The Collected Letters, Volume 11


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE ; 11 March 1839; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18390311-TC-JAC-01; CL 11: 42-51


Chelsea, London, 11th March, 1839—

My dear Brother,

Your Letter of the 21st Feby1 is at Scotsbrig, I hope, this morning. It came here on Friday last, after being long looked for; and was despatched to be franked that same evening. I have lost no time in responding: it seems there are only two post-days for Naples weekly, one on Tuesday, one on Friday, so that this cannot go till tomorrow night (if my Postman was correct; however, I will ask at Charing Cross today): I write in any case to save whatever chance there may be. We are too far apart to loiter; the overlapping system does not suit, and almost five weeks have to intervene on the other plan, let us be as speedy as we will. What a pity your Newspapers do not come! I have sent one off duly every week since you first spoke of it, directed “Duke of Buccleuch's, Naples” in the legiblest hand I could write; on Friday last I put the address of your hôtel on the cover (“Satuario,” or what is it?); and shall continue to send you a Courier, received or not received, till you write again about it. I think there have some ten or nine gone now. No Italian Newspaper has got hither since you left us.

Alick, it seems, wrote to you from Ecclefechan about a month ago; you probably have his Letter safe before now some ten days. I had not heard from them here for a long while, and was getting impatient: but the very night your Letter had left me while it was not yet out of London, I received a considerable sheet from our Mother and Alick; bringing up the news to the middle of last week. Alick's Jenny has a new son, whom they have named “John Aitken Carlyle”2 in honour of a certain Doctor in foreign parts; both Jean and Mary had already had daughters; Isabella is still very weakly, and Jamie has been obliged to get a nurse for the infant, but they say she is now able to stir out a little, and seems to be in the way of improvement. Poor Jamie must have had a heavy time of it all this winter. Our good Mother writes in a cheery spirit as she always strives to do; she has had cold and tooth-ache, and does not appear to be entirely right yet, tho' she professes to be nearly so. Alick had got her a barrel of ale; or rather her and himself. There had been no settlement effected yet as to rents, beyond what took place in your time; but Dillick professes that all is now in readiness for one, or very nearly so. James Austin had better employment than usual this winter. The whole country seems to be in great dearth, poverty and distress. Alick does not say how he has prospered with his meal speculation or indeed whether he ever yet entered upon it; he signifies that his business is enlarging rather than falling off, but that his customers generally are near starvation. Poor wretches! There is a fearful problem to be solved in that North country; the North presses on towards a solution faster than even the South, and what will come of it God alone knows. The Northern Operatives generally are understood to be getting arms, pikes, pistols and muskets; they have a “Convention” sitting here somewhere in Fleet-Street at present (Douglas, once of Dumfries, is Birmingham member); they have turned tail on the Corn Law, of which accordingly it appears nothing at all will be made this year: their loaf is dear, their heart bitter, their head hot and dark; may Heaven pity them!3— I believe the Parliament to be dull as ditch water this season too, when all the world expected it was to shew violence of some kind: I read none of their debates, and hear as little of the whole thing as possible. Pray tell me what Newspapers you do get in Naples (I mean, the Duke gets). Talfourd's speech on his Copyright Bill, a Bill of uncertain fate as yet, is the only one I have had even an abstract of this winter.4 Let us quit the Public, take to the Private

Our Mother and the rest had been very impatient for your last letter as well as we: it will give them all great pleasure by the good news it brings. Your situation seems altogether to improve, to be in fact a very eligible one. A certain air of domesticity breathes out of that household, such as we could never trace in the Clare one; the old Earl and you over your tumbler of whisky-punch, with narrative of hare-hunts and moving passages by flood and field, has a quite pleasant air; the Duke reading his chapter is also very good. Continue to stand peacably and steadfastly to your post there, and it will do excellently well; in itself a good thing, and perhaps the beginning of other good things. I can hear no word of Lady Clare; her not writing is no good sign. I inquired for her one night, but found I had applied to the wrong quarter, the Lady (Lady Harriet Baring) being, as it seemed to turn out by and by, the Niece of her husband!5 She had been in Italy and Rome while you were there, but “did not see her then”; understood now that she was “gone somewhere, in bad health.” Sterling talks occasionally of seeing “the Earl of Clare, a devilish good fellow.” I suppose, on the whole, her poor Ladyship is in a feeble way, but not materially worse, or one would hear of it. By the bye, I must report to you one of Sterling's messages: he “knows from the best authority, may well call it the best” (we are to understand Dr Hume, doubtless) “that our Brother is giving entire satisfaction in his new place”: this he imparts in the mysterious-sublime way, and we do take it as good tidings.— Hume has had to be with Wellington lately, who was understood to have had some shock of palsy or something like it; but, to the joy of all, stood up and spoke two nights after, and is now well again.6 Your Duke will not have to come home for Politics, I think, this year.

My own history, since last Letter, has been, as nearly as need be, null. I have written nothing; am yet a pretty way off writing anything. Robertson has called on me again, so that there is no awkwardness there now; but I keep aloof from all contributing entirely till I feel more call for it. Craik's Knight's scheme came to a kind of specification, and it would have been acceptable had I been in absolute poverty, but as things stood I declined it for insufficiency of price.7 My chief objection was the wooden dead character of Knight and Knightism, my dislike to have my name bandied about in conjunction with their steam-engine enterprises. Another man, altogether a stranger to me, from the city, applied for a Translation of somebody's “Life of Napoleon with a profusion of wood cuts”: I asked a high price, and stipulated as preliminary that my name was to be kept in profoundest secrecy: this, as I expected, finished my man, who wanted my name to puff with and nothing else.8 The canaille [scoundrel]! One needs to set a kind of value on himself, and stand up for that. I am reading many books, in a languid way, about Cromwell and his Time; but any work on this matter too seems yet at a great distance from me. The truth is, I have arrived at the turning of a new leaf; and right thankful am I that Heaven enables me to pause a little; I willingly follow the monition or permission of Heaven. From my boyhood upwards I have been like a creature breathlessly “climbing a soaped pole,”9 ruin and the bottomless abyss beneath me, and the pole quite slippery soaped; but now I have got to a kind of notch on the same, and do purpose by Heaven's blessing, to take my breath a moment there before adventuring farther. If I live I shall probably have farther to go; if not, not: we can do either way. In bilious days (I am apt to be biliary) the Devil reproaches me dreadfully; but I answer: “True, boy; no sorrier scoundrel in the world than lazy I: but what help? I love no subject so as to give my life for it at present; I will not write on any subject, seest thou, but leave them all lying to ripen or to rot there for a while!” And so Salthound10 baffled is obliged to retire. Of a Horse there is still much speech, and even a stable has been found, tho' Chancellor cannot act in that;11 but no quadruped yet shews itself bought or borrowed; tho' it does seem eligible that I should have such a thing, and that soon,—being bound to lecture! Our weather is grimmer than December at present; but before long the sun must get out again, and there would be fine riding. I must really make some endeavour for a horse: would somebody but lend me one! But nobody here will do that. As to the Lectures, it seems to be fixed that I am to start on Tuesday the 23d of April, that I am to give six Lectures, and that the Prospectus must be out in some ten days or so. On what subject? On the French Revolution; on the English Revolution and what preceded and followed it;—on Modern Revolutions (I. Europe beginning in revolution, down to the 16th century; II. Protestantism; III & IV English Commonwealth; V & VI French Revolution): I have drawn out a scheme of each of them; but the last seems the hopefullest: I must attack it more zealously tomorrow.12 On the whole I am not in such a terrible pucker [agitation] as last year; I expect to gain perhaps £150 or less, and will not break my heart about it if we altogether fail, and finish that branch of business. Yet I have no doubt it will be as formerly a kind of tour de force when the time comes.— Fraser talks of “settling” with me for my first Edition, being excessively frightened lest I take the second to some other person; he hopes he will have “something to give me that will be satisfactory.” I showed him the American Bill, and requested him to blush (in jest), which he did very deeply. He is “preparing his books,” his copies are all done but some fifty: he is a punctual creature, as good as any I [can] get probably; tho' the greatest coward alive. The Miscellanies will surely be here in few weeks now: no farther w[ord of] them yet. Boston is precisely about the same distance as Naples for Letters now. None of my American friends is for Italy this season that I hear of, except one Sumner, a man who has been excessively popular here, a weak inoffensive plausibility of a man, to whom we gave some “autographs”: entertain him accordingly, if he shew himself13

About a month ago Mylnes invited me to breakfast to meet Bunsen. Pusey was there, a solid judicious E.G. very kind to me. Hallam was there, a broad old positive man, with laughing eyes like Little of Cressfield's; Kemble was there, a most jerking, disturbed, violent-vapid, brown-gypsey piece of Selfconceit and Greenroomism, who asked very punctually for you among other things.14 Others were there; and the great hero Bunsen with red face large as the shield of Fingal;15 not a bad fellow, nor without talent; full of speech, Protestantism, Prussian Toryism, who zealously inquired my address, and walked with me into Pimlico, but has not called yet.16 I saw him since, the hero of a dinner at Bingham Baring's,17 of whose wife the proud Lady Harriet (“a cleva' Devil,” as Taylor calls her) there was mention above. One Lord Mohun, or Mahoun18 or however he spells himself, a small fashionable Tory, with tongue too long or too broad, which hshlapsh a little in speaking, was there too, with a beautiful little wife.19 The dinner was after 8, and ruined me for a week after. Bunsen did not shine there; the Lady hardly hid from him that she feared he was a bore; she kept me talking an hour or more up stairs, “a cleva' devil,” bellelaide [beautiful-ugly], full of wit, and the most like a dame of quality of all I have yet seen. These Church-of-England Philo-Germans, with their Neibuhrs [sic] there and their immortal Julius Hares here, are good men I fancy;20 but the Thames is altogether safe from fire by them. I have also seen Rio a French Catholic, who threatens to visit me; an old Vendean gentleman not without energy, sincerity and parts;21 also one Comte de Vigny, author of something (Stello, on the miseries of Literature; and something grander besides): he is a Carliste; a small fashionable man, with brisk crowfooted eyes, long nose and no chin: did I speak of him already?22 Once is often enough. I have also executed another 8 o'clock dinner, at the Marshalls's, Spring Rice and his Daughter there;—ruinous enough.23 Besides being a special-juryman, two mortal days at the King's Bench! It was rather amusing; but most unwholesome: they gave me a guinea, the gold of which I sent on to poor Mary at Annan. Our last feat was on Saturday night, no farther gone: setting off, the whole three of us, under escort of one Foster the Examiner Critic who had volunteered to serve on the occasion, to see a new tragedy of Bulwers, from the orchestra box! We had a neat-fly: Foster is a noisy inflated mortal, full of goodwill to me, not wise overmuch, but trained to civility and the rules of life. We had the best theatrical place imaginable, nay a little drawing room and fire behind us when we liked. The Tragedy pretended to be applauded, drew from us peals of laughter more than once; as perfect a dud I venture to say as has been written lately; but Macready acted Richelieu the old Cardinal very well. Foster conformed himself quite readily, tho' he had plastered the thing with praise that very night in the Examiner. After the play he insisted on taking me round to Macready; I went unwilling thro' a chaos of scenery and machinery, found Macready, a very fine fellow, pulling off his beard, extremely civil at sight of me; and standing by him, a high dressed, longfaced, flaccid, yellow-eyed, goose-looking, incoherent figure, with lean body and gaping expression of countenance, whom they presented me to as to—Sir Lytton Bulwer!24 Our interview needed to be brief; but I shall never forget Bulwer in this world. A mad world, my masters!25 We got home from farce and all, soon after midnight; nearly frozen (I feared, for the cold was bitter, St. James's Pond26 is frozen, near to skating if this weather hold), but otherwise no worse for our expedition hitherto.— You may judge whether Jane feels herself so pulmonary this winter! The truth is, I thought it a risk and rash, but she would go, partly for her mother's sake. She is not strong, but much stronger than last year; she had a kind of cold for a few days last month, but it soon went, and it has hitherto been all. Mrs Welsh has also had a cold almost ever since she came; but this too in spite of the bitter frost and eastwind, is nearly gone. She does not get on so badly here this time as heretofore. Yet I think she will not stay long; but probably return to Liverpool, where her brother is not in a very good way, having lost his Partner too, soon after the loss of his wife.27 Alas my dear Brother this sheet is done! I have the margins still; turn thither: tho' what are they to my want!— Your ever affectionate

T. Carlyle—

Jane gave a soiree, no less, two weeks ago; an actual soiree! She is complaining of headache today; or she would have told you how brilliant it was, in spite of Darwin's prophetic banter and mine. We will be thankful, and let well alone.— Your paragraph about Mill was interesting enough: we had never yet learned here whether the Platonica was with him or not;28 none knows her here now. It is a mad and unhappy business that; one cannot see any reason in it at all, or even any right unreason: for I do believe the whole thing is strictly Platonic still! You, so far as you may be concerned in it, will act as you find suitablest; if called at all to act. For me I have never whispered to Mill anything about it; I have had no call to go minutely into that or other affairs of his: if you see the lady herself, you will find her very clever, but not at all attractive as I judge; a most morbid piece of brilliancy. Poor Mill! if you can in any way do anything for him, it will be right well to do it. He is one of the most transparent, most honest of men, according to his insight. But his position too, seemingly so favourable to him, is too hard for him! Tell him I saw Grant29 lately and understand all to be well; and heartily salute him.

Our Library is not desperate, yet it does not get on like conflagration either. We had a meeting last week; finally settled our scheme, and agreed to persevere. This Foster is likely to be useful in that, with his zeal, with his Newspaper machinery. It was that that brought him hither first.

Wedgwood has got a good place: Danl Wh. Harvey's with 500 a year.30

Scott31 thought once of Lecturing this season; but had given it up in dispiritment: he is for Scotland soon, on a visit. I have not seen him for a long time. Craik still comes here, as often as we like: a mealy potatoe, among ragouts wholesome and ragouts unwholesome.32 My kindest regards to Sterling33 if you have opportunity; and to Dr Calvert too.— Adieu here, dear Brother. It is near 3 o'clock. T.C.

[JWC's postscript]

My dear John, here are two lines to fill—and the[y] might be filled worse than with my love and my Mothers (expressly desired) in “my own hand”— A very cold one it is—and all of me is cold and wretched this day but it is near the middle of March so I keep my heart up— god bless you—always yours.

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