July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN; 13 December 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18371213-TC-JCA-01; CL 9:369-372.


Chelsea, 13th December, 1837—

My dear Sister,

Your welcome Letter1 has been too long unanswered; but I hope you have been living in the constant faith that it would be answered when the time came: I myself have calculated on doing it so soon as a certain Article was off my hands; which is now fairly gone (with a blessing to it!) about a week ago. The plan of sending Jack's Letter to my Mother “at Dumfries” did not seem quite safe; the frank would have been too dear had it gone back to Manchester, and then found itself no frank! I made them, that is my Mother and Jenny, promise to write to you without loitering. Mrs Welsh likewise was charged to let you know that all was well at Rome and here. So I hope, one way or other you did not altogether want for tidings. Probably Alick may have shewn you our Mother's Letter to me here, before now; it is the first and only one I have had from her; a Newspaper last week indicates however that they are well, and that certain books I had sent them have arrived safe. You got the Roman Newspaper, and understood it? It was to indicate that Jack had now shifted his quarters to Rome (out of Albano, some 15 miles off), and that all was quiet and right about him. Since that, eight days ago, I have had a Letter from him; which I sent off to our Mother. He writes with deliberation, in a quiet mood of mind; how he has had to seek new lodgings, his lady wishing him to be nearer her; how he expects no great practice this winter, but still hopes to make it pay, &c. “No 189. Corso, Rome,” that is his address, if James or you should ever gird yourselves up to writing a Letter to him, full of Scotch news: he would be right glad to see it. He seems well in health, but not very happy: indeed it is wonderful he can be so little unhappy, dangling idle at the skirts of idle people in that manner,—“tied to it,” as poor Waffler Geordie2 said, by the necessity of earning money! He expects to be home in May; that is the best news. And now for a little of London.

We keep up a tolerable style of health here both of us; tolerable considering the season. You have small idea what a business foggy Winter sometimes is in London. Every day, these several weeks, is the direct contradiction of its neighbour: thou art black frost, therefore I will be dank mist; sleet thou, sunshine I, &c &c. We have had a Fog or two; coaches driving thro' shop-windows;3 blackness of darkness: a smoke-air, like a condensation of the element of darkness, “such that you might lift it with shovels.” In spite of all this, Jane keeps reasonably well hitherto: no cough; only headaches getting a little too frequent. She abstains altogether from going out at night, and except in dry noon-times from going out even by day. This confinement, when it lasts ten days, breeds headaches: but one must struggle on; hoping that there is a gentler, at all events a steadier kind of weather coming. As for me, I have had paltry sneaking colds all over me, have been deaf in the left ear, and so forth; but that is mostly gone now; and while it continued I still kept working, and growling a little. The deafness in particular was extremely disagreeable; as if that side of my head had been all suddenly cased in wood, or indeed half changed into wood! I was scribbling all the while, in that state of half-stupefaction.

The thing I have been working in was an Article on Sir Walter Scott; Lockhart his [son-]in-law is publishing a very long Life of him, and many people talking about it. The Article is done; to come out in the London Review4 in some two months: I will send it to James, as soon as there is opportunity. But he need not be in haste; there is nothing in it of any moment. Its worth is that it will bring £50 or so, and keep “mall in shaft” [things going] a while longer here: there is little other worth in it. I wrote it with stupefaction, disgust and indignation;—tho' after all, it is well enough too, and the paymaster people are satisfied with it, which is sufficient. But I have no wish to write anything more at all at present, but to lie dormant and silent; which indeed I hope to get to do for a while by and by. O the unspeakable wearing-out, the sickliness, dispiritment and dull misery of a poor scribbler heartily tired! You know not what it is; may you never know anything tenth part as ugly. The people keep talking here about another course of lectures: alas, I suppose, there will be no remedy: but it lies at a safe distance yet, and I as seldom as possible think of it.

James gratified me by his hold he had taken of the bloody jaw of Robespierre.5 That thing6 goes on still, very much as one would wish it to do here. Nay the best of all testimonies about it came the other day: in a proposal from Bookseller Fraser to reprint Teufelsdröckh and the Review and Magazine Papers, in Volumes! It is a change of tune on the part of Fraser. I have answered him that I would print nothing more for any mortal without sight of ready money; that he must give me £50 a volume (there are 5 volumes), otherwise he could not strike at all. No answer to this as yet. The probable answer I think will be refusal, and a dropping of the speculation for the present. But it will come to that some day, as I calculate; at all events we will let it lie, and see whether it will not; in the mean while if one has no money, one has at least no toil: puddling in the middle of printers and trash, without a coin to show for it, has ceased to be of any use to me now: Heaven be thanked for that.— And so, as I meant to say, you and James will work your passage thro' that Revolution in the winter nights, and I hope get your share of good from it; to me it has done great good. It was like making a clean breast: “Gentlemen, that is what I had to say, be so kind as treat it exactly according to your own sweet will; and we will see what comes of it. To me has come at least the most sincere desire of holding my peace for a while!”

Of our London people here I say nothing. They have all got back to their smoking Babylon again; are giving dinner-parties, evening-parties, and jannering [chattering] and jargoning in the old way. To me they are extremely kind; yet I avoid their gatherings as much as I can with good grace. Clever men may live here; but very few peaceable well-conditioned men in those circles of life. Rejoice, my dear Jean, with your industrious goodman, that you are out of all that. Happy is the man healthfully busy; not whirling, in that way, like sand in the wind! It is deplorable to think of—therefore I do not think of it. Be busy ye, and consider your lot enviable, tho' in it too are cares sorrows and ever-returning labour: it is the universal lot of man, not to be complained of, that. Our Life on this Earth is like a stage-play, wherein is great variety of dresses; but under every dress, according to Teufelk, there is simply a man like other men: and then they shuffle off their dresses; and poor little Queen Victory finds she had far better have been dressed for a milkmaid! An Irishman, wishing to make experiments, engaged a Sedan-chair; [last part of ms missing].

[Postscript on top of first page reversed:]

Isabella's Note is only about a Barrel that was sent and arrived here. No very special haste in it. But I suppose they are all impatient for news.