The Collected Letters, Volume 28


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE ; 8 April 1853; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18530408-TC-AC-01; CL 28: 99-101


Chelsea, London, 8 April, 1853—

My dear Brother,

Here is a little Package, which is intrinsically worth nothing, but which will be welcome to you nevertheless. One of the inventions of these times, that of taking Portraits by the light of the sun, is no doubt common in your neighbourhood as it is in ours: a particular form of it, called Talbotype, has lately come into the hands of the general public here; and one of our acquaintances (Anthony Sterling, a man rich and idle) amuses himself, as various people do, with taking likenesses by that method. Here are two of his best specimens; at least the two which, I am well sure, you will like best.1 Mine was not originally done by him, but has been copied successfully by him, as you here see: Jane's I do not think nearly so good; but it also is a tolerable Likeness, and of course faithful so far as it goes. You can keep the poor scraps, if they come safe to, under some kind of cheap frame, or safe anywhere from dust and damp (these are the two elements hostile to them); and now and then they will give you remembrances of those by whom you never can be forgotten, and who otherwise do not fear that you ever will forget them. Alas, alas!—

We are in our usual health here, which is not of the most vigorous description, and in the usual situation of affairs,—rather stationary and contemplative amid the huge whirlpool of noise, and mostly aimless locomotion, and mostly vain activity, which surrounds us. I am not writing anything, at least not anything that will stand on the paper: but I try to be not quite idle, to struggle at least towards work, if I cannot yet get into it; and to possess my soul in what patience I can. For the rest I find we have never yet got properly out of our “House-repair,” or fairly settled in the old routine again. So thinskinned and helpless is a poor “speculative” creature; unacquainted with the world's industries, and abhorrent of many of its habits and ways! How often have I remembered you, and your struggles with the Dumfries Tradesmen in the other “repair” we made; 2—alas, I never knew so well what a cloak against the weather you were for me on that occasion; and how unfit I am, and becoming ever more so, to go abroad without such protection! I believe truly it has cost more than twice as much money, and perhaps five times as much time and bother, as you, had you been here on the spot, would have brought us thro' it for.— However, I have (tho' unpapered and unpainted as yet) an excellent large wholesome room to sit in (19 feet by 18 or more); also a pleasant wholesome bedroom and dressing-closet, clean as the country itself, and extremely quiet for London: I ought to be thankful & content; and shall be so, were my nerves quite healed to their old pitch again. London, which has about 2½ millions of people in it already, is building as never City did: what it will grow to, or where is to be the end of all this, I confess I am utterly unable to conjecture;—in the meanwhile, it makes a great increased3 of dirt and of tumult in one's courses here; and I could have wished they had put the business off till I—were somewhere else. All is “prosperity, ” too, they say continually; that is, money is plentiful and makes luxury and folly, in all classes, still more plentiful: truly, the “prosperity” we are now in, and the paths we are now travelling as with the speed of express-trains,— give rise to meditations enough in me.— — In your last Letter to Graham of Burnswark, I noticed, you talk of “eyesight”: did I ever tell you that I too use spectacles at night, for a year or two past; and feel myself indeed growing very old. What is notable I have not yet lost much of my strength, perhaps little in any sense, but I feel a dreadful increase of laziness in all senses: “Gude guide us to, Sandy, I think he's stiff to ye reise!4 In fact nothing but the sting of conscience, and much internal misery, or else a plain outward necessity, can make him “reise, ” or get into a right red heat of effort any more. How much more insignificant all earthly things become, as one approaches day by day the “earnest portal”! Courage, my Brother; God is above us, the Good and Just reigns to all Eternity, and He only.

Our dear old Mother is still holding wonderfully together; and I have good report of her not yet a week old; our dreadful spring weather (one of the fiercest and latest springs I ever saw) did give her a shock once which alarmed us for a day or two; but it soon passed again, and she seems as well as before. Jack comes down weekly to her from Moffat;—where he is to live after June, I do not yet hear. The rest in Annandale are all in their usual state: what a tract of quiet years have we had in that respect for long,—by Heaven's goodness! I saw Tom's Letter and one from your “little Jane,” now a happy woman and mother. God bless them all: they seem good clever creatures. Adieu dear Brother. Here is interruption (sorrow on it); but at any rate, my space was quite done.

Ever your affectionate /

T. Carlyle