April 1848-March 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 23


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 1 March 1849; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18490301-TC-MAC-01; CL 23: 247-249


Chelsea, 1 March, 1849—

My dear Mother,

I will write you a little word today, tho' the time is not very favourable. A little word is better than none. What is becoming of you, yourself, in these hard days of frost, sleet and northwind? I would give somewhat to know just now! Really it is very cold; and this, remember, dear Mother, is the worst of all the seasons for health: therefore stand by your flannels, take care of yourself.

The last place I wrote to you from was Headly, Anthony Sterling's, that day I was left alone there. Jane and “the Captain” returned duly next day; and on the whole, what with fine weather, good horses, plenty of tobacco, and entire freedom, the visit was altogether tolerably successful. I had some beautiful rides, in the sunny spring weather,—rode to fine smart Towns, all as neat as a new pin; remembered, with interest, when I had seen them last: once, upon a ride ten years ago into Sussex, I had been (it turned out) close upon Sterling's place; but could not, for a good while, on this occasion, discover so much,—the roads are infinitely intricate, so many of them, and winding and branching in labyrinths of lanes: however, they are very pretty; and the open “heaths,” and Chalk Hills (which bear the beautifullest grass for sheep) are a delightful kind of country to ride in. But terribly uncultivated! I think half of the South of England, capable of being ploughed, is not under the plough at all. And Torbeck Hill moor, with an obstinate John Bell to operate on it,1 is quite as good for sheep!— This must alter, some day.

On our getting home on Monday after (the Monday gone a week now), when Sterling drove us up to the door, a very unexpected scene presented itself. First, for several minutes, no answer to the bell whatever; then,—Helen with a streak of blood on her face, floor-whitening on her gown, rocking to and fro, and in brief as drunk as Chloe!2 She had long been giving no sort of satisfaction; indeed, from the first, Jane noticed that she was quite an altered creature, estranged, careless, incessantly stupid; we now perceive she must have fallen into drinking, probably too into plundering and stealing, with that Dublin Brother of hers,—who accordingly had cast her off, to incurable ruin (as is too plain). Jane had decided firmly before to send her away; but this new phenomenon, of course, rendered instant despatch unavoidable. You may fancy what a busy week poor Jane had: in about 5 minutes she had raised some respectable woman in the neighbourhood to take charge in the interim, ordered Helen to vanish into the lower premises altogether; and so could wait, and look about her a little. Helen, kept close below hatches all the time, was on the second day whirled off to one of her many female friends in Town (some five miles of this, a respectable rigid woman, who had a room to let, and engaged to help her what she could); in the meanwhile, by great good luck, notice of a new altogether eligible servant had arrived; whom Jane, of course engaged; who is now here, and promises to do excellently: a nice quiet lass from Devonshire, well recommended by people that have known her, altogether highly promising hitherto:—and so the House is in order again; and the wretched little “drunken dottle” must either go home to Fife again or do what else she likes, but not look this house in the face any more. Poor degraded wretch; nobody, except by the accursed aid of gin, could have sunk to such depths as she lately! Jane found the house in a shocking condition in all corners of it; imagines the unhappy creature has been drunk almost every night; and generally half-drunk at all times, since she last arrived here. She finished her history among us (we cannot but believe) by picking a sovereign out of Jane's purse the hour before she went away;—may it be usefuller to her than seems likely;—and, on the whole, let us end all talk about her, all concern with her or her miserable business, forever and a day!—Last night Jane was terribly alarmed by missing “about £70 worth of silver things,”—stolen, apparently by Helen and her gang! We had reconciled ourselves to the loss,—when, lo, they all turned up again, safe stowed in another place. No theft yet, but that of the sovereign, and some quarters of tobacco of mine, has been discovered to lie clearly, or with clear probability, at her door.— Alas, here is a man come for me: I must off, dear Mother! Love to all; and a Note soon?

T. Carlyle