April 1848-March 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 23


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 8 December 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18481208-TC-AC-01; CL 23: 172-175


Chelsea, 8 december, 1848—

Dear Brother,—You can have no idea what a relief your Letter has been to our poor Mother! For many weeks past she has been fretting and mourning about the want of any tidings from you, and forecasting (as you know her habit) every form of evil. Do not expose her to the like again, if you can possibly help it! Jack suggests that you should get a Brantford Paper for that express purpose; he has twice mentioned it to you, he says; and now urges me to persuade you in the like direction. I really think it would be by far the wisest plan. The expense of a Weekly Paper, I suppose, is trifling; at any rate, I, or any of us here, would gladly pay it (if that were all!) to avoid such anxieties to one now so weak and still so kind!— Dear Brother, let me request of you to do this thing, unless there be difficulties in it which I do not see. If you care nothing about reading the Brantford Paper or any other in the Province, then let it become a fixed habit with you to buy one once a fortnight, and to direct it to our Mother at Scotsbrig, and punctually despatch it. Do this, and we will all thank you. “Once a fortnight”: I will write to Scotsbrig that they may by and by expect such a messenger with regularity like that of a clock:—and hereby I request my Nephew Tom and my Niece “little Jane,” and all persons in the house who care for me, to be aiding and assisting to you in this pious enterprise,—and to look after it themselves if you at any time forget for a day! And so enough.

All is well hitherto in Annandale and here, so far as health and outward things go. Jack returned a fortnight or more ago; bringing a very tolerable report of our good old Mother's situation; busy “reading” &c, and pretty well,—except for her anxieties about Bield far off! Jamie's crops were good; his health too, which had been in some disturbance (from local bilious causes, I believe) had improved much under the Doctor's treatment. We had Letters this morning from Dumfries and from Scotsbrig: all well still, at both places,—tho' at Dumfries the cholera had been rather alarming for a few days, and was not quite subsided yet. The disease is everywhere in this country just now; but except at Dumfries I hear of no place where it is not of the last degree of insignificance, not worth noising about as a specific disease.— Jack's Book is just coming out at last: a terrible peghing [panting] job with it he has had, poor fellow! He is very well; and considerably improved (in composure &c) by his labour.

No potatoes here, this year, that a man of taste in that matter can eat! We have taken to Indian Meal; make a kind of mush of it, to eat with flesh mea[t] at dinner. It has a villainous bitter took [nasty taste] at the end of it, as if a grain of soot were secretly mixed in it,—or as if the meal itself had got fusty, raw: I could eat it very well otherwise;—and this took I continue to believe accidental in some way. Americans have told us it is too long kept; but that is not quite the reason, for we had a bushel done here from corn, and it had the same bitterness, besides a great quantity of sand (our Millstones here being too soft, I suppose). Is there any dust in it perhaps, as in oats? I some times think that may be the reason. Or what is the difference between the yellow meal (yellow, and beautiful as new guineas) and the white (greyish white, with a touch of brown)? I believe we ought all to learn forthwith how to cook and eat it here; for it is to be the staff of life for all Europe in time coming, I apprehend. We find our tolerablest way of cookery is to make it first into porridge (exactly like oatmeal), then to tie it up in a linen cloth, and boil it for many hours;—the bitter diminishes by that method, but never quite disappears, and the whole thing has somewhat of the character of sawdust to the very last! I believe we are quite ignorant yet how to manage it; which is a pity, for the poor people will hardly look at it,—and a pound of it here, ample food I should think for a man for one day, can be had in the shops for little more than a penny! No food, not potatoes or any other, ever promised to be such a blessing to poor Europe.

But I must have done, dear Brother; being hard up for time today. Alas, I am getting very badly on, or not on at all, with any kind of work yet,—and have many interruptions from without and from within:—nevertheless I continue to believe that there is but one chance for me: Persevere, persevere!—

Poor Charles Buller, my old Pupil, died suddenly last week, and has created an extensive sorrow among some classes connected with us. He was 42 years old: a very pleasant, cheerful, clear, unaffected man; possessed of much ready talent, but given a little to idling away his time among fashionable people, who much admired him: he was in office since our Whigs came last into power, and was likely to rise, and gain money, reputation &c,—but much work did not lie in him, I think; his stroke was essentially rather swift than heavy or strong. His poor old Mother lost her husband last year, and is now utterly bereaved (Arthur Buller being in India):1—Jane has been a good deal with her, for her case is truly sad,—under which she bears up wonderfully. Many deaths have been here, in late months, among persons known to us; it is a sorrowful kind of season in the circles we are used to.— — Ireland seems breaking up as one man, to come over into England, and see if it can find life there! There was never seen till now a real influx of Irish beggary. The Landlords there are clearing their estates, burning down the sod huts, and the wretches must either die, or come over upon us. Their potatoe, on which they madly trusted, has again utterly failed them. There never was such a phenomenon before as the Ireland that now is. It makes my heart sick; and I would fain write about it, but cannot.

Dear Brother, enough for today. Remember about the Newspaper,—do not forget! Be thankful that you have no “spectre of a candlemas rent”;2 that you are safe away from the tribulations and deliriums that are afflicting all corners of this old world at present.

We send our affectionate regards to Jenny, to Jane and Tom and all of you; our blessings on your innocent Homestead and all its honest industries and endeavours, among the wildernesses far away. Well speed the plough there, and right well the Plougher! He reaps his own bread from the soil, and is making it ready for millions yet unborn. God bless you, my dear Brother.

Ever your affectionate

T. Carlyle

A terrible disaster with a Ship of Irish Emigrants from Sligo to Liverpool, the other night! Stormy night, as many nights and days just now are; the Captain packed the people, 130 souls, under hatches, battened them down;—when opened, 72 were found dead!— (See next Dumfries Courier, probably)3