April 1849-December 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 24


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 18 August 1849; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18490818-TC-AC-01; CL 24: 198-201


Scotsbrig, Ecclefechan, 18 Augt, 1849—

My dear Brother,—I have been here, sojourning in my native scenes, for above a week, after more than a month of confused wanderings over Ireland, whither I went to make a “Tour,” not quite “for pleasure” I may say, and which I was very glad to end by striking in hither for a little rest. The day after tomorrow (this is Saturday) I have to set off again, and quit these old familiar haunts, which are very sad to me if very dear: but before going I will write you a hasty word, the most deliberate at my disposal just now: I have all along counted on doing so, for I judge that a Letter with this date will be welcomer to you than one with any other whatsoever. Your Letter to me arrived safe, after not very long delays; and I believe you have since had more than one written to you, by Jack, by way of answer: but as for me, I calculated on answering you first from Ireland; and there I was continually kept in such a flurry, there really never was half an hour at my disposal for such an object: so that, on the whole, this is actually the first fair possibility I had. Another Letter of yours, a shortish one, with news of good health, but of financial intricacies about your new Farm, was also lying here when I came, and I believe has been answered by the Doctor. We are all a little anxious to learn what has come of those same pecuniary “troubles,” and hope heartily to hear by the next arrival that you have got the matter handsomely settled in some way. “All beginnings are difficult,” says the Proverb.1 “A dub [puddle] at every Town-end, and a loch at this,”2 is another saying to the same purport. Well; a man has to struggle thro' the “loch”: on the other side, if he wade well, he does find habitable ground, all the welcomer for his past trouble. Good speed to you, dear Brother! I do not well understand how the matter lies; and can do little more at present than join with all the rest, in wishing you with our whole heart “Good speed” till you get the difficulty subdued again.

Scotsbrig, except by the increased size of the children, who grow always whether we heed them or not, is but little altered since you last saw it: Jamie is rather in weakly health, tho' better than he has been, and above all grown more careful in his habits of living; for the rest, he seems to be doing moderately well in all ways; has a fair or even rather superior crop on the ground, but complains of low prices (15 pence a stone for meal,—they are extremely low, here as with you and everywhere in these unsettled times!): he has suffered something by loss of cattle from an “epidemic” (disorder in the lungs) that has long been hovering about: at present he is “making up his rent” for “Thursday next,”—a duty you happily have not to do;—and grumbles a little about the state of things; but, on the whole, I find him doing well, and entitled to the name of fortunate in these broken distracted times. Isabella, too, seems quite herself again; and the children seem good healthy creatures: what is there to complain of, in such a posture of affairs?— Our dear old Mother, you will be delighted to know, is really brisk and well; quite surprisingly so at her time of life (78,3 she counts it): I think I find her perceptibly heartier and fresher than two years ago; which adds greatly to the cheerfulness of this place for me, as is natural. Alas, such a state of things cannot continue always; but in the meanwhile surely we may be humbly glad at it, and ought to feel grateful, as for a great mercy, to the bounteous Heavenly Powers! She reads greatly; has lately given up smoking (chews a little liquorice-stick instead), which I imagine is a real improvement: she or her old room are but little altered since you saw her and it,—only the carpet is wearing out, and she is now negociating about some fresh one; the peat-house too is getting frail: to this and all such things she will say, with a pious cheerfulness all her own, “It'll maybe last my time,—but we maun ha't mend it too!” Good old Mother!— She gets her meals now mainly with Jamie's people, who are very kind and respectful to her, young and old: Jack's long visits to this place do her good too, I believe. On the whole, it is a great comfort to one to see her as she now presents herself to me. Jack came, I think, two months ago; probably enough he may still stay for a good while; the free lounging life, best possible here, being much to his mind. After enough of that, and not sooner, he may return to Chelsea, and resume his work on Dante, of which a good stock yet remains to him.4

Of the other Annandale people I can say almost nothing. I have only passed thro' Ecclefechan, and seen nobody but Grahame of Burnswark, and Park5 the Baker for one instant. Park is better in health than he once was, but still looks very much broken; he has has6 now quite given over work, I believe, and merely superintends. Grahame has got into a new Two-story House, and is otherwise doing well enough in the economic sense; but both he and his Sister7 are sadly cast down by the death of their last Brother, Peter, in America, which event came upon them unexpectedly, tho' the poor man had been long in a suffering state. Grahame snuffs immensely; and “Oh-whows” in a really tiresome manner, poor fellow. Calvert, Isabella's father, is dead, as you probably know, a good while ago.8 Old Garthwaite the Tailor too is dead.9 The railway, they say, has slightly cheapened coals, but otherwise done Ecclefechan neither good nor harm: the Station is wrong-placed, at Swaugh;10 and cannot be got altered, so poorly is the whole thing paying hitherto. From Dumfries to Carlisle there is also a rail in action; comes thro' Austin's meadow, near the Bar yonder; but that is paying still worse. They must wait, they must wait: it will be long before those new-arrangements come to their full development.— Coming home the first day, I saw Tom Clow (your Jenny's brother) hoeing turnips in the field near the Potter-knowe:11 he is still with “the Laird,” who is said to be struggling on in a kind of average fashion, fast falling into a large family. James and Charles Stewart's Brother, one Duncan Stewart a big Liverpool Merchant, has entirely ruined himself by some fraud about the Customhouse; was in Lancaster jail, is now only out on bail of £20,000: a very bad job indeed, all people say. This with other things has terribly hurt James Stewart, who indeed, by a stroke of palsy, is quite broken down,—to the regret of everybody. Mudie, late Factor at Springkell, went away to Braidalbane in the North; has lately there been detected keeping false books, and otherwise playing the devil; and is now turned out, to disgrace and beggary, they say.12 Ah me, what a “pluister [mess]” of a world this is! Let me close my budget of news here.— Of Ireland and my experiences there nothing must be said just now. I went round the whole coast, south and west, from Dublin round to Derry again (and thence home by Glasgow); I conversed with all ranks of men, from Peers to Peasants, and saw much of the country; but little that was wholesome or comfortable could I contrive to see! Such a country for beggars and beggary was never before discovered. Desolation, weak and utter dissolution of society seemed fast coming on in various quarters. Over about ⅓ of the Island there are “Insolvent Poor-Law Unions” (30,000 beggars supported by Government in some): in these not far from the second soul is a Pauper! I find that it must end soon in great changes.— Dear Brother, there is not another inch of room; nor does any time remain. Adieu, with all our blessings.

T. Carlyle

I am going to Kirkaldy (the Fergus's) on Monday; there to meet Jane, who has been touring for her own behoof while I was absent, and is now about coming southward again,—probably by Scotsbrig for a day. I shall, it may be computed, be at Chelsea again, before this Letter reach you; tho' I have one or two visits in the North to pay first. Jack always forwards the Newspaper in the interim. Duffy of the old “Nation” (intrinsically a good fellow, narrowly escaped from sentence of transportation) accompanied me a good part of my way in Ireland. He loves me well; got many a severe lecture from me,—by which may he profit!