August-December 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 15


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE ; 11 November 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18421111-TC-JAC-01; CL 15: 172-174


Chelsea, 11 Novr, 1842— (up stairs 9 p.m)—

My dear Brother,

I am very glad to hear that you are got safe to Cheltenham again, which I think is so many miles nearer us; glad also that there is a likelihood of your being back in London before long.1 The weather is grown unfit for travelling; you will all be better here, I fancy. Our streets are got quite full again; the world all awakening to a new bout of winter work, real or imaginary,—one round more, in this multifarious race-course of theirs; all the worse for them if it lead only round and round! But that is in their own choice partly. And, at all events, Summer is the time for country; muddy winter, with its short days, for town.

It is the night now of a thorough rainy day; I did not get out till after dinner, and then only in spite of moisture. I have been scribbling eagerly all day; to very small purpose; for my hand is altogether out, and my subject is of all others the impossible one! Without the Black-Art, how is it possible? By hard work perhaps, and invincible persevering toil,—which is the only Black art; and a black enough one, God knows!— I scribble you a line of answer (on this detestable ‘improved paper,’ on which no man can write except detestably), because tomorrow I shall not have time. Tomorrow I am to go with Forster to the theatre; meeting him at the Library Committee &c &c: the man came here expressly to ask, and I could not get him refused. I live as lonely as a Thebaid Eremite in general, the streets full of mere human sprectra [sic; spectres] to me: it is good sometimes, tho' against my lazy will, that I go out and try to find man palpable.

We had Thackeray here, two nights ago; fresh from Ireland, and full of quizzical rather honest kind of talk: he is now off to Paris; has a Book on Ireland with caricatures nearly ready:2 I cannot but wish poor Thackeray well. Nobody in this region has as much stuff to make a man out of,—could he but make him. Alas, it is as you once said to Will Carruthers and the “culling of a few flowers”: “Cull them, then!”— Last night we had Creek,3 dry-as-dust; the night before, we had John Mill: few people are as good as an innocent Book to me; tho' that also is often enough the night of small things. On the whole however, I have less to complain of than usual this year; and really ought to be thankful, or complain only of myself.

Jane went up to poor Mrs Cunningham, and was admitted; found her full of tears, but in a wholesome frame of mind. She does not seem to purpose shifting into Nithsdale, or any change like that; which surely is wise in her. Poor Allan's dust was laid in Kensal Green,—far enough from his native Kirkmahoe. M'Diarmid has a well-meant but very feckless Article upon him this week.4

Today the passing-bell went tolling here: we learned that it was the poor old wooden Milkwoman, Wright, at the corner of our lane; her step too has passed for the last time. The husband is said to be in bed, refusing all food or consolation; his poor life rent rudely asunder in that manner. How true and mildly solemn is that of Goethe, applicable everywhere and everywhen:

Eine Bresche ist Jeder Tag
Die viele Menschen erstürmen;
Wer auch in die Lücke fallen mag,
Die Todten sich niemals thürmen!5

No, the breach is ever empty, clear; ever ready for a new forlorn-hope. Allah akbar [God is great]: what more have we to say?

This poor little scraping of a Letter came from Jenny tonight; take it as an emblem of several things.

I gave Gambardella a second sitting on Sunday; he altogether spoiled the Picture, even in his own conceit; and has now brushed it out as I understand, and will never attempt another of that face. Tant mieux [So much the better]. He is getting on greatly, however; and has done several excellent faces; especially one of a Mrs Milner Gibson (for £50), which far excels all I have seen by any modern artist of my circle. The wild-man has a real eye in him for colours.— Adieu, dear Brother; but goodnight to you!

Your affectionate,

T. Carlyle