The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE ; 3 December 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18401203-TC-JAC-01; CL 12: 341-343


Chelsea, 3 Decr 1840—

My dear Brother,

A brief word from me tonight must suffice as better than none. I did not see your Letter1 till near dinner-time. It is the second of two entirely wretched and distracted days that I have been obliged to spend in the Common Pleas Court at Westminster Hall, trotting after a Jury case, to whh I am summoned as Special Juryman under penalties! You have to be there at half past nine (think of that in a nasty smoky frosty morning), you have to wait lest your case come on, and you be fined for absence; you have then to come back on the morrow and begin the same game again: “hereof fail not.” My business is not a whit farther advanced for these two days; it was likely, not by any means certain, I might get done tomorrow. And then—I hold a second summons, dated likewise for tomorrow (as the actual one still pending, was for Wednesday); and so bidding fair to lose a second week by the business, am in a hopeful way! The penalty can be £100 I believe; the fine usually inflicted is £10. I had another such business (two almost consecutive summonses) about six months ago. After wasting two days re nondum inceptiâ [with nothing yet beginning], I determined to go home and let them fine me if they would. They did not. Indeed I find they but seldom do. If they were to fine constantly, it would produce a rebellion in a week. They only do it occasionally to keep men in mind. In my life I have seen no madder business. I have inquired of every person known to me, especially of every Lawyer, what was the nature of it? Whence this manus e nubibus [hand from the clouds] came that had power to snatch me from my home and work, to be tormented for indefinite days in a madder place than Bedlam, might be supposed to come; above all how it might be parried or eluded? The all but universal answer is, “God knows!”— Finally I have ceased to curse at it; have almost begun to be amused with it, it is so exquisitely absurd. Tomorrow morning I mean to go again, if I awake in time, as is too likely: the second summons I mean to risk; one week lost is enough.2 Farther I have determined in future, by some means or other, to be rid altogether of such a distraction worse distracted;—and hope, I have after infinite inquiry got upon the track of it. I would quit London altogether rather than live under such a bondage, recurring every three months. I have got a right fit of bile by means of it;—and will now take to talk of something else.

We did not well know what to hope from your first Ryde Letter. That I should so soon see you in London seemed too good news. But I could not write till the issue came. Your second Letter takes away such hope for the present,—shewing us all the more provokingly that it did exist. From the tone of both Letters I collect also that your situation is probably very embarrassing in reference to the great business of it. With real sympathy I can fancy how many difficulties you may have. Patience, steadfastness, clearness of heart, which is the surest source of clearness of head! I know not what farther to advise. If the thing get too distracted, you can, as you say, straightway quit it. Your old room is here untenanted, the old welcome is here to such cheer as we have. Come again, and stay with us till you see what farther will unfold itself. You must put up with the sickliness of my poor liver; you must try to read a Brother's heart under all these mournful perversions of the surface.— Or perhaps it is not all so bad as my bilious fancy paints? Perhaps we shall get better news soon? At all events write without delay.

If you continue in Wight, I will decidedly make an attempt to get down and see you, even tho' I try a lodging for it. The trip will do me no harm; I wish to Heaven I had six months of country in store for me. I want of course to see you; but I want even to see the Isle of Wight itself. I have had serious thoughts of actually shifting myself thither, or somewhither, where quiet and free air, the chief blessings I could get in life, might be vouchsafed me. I think of several places; Wight the likeliest. I do not know but I shall fly, if nothing else will do, to Puttoch itself next summer! I am truly in a most sickly and encumbered way here; several degrees of additional pain laid upon me, almost half of my one blessing, the power to work, taken sorrowfully out of my hands. Jane alone, I think, has kept me here for the last two years. She is thoroughly reluctant to quit London; this is of course a great point: but tho' she will not assist me in a removal, she will of course consent,—and ought, if real interests are involved. I do not think I shall undertake the writing of this new Book in Town; it is a frightful aggravation of it, the Town. Neither would I willingly quit all that I have in London; the only vestige of free neighbourhood I ever had among my fellow men in this world. On the whole there are several considerations that point towards your Isle rather than elsewhither. The Isle of Man has sea, is cheap, is within reach of poor old Annandale. Puttoch itself has already a house on it, and is lonely as Trophonius!3

All this, you understand, is shot into the air: but if in your wanderings about the Isle, you should see any tolerable, small humble cottage on a hillside near by the waves of the sea, marked “to let,” you might ask what the rent was. Generally you might pick up some notions about the place which might throw some light on the business to me. We will do nothing rashly. But a thing I begin to see more and more must verily be done.

You got my last news out of Annandale. Mrs Welsh's Servant is married to her Farmer;4 which has produced a little revolution in her household.

Poor Dr Marshall has decided on going as Surgeon to one of the Ships in the expedition which Government, impelled by Fowell Buxton, is now fitting out for Africa.5 He was absolutely without resources here, and is wise in going. He leaves his poor wife unexpectedly in an interesting state, entirely disconsolate poor creature, and indeed, as he too at bottom is, half-mad.— The Stimable fell one of these frosty days, and broke his noble rostrum [beak, i.e. nose] slightly; no damage farther; I met him today urging his fervid wheels.— Write soon, dear Brother,

Your affectionate /

T. Carlyle