August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


JWC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN ; 11 October 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18431011-JWC-JCA-01; CL 17: 151-153


[ca. 11 October 1843]

My dear Jane

To threep [complain] that I would not write to you was a sure way to make me write—contradictory human being as I am!1— After all, it is rather inexplicable—not to say iniquitous—that you, with so many small vermints [children] worrying at you from morning till night, should be readier to write than I am, who have not anything of that decided sort to take up my time!— For to account for it on the hypothesis that there is more of kind remembrance on your side than on mine were an unfair solution, and one that I protest against with all my strength— The fact being that the older I get, the more I occupy myself with the past, the more I give of kind remembrance to all those I ever loved— Scotland and the few belonging to me still left alive there were never so dear to my heart as just since I have felt myself an exile from it and them—for that I should ever return there except to be buried looks as much a moral impossibility to me now as it did in the first months after my Mothers death— “Time” Bishop Terrot told me the other day “would cure me of this morbid feeling” may be so—when it does I shall be thankful

Carlyle returned from his travels “very bi[lious”;] and continues very bilious up to this hour—the amount of bile that he does bring home to m[e] in these cases is something “awfully grand”!2— Even thro that deteriorating medium however he could not but be struck with “a certain” admiration at the immensity of needlework I had accomplished in his absence in the shape of chaircovers, sofacovers, windowcurtains &c &c and all the other manifest improvements into which I had put my whole genius and industry and so little money as was hardly to be conceived!3 For three days I think his satisfaction over the rehabilitated house lasted—on the fourth the young Lady next door took a fit of practising on her accursed pianoforte, which he had quite forgotten seemingly, and he started up disenchanted in his new Library and informed Heaven and Earth in a peremptory manner that “there, he could neither think nor live,” that the Carpenter must be brought back and “steps taken to make him a quiet place somewhere—perhaps best of all on the roof of the house”— Then followed interminable consultations with the said Carpenter—yielding for some days only plans (wild ones) and estimates— The room on the roof could be made all that a living Author of irritable nerves could desire—silent as a tomb—lighted from above—but—it would cost £120!! Impossible—seeing that we may be turned out of the house any year! So one had to reduce ones schemes to the altering of rooms that already were— By taking down a partition and instituting a fire place where no fire place could have been fancied capable of existing—it is expected that some bearable approximation to that ideal room in the clouds will be realized.

But my astonishment and despair, on finding myself after three months of what they call here “regular mess”—just when I had got every trace of the workpeople cleared away and had said to myself “soul take thine ease or at all events thy swing for thou hast carpets nailed down and furniture rubbed for many days”! just when I was beginning to lead the dreaming, reading, dawdling existence which best suits me, and alone suits me in cold weather—to find myself in the thick of a new “mess”—the carpets which I had nailed down so well with my own hands tumbled up again—dirt lime, whitewash oilpaint, hard at work as before—and a prospect of new cleanings new sewings, new arrangings stretching away into—eternity—for anything I see— Well as my Helen says (the strangest mixiture of Philosopher and perfect idiot that I have met with in life) “When one's doing this one's doing nothing else anyhow”! and as one ought to be always doing something this suggestion of hers has some consolation it it—

John has got a very pleasant lodging, in the solitude of which it is to be hoped he may discover “what he wanted and what he wants” 4— There is an old man who goes about singing here and accompanying himself on the worst of fiddles—who has a song about Adam that John should lend all his ears to—it tells about all his comforts in Paradise and then adds that he was nevertheless at a loss—to be sure

“He had all that that was pleasant in life

But the all-wise great Creator saw—that he wan-ted a wife!”5— But you can form no notion of the impressiveness of this song unless you could hear the peculiar jerk of the fiddle in the middle of the last line—and the old man's distribution of emphasis on the different words of it— Here is come a son of Mrs Strachey's to be talked to6Wersh [insipid] enough—but there is no help for it— I do not think you shall have such reason to reproach me again now that the ice is broken—kind regards to your husband— God keep you all

affectionately yours

Jane Carlyle