July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 7 November 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18371107-TC-JAC-01; CL 9:339-344.


Chelsea, London, 7th November, 1837—

My dear Brother,

We have received some three Diarios, two of them within the last ten days; likewise a Letter addressed to Jane, then a Letter to myself, both of which were forwarded to our Mother; and now finally there came yesterday a new more deliberate Letter to me,1 much longed for: whereupon I proceed without delay to answer. The Diarios cost only one penny, and will even as I believe travel afterwards to Annandale gratis; we are always right glad to see them. I send them to our Mother (who now understands what they mean) generally the same day. The one with the three strokes, indicating that you are settled one way or another, will be especially welcome. We are all tolerably well, and you are all tolerably well; God be thanked for it: I hasten to communicate so much.

You have had a doleful confused time, in the midst of perils and distractions, such as we could easily conceive; it was very good of you never to let us be long without some token or tidings; and now we will rejoice the more that the hurlyburly is about over, and things returning to the old course again.2 May the dulness of it never more be relieved in that way! Danger of death is something, but the madness of mortals under base panic, storming round one, is more insupportable than any danger. We had a report here last week that cholera was in London too;3 but the news did not take; indeed Cockneydom is too busy to yield lightly to panic: so now it has been ascertained that there is no cholera “in Limehouse” or elsewhere, but singular good-health for the season!4 Cholera, as I used to tell the gabbling blockheads, holds nothing in it that the pitifullest catarrh, the fall of a rooftile, the breakdown of a hackney-coach may not hold: Death, that is the utmost the crash of the whole solar and stellar system could bring on us; and to that we have been used six thousand years now, or nearly so. For the rest we will honour the Jesuit and other poor Priests; and pity the Monsignores and the Holiness of our Lord,5 to whom the faith of a common Russian soldier seems not to have been vouchsafed in this instance. But it was so at Dumfries too; only one clergyman durst enter their horror of a Hospital there,6 and he was an old Roman Catholic; Walter Dunlop7 carried it at length so far that he ventured on praying thro' the window,—with or without benefit. Well ended is well.

I have had two Letters from Scotland; almost simultaneous; from Alick and from Jean:8 all is well; good harvest, handsomely got in; fair health, industry struggling on in the old wont. Alick's Letter was properly not from Scotland but from Manchester whither he had gone to buy goods; he wrote on the sunday and monday morning, and was to open shop the Thursday following which was Michaelmas Market day! What success he had is yet to be learned. His Letter indicated hope and tolerable heart: the goods, especially of the Manchester sort, were as cheap as could be wished; perseverance and good guidance would force itself into some share of trade along with the others. Alick had thoroughly repaired both his own house and the rest,9 especially (he said) had thoroughly cleaned them, and taken measures for habits of cleanliness: what can we do but again hope that the poor fellow may do better than he has heretofore done, that his toiling, this time, may yield some fruit for him. By a Letter from Burnswark10 two days ago I learn that our Half-brother John had got to New York, and shewn himself to Grahame's Brother, to whom I had got him a letter; by mistake and ill-luck he went off towards the interior, to Greig's probably, just when John Grahame had got a situation offered which would have suited the new Emigrant extremely well. We shall not doubt nevertheless but he will get thro' handsomely enough some way, being a shifty steady man. No news of Clow yet. John Greig I think must never have received my Letter about Alick.— As to the rest, in Scotland, Jean reported all favourably as I say; her James had succeeded in getting me sent hither the most magnificent cargo of Glasgow Pipes, which will serve me for years; a sort of Pipes not to be surpassed in the world! It was in answer to the thankful announcement of these that Jane wrote; Jamie added a few words, late at night, wearied “making out accounts,” and apparently much horrified with the death of Robespierre wherewith he had been summing up his day's labours. I was to send them instant word of you; which I must do, even should no frank be procurable. Our Mother has sent me two Newspapers from Manchester; in reply to two Letters, one containing both of yours, and to a cargo of Reviews and Magazines: Alick represented her as fully in her usual strength of health, comfortably hefted [settled] in Rob's house, and minded to stay there in quiet till the shortest day were past; after which Jenny was to attend her into Annandale for a visit: all of which Alick seemed to think was judiciously arranged. I send her a Newspaper every monday. Tomorrow or next day I will delight her with your Letter; at least with an account of it in defect of frank privilege. Mrs Welsh was well when she wrote; the Mrs Crichton, whose death you noticed, was she of Dabton: a sorrowful event that. Did you see since, that poor old Pate Irvin of Ecclefechan was dead?11 I saw him with long white hair the last day I was there, and flung him sixpence to drink. Old Tipler Morrison12 too I saw there; brisk and hale, tho' considerably dimmed in the eyesight. Poor Ecclefechan! It was the saddest of all terrestial places for me. In fact, in the humour I was of, it more resembled vacant Hades than an earthly place.

But we must to London now. Jane is decidedly better; this is the best news we have. Her cough has been gone these three or four weeks; she takes all manner of care, intends not to go out at all in the evening; has got a warm red-tartan dressing-gown for the room, fur-tippet for the street: on the whole, by means of such precaution and the quietest life we can give her, there is a prospect that she may get over this winter better than she has done any of the late ones. Irritability of temperament, general weakness; this and no specific affection of any organ seems to be her ailment. She reads, sews, writes a little, and does tolerably enough, the best she can. For myself there is little to be bragged of, but yet nothing specially to be complained of. I feel a great change in me, accomplished and going on; a state of humour in many points new, unnamed; of which in its present state it is above all unpleasant and useless to speak. My life is full of sadness, streaked with wild gleamings of a very strange joy; but habitually sad enough. The dead seem as much my companions as the living; Death as much present with me as life. The only wise thing I can do is to hold my tongue and see what will come of it. In regard to temporals, I believe if I had these two Health and Impudence, I might make great way here; but having neither of them, one sees not so well how it will be. One knows not which may be best. Alas, I trac[e in] myself such a devilish disposition on many sides, such abysses of self-conceit, disgust and insatia[bil]ity, I think many times it were better and safer I were kept always sunk, pinched in the ice of poverty and obscurity, till Death quietly received me, and I were at rest! If you call this hypochondriacal, consider the unutterable discrepancy that lies in these two facts: a man becoming notable as a light or rush-light of his generation, and possessed of resources to serve him three or four months, without so much as an outlook beyond! I suppose I shall have to lecture again in Spring; God knows on what: no blessing in the world were dearer to me than that of being allowed to hold my peace now for a twelvemonth. If I had wings I would fly to Italy, I think, I would fly to Saturn; somewhither where I could be let alone. And yet, dear Jack, thro' all this black welter of sorrow and imbecillity there is verily one glance of improvement very generally discernible: the deep, settled invincible determination I have got to be at rest. In my saddest moment, I say, well then, we shall go to ruin, to death if thou wilt; but we will not rage about it, we will rest, there will be rest then. I hope, and really almost believe, there is the beginning of new life for me in this symptom, which is a deep and genuine one. But O why do I talk of all this, even to thee? The day is foggy too, and I have a kind of cold, and in one ear a kind of deafness, extremely new and disagreeable to me. It will as heretofore prove far better than we think.— In this mood, you may readily conjecture, I am not working much. I am reading, I am running about; as yet doing nothing. There is a feeling in me that I ought to do nothing. Work, with the pen, is always as a fever to me; this I shun with a sort of shudder. Mill's Wr Scott stands on its basis yet; or rather has come to an alternative, which I daily wait for the decision of. After great soliciting on the one side, opposed by deep reluctance indifference and even disgust on the other, I about a week ago wrote to Mill asking How much he would give me for contributing to him for a year? He has not yet answered; being at Brighton, being probably at a loss what to answer. If he say £200 (which will keep me living for a year), I will start not only with Scott but with a great many other things, despicable as they mostly seem to me; if he say less, I will respond À la bonne heure [very well] then; and let his Radical and all manner of Periodical business take its own course for me.13 Starvation without it is at least better than with it, the beggarly pluister [muddle] that it is. So I wait Mill's answer really unbeschreiblich ruhig [indescribably calm]. Radicalism, as professed by that set of men, does little but disgust me; vain jangling, godless selfconceit, the spirit of a most barren delusion. Besides, in another point of view, I believe Lecturing, were I once girded up for it exclusively, has far greater capability in it now, very much greater; also if I ever write again, I may do far better than sell my alcohol for small-beer by the Periodical gallon-measure in that way! So it shall be either way, my Boy; and we will stand well prepared for it. There is better stuff in me still than a French Revolution, if I have life to bring it out. Festina lente [Hasten slowly]! We shall see.— Meanwhile I get praise enough, if that will do; Fraser says the Book is “moving, moving”: I suppose it has a long way to move yet, and that he has many copies; but I never asked him, indeed I rather avoid speaking or even thinking about that business.14 The only real indisputable blessing I have got out of it is to be done with it, in very deed done with it, never to be tortured with it more! Nay I ought to add another blessing and benefit to the extent of about £5 sterling: Macready the Manager of Covent Garden, a classical man wishing to banish the wild beasts and gather “Intellect” round him, has most unexpectedly sent me too a Free admission for the season; and I go some once a week hitherto to see some Shakspear notability or the like; really not without some enjoyment: last night we had Macbeth, deeply impressive in some parts, totally distracted in others. I skip the Farce15 and get home about eleven. Macready is a mixture of Robert Welsh, Dr Thom and John Kemble;16 a wild rough sincerity is in him, really a kind of genius; I hope to know the man personally yet.— Oh Jack, why is the paper so near done! I wish thou wert here again for I have millions of things to say. Also I shall be a better boy against that time[.]— Do you know, there has a Surgeon set up next door to us, with wife and Pianoforte, intending to live even in Cheyne Row! He seems to be a Scot, is called Marshall;17 it is not Chalmers' house but the one to the North of us, No 6. People get practice here, if they have “impudence and health.”— I will ask at Rennie's this very day, about Italian travellers; but I fear.18 Depend on it, I will miss no opportunity should there be such. Would that the Paris one were arrived! Tho' none of your people will be able to “stand it.”— John Sterling is gone for Madeira, and ought to be there before now. He was in good heart at setting out, and looked more promising we thought than of old. See, if you can, in the 3 late Blackwoods some very fine pieces of his.19

Mrs Sterling the Mother is not well; a biliary business, rather bedenklich [serious]. I called for the married Maurices; I dined at Dunn's with them (and got this deafness that night), saw also Scott of Woolwich20 (much solider than formerly); all going comme il faut [as it should].— Did W. Fraser write to you? He is here mit Weib und Kind [with wife and child]; full of gratitude to the Doctor.—

Grahame of Burnsk had no news at all, except “amazement curdling of the blood” &c over the F. Revn Book!

I finish here, my dear Brother, with my brotherly blessing, with hope of good news from you soon. Whether you practice or not I shall not care much, so you feel well and busy. Never mind these hypochondrias of mine; at bottom, nothing wrong. Jane sends you (sitting behind me reading) her love. May God keep you, and give you all good! Ever your affectionate— T. Carlyle.

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