April 1849-December 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 24


TC TO JANE WELSH CARLYLE; 11 July 1849; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18490711-TC-JWC-01; CL 24: 112-115


Kilkenny, 11 july (Wednesday) 1849

“All well, sleep hardly to be had”: that is still the bulletin, and so in great hurry before 12 o'clock come, when this City and Castle are to be done, I must send you a word, you still safe at Neuberg's I hope, and only meditating still to go ahead. Oh what a life, oh what a life! But we shall get thro' it and have much to tell when we meet.

That monday morning at 8½, Fitz1 and I set out in our car; went whirling towards the Wicklow Hills very prosperously for some ten miles, I with plenty of tobacco, and almost nothing to talk (having got dos-à-dos [back-to-back], cunningly on the opposite side of the car, and only talking to the driver, a very hardy intelligent little fellow, worth talking to): for ten miles or more; but after that, we got a new driver, new horse that wouldn't go, and had adventures enough! At 12½ however we, walking and otherwise, ere fairly in the Pass of “Wicklow Gap,”—a wild scene of black stony boggy mountains (altogether like Galloway and the land beyond Puttock, very interesting [to]2 me); full of scarecrow ragtails all in grey rags, busily looking after their peats. Conversed with wandering herdsmen &c, looked with wonder upon the aspect of all. Thro' Wicklow Gap, in wild stony country, lead-mines and a little more of substance in men's existence (tho' not much) begin to shew themselves. Finally at 1½ in a kind of narrow long Pit, with two lakes (loughs) in it, among the Hills, appears the scene of St Kevin's hermitages and world-old devotional exercises, and as memorial of him, Seven Churches, ruinous all, gone to the foundation some of them, which ancient Irish piety had set up to pray in, at least to be buried in, for that is what it amounts to now. Old damp mouldering ruins, made of granite flag-stones, the arched-roof of one of them still standing; girt with thistly rubbish graves (still new graves), and eternal silence of the mountains, and their melancholy water-pools: 7 churches, all huddled into one close space—I can only fancy the ancient Irish thot they wd get to Heaven by being buried here.3 No more tragic scene of ragged pathos, and inexorable pious-impious desolation ever struck me in this world. For, alas, the eternal “silence” was broken by one sound, and only one—that of tattered wretchedness in every figure howling on the right and the left, “Lave a penny for the love of God!”— Coming back thro' Wicklow Gap in the grey dusk, a man galloping downhill met us,—galloping for surgeon and priest: a miner was killed, but whether dead or only “kilt entirely,” one could not learn. The howl of a woman from the opposite flank of the valley, in wild rage of lamentation, came across to us, belike his poor wife, sister, mother; the cruellest sound ear ever heard, it sounded to me like the voice of wretched Ireland at large, that night.

Yesterday, under various guidance, I had “improved farming” (by one Love, a Scotchman)4 to do; then dinner of sandwiches at 4 o'clock, then the immortal Curragh, best race-course in creation, say 5,000 acres of the best land in Ireland, grazing at present certain wretched sheep of the adjacent cottiers, whose one trade seems to be that of gathering up their dung into particular heaps, whereby it did become A. B.'s5 own, but was not the Curragh's any more, nor at all bettered or benefited in any manner of way: a truly “Irish occupation,” and nice result of laissez-faire.— Into the railway at last; cloud of nasty sand, smoke &c with howling hot wind, and stupid fiercely-stolid looking people round me for 1 hour 40 minutes, past Carlow; then two hours more of rail-car, where one could at least smoke, and see the Mountains, waving ill-tilled plains, rugged cabins, pigs, tethered goats (the aristocracy of the poor keep goats about the ditches, and milk them): finally about 10 p.m. I got here to Dr Cane's the Mayor's, where Duffy and two Poor-Law Sages already were, expecting me (against the Law of Nature and Railway bile) since dinner time.6 You never saw so exotic a house, bedroom, breakfast-room &c &c—but the people are kindness itself, and I were a traitor to receive otherwise than with thanks and respect. At twelve, we go out “in my little carriage” to do the place—ach Gott! Tomorrow we get fairly under way; Duffy is studying the route, I believe, even now. Mrs Cane, a strange wild Wexford Lady, full of worth I think, and of a dialect new to me in this world (come of Scotch Pringles, she says),—is to make a canvas cover this day for my Writing Case, which wd otherwise get spoiled:—one of the delightfullest little implements one ever had. Dr Cane is a tall solemn man of 45; black well-formed head, clerical aspect,—who, apart from repeal jealousies, is very easily talked to, and worth talking to. Kilkenny is a ruinous old and venerable City of 20,000; “cloth-trade quite gone to England, all but a few coarse blankets: this morning was market on the streets; ragged wild people with strong sprinkling of soldiers and police: on the open street; for one thing, sat a row of coblers, mending extempore the country people's shoes.— Enough of me, O Goody, enough of me! I suppose you are bored with these topographicalities; but they run to my pen, and I ought to get them down.— Very hot here, I am in an upper room under the slates open window on each side, and thorough-draft (good for smoking), have put on my lustre (or black Cobweb) Coat, could gladly go about in my skin.— Am well, really, in spite of defective sleep. Am writing here on the top of a hydrastisy7 binnacle or box-kin, there being no available table, but only a big ottoman beside the big bed.— Till Cork (ah me!) I can hear no news from anybody. Send this to my Mother, won't you?— “Mr O' Shaughnessy” (of the Poor-Law) waits below.8 A little Girl to wash in my room,—quite convanient whew!— Oh Jeannie, Good be ever with you; I must go. Gootluck follow thee to the Orient and everywhere!

T. Carlyle