July 1847-March 1848

The Collected Letters, Volume 22


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE ; 2 October 1847; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18471002-TC-AC-01; CL 22: 106-109


Scotsbrig, Ecclefechan, 2 Octr, 1847—

My dear Brother,

You had a Letter from me lately out of Yorkshire; and this month I write you again, dating from another place, much more interesting to you! I have been here some three weeks; in fact, came direct hither, Jane returning Southward from our Yorkshire quarters to Chelsea: and now just before my own return homeward, here has your Letter to my Mother come, which quickens in me the purpose I had to write you a line before leaving this old native quarter. It was the day before yesterday that your Letter came to hand; our Mother and Jenny both eagerly announced it to me when I came in from my excursions; yesterday we read it to Mary at the Gill, where Mother and I were; and tonight, I suppose, it is in the Doctor's hands at Chelsea, who will soon return it to Dumfries. Tom's Enclosure, which gave great satisfaction here, went of course with it.

Our dear old Mother is very well here; considering her age, fully as well as I could expect to see her. Her hand shakes a little worse than when you saw her; otherwise there is little perceptible change. She is much delighted to learn of your welfare, to see that you are “getting more content in your new place,” as she expresses it: and, I think, of all the news you have ever sent there is none that gratifies her more than this of the “Secession-Church Minister,” whom you are about getting. Good old Mother! She is even now sitting at my back, trying at another table to write you a small word with her own hand; the first time she has tried such a thing for a year past. It is Saturday night, after dark; we are in the East room, in a hard dry evening, with a bright fire to ourselves two; Jenny and her Bairns are “scouring up things” in the other end of the house; and below stairs the noisier operations of the farm go on, in a subdued tone: you can conceive the scene!— Jamie has got all his crop in, and indeed the Harvest is quite over, a fortnight ago, on all hands of us: 20 ricks Jamie has, a considerably heavier crop than he expected; no potatoes, however, having planted none; moreover, it seems, within a week past the disease has broken out in the unlucky potatoes again, and people are all hastening to get them up: with that exception, there was hardly ever seen a better crop all over Britain, and all over Europe as far as we can hear. Very many of the Grain-dealers of last year have failed; and grain-prices bid fair, by all symptoms, to be low. This, so far as it comes from plenty, is certainly a blessing; but there is likely to be another sadder cause for low prices: the terribly embarrassed state all manner of trade is in,—nothing but failure on the back of failure; a short crop of cotton in America, and all the Manchester region in great embarrassment. Properly it is the down-tumble of the railway mania which raged at its height about two years ago: you never saw the like then and since; some 3 or 4 hundred millions, they say, are laid out in railways all over Britain;—which of course has absorbed all the ready capital of the country, and left neither money nor saleable money's-worth to carry on any “trade” with! The wretched children of Mammon are right well served: but for the poor people that depend on them, it is a sad enough case. You will read in the Newspapers the account of one great failure, very interesting in this quarter, that of the great “Irvings,” Reid, Irving & Co,—the Irvings of Burnfoot.1 They are gone, “for a million and a half”: thus do riches make themselves wings and fly away! it is understood that all their properties will come to the hammer;—I have been, half in joke, advising the Doctor to purchase Satter, close by here: Newfield is said to be secure to Corrie for life, and then to his son after him;2 but of course this is a sore downbreak to all of them.— — In return for all that confusion, we have got a new railway here, actually running from Beattock to Carlisle, for some weeks past, heard squealing by all of us many times a day, visible from Mother's end window about the Broadlea and partially from Kirtlebrig all the way to near Land.3 I came on it one day from Lockerby: it passes Milk-Water a little above the Mail-road; winds, by deep cuttings, but without tunnels, within sight of Cockles-Yeth, across the Cowdens or rather Breconhill Height, right thro' the Bar Moss (which, they say, has quite disappeared from the place); then within sight of Colinpint (I supposed it to be), and so sweeps gently round to the Swaugh, where the Ecclefechan Station is, and the road crosses the railway on a bridge. The railway then whirls along direct for “Ha’,” almost touches the corner of poor Dr Arnott's stable there; and rushes along thro' the Eastmoor (about a gunshot below the Sawyer's house), goes with a deep cut across Slater's and the Castlebank fields; then, by a huge mound and little bridge, across the Westgill Burn, close by Philip's Cottage; and so across Mein-water, between Land and Burrens, by a big bridge and long mound towards Broadlea, Kirtlebrig &c &c. It crosses the two roads, both at once or nearly so, at the Galls; where it is said there is to be a station for lime, for coals &c: and there we will leave it!4 I know not whether too much description have not already been given: but perhaps you will like to picture the figure of the thing once for all. With such a winding course, there is great squealing needed, and that ugly Steam-whistle must henceforth perpetually break the solitude in Annandale. The thing, I suppose, will turn out to be beneficial at last; but in the meanwhile it seems to me likely that the Land and the owners of the Land are likely to reap the main benefit, and many other's more loss for a good season. Enough of it now! They are driving another railway, “the Nithsdale,” up past Austin's place even now,5 and clouds of blackguard Irishmen are on it: but of that we will say nothing.— The weather is bright and dry; drier all this year than usual; the ground at present is hard as lead, and the grass quite gone: altogether the look of poor old Annandale, with the fields so bare and bright, is unusual to me.

Dear Brother, I certainly think you will be very wise to get that Frame-barn you speak of: it must be an almost indispensable convenience, if you do not thatch your stacks. Make an effort for it; and if you cannot manage it, take some of that money to help you. We delight much to hear of improvements made upon poor far-off Bield: every new improvement you make, it becomes more yours: by and by, too, there is little doubt, even on the money side, all the care you take of it will pay you well. Steady, steady! It gratifies us all to think of our dear Brother and kindred following a manful course, and modestly prospering in it. We may have little money; but if so we shall not have “a million and a half” less than none, I suppose; which is some comfort!— My Mother is very anxious, as the rest of us are too, about the poor little child Jamie:6 do not forget to tell us.— The Doctor, when his Book is over, or perhaps sooner, when I am off, will probably come hither. Jenny returns to Dumfries when I go. Adieu dear Brother. Ever yours, T. Carlyle

Poor Mary Carlyle (Harkness) died at Ecclefechan, the very night I came here. We did not know of her illness, which had been sudden. They were very poor, the Husband too, was unwell: unhappy creatures! Jamie attended the funeral.