The Collected Letters, Volume 25


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE ; 15 November 1850; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18501115-TC-AC-01; CL 25: 282-285


Chelsea, 15 Novr, 1850—

My dear Brother,

It is a long time since I have heard from you or written to you; I indeed pretty regularly hear of you, for your Letters, to whomsoever addressed, are rapidly sent over the whole kindred of us; so that the first part of my complaint is of less moment,—but as to the second, I truly meant to have written long ago; and now, this day, before going farther, I will do it!—

The truth is, I have been terribly “dadded about,” and am generally in a most dislocated, tossed and tumbled state of temper these many long months past; not at all in a state for writing Letters or doing anything else (if I could help it);—the old story with me, you perceive; sickness of body and of mind, only aggravated by some incidental circumstances which will not last always, and doubtless too by the approaches of old-age, which is a thing one cannot expect to get better of when once it has come! Oh, it is an earnest tussle this Life of ours here below; and if a man's body fail him, and he get continual grinding misery of ill-health to encompass him for thirty and odd years, and drag down every step of his poor limbs— But let me not complain. I do believe there is nothing quite essential but complete health of soul; and surely the sicker one's body is, the livelier ought one's care to be not to let that other better part grow unhealthy, and fall down into cowardice!

I was utterly done before, in the end of July last, I could get those wild Pamphlets off my hand; the last two in particular did try all the obstinacy I was master of; and really, to my own mind, had something of worth in them in that respect, if in no other. They have done little for me hitherto, these Pamphlets, in any outward respect; the money of them (which however I could happily do independently of) has been mostly pocketed by the Bookseller; mostly, not quite, so negligent was I in bargaining about them; and as to their reception from mankind, you never in your life heard such a screaming and squealing,—a universal “screigh as of stuck pigs,” struck to the heart, all running about with gillies in their sides, and bleeding to death, by the hand of a friend! Really it was something like that; but there were other better sounds also perceptible in a low key; and as I kept far away from the universal “skreigh,” and would not read a word of the balderdash that was written upon me, and was zealously abetted by my Wife in that obstinate course too,—it was in truth rather entertaining to hear the said universal “skreigh” from the distance, and served as a sign that at least the medicine had been swallowed, and that probably (as old Keble1 used to say) “it had took an effect on them.”— In late weeks, now that the thing is all over, I find the tone perceptibly altering; and have no doubt it will alter to the right pitch, or even beyond it,—like the Irishman's jamb, “plumb and more.2 They had much need of a dose like that, the stupid blockheads of this generation.

But the fact is, being quite knocked up by such a job, following on many other rubs and injuries to one's nerves, I ran off to a certain friendly hermit's in South Wales (one Redwood's, about 120 miles off), as the quietest shelter I could think of in the attainable parts of this world; to try for a little rest there. Alas, rest was not in store for me there; difficult for the like of me to find rest! After 3 weeks or more of very torpid yet agitated existence, I set off towards Scotsbrig; had an unpropitious journey, so far as weather, inns, companioncy, sleep and other outward things went;—and was at last, in a deluge of rain, taken up by Jamie on the street of Annan (in the old fashion you can well remember), and set down at Scotsbrig to tea with my good old Mother once again in this world. Oh me! You can fancy what a strange mixed emotion;—for a man half-mad with weary misery of body, more especially! Here I staid near a month, with as little stir as it was possible for me to contrive: I meant always to write to you during that month; but always missed it. In fine, I had to lift anchor again, and steer southward, homeward; and so after various hoverings about, I am only got fairly settled at home a few weeks ago,—for there has been much bother with change of servants &c, and it has only got completely to an end lately;—and so here I at last am, writing to my Brother a few words over the Sea.

Our good old Mother is wonderfully cheerful and well, considering all that she has now seen and suffered: brave old Mother! She had lost her teeth since my last visit; all her upper teeth, I believe, “except one stump”; which change altered her appearance to me somewhat at the first glance: but this too she had taken cheerfully, and was doing her best with it. We tried, while I was there, to get her an artificial set at Dumfries; but the Dentist, on examining, found that he could not fix them, without the likelihood of doing greater mischief otherwise; so we had to give it up, much to our disappointment, not very much to hers, tho' she was anxious too about it. She bakes fresh bread for herself, soft, soda-scons &c; she struggles along quite bravely under that and all losses. Her hand shakes perhaps rather worse too, especially when she is out of order; but she does not complain of that either. She reads with all the old eagerness; is ever full of interest and affection for you and me and all that pertain to her; occasionally even jokes, in her old genial way;—twice or thrice she had a washing while I was there, and did it all herself and well. The chief falling off one sees in her is the facility with which any ailment knocks her quite down: she can stand almost nothing in the way of injury; her little stock of strength is not adequate for any extraordinary draught upon it. But in general she shifts along wonderfully still; used to walk with me to the Back-burn and round by the Fairy Brae,3 chatting, and picking up sticks by the way: she was a sad but also one of the beautifullest sights to me always. Jack's residence at Scotsbrig (where he continues pretty steadily, doing gratuitous medicine) is an immense help to her: indeed if he were not there, I should not feel easy in the arrangement that now is. I sometimes think Jack will perhaps take some better house for himself some day, and bring Jenny to look after Mother and him;—in which I should be most glad to assist, as you may fancy; only, as is necessary sometimes, I must say nothing of it, for fear I obstruct. At present all is on a very tolerable footing, in the fashion I describe.— — Scotsbrig otherwise is much as you left it, only scraped up a little, with some new walls and roofs in some of the buildings, and last year with a shifting of the garden into what was once the “swine fauld” (under the big back or eastern window), and a general inclosing and tillage of the waste grounds about the dwellinghouse: all, visible improvements. Jamie is in much better health after his Edinburgh operation.4 His crop this year is good: but farming, I see, is all altering thereabouts into a grazing-and-fattening business for the Liverpool market,—and I suppose the railway, with its trains hissing by continually, will open other similar markets more and more. Jack is still hearty, restless, tho' very grey now. Jamie even has grey hairs; and as for me, I am rapidly tending in that direction, quite silvery on the haffits (“half-heads”), and getting a grim, austere and I hope rather venerable aspect! It is the way of all men and of all things, dear Brother; let us all learn to grow old, as we must; and know that age too has its beauty to the w[ise?]— My Paper is done, for I want to send you Jean's Dumfries Note of this morning;5 so adieu. We are right glad to hear of your continued growth and welfare; thank Tom and Jane for their occasional Letters. Your new Property will be an excellt affair by and by. Courage, dear Brother; and God bless you always!—Your affectionate

T. Carlyle