August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE ; 31 December 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18431231-TC-MAC-01; CL 17: 226-229


Chelsea, 31 decr, 1843—

My dear Mother,

I know not how often of late days I have been disappointed in the good purpose of writing a little word to you; but today I am determined it shall not be so; accordingly I begin with this the first thing I do. It is a poor service that of writing you a bit “scrape of a pen,” and all that we can do for you here: a great shame to us if that be not regularly done!

Jack has sent off a cargo of Books for you, which will probably be at Dumfries in the first week of the year: there are some things you will like to read,—for indeed I have observed, dear Mother, that you are very catholic in your literary tastes, and can read almost any Book that has any good meaning [in]1 it. That is one of the many things I like you for!— Jack said also he was going to write; which I daresay he will do, or has done.

Jamie, just about the time of your leaving Scotsbrig told me you were off to Gill; we have also, since that heard from Dumfries, and from Jenny. Jenny's Letter brought a pair of Jack's night-shirts to light; they were lying quite safe in my drawer, never yet opened out: Jane had accepted them as mine, tho' I had no need of them; and there they were when Jack claimed them. I have sent £5 to Jenny to Dumfries thro' James Aitken, who, I suppose, will put [it]2 into the Savings Bank for her, or give it into her own hand as she may like best: Jack will send another £5 at midsummer; and so at the two ends of the year, regularly henceforth, she will know what to count upon. Regularity is best, and costs nothing whatever more than irregularity. Jack and I settled about that last week; and it was also agreed upon that whatever work she did for us two in time coming, she was to charge at least all the shop part of it against us, namely not to lay out any money upon it (as buying muslin, flannell or the like); her own labour we would either take gratis, or settle for otherwise if found necessary. Let her go upon this, therefore, as a certainty; it may be the beginning of farther certainties and advantages for her, poor little Jenny, if she stand up faithfully against her difficulties, and be true to herself, as she has hitherto striven to be. One cannot command others to be true to one; but if true to oneself, which is always in everybody's power, that is the less matter.

The worst part of Jenny's news was that you seemed to feel yourself really weakly, and out of order, at the time she wrote. James Austin had taken you out in the Gig and done some good that day; for which I pray you thank him in my name. I can only recommend that you keep yourself warm, with clothing and with good fires; that you get out in the Gig or otherwise whenever there is a blink of opportunity; that you, and that all the rest of them as I am sure they will, take every care and use every diligence! You might make great improvements in your diet, I am certain, for one thing Jenny and the good kind Mary, now while you are near them, will be better to you than you are yourself. If the Pills answer, just send a word of notice, and more of them will arrive by return of Post. Our apothecary here is an industrious honest Quaker, a very faithful gleg [clever] little body, and keeps no drugs that are not of right quality.

As for us, we are struggling along much in the old way. Our winter hitherto has been very mild; almost warmer than the Summer was: this agrees with Jane; neither do I object to it, tho' sharp brisk weather is better for my walking. Neither of us have had any colds yet, or the like, worth speaking of.——— The saddest story is that of my Book; which occasions great difficulty. I not long ago fairly cast a great mass of it into the fire; not in any sudden rage at it, but after quiet deliberation, and deciding on this as the best I could do! I am now trying the business on another side; with hopes of better prosperity there. Prosper or not, I must hold on at it; one one3 side or on the other I must get in upon it; and drive it before me. But the truth is, it will be a long heavy piece of labour; and I must not grumble that my progress seems so small. I do make progress; as much progress as I can;—and, on the whole, why should I plague myself or others about the quantity of my progress? I am a poor discontented creature, and ought at least to hold my peace, and “be thankful I am not in Purgatory!”4

We have not seen many people here of late; I keep as much out of the way of seeing as I can. Old Mr Sterling has given up his house, and now lives in lodgings, almost right opposite Jack in the same street;5—one is sorry for him poor old fellow, left solitary now as if he were but beginning the world. His good old Wife, dropping suddenly from his side, has been a great loss to him.6 He drives about in a little close carriage, sometimes very low, at other times keeping up a good heart; he seems to come oftener here than to any other place; indeed I fancy he has but few friends anywhere in this big London, long as he has lived and much as he has struggled in it.

Charles Buller has been travelling about in Italy and Switzerland, and is now come home again. He is a man much in vogue among the grand people here; and might have a great influence for doing good, in many ways, if he stood diligently forward in any good cause: but this I hardly think he will now ever do; he is a most amusing man, and will probably take into that line, and never excel in any other. Mrs Buller and the rest of them live far away down to the Southwest in Devonshire,—almost as far as you are to the Northwest: she is always very weakly and unwell, she talks of shifting to Italy for health next summer.— — I have Yankees coming, plenty of them and to spare! We had Allan Cunningham's Widow and Daughter here with us to dinner last week; they have now got a house and settlement not far from us, and seem to be adjusted pretty well. A Son of Poet Burns's “Major Burns,” from India lately, was also of the party; a pleasant little man.


Dear Mother, just at the time when I was writing that “I should do this Note the first thing,” there came a rap to the door; and foolish Helen, knowing it to be a man we rather liked, let him in, and set me altogether to the right about! The consequence is, I have had to do it after dinner; in a very stupid mood;—and there is Jack's rap, I hear, down stairs; so now I must finish.

When you go to Dumfries there is a kind of New years gift waiting you, dear Mother. How do I wish you at New years day and all days and nights of the year all manner of good! You deserve from us all what we never can pay. But I think you are sure of payment nevertheless!

Remember us with all affection, to Jenny to James & Mary and all the household. Good be ever with you all. And so adieu, dear Mother. Ever yours / T. Carlyle