January-July 1843

The Collected Letters, Volume 16


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE ; 24 March 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430324-TC-MAC-01; CL 16: 95-98


Chelsea, 24 March, 1843.

My dear Mother,

Having a few minutes to myself today, I will again scribble you a line. The Doctor sent me down Alick's Letter; the best news in which was that you were in your usual tolerable state of health; that you had walked out with him “to the top of the Potter Knowe.”1 I am very glad to hear so much authentically particularized.— Since yesterday, in order to be farther from the fire in these warmer days, and have my side to the light, which I like better, I have shifted my writing-table; and now every time I look up, your affectionate sorrowing face looks down on me from the Picture-frame above the mantel-piece:—my dear good Mother! It has a sorrow in it, that face, which goes into my very heart. But it is not to be called a mere “sorrow” either; it is a noble weariness rather, as of much work done. I will wish all men and all women such a “sorrow.”

Our Printing here goes on with tolerable success; and is not about half finished. He is a good clever man my Printer, whom I discovered several years ago, and whom I have insisted on sticking to ever since.2 They say, “He is a little dearer.”— “Well,” I answer, “ought he not; being considerably better?” A better man ought to be had in respect, and by all methods encouraged, whereever we fall in with him.— My Copyists (for the American Market) give me somewhat more trouble: but they also, as I trust, will be all over in about a week. The Packet of Paper will then go off from Liverpool, and I shall have no more to do with it: if they can thereby save themselves from the American thief, it shall be well: if not, why then he must steal; I could not hinder him!— One of my chief Copyists is a poor young woman who has been bedrid for almost a year, totally unable to stir from the spot, with a disease in the back-bone. There are two sisters of them; daughters of a Widow: the Widow married again, and they could not live with the new Father; accordingly they removed into a lodging of their own to support themselves by being governesses in Schools: they were doing extremely well, till this one was lamed in the way I speak of,— and now, poor thing, she is striving to write, or to sew, or to do anything she possibly can for herself, lying fixed on her back! The writing she makes is not good; but it is very pains-taking: how can I complain of it? By and by I mean to go and see the poor girls myself, and ascertain whether any other aid be possible for them.

The distress of many thousands of people is extreme at present. The silent distress, as usual, is often the worst. Jane, walking out the other day, was struck with the look of a poor middle-aged woman, crawling along the streets with a staff, who seemed to be “more dead than alive”; one of the saddest wasted spectres, Jane said, she ever saw in this world. Jane went to her house; found the woman lying on some tatters of clouts on the floor, patiently “dying of a deep decline”: the Doctor had ordered her mutton-broth, but she could not get any, so the Doctor ceased to come near her. Her husband was a farm-servant, 18 miles off,—her eldest daughter, fifteen years old, was at a kind of charity school, out all day; they had to pay 2/ a-week for rent of their garret-room: the rent-payment had gone with their last penny, that day Jane had seen her out on the street,—ever since which exertion she had been obliged to lie still, “being rather worse for the exertion.” Jane managed to get her an old bed-tick and fill it with clean sound straw, an old blanket,—also to get the daughter a besom, and charge her to clean up the house: finally, what was best of all, to get the poor woman a little broth;—and now both of them are in hopes the poor creature may not die; for her “decline” seems first of all to have been cold and hunger, with some slight ailment in the winter time! The woman has a good character; and, Jane thinks, a hard proud temper, which perhaps has driven her husband, who was a dissipated fellow, away from her, tho' he still sends 10 shillings a-week, an astonishing sum of money for him,—but inadequate here for a mother and four children.— I must not omit one other feature of the business: the wretched people, neighbours of the woman, seemed struck with spite that she had got anybody to look after her; and one of them, probably some boy or the like, out of some window had spat upon Jane's shawl as she came out! Nothing more miserable was in all the concern than that.— I suppose such cases exist by the thousand in all quarters of this ill-fated country at present.

Alick's Letter, both his Letters are very gloomy, as indeed is not surprising: he seems decided for leaving Ecclefechan, and does not know yet whitherward he shall go. Jack wrote to me that he did not think Haregills Farm would do,3 the land being all scourged out, and the requisite outfit of capital very large. He seemed to think, however, that perhaps some small farm of a feasible sort, like the Gill4 or so, might be worth looking after. As for me I do not know how to give a word of advice to Alick, this way or that: I can only give him my deep sympathy, and be ready any moment to assist him in what he advises himself to do. Certainly he has need of forming a manful decided resolution; but it is he that must form it, if there is to be a fair chance of his succeeding in it: we cannot much assist him, poor fellow, in that! There is a gloomy energy in his late Letters, which is very painful, but is not without hope to me. I prophesy sometimes, with inexpressible satisfaction, that he will get sight of the thing that has been wrong with him; and rise, in the name of God, and rectify it! If he can, it will be a victory more glorious than all he ever yet contemplated even in his boyish dreams. God assist him, my poor much-erring, much-enduring, brave, kind and truehearted Brother! I believe it really will be useful for him to quit Ecclefechan, at any rate: he ought never to have gone thither; among such a set of “infamies,” as he himself correctly names them.— You will give him my heart's love, dear Mother: and as for yourself, you will behave in this matter hence-forth as you have done hitherto, in the brave silent manner he describes to us.—

Poor Isabella gives us all much uneasiness;5 but we will hope whatever is good nevertheless. My blessings and prayers with one and all of you! Adieu, dear Mother, for this day.—

Ever your affectionate,

T. Carlyle