January-July 1843

The Collected Letters, Volume 16


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN ; 10 July 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430710-TC-JCA-01; CL 16: 255-258


Llandough, Cowbridge, South Wales 10 july, 1843—

My dear Jean,

You had a small Note from me at Bristol, announcing my journey hitherward, and promising you a fuller detail so soon as I should arrive here. On Thursday morning, as appointed, I left Bristol in a Cardiff Steamer; nearly half full of cabbages, carrot-hampers and other vegetable stores superintended by little busy angry-looking Welshwomen in men's hats: what could be the meaning of exporting cabbages from Bristol, the Liverpool of the South? I ascertained that they were all for Merthyr Tydvill, a huge iron work in this side of the world, and that it was a regular trade these Welshes had established for themselves. Poor little bodies— After four hours sailing, first down the Avon river, a most muddy stream enclosed in high precipitous banks of limestone mountain for a part of the way; and then across the Severn Sea, Bristol Channel or whatever they call it (as from Arbigland over to Workington,1 only muddier a little, and with far blunter hills on each side),— we got into Cardiff harbour, as I was finishing my last cigar, all safe, about three in the afternoon. My Welshman was in waiting, the hospitable man. An ancient lean very queer-looking Welsh servant jumped on board for my luggage, a venerable tub-gig and able horse were standing near; we all jumped in, and rolled off thro' Cardiff, a flat stupid-looking town half the size of Dumfries,—forward twelve miles westward to Cowbridge, a place not unlike Lockerby, only cleaner and airier-looking among the green knolls; and then, turning off abruptly to the South for about a mile thro' green woody knolls with spaces of fat meadow intervening, we finally arrived here at this clean-trimmed, lonely establishment,—standing on the slope of just such a meadow as the others are, with two woody knolls rising near in front, and the one in the rear looking into our very chimney-pots, the feeblest clachan in the world (Llandough by name) just showing its poor gable-ends over another part of the same height, two fields farther to the left. An ancient douce-looking Quakeress, the Mother Redwood received us, with great kindness,—and a gentle statement that the dinner was somewhat injured by waiting. As the dinner consisted of veal, which I never eat of, this was a small matter! Here in this loneliest of all civilized establishments, I have been ever since; not ill off at all; enjoying the profound silence and soughing of the winds considerably; contented even with the wet weather when we have it, for I sit there in the porch and read, not without due tobacco-pipes, and look out into the rain, and green bit of meadow and rustling woods. The people, Redwood and his good Mother, are not witches for wit;—but they let me pretty well alone, and are heartily kind to me. The good man has horses; on which we have ridden twice to the sea, five or six miles off,—thro' truly awful roads, for they are steep as scaurs [precipices], about a yard and a half broad, all made of rough limestone cobbles as slippery as polished iron, and rough of level, as if no spade or pick had ever been used upon them: down and up these the little fiery quadrupeds take the greatest delight to gallop as if that were the only conceivable pace for a horse of speeret! The shore itself is greatly lonelier than Priestside,2 but far beautifuller too: high limestone cliffs broken sheer down, then a wilderness of sleek big boulder-stones (all lime too), from a hundred weight to half-a-ton each, tumbled together like a pavement of disorderly giants; and farther out, the great hoarse Sea moaning, and singing “Alone, alone!” on this hand and on that. The first day, showers were ruffling it, and one ship was visible: I sat smoking a cigar in a cave where I had dressed after bathing; dry amid heavy rain: living sight or sound was none other. Across the Channel you see Devonshire piled up, heavy and blunt-looking, but of considerable height: it is “the English hills”; nobody knows or cares about it farther.— Old ruined castles all grown with ivy are abundant; and straggling most disorderly little villages, whitewashed but sluttish, all hanging by the bank of some small rivulet, or by the skirts of some old Church on the knoll-top,—the houses all sprinkled about as if you had shaken them out of a pepper-box. They are a lazy people, good and kindly I suppose, but in a “very backward state of figures.”3 Great part of their ground is in grass, which they are getting up into hay just now,—all natural-grass hay, which horses are very fond of: the farming seems very bad; but the rents are cheap and the soil good.

Well, dear Jean, you did not expect to read a description of Wales, did you? I will say no more of it at least! Our Household itself is sufficiently strange. My “honest Lawyer,” for I think he deserves that name, is a man about as tall as myself and perhaps twice as lean, somewhat younger, tho' he looks older; a person truly worth giving a glance at. He appears to associate with no Son of Adam; tho' he has great work as an Attorney at Cowbridge and I believe three men in his office, and indeed seems to have already become rich: he screws his voice into dreadful emphasis when he says anything, which is but rarely: he rises, goes to bed, eats, drinks, bathes, writes, and does all things with a rigour of method which no eight-day clock can surpass;—looks out with long innocent nose, with thin sunk cheeks and clasped lips, into life, with a kind of mournful affectionate smile! Good Redwood, he is dreadfully unentertaining for a crack; but he goes away, the instant you hint such a thing, and leaves you alone: what could man do more! I believe I shall grow to like him yet. His Mother is a most douce quiet person in black quaker bonnet and drab-brown shawl; reads all day “good books,” or looks a little after the dinner. Our house for most part, as at present, is silent as if inhabited by ghosts. I lounge about all day, with books, under trees, lying on the grass: I have not at all grown tired of it yet. As the weather is delightful, perhaps I may still make out almost a week. I have then two days (if I can manage it) to spend with the Bishop of St David's (a brave man tho' a Bishop!) at Carmarthen some sixty miles off: after that I think of making towards the Coast and getting into a Steamer for Liverpool. Brother Jack will perhaps come and meet me, then or sooner: we are in communication already.— Jane is in a tumult like the sack of Cities, at Chelsea, with Painters &c thoroughly revising the house there, in my absence: I think I must bring her up to Liverpool, were all that over; she might stay there for a while.

This, dear Sister Jean, is all my history at present. If you write again, if it be not instantly, address “care of John Welsh Esq 20. Maryland Street, Liverpool”: I shall there get it sooner or later. You I will apprise some way or other when I am about coming home.—That poor deaf little boy;4 that poor Brother Alick tossing over the far Deep at present! I remember all things here. Adieu, Dear Sister!

T. Carlyle