April 1848-March 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 23


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN; 28 December 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18481228-TC-JCA-01; CL 23: 188-190


Chelsea, 28 decr, 1848—

Dear Jean,

I am not good for anything today; and therefore may as well scribble you a word, for payment of my debt, and to invite farther news, before taking up any other pretence of employment. I have had baddish sleep these two nights, am otherwise considerably put off my aim, and indeed do not get on well with any work this long while:—so have at you!

We were very glad indeed to learn by your last Letter, and by Aird's and the other Newspaper reports, that the Pest seems fast abating [in] Dumfries: the cause of its extreme violence there so far a [words missing] philosophy goes, appears to lie dark as ever [words missing] and stay away, that will be the grand and [words missing.] As to the rest, Nature itself teaches [that uncleanliness, unfav]ourable to health generally, must be a weakener of the body, and an ally and encouragement to Cholera and to every disease. If the Dumfries people, therefore, will effectually sweep and wash their dirty closes and recesses, and keep them effectually washed; and get clear running water (which surely is abundant in that region), and drain themselves; and keep clear of whisky (probably a good deal concerned in this affair); and, in short, try in all ways to do what the everlasting Law of Things, very clearly revealed by “Common Sense,” in regard to such affairs prescribes to all creatures,—they may reap some fruit from this heavy visitation, and perhaps avoid the like in future. One of their projects does somewhat astonish me,—that of “agitating” Cholera against Lochar Moss!1 James, I perceived, had marked it in the Courier, and truly it was worth marking. Collin, Gasstown, Torthorwald &c, and Farms and Houses enough on the very moss itself, all free from [cholera] and Dumfries at 3 or 4 miles distance, attacked by the fell [disease.] By all manner of means “drain Lochar Moss,” you cannot [words missing]; but you will not “remove Cholera” by that, you may [words missing] itude, or square the circle by that! In fact, people generally are apt, especially in terror, to be very great gomerals [idiots]. Mosses are ugly to a degree, and ought to be removed, everywhere; but not for health's sake chiefly, I apprehend! Many a right stout fellow lives on mosses (if they are not quite too slobbery and hot): I have seen heavy-boned Steels from the Breckonbeds,—nay Oliver Cromwell himself was born and bred, and passed 4 fifths of his life, on the edge or in the heart of a “Moss,”2 which has “Roman roads in it 40 feet deep” (surface has grown 40 feet in these 1800 years), and is as big as Dumfriesshire and the next two Counties all in one!— — The practical hope, however, is, dear Jean, that you will continue all steady where you now are,3 till the disease declare itself past, and no apparent danger remain; then go home to your affairs again:—that is the whole gist of my speculation, and for me there is nothing else practical in it at present.

We have had four days of beautiful frost here, then three of the gentlest thaw; last night it began blowing, with rain, and this morning we have a cold heavy breeze from the North; so that I suppose frost is coming back. No work is going on here about this Christmas time; nothing but junketing and festivities,—the poorest people (by means of “Goose-clubs,”4 or otherwise,—did such an institution as a “goose-club” ever enter into man's imagination elsewhere!) contriving to have something savoury to eat at this “sacred season.” We may be said this year to have less to do with it than ever; waiting merely till it end. Alas! work is not possible for me any more than for those poor feasters and larking playgoers: but I can at least be sorrowful for the want of possibility to work, and that will make work a little more possible, one day, perhaps! I have plenty to say; but the way of saying it seems undiscoverable;—perhaps the heart for struggling to say it is also a little weaker than common at present. Hope, always hope; and try, try!

Jack, as you know, has at length got out his Book;5 an immense affair for him, poor fellow. I have read it carefully over; and find it most faithfully executed in every fibre of it,—a bit of genuinely honest labour, creditable to the house, and to the man. It is perfectly certain to sell either slower or faster, and will long be regarded as a truly useful Book by the small but perpetual public that studies Dante.6— Your tidings of our dear and brave old Mother were, as you may fancy, precious to us. I meant to write to her too today; but perhaps I had better bid you send this on to her and not write myself till there is greater scarcity of news. Do that then. And let me have a little word from you when you think of returning.— Poor toiling Mary, how is she? Tell her she is not, nor ever will be, forgotten here; but all good wishes are silently sent her. My blessings on every one. Your affectionate T. Carlyle