The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 28 September 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230928-TC-MAC-01; CL 2:438-442.


Kinnaird House, 28th September, 1823.

My dear Mother,

As I have not been slack in afflicting you with my ill news, when I had aught to complain of, I ought still less to be slack in cheering you with good intelligence, when such comes in course. I know you will rejoice to learn that I am considerably, very considerably better within the last four or five days; and likely by the use of proper precautions to continue in a very tolerable and gradually improving state. The secret of this change lies in the better supply of sleep I have enjoyed; which result I attribute to the total discontinuance of tea in the evenings. I have stuck to porridge, and design to stick to them. They1 are ceasing even to make me sick or very dull when I swallow them: and oh! what a deliverance it is to lie down on my bed, and find it in truth a place of rest, and not a place of torment more annoying than I need to speak of or care to think of. I ride every day, and walk a great deal; and by these means I get along very decently. I think I am even fully better than when I was at home.

Of late days I have often thought it was cruel in me to afflict you with tidings of evil which you could not help, and could only vex yourself by vain regrets and sorrow for. But there is one advantage attending the practice, which you may now reap the advantage of: I deserve implicit credit when I tell you that I am better; and so long as you do not hear that I am worse, you may safely conclude that I am not worse. Oh! it is a sad thing for a great lubber like me, at an age when I should be sweetening the declining years of my parents, to plague them with pitying and caring for me. I believe the case, however, will alter: and if it should not, this good at least among its thousand evils I have derived from it, I have tasted their affection, the affection of all belonging [to] me with a heart-moving delight which but for this affliction I could never have experienced. There are moments when I could almost be in love with suffering and sorrow: it is so touching and ennobling to see the best sentiments of the soul, love and true-heartedness that might befit a better world struggling thro' all the mean obstructions and degrading perplexities of which we have had our share on Earth. My dear Mother! It is one of my most crying wishes that I could make you happy! I trust God will spare us both to see better times, and do him service in the land of the living; or if this is too much to look for, that we shall find each other in some brighter country, beyond death and pain and all the sore trials flesh is heir to.2 I am getting too serious: but these things often come across me so that I could sit down and cry little [like] a little child over all that has been and is yet to be.

For the last two days I have been Lord of the Manor here myself, and totally alone. The “Oxford Scholars” are all gone back to Oxford, or whither their stars commanded them; the old people are in Fife visiting some Nabob of their acquaintance; and the two youths have been since Friday at a place called Fascal[l]y entertaining themselves with one Butter (a savoury gentleman!) the minor Laird of it.3 I kept very busy at my work; going out to ride at one o'clock, and walking at intervals when I tired of writing, on the whole I have been happy enough. The boys have just now driven past my window in their gig: the elders are not to return till Saturday. We are a most fluctuating people we of Kinnaird. At the beginning of Autumn, it was settled that the juniors of us should go to Edinr in winter, the others remaining here; after which the one youth was to go to Germany, the other to Oxford, and I to take my leave I supposed forever and a day. It now appears that we are not to go to Edinr, that Arthur need not go to Germany unless perfectly convenient, and that Charlie is learning far better with me than he would have any chance to do at “southern seat of the muses.” So they have formally asked me, if I am willing to accompany them in spring down into Cornwall, where they mean to settle till their sons are educated! I said that but on the score of health I had no manner of objection. This they professed their extreme readiness to do all in their power towards remedying. It appears probable therefore that after Whitsunday I may take a farther jaunt to the southward. One thing I am determined on: to have my own house if I go thither. I mean to take lodgings if any are to be had near—if not I will almost venture to furnish the Cottage I have been speaking of so often. For a man of my habits and health, it is very sweet to sit by his own hearth—or some friend's which he may call his own. I bullyrag these careless wretches without stint, when they neglect me; but still it is an irksome thing. Our Lady has a thousand gifts—but not that of housekeeping. If I did not manage better myself, I would throw up all claims to judge of management ever after. She scolds all the servants pretty regularly once in fourteen days; and that is her chief duty.

Thus I am to spend the winter among the highland hills. I shall finish my translation (with which I go on as regularly as clock-work) about February or so; in March or April I must solicit leave of absence for a couple of months, to get it printed in Edinr; then I shall come galloping down to see you all for three or four weeks; and then dispose of myself according to circumstances—stay in Annandale, or go to Cornwall, or do any other thing which may promise best. Thus matters look well enough. I am not very much delighted at the thought of passing the winter here; it will be very cold, and very lonely: but yet when I reflect upon all the torments of last winter in Edinr, and compare my quiet most quiet chamber and careless way of living with the Manties and Wilkies menage, I feel quite delighted with the contrast. I expect (still expecting!) to get very much healthier in spring; and for want of company, I shall stick close as glue to my translations and care little about that. In Cornwall in my own chamber—I think what writing of books and toiling and bidding defiance to all the ear[th] I shall have! Their place stands by the seashore; they have the finest downs to ri[de] on: I shall completely recover.

To-day, there came no paper; an omission which in this your most busy season I can very easily excuse. I spent the day in reading part of Irving's sermon's, which I have not finished. On the whole he should not have published it—till after a considerable time. 4 There is strong talent in it, true eloquence, and vigorous thought: but the foundation is rotten, and the building itself is a kind of monster in architecture—beautiful in parts—vast in dimensions—but on the whole decidedly a monster. Buller has stuck in the middle of it—“can't fall in with your friend at all Mr C.”— Mrs B. is very near sticking. Sometimes I burst right out o' laughing, when reading it; at other times I admired it sincerely. Irving himself I expect to see ere long, tho' at present I suspect I am a little in disfavour with him. On arriving here I found a letter from him,5 written (as I found only a little while ago) just two days after the date of mine; to which at first I took it for an answer. On this hypothesis, the thing had rather a cold look; there was very little in it, and that little taken up with assurances to his “Scottish friends” that he had not forgot them, the whole carrying an air of protection with it, which rather amused me. So one day when very bilious I wrote a reply of a rather bilious character, giving him to know by various indirect and pleasant methods that to certain of his “Scottish friends,” his forgetting or remembrance was not a thing that would kill or keep alive. I also told him my true opinion of his Book—a favourable one; but some thousand degrees below his own. We have had no farther communication. I love Irving, and am his debtor for many kind feelings and acts. He is one of the best men breathing: but I will not give his vanity one inch of swing in my company; he may get the fashionable women and the multitude of young men whom no one knoweth to praise and flatter—not I one iota beyond his genuine merits.

Here is the post come; and I must finish without loss of a moment. Tell Jack to write to me—immediately—and very largely. Bid him keep to his studies, and have no anxiety about the means or the end. I will see him in February for two months; very likely sooner for a few days. He will have the press to mind for me in some things during winter.— Give my best love to My Father, to Alick and all the rest in order. Bid them tell me fully about the harvest. There is never a wet morning but I think of you at Mainhill. Take care of yourself my dear Mother! Bid them tell me fully and truly about your health—remember this. If you want any thing that I can get—you know how it is. Good night!

I am always your affe son, /

Th: Carlyle

Alas! Alas! the Post is gone: and here must this lie for two days—unless I burn it, and write you another. At any rate, I have had my talk with you—and am far the better for it. Again Good night! I am for Irving.

Are the little ones at school, or going to it? I often think with regret that they get not more opportunity of learning. Thousands of parents would give the world for children of such capacity. Tell my father that I hope they will be allowed to go in winter. My love to them!

The harvest I fear must be very untoward with you. The people here are in the middle of it. We have white-rime every night; often rain; and it is always very cold. I heap on sticks and (wet) peats; but in winter I think all will be required.

I have not heard a syllable of word from Johnston: indeed I wrote to him for the first time, only about a week ago. Tell Jack to send me a full account of his studies and feelings— Alick of his traffic and dealings. They must not neglect to write.

Tuesday—30th—Evening.—Having had no opportunity, the letter is still here. There is no alteration—none at least for the worse since I finished writing. The paper I expected to-day, and perhaps a letter, but got neither. I am not very anxious but I trust Jack or some of them will write to me the very day you get this at farthest. It matters not what they say, so they say any thing. When will you write?