The Collected Letters, Volume 10


TC TO JANE WELSH CARLYLE ; 26 August 1838; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18380826-TC-JWC-01; CL 10: 151-156


Kirkcaldy, 26th August (Sunday), 1838—

My own Jeannie,

Elizabeth has got me a frank for tomorrow; and as our post sets off early in the day, I must write you a word this afternoon; another word can, if need is, be added in the morning. I have indeed nothing at all to say; but you will thank me for saying even nothing in black on white. So here goes.

From the mere date you will infer that things go moderately right with me, since I still continue here. In fact my day of departure and all future movements are as unfixed as ever. I have written to John Gordon requesting to be apprised by return of post whether he could lodge me for a night in Edinr: but now as after two posts there comes no answer from John, I infer that he is out of Town, and all is still at sea with me there. As the shortest method of arrangement, I determine to go across the water (the day after tomorrow with John Fergus), and see with my own eyes who is there, who not: we shall return again that same day, but shall have decided most probably what day I am to leave this for good and all; at lowest I calculate on seeing Sam Aitken1 or at the very lowest Sam Aitken's shop. My chief message to you therefore is an announcement now how you may write to me; by directing namely to the care of Sam. Take a sheet, my good Duckie, the instant you get this read, and send me your news, with or without frank; directed “Care of &c Bank Street Edinr”; I will tell Sam or Sam's people to keep it for me or what to do with it; I shall then know something definite, of Chelsea at least, a thing I am growing anxious to do. From no other quarter is it so much as possible that I should get news. I have written to Alick, written to my Mother at Manchester; but neither of them have a fixed mark of my whereabouts; my Mother is directed to write to you that I may hear. You will get this on Wednesday; suppose you do not write till Thursday I shall still get it on Saturday,—ah me! almost a week yet; but it is the soonest possible. I got your Examiner, about an hour after my Note went off; I got also your Globe, and noticed the extract from the Article Scott in it: perhaps Editor Wilson2 sent it you on that ground? My Goody's two strokes were better than any conceivable extract. I have also sent you a Newspaper once, and intend that in defect of letters you shall not want for that sort of service.— How rapidly my “nothing in black on white” is going on! Let me try at least to give you some glimpse of our manner of existence here.

Our party you already know; Elizabeth you know, and probably Miss Jessie, a most jocose, blithe-smiling, good-doing blonde-insipid young lady of a certain age, wearisome a little, yet easy to live with, and whom it is a shame to speak otherwise than admiringly of. John Fergus, our landlord, is a man-mountain for size, “most athletic and best-natured of men”; very conversible, rational, and well-conditioned every way; an active extensive farmer and manufacturer, who does much business daily, and daily takes a fair swill of the good things of life along with him; a man whom I like rather better, as I know him rather better. Healthy limitation, that is the rule of things here; dashed pretty considerably with the virtuous-insipid: all right and well. My bedroom is the back bedroom; I should have had the best had you been with me, and a bell in it! None of the rest seem to have bells; a grave defect, which I have learned to get over now. I awake generally above an hour too early, but put off the time in some tolerable way; this morning, for example, at half past seven, I sallied out in blustering wind, and plunged myself into the sea, an adventurous but rather successful step, which perhaps when there is not rain I shall repeat. Shaving and deliberate dressing carries one on to nine o'clock, when some kind of thing (a gong I think) gives a huge low growl somewhere in the lower premises and indicates that breakfast is on the table. A most plenteous breakfast, in the many good things of which, except tea and coffee (with some eminent ham, overdone in frying), I must hesitate to partake. Slowly with some loose conversation we breakfast, a certain old Surgeon one Johnston3 (the Edinr Bailie's brother)4 stalks in daily, with hardly any speech at all, to look at the newspaper, and stalks out again: they say he has done it daily these fifteen years! Our breakfast done, the ladies leave us for the drawing room: and after a due space; we remaining two do also withdraw, John to his counting house or to his farms till five in the afternoon, I to my own premises or to the drawing room, or whither I list. Hitherto almost every morning there has been a hurried letter to write, for the South Post leaves at twelve; London letters not arriving (which is unlucky) till after one. After one, however, the post has arrived too, and the Newspaper; after which there is clearly nothing to be looked for from the world; you are then clearly “left to your own intrepidity and force of purpose.” Our dames, I suppose, go out charity-ing,5 fowl-feeding, marketing; as for me I smoke, I have books, I have the sea and the highways. These two last especially: I have bathed hitherto every day (except yesterday when John had me out riding far and wide among his farms); I have also ridden two hours or more every day,—putting on bad clothes if it rain; in bright days, with the fresh woods, clear hilltops, with the blue everlasting deep and the Bass6 and Lothian ever and anon in sight, and a swift beast to carry you, it is as pleasant riding as could be contrived. The people here are nearly all grown utter strangers to me; but yonder is the old Bass Rock, yonder is my poor Jeannie's birthland, and twenty years of fateful time are written on them for me. O my dear bairn, if I had thee here, I feel as if I should be quite happy for a while. We are to come next year when the great house is done building:7 we actually will, I think; shall we not? It is a tolerably good sign of me, when I long to have loved ones near me, especially sharptempered wives; accordingly I do incline to say that I have made considerable improvement this week, tho' the hours do not suit me altogether. But to proceed: the gong growls again at half past five, and luncheoned, or unluncheoned as I, but all in full dress of solemn black with what of silk is fit, we solemnly descend to dinner. There is free allowance of good things amany; of good wines among others, in which latter I think I shall cease or nearly so to partake: two glasses, one glass, four glasses, a glass of whisky punch, all seem to do me mischief alike. A walk ensues, executed by John and me about the doors, I smoking as I walk; then, near eight I suppose, is found limited supply of excellent tea, and talk in which I have to do more than I want, till on the stroke of ten enter garçon again with a tray of bottles, with two biscuits, and the promise (now fulfilled) to me of a plate of tolerable porridge. Ill-arranged, you see! Two hours or three farther from dinner, it were all right. At half-past ten, “candles” are ordered, but not brought to us; they are stuck in our rooms, fine wax lights, and we are all sent marching thither at that very early hour. Indeed a certain solemnity is throughout visible here; a great dressing and washing; manifold creatures carrying off your clothes to ever new brushings, &c, &c: but all is right at bottom, and you do find yourself served, and that a hospitable spirit, better every way than common, encircles you. We seem to have in the regular way no visitors. There is a Miss Drysdale, a queer broad ancient maid, farmeress who “makes draining-tiles”; she runs out and in at present; but she is an old friend, on visit in the neighbourhood.8 We had Ferguson of Raith9 one day; a fine plain old Scotch gentleman, of much more simplicity than I had imagined. We had an Italian teacher from Dunfermline Angioloni (if that is his name)10 invited for two days to see me; an argumentative, roughvoiced Dunfermline edition of Prandi,11—whom I was rather glad to take leave of. We had Peter Swan,12 one day; I have never yet called at their house; and my conscience says, “sinner that I am!” I will go tomorrow if possible. In short you know enough about our ways here; my very hand is sore splashing down vocables in this manner: besides, who could spell with sic [such] a pen? I will out to ride; it is now three o'clock, and I sat out the dullest lecture in a hot Kirk,—not to be repeated! I give thee a Kiss for this day, and say, God bless thee, thou sharptempered Goody. I will add a word tomorrow. Thine, dear Jean, ever and ever!— T.C.

Monday morning.— Dear Wifie, one word more before we go this morning. I have been awake since six (yet dozing again, and not bathing); in spite of the hours &c, I feel decidedly in an improved and improving way. We are to be off to Leslie Village,13 John and I, at eleven o'clock, that is in half an hour. Brief therefore!— Yesterday afternoon we had the Surgeon, one Philp to dinner, a simple scrub-headed, pacific man.14 My foot had grown decidedly and altogether unaccountably lame: Philp suggested that probably I had been bit in bathing by a medusa or sea-nettle; I think it is so, for today it feels greatly mended, and I halt no more. This morning Jardine15 the Edinr Engineer stept in to breakfast: a hard sarcastic old fellow, with a large white broadbrimmed hat; perfect in his Annandale dialect to a degree that leaves even me behind: we did very well he and I. On Wednesday they say Mrs James Stewart16 and perhaps Mr James (American Stewart)17 are coming; which shall be well. I went to tea with Mrs Swan18 last night, having in despair sent a Note that I would do it and got her sanction: she was in deep widow-weeds, very lugubrious; but the two lads19 and I helped the matter out. I suppose I must go back and dine some day. Happily Mrs Martin20 is at present in London. The sculduddery process still goes on; men think the minister is innocent, but that the wife is doubly and trebly guilty.21 Ach Gott! But whither do I run?— Some days ago I went along to the Port Brae with Ellen's22 letter, Miss Fergus conducting me. We saw Ellen's sister, and spoke a while with her: a very active, discreet, sonsy [cheerful] little woman, who seemed right glad to see us, and hear the news we brought. She was well and her husband, and indeed all Ellen's kindred; her two brothers here (I think she said) even now. The husband's business, like all business, has been “slack” for some months, but they seemed to be in good heart; his shop, in which we sat while there, was respectably filled with mahogany cabinet-work &c, and had a prosperous enough air.23 They promised to write, but accused Ellen of being negligent herself. This is all: every one well, and affectionate to the absent. I did not promise to call again, but could do it if your Bank Street Letter had an order to that effect.

Eleven o'clock is surely just at hand; here too is Elizabeth with a Note in her hand, which she has left. My end is come for the present. Write dear Goody, as I bid thee. Forget my biliary temper, remember only the poor heart that does mean truly by thee. And be good to me thou dear Goody! Also take care of all damps and etceteras, that I do not find thee coughing on my return. Love to John Sterling by name, to others in lump. Ever affectionately thine

T. Carlyle

Does the carriage run? Drive daily in it: I like right well to fancy thee there. Perhaps we shall some time have a Gig of our own? Thou “poor man's wife”!