The Collected Letters, Volume 28


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE ; 6 January 1853; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18530106-TC-AC-01; CL 28: 5-9


Chelsea, London, 6 january, 1853—

My dear Brother,

We are now in the beginning of a new Year, when old accounts are summed up, and old recollections sad and joyful are gone into; and I will delay no longer, what I have been thinking of this great while, to send you again a word of direct writing from me. It is indeed a long time since I have written: alas, I have been so whirled about for many months, I have not written a line, except upon compulsion, to anybody; and am very seldom, even if time were plentiful with me, which it never is, in a case to write anything that could be cheering to a Brother far away! Never mind, let me write at last; and try if I can be more punctual in time coming!

Last summer early, in June I think, it was, after study and consultation enough, decided by my Helpmate and me, that we should finally abandon the speculation of ever getting out of this place; that we should secure a long lease (31 years, long enough!) of this solid old House, “thoroughly repair it according to our mind,” and decide on being quiet here henceforth. On the whole I found that it must be so. Nearly every year since I came to live here, especially in late years since there was a possibility for me of getting elsewhither, I have madly struggled, in my thoughts, expressed or not, to be out of this horrible uproar of London, and into some place of country quiet and fresh air: but, alas, it always ended with the mere struggle and without any victory; the chains were too heavy for me. Scotland, when I go back to it, is little other than a place of graves to me; I wander there like a ghost among the living,—a common lot at such years as mine now are. And to settle down, as a hermit and stranger, without work out of doors or the chance to form new relations, in some solitary place in England—alas! Not to say that my Wife was always silently against giving up our advantages here:—in short, I gave it up, as you perceive; and have now, for anything I know, done with dubitating on the matter.— Well, we set about getting our House “thoroughly repaired”; fairly began about the first of July, I think; and—are not properly done yet! Let me not speak of the affair; it is really one of the abominablest jobs I have ever been engaged in; and has cost me, in money paid and misery suffered, more than I care to think of at present! “Six weeks” was the time set, and £200 the sum guessed: if double the sum, & six times the time, get me fairly thro', I suppose it will be well, as things have proved!— However, let us not murmur: the House really is very much improved; has been comfortably habitable ever since October, and with a 3 weeks of papering and painting (in this chief room, where I now am, and where my books and work are), were the long days once come again,—we shall actually have done;—and, I believe, shall not be in haste to begin a similar job again while we continue here! Often have I thought of you, my dear and helpful shifty Alick, while all this was going on! How you carried us thro' a tenfold harder-looking business at Puttock1 once, and at quite another rate of charges:—in fact, had you been here, it had not taken us the dance it has, in any respect whatever. For above all things, the thing we have wanted all along has been a Master of the Works: our Builder has been without faculty that way, tho' otherwise an honest reputable painstaking man, 2 whom I have pitied and paid,—what else could I do?

However, the thing I had to say was: About the middle of July, all being dust noise and desolation here, and the weather blazingly hot, Jane, who alone had the superintendance, sent me off to Scotland to be out of the way. I was in a most wrecked bilious condition, and glad enough to go. I sailed to Dundee; staid 3 weeks or better with a Mr Erskine3 a friend of mine in that quarter; then came down to Annandale, staid 4 weeks there, still weak, sleepless and very ill off indeed,—but in hopes my own home wd soon be ready for me again. Alas, it became now evident that there was no chance of that for other four weeks or more. Jane sent me off to Germany, she and others; I went for some six weeks into that Country, was at Berlin, at Weimar,—scenes full of sorrowful and other interest to me, had I been in any tolerable condition as to body; but I was not! I got no right sleep any night, often no sleep at all; grew every day more weakly wretched; and in fact do not remember six such weeks, for vile suffering of various kinds, in all my life. I hurried home again; resolute to have done with that at any rate. Early in October I got home; but it was not till the end of the month that I could fairly live here (painters &c &c still haunting us); I think it was in November when I first flung myself fairly down; and said, “Well then, let me sink as low as gravitation carries me; I will have rest, whatever befal!”— That has been my posture, “lying at the bottom of the dead sea” ever since;—and that will explain why I have been so remiss in writing among other things. I think I never was more “brashed to pieces,” or have been in such weak gloomy humour; holding my peace, keeping diligently mute: that was nearly all I could do; and that I have hitherto pretty honestly done.— Quietly, however, let me say: in the rear of all this wretchedness I feel as if my health even were not fundamentally hurt, but rather were clearer and improved; also that perhaps I shall get some good of my sight of Germany yet; that the House will be better and perhaps the man better;—and in brief that all shall be well that ends well, as we have seen it sometimes heretofore! Do not distress yourself therefore about my vociferous extensive complainings,—not too much;—you know of old, it is in some sort the “nature of the beast.” And now, after a whole sheet of worthless lamentations (which I was far from intending, but cannot now help), let us turn from the so remarkably unfortunate Thomas Carlyle, and speak of other members of the family, a little.

Scotsbrig is still the most interesting of all places; Scotsbrig, where our poor old Mother is, 4 I will first speak of. Ah me, she is now very old and weak; lies mostly in bed I believe in this dark season of the year. In the autumn time I found her feeble, but clear, lively after her weak sort, and very seldom in bed thro' the day. However, she took small “ill-turns,” and the least thing was now able to overset her. She walked with me sometimes to the Fairy Brae;5 seldom farther. She was peaceable in mind; intellect &c clear as ever; but the light of her old life, so far as joy or satisfaction of any kind went, was waxing dim, not now the cheerful sunlight, but pale grey twilight,—alas, alas, it is the inexorable law; and no love of ours can deliver this loved life from the universal lot! They are kind to her, all of them, as they can contrive to be: she reads a great deal, all kinds of clever books are still interesting to her; reading is her chief resource.6 One of the Austin lasses (Margaret it was in Septr, and I think again is)7 always stays with her; waits upon her handily and with due attention. She was fond of talking when in moderate health; fond especially of talking to me, whom she had not always with her. Oh my Brother, I do not know that you should regret being cut off from that spectacle; especially if, like me, you only had it from year to year! I can recollect no bitterer moments than these I have of parting from My old Mother, and leaving her so!— Well, well; in fine, she is in God's hand, as we all are; and surely He will do what is right and best with that dear old Mother and with us: let us try if we can say, His will, not ours, be done in all things!— I write almost weekly, not quite, to my Mother; Jack8 is also still often about her; and I think there is no lack of care about her, on all hands.

Jack, as you doubtless know long since, has got married,—contrary to calculation of many! He was busy about that enterprize, running continually to Moffat &c all the time I was there; so that I did not get much communication with him, and little or none of an intimate nature. He has since been here, with our new Sister; staid a couple of weeks in Chelsea here in lodgings near us; was very happy and good; and I liked his Missus very much after a sort. A tall Ladylike person enough, not beautiful but handsome enough and healthfully agreeable; has sense enough, and I think is of cheerful temper and honest heart, which are great qualities. She seems very fond of her new husband: and in short I concluded they might fairly hope to be a real and considerable addition to each other's comfort. Jack has got a home and other advantages;9 she a guardian to her 4 boys and ditto. She is said to have “plenty of money”; how much (whether £1,000 a year or twice that sum) I never know.10— They are living now and till midsummer next, at Moffat (as you doubtless are aware) in a House of Hope Johnstone's11 opposite the Star Hô tel,—an uppish-looking stout old mansion with court &c, whh I daresay you remember. He writes me frequently, a short very short Note; and seems to be down at Scotsbrig once every 7 or 8 days to see our Mother. It seemed to me as if she would not like that method of his help less than the old one, where perhaps anybody constantly beside her might be a disturbing influence at times to one so weak.— — The rest of our kindred were all well, and doing rather well; these times being brisk for trade of every kind,—so long as the game lasts, that is; but I look for the inevitable “crisis” again, and a change of game by and by; such as we have known before to be the rule!— —

Adieu dear Brother; it is now near midnight; and I must end. Till tomorrow I need not seal; and will now only say Good Night.

T. C.

Friday 7 jany.—Dear Brother,—I must now finally seal, in great haste; for the rain we have had all day has at last ceased, —and my work is flung by, to go out and walk a little (violently striding thro' the mud!) for constitutional purposes. There never was such a winter for wet: no frost at all, only rain, rain, and tempests of wind, or stagnant damp vapours still more disagreeable.—— I had your Letter (the last you wrote me) duly. No farther news for me this morning. With heartfelt love and regards to you and yours every one—dear Brother, adieu!—Your affectionate ever, T. Carlyle