July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN; 29 December 1836; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18361229-TC-JCA-01; CL 9:107-112.


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London, 29th Decr 1836—

My dear Jean,

Tho' it seems uncertain on what day you may receive this, our roads being all blocked with snow, yet I may as well send it off according to promise: very probably you expect it about this time; I have a little leisure today, and may not have so much tomorrow. Franks, I doubt, are uncertain at this un-Parliamentary time; but I have taken one of the longest sheets that can be written on; we will make His Majesty do the most we can for his money.

It is a weary long time since I have written to you, or heard from you: never in my days did I write fewer Letters; I have no heart to write to anybody, if it be not on some instant compulsion of business. Not that I have forgotten any Friend I ever had; nay perhaps you are all oftener and more vividly in my memory than usual: but in this pressure of foreign things round me, my head kept full of one weary work and thought, I can do nothing but passively remember and send silent good wishes: to write seems as if [it] were an impossibility. Courage, however! We shall get the thing done, with the gea [vigour] of life in us still; then come freer days, and matters take their old cour[se.]

Yesterday I sent off a small bundle of Papers addressed to [M'Kie,?] the Dumfries Bookseller.1 The Carriage-cost ought not to exceed fi[ve-pence] by Mail,—when Mails can come. I suppose they will struggle [through?] by and by. If the carriage be above five-pence I advise James [to leave?] the thing [lying?] and let M'Kie keep it; for indeed it is worth little. You are to understand that a certain Article Mirabeau, which has been spoken of sufficiently, is actually printed and to come forth in some three days; of which also they have promised me a few Separate Copies: but on applying for said Separate Copies, it appeared that they could not be had till after the Article was published. All that could be had in the interim was an ugly monster of a Proof-sheet of the thing; incorrect, defective, dirty; yet still partly legible: this, in defect of better, is what I have sent. Two Copies of this, without note or comment, is what James will receive from M'Kie: one copy is for yourselves, the other is for my Mother. Had I waited another day, there was no conveyance for a month to come. Be content therefore with what you get! Next month, please Heaven, you shall get better copies: in the interim you can read these, and then light your pipes with them. In Fraser's Magazine there is farther to appear a Piece by me, called the Diamond Necklace; but only the half of it, this ensuing month; the next half not till February: of this not so much as a proofsheet could be had. But you shall get a copy of this too; I hope, by M'Kie's February Parcel. Nay, not long after, if all go right, there will follow a Copy of the Book itself! Of which, with my whole heart, I shall wish you and the degenerate Posterity of Adam joy.

I have sent the First Chapter of that everlasting Book actually to the Printer! They have done nothing at it yet, all the men being ‘engaged in drinking’ at this season of the year; besides that, there are some formalities as to type, shape, &c to be settled: but this once managed, we shall go along skrieving [scurrying], I hope; and wash our hands of the whole early in March. The Third Volume was brought up to be as large as either of the preceding some two days ago: nevertheless it is not yet finished off; it is only like the sole of a stocking (in the hands of a Knitter) made ready for taking in: one brief Chapter will rapidly close it now; this I shall expect to do very handsomely while the printing proceeds. Wherefore you will all wish me “whole hands”2 for other two months; and after that, “joy” of being freed from the ugliest labour I ever went thro' since I knew this world. A deliverance equal to that of Christian when his Burden fell off him (in the Pilgrim's Progress), and he saw it bounding down hill, every leap longer than the last,—down to (I suppose) PERDITION, where it had arisen from.3 Or perhaps only to Tchawos, a place known to James's old Schoolmaster?4

After this, I had resolutely determined on having some rest; and am still determined, tho' all should go to Crowdie [thin porridge]: but some people here will have it that I should deliver a brief course of Lectures, say on German Literature; in a place called the Royal Institution,5 [where] all manner of fashionable people gather in the spring months to hear such! As I [believe] Book-writing to be utterly in a ruined state for all men except quacks at pre[sent I am] inclined to experiment likewise on this Lecturing business, and see[. If t]he preliminaries, therefore, be not all-too absurd (for there are Committee-[men to deal] with, and my temper at this time is none of the oiliest), it seems quite possible I m[ay lecture]:6 it will not cost me much trouble, for I mean to speak the Lectures (having grown ill-haired [ill-tempered], and impudent enough for that), and there is tolerable payment; and more, an introduction to more extensive enterprise of the like. We shall see, we shall see! It will depend very considerably on what spirits I feel myself in when the time comes. As yet the whole cry is, Print, Print! We will wind up that; and then.

As for health, I ought to say that it is wonderfully good, considering all. Some weeks I had a disagreeable cold, with headaches; but time and walking drove it off; and now again I hang together as well as others do, for everybody is complaining. Jane too, tho' never strong, shifts forward better or worse; with, I think, fewer headaches than last year. We live in hope of the spring: always in hope! It has been, as with you, the worst weather ever seen, either “for ripening corn or win'ning hay.” Cold fogs and smoke; splashings, rain, mist and frost. On Sunday morning last, after a preparation of Northwind the day before, we found it snowing; a thing rather unusual here. It was a hearty snow, however; howling, and wreathing itself, in a way that would have done honour to Craigenputtoch. It has dribbled and powdered away, almost ever since; no mails come in: we heard yesterday that the Brighton Mail had come in; but three passengers were missing, and the driver had died by the way!7 With you, it cannot well be better but worse; I suppose the whole country to lie sheeted in snow, one knows not for how long. London looks very curious; there is such a silence in it, the wheel-vehicles making no noise, very few of them indeed being out, the horses make such sprawling; many persons drunk at any rate, and a few others (not a fifth part of the usual numbers) tripping along muffled in cloaks, with blue noses. The citizens fling their snow from the roofs, the policemen forbidding it or not. Omnibuses lumber along, occasionally with springs broken; the horses smoking, sometimes reested [stopped] altogether. Five men sung out in our street yesterday morning, as if the end of the world had arrived: “Poo Gawnas (Poor Gardners!) Poo Gawnas! All froze out!” —they had a huge cabbage-stock elevated on a pole by way of standard, and were begging with their whole heart and their whole soul, “Poo Gawnas! Poo Gawnas!” I could not help bursting into laughing at the zeal of them: they had but been “froze out” for two days; and they seemed, by the sound of them, as if victual were a thing they had only heard of by tradition.—Coals are greatly risen; the poor improvident people are like to be ill off.

There is no lack of socialities, parties &c: but I will [not] trouble with that. We go hardly to any: Jane has just been at one since she returned. It was Miss Martineau's (the Literary Lady's who writes on Political Economy): great multitudes were there; a certain Mrs Butler (once Fanny Kemble)8 was the heroine of the evening. She is but a dingy kind of heroine;—as if Craw Jean9 were reduced six inches in stature, pitted with small pox, and washed with a thin coating of soot-water,—and worst of all, the natural sense of h[er tor]tured into a wiredrawn theatrical crotchetism! Would not that be a heroine? This [cele]brated Mrs Butler has called on me, one day, most unexpectedly with some present of an A[meri]can Book. She came in riding-habit with cap and whip: Anne did not announce her properly; Jane (on coming home) rebuked Anne; Anne, apologizing, “didna ken whether it was a Leddy or a Gentleman”! I am to go and return the visit of this [celebrated Mrs] Butler, and then I think our intercourse may as well terminate.— The [celeb]rated men here, above all, the celebrated women, are a class of mortals whom I get a[lmost no] good of at all, at all.

A Roman Newspaper arrived from Jack on Saturday last with two strokes on it: a sign that he has got my Letter, and is well. I sent a token of it, to Mary I think. My Mother sent me a Letter,10 since I wrote to Alick: that is the last news I have from Scotland. Tell my Mother, I was right thankful to her: the Letter is a most feat [clever] Letter, the only fault that it was not longer. Jamie also and Isabella shall be paid for their Postscript. I will hope that all continues as that left it, at Scotsbrig: I endeavour to banish away uncertain apprehension; tho' surely evil is at all times possible. You now must write to me, and with unusual minuteness. I hope to see you all with the first rush of Summer: till then the longest Letter will be the welcomest. James must take my ineffectual thanks in return for the effectual gift he sent me:11 I smoked over it many a week; it seemed to be better than what I could get here: perhaps because it was older;—or perhaps the air of Scotland in it had improved it—for me?— I know not what the name of your little child is (nor of Alick's, nor of Jamie's).12 I hope it is thriving, poor little thing: keep it warm, in whole webs of flannel, during such weather! How does James get on? The last report I heard of him was every way good. But it is a difficult time this, for a man in what line soever. Keep a cheerful heart and a courageous! The eye is then clear, and the hand ready. In all cases, this is one's sure chance.— Alick seemed to be uncertain which way he would turn when I last heard from him. Do not forget to tell me specially about him; to remind him of my constant desire to hear from him. I suppose him to be in the Bacon business again; a man must put out his hand. America wears a grim look to me, when it comes near the point! Courage! And God assist us all to see clearly what is best, and to do it bravely!— I send this as a general New Year's wish to you first, and thro' you to one and all. You will convey my brotherly salutation, to Scotsbrig, to Annan; as if I had named every one of the household. I hope it will be there before old Newyears day at any rate: my wishes will surely be there; no thickness of snow can keep out them. Jane is this moment come in from a walk in the frost and snow-powder, in time to join her salutation. I must now out, with this; and will send it off, frank or no frank. Write to me soon, as I said, and very copiously; taking leisure hours, as you can find them. Has my Mother her Beer-keg still? Pray look to this. I beg you all to keep on good fires; and sit as thankful and hearty as you can. God's blessing be with every one of you!— Ever your affectionate Brother,

T. Carlyle