I am carrying on with you,—and I write; after hastily smoking! As it is very likely there may be another Letter of yours on the road before this arrive, let us finish the overlapment in this ingenious manner: Let a Letter have gone or not, do you instantly on receipt of this write to me as the beginning of a new account! Should your probable Letter contain any similar message to me about writing instantly, understand beforehand that I am to disregard that. Whereby the burble will handsomely clear itself, and all again be straight. See how my first page is gone; demonstrating merely that there is a burble!

We are well here, my brave Boy; as well as we have been usually. Jane has had a petty kind of cold, which never amounted to much, for a good while; but it is now gone, and even with it her general health was rather of the improved kind. As for me, I waver in the strangest way between a feeling sometimes almost like perfect (long-forgotten) health; and then suddenly a tumble into the valley of the shadow of deepest Bile and Confusion,—till I rally again, and begin a new Chapter. My friend the black speck (hardly bigger than the half-diaphonous shadow of a pin-head) attends me pretty constantly, however; with its Memento jecoris, jecoris [reminder of the liver]! I believe myself, at bottom, to be in an intoxicated rather despicable predicament: but I cannot help it; and shall evidently be no Better till this inestimable French Revolution get done. Courage, my lad! I will do it; I have still life and resources to do it: and then, there shall be such a rest as I have never had. Generally speaking the Book appears as worse than Nothing to me; but yet as attended with this one blessing, far beyond all others: that I shall get done with it. I thought today, up at Hyde Park Corner; seeing all the carriages dash hither and thither, and so many human bipeds cheerily hurrying along: There go you, brothers, in your gilt carriages and prosperities better or worse, and make an extreme pother and confusion, the Devil very largely in it: and I too,—by the blessing of the Maker of me, I too am authorized, and equipped by Heaven's Act of Parliament, to do that small secret Somewhat, and will do it; without any consultation of yours! Let us be brothers, therefore, or at worst silent peaceable neighbours, and each go his way, with lips closed.— Of the thing and things that are to come after the Book I do not now give myself any the slightest thought hardly. They will be as they can and will. I find largely this crotchety adage fit me “De DEUX afflictions UNE Consolation quelque fois [two afflictions make one consolation sometimes]”: it really does answer in three or four curious instances with me; and on the whole I keep myself as quiet as may be. “Strength,” I have written somewhere, “is not seen in spasms; but in stout bearing of weight.”1— On the whole, Jack, I would thou wert here. I would take medical advice, really with a kind of faith, due at last to Doilter2 alone; I would take and give much counselling: if it please God, that day is not now very distant.— As to the specklet in the eye, let me not forget to say that I know you Doctors call such things muscae volitantes [flies on the wing], and make light enough of them; neither do I mind it. John Mill has had one jigging about daily these four years; Leigh Hunt has whole trains of them. If you mention this at all, do in German; for our Mother's sake.

The other day, I wrote a Letter to one Weir3 in Glasgow; inquiring about another Astronomy Professorship,4 now fallen vacant there; on which Dr Irving the Librarian long ago counselled me to keep an eye.5 I would go anywhither on the Earth for an honest quietude of employment that would give me honest bread,—I often think: but Providence doubtless knows better what is best for me. I heard yesterday thro' a different channel that this Glasgow Professorship is worth £100 a year, not £400 as the Doctor said!6 I shall lose probably thirteen pence of postage by it; but no more. The Earth some where or other will grow a furrow of potatoes for one, crowded tho' it be, “after all”!7— Did I never tell you, by the way, how Basil Montagu had within the last six months a Life-benefaction all cut and dried for me; needing little but acceptance,—no, it depended on the measure of gratitude, whether it was to be ready for me, or for another: A Clerkship under him at the rate of £200 a-year;8 whereby a man, lecturing also in Mechanics' Institutes in the evening, and doing etceteras, might live! I listened with grave fixed eyes to the Sovereign of Quacks as he spewed out all the fine sentimentalities he had stuffed into this beggarly account of empty boxes (for which too I had been sent trotting many miles of pavement, tho' I knew from the beginning it could be only moonshine): and with grave thanks, for this potentiality of a Clerkship, took my leave that night; and next morning, all still in the potential mood, sent an indicative Threepenny. My wish and expectation partly is that Montagudom generally would be kind enough to keep its own side of the pavement: not very expressible is the kind of feeling the whole thing now raises in me: Madness varnished over by Lies,—which you see thro' and thro'! One other thing I could not but remark: the faith of Montague—wishing me for his Clerk; thinking the Polar Bear, reduced to a state of dyspeptic dejection, might be safely trusted tending Rabbits! Greater faith I have not found in Israel.9— Let us leave these people: they shall hardly again cost me even “an exchange of Threepennies.”

There came a Letter from Jenny;10 nay perhaps two Letters, since I wrote last: all was well in our dear Birthland; Mother's health “fully better than when I saw her”: she had gone down to Annan, was to be at Dumfries; everything went on in the good old way. Alick was said in general to be “exceedingly busy” with his Pork-speculations, and seemingly much happier. Poor fellow: he too has a hardish battle; but, one hopes, will fight it. Our dear Mother sent with her own hand “blessings, and thanks to you for your good Letter”; me she advises to take a glass of punch, of some whisky which poor Alick smuggled into one of two Provision-Barrels they sent us (by Whitehaven and the Land's End), which had just, after long waiting, got to hand. The p[unch,] she says, “will do thee good.” Also I am not to work too fast;—which indeed (for all my talkin[g)] I strive not to do. I may as well add here, what I have forgotten, that the second volume is more than two-thirds done: I am in the Chapter called Varennes (Mirabeau is dead and buried),11 which I hope to be done with, say in a week; and then I take some days of rambling and recreation. Fear nothing.

As to news here, dear Jack, expect none from me. The “Sorcerer's Sabath of Literary Life in London” I shut out from me by “wooden guardians of my privacy,”12 and let it welter. Only when Allan Cunningham and his Dame come over (as they did, night before last) do I know that such a Satan's Dance is jigging in this Earth. Fraser has lawsuit with Alaric Watts:13 à la bonne heure [well and good]! Fraser wants my Diamond Necklace,—if he can get it for nothing; which he cannot do.14 Poor Leigh Hunt's Journal is broken down with him; and he is once more, suddenly, in straits; yet not so great as he has known. He is a man of much infirm worth, and purest humanity; whom I gelten lass [approve of], when we meet; which very rarely, for long. Mill's London Review does not wear a vital look, tho' he does his best: sour Radicalism, and denial of all but the Benthamee Gospel,—to me a miserablest chimera. [By the bye, poor Detrosier is dead; a good while ago:15 a poor goodish kind of man.] I see not very much of the Bullers: we were to dine there long ago; but it miswent; and Jane has never got their call returned yet. Charles is a rising Radical; I like very well to talk with him now and then; but he seems not perfectly easy with his old Paedagogue (rather creditably to himself), besides is engrossed in Politics, wherein I take less interest daily. It is a jargon very nearly without meaning: they think, for example, the Country is in the singularest state of over-prosperity (some put “over”) at present; and they themselves are rebelling—against what in Heaven's name, then? Kilkenny Cats: they fought, and spluttered ear-splitting discord; and, on the morrow, there was nothing left—but the tips of two tails!— Doctor Arbuckle16 the Younger is here on his way to India: he has got an army appointment; he had heard of his Brother's safe arrival at Maranham; he dined here, and seems a healthy thickskinned young man; who will never set the Hoogley17 on fire. He is not gone yet, but going: the poor father seems to be become bankrupt, as many farmers have to do.— I have had supper (at the bottom of last page),18 and Jane is away to bed: there must be pause for this night. Write to me immediately, my good Brother, as settled before. I find on computing the matter there is not much else I place aught of my weight on in this world, but on poor Doil alone. Be the good Heaven blessed for it! Wir stehen ZWEIFACH da [We stand there together]; while God spares us together. My destiny is not done, I feel; there may be strange things in store for me: Heaven alone knows thro' what rude ways I have travelled towards them; painful, painful: yet perhaps blessed.— May all good be with thee my good Brother; and the Unseen Upper Powers hear my unspoken prayer! Good night!— T. Carlyle.

[TC's postscripts:]

Wednesday 2 o'clock.— Dear Jack, I have finished my task today, and will now out for a little of this beautiful sunshine: our weather is generally very good here (except in summer). I know not what I can add, on the spur of the instant, if it be not a word meaning only good will. Remember me kindly to Fraser,19 in whose history I much interest myself. Tonight I am to see French Cavaignac,20 if I like—which I shall hardly do? There is in few men much good for me.—Turn to the margins[.]

Pray describe to me very minutely your Munich life. I like well to figure you there; comparatively well. See much of Schelling: you will not find another such man so bald wieder [so soon again]. There are few men alive now (perhaps not any) I would go so far to see. Treasure what he says and tell it me.

Miss Elliot called here again with Miss Morris; Jane unfortunately out: I went next day to her Hôtel; gone out (tho' it was the earliest calling hour); next day she had to leave Town. I left cards; there was nothing more to be done.— Miss M. is to come and see our Irish Clergyman (Dunn) when she returns.

[JWC's postscript:]

Dear John, to have been written by “the first letter-writer of the age,” this letter does not strike me as being superlatively entertaining. I am certain that I myself could write a postscript worth the whole of it, if it were not, my head is at this moment, and, in spite of Miss Minto's21 flattering observations on my “general health,” has been for a great many weeks back extremely tormenting[.] He ought to have told you that he is sitting for his portrait to Thornton Hunt and is getting himself dipicted [sic] as one of the sulkiest commonplace men in the Island. I also am in progress and am if possible still more odious, with a frightful mechanical smile covering over the most vulgar devilishness. Fortunately we give only our time; the picture being for the poor youths own behoof.22 He might also have told you that the fascinating half angelical half demoniacal Mrs Taylor23 arrived one day in my absence and dined with him drank tea with him, and stayed with him till “the night was getting on” but failed to excite in his stony heart all the warmth of gratitude which so remarkable a benefaction deserved. He might have mentioned that I have lately with unheard of effort accomplished a piece of translation which may possibly bring me some two or three guineas out of which sum I shall certainly buy you a keepsake.24 Also that I am very full of Italian longing to practice it with you at all hours. When?

Your affectionate Jane

[TC's later postscript:]

I meant to tell you great things about AEschylus and Pindar, which I have been reading,—in English. Grand old sincere fellows!— Will you ask of the competent persons, what are the best and good German Translations (especially of the older Classics), and note them down? I rather think there is no good German AEschylus: the German Homer I shall never forget.25 Oriental Antiques are also becoming werth [valuable]26 to me.

There is no more room, dear Jack; but all full and the pen spoiled: Jane has taken to the sofa, my head too would ache if I did not run. Fare well dear Brother: may we meet soon!

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