The Collected Letters, Volume 27


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN ; 23 December 1852; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18521223-TC-JCA-01; CL 27: 372-375


Chelsea, 23 decr, 1852—

My dear Sister,

I indeed did not know that I was in your debt; but on the contrary was longing to hear from you! I have at any rate been very low in the humour lately, a little busy too, and very much averse to write. However, here goes some line or two, such as there is. Beggarly paper and pen withal! I am quite driven out of my latitude with that everlasting botheration of ever-changing paper, which has never been at rest for the last twenty years; and at this late period of my life, am seriously thinking (and trying, as you see) to learn to write with iron pens. The troubles that afflict the just!

Our weather here has been worse, I venture to say, than yours; incessant drizzle, rain, mud and darkness: such a tract of abominable weather as I literally never saw before in my life. Add to which, my poor liver (and alas, I think, my poor life [ … ]: I have had such a tumble-down out of my summer's excitations and fatigues as has not often befallen me; and, in the [sol]itude of these wet days, have got into burbles with myself without end;—in fact, all things are one huge burble with me (I often think), and I have to squat close in the corner, and “work maistly in a place by mysel'” till once we rally a little, if we can! About three weeks ago, to crown all, there came into my unfortunate back, on the sudden one morning, a thing they call lumbago (back-rheumatism), and I walked about for some time stiff as a poker,—ready to rush down, such a keen twinge was there, every time I came off the strict perpendicular in my walking! That is now pretty much gone again:—and in brief, to speak seriously, and end all this rigmarole, I believe I am really getting better at last; and, by persisting in this solitary course of quietude, patience and silence, I sometimes hope I shall really have made a perceptible general improvement when the account is all settled.—We have not had a day of frost yet; and the wind is piping tonight against my windows, fresh out of the west as if it were just beginning.

Poor Jane is not well either; sleeps very ill &c; but struggles along in hope of better times: it is she that sees all the company down-stairs, as she rather likes to do than otherwise; I sit aloft here, and am absent strictly to all but a very selec[t … ] got no steady work begun yet; and shall not, I fear, for a long time! That is the root of all my miseries; or rather the one misery which alone I care a snuff for: but I cannot help it just yet; I must plouter away, mud up to the chin, till I do find the rocks under my feet again, and get upon a road that will carry me.

“Frederick the Great” continues very questionable: nobody yet could say, I should ever fairly try to write a Book about him! The sight of actual Germany, with its flatsoled puddlings in the slough of nonsense (quite a different kind of nonsense from ours, but not a whit less genuine) has hurt poor Fritz (Freddy) very much in my mind: poor fellow, he too lies deep-buried in the midden-stank even as Cromwell did; and then he is not half or tenth-part such a man as Cromwell, that one should swim and dive for him in that manner! In fact tho' I have not yet quitted the neighbourhood of Fritz and his old cocked-hat, his fate is very uncertain with me; and every new German Book I read about him, my feeling is, All up with Fritz. In Germany I could not even get a good Portrait of him,—tho' they spend the year round in singing dull insincere praises to him in every key; and have built a huge bronze and granite monument to him, in Berlin as big as your mid-steeple,1 at the cost of perhaps half a million, which is worth next to nothing, or nothing [ … ] and fools, after their sort, as we are after [ … ] oh me! They have the mask of his dead face, however; a fiercely shrivelled plaster-cast;—lips and chin and bottom of the nose I recollect as perfectly the image of our old Aunt Fann,2 if you remember her, in those features! The face of a lean lion, or else partly, alas! of a ditto cat! The lips are thin, and closed like pincers; a face that never yielded;—not the beautifullest kind of face. In fine why shd I torment my domestic soul writing his foreign history? He may go to—France for me!3

All people are getting ready their Christmas eatables here; determined upon doing a stroke of work that way. Such walls of fat beef, such wildernesses of plucked turkeys, eyes never saw: “all from the country, ma'am!” The poor people, who cannot buy, stand in crowds in speechless approval and generous admiration of those who can. I, for my part, am to dine alone on Christmas day; Jane is going with a Cousin of hers4 (son of George Welsh once of Boreland), and I think partly for the sake of him, to some gay party; and I will abide here by my papers and my 'bacco, and escape indigestions at any rate.— Likewise all the world is busy baking a new ministry; whh is to be laid upon the peel, and go into the oven, they say, this very night. A “coalition” of Whigs and Grahamites,5 or I know not what: not good, but compared with the late Derby swindle, and its abominable Jew Stump Orator and Impenitent Thief, it will be lovely for a season, and a relief to all eyes! Poor Protectionist Pigheads, there never were men so “sold,” since Judas concluded his trade. This Jew however will not hang himself; no, I calculate he has a great deal more of vile work to do in the world yet, if he live. Whatever brutish Infatuation has money in its purse, votes in its pocket, and no tongue in its head, here is the man to be a tongue for it (rather than be nothing, whh is his function, could he believe it) and to use all his “fine intellect” to put words in its mouth. In fact, he is not a beautiful man to me at all, that one;—and so we will leave him, in a plight, for the present, that is rather suitable to him.

Jack writes with as much brevity as ever; a Note of two or three vague lines come tonight: our poor old Mother was “in her usual way on Tuesday last”; poor Mrs John has had a bad sore-throat (which she is subject to in winter, it is now past the worst but not yet well by any means. I have had nothing direct from Scotsbrig for about ten days; and then it was merely a bulletin, but a favourable one, for which I was very thankful.

Poor old M'Diarmid, we shall see him no more, then!6 The day is drawing down (with the generation I belong to), and the tired labourers, one by one, are going home. There is rest there, I believe, for those that could never find any before. God is great, God is good: we shall all be there before long;—and I believe it wd be well if we cd take some particle of good work, or good attempt to work, along with us when we go.— How is Aird? He never writes;—nor indeed do I! Give my kind regards to him; silent, but as sincere as if they were louder.

I could go on scribbling a long while in this way (in spite of my grating iron pen, or by help of it); but the candles are burning down, and I have other writing to do before bedtime come. Adieu, dear Sister; rejoice that you live in quiet rather than in noise; continue, like a brave woman, to recognise loyally the mercies and genuine opulences of your lot,—to make the most of what is good, and to bear with silent courage, humanity and nobleness, what of evil is not to be cured: you will reduce it to a minimum in this way; and mortal can do no more.

Commend me to James; and wish him well thro' his accounts. Kind wishes to all the Bairns. Good be with you and yours, dear Jean; that is my heart's prayer.

Your affectionate Brother

T. Carlyle