The Collected Letters, Volume 28


JWC TO THOMAS CARLYLE ; 20 July 1853; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18530720-JWC-TC-01; CL 28: 210-212


Scotsbrig Wednesday [20 July 1853]

I dare say you have thought me very neglectful Dear in not writing yesterday, to give you news of your Mother; but there was nothing comfortable or even positive to be said yesterday, and to torture you at a distance with miserable uncertainty seemed a cruel attention. Thro' Saturday and Sunday your Mother continued much the same as I found her on my last coming. Too weak and frail to be out of bed; but without pain or sickness—for the rest perfectly clear in her mind, and liking us to be in the room talking to her. During the Sunday night, she became very restless and about seven on Monday morning she fell into a state which was considered by all here, the Minister included, to be the beginning of the end— There was no pain no struggle— She lay without sense or motion, cold and deathlike, hardly breathing at all— The Minister prayed without her hearing him— John and Mary were sent for with scarce a hope that they could arrive in time and all of us sat in solemn silence awaiting the end— Had it come thus, you would have had no cause to lament Dear, a more merciful termination there could not have been to a good Life. But after lying in this state from seven in the morning till a quarter after two in the day—she rallied as by miracle—Jane was wiping her lips with a wet sponge when she (your Mother) suddenly took the sponge out of Jane's hand and sponged her face all over with her own hand then she opened her eyes, and spoke quite collectedly as if nothing had happened; nor has she ever shown the least consciousness of having come thro' that fearful crisis. When John and Mary arrived together at a quarter after four, not expecting to find her alive they found her a little weaker perhaps, but not otherwise worse than when they left her. She talked a good deal to me during the afternoon, said you had been as good a son to her as ever woman had—“but indeed they had been all good bairns—and Isabella puir bodie, was guy distressed hersell and it was just to say, that Isabella had been often kind to her, extrordnar kind—and was ay kindest when they were alain thegither, and she had none else to depend on.”— That I can well believe!—and very glad I was to have those kind words to carry to Jamie and Isabella— Isabella had been crying all morning; for since Jane came your Mother had hardly spoken to her. When I left your Mother that night. she said in a clear loud voice “I thank ye most kindly for all yeer attentions”— “Oh if I could but do you any good.” I said. “Ye have done me good—mony a time,” she answered. I went to bed to lie awake all night listening for noises—John slept in the midroom— But the light of a new day found your Mother better rather than worse— It was more the recollection of the state in which she had been than her actual state that kept us in agitation all yesterday—one thing that leads me to believe her life will be prolonged is that she recovered out of that crisis, by the natural strength that was still in her she must have been much stronger than anyone thought to have rallied after so many hours of such deathlike prostration—entirely of herself. She had been in the habit of getting what seems to me perfectly extraordinary quantities of wine, whisky and porter exciting a false strength not to be depended on for an hour— Of late days this system has discontinued and she takes now only little drops of wine and water two or three times a day and about the third of a Tumbler of guiness' porter at night. The day that John was sent for last week he told me himself she had “a bottle of wine (strong greek wine) a quarter of a bottle of whisky (25 over proof) besides a tumbler of porter!”— A life kept up in that way was neither to be depended on nor I should say to be desired— Now she is living on her own strength such as it is and you may conceive what irritation is removed—

I dont know whether it is to be considered lucky or unlucky that I came at this time— Of course I give as little trouble as possible and make myself as useful as possible— And I feel sure that Jamie and Isabella like me to be here even under these sad circumstances—and that the sight of me coming and going in her room does your Mother good rather than harm—and then I shall be able to answer all your questions about her when I come back, better than the others could do by letter. For the rest; I doubt not I am in John's way, and perhaps a little in Jane's, as I absolutely decline entering into her views of Jamie and Isabella—who as I told herself had never either of them said to me one unkind word about her.1 As for Mary she is the same kindly soul as I knew her at Craigenputtoch— Jamie was to have driven me over to the Gill on Monday and instead the empty gig was sent to bring Mary here— She ran out of the house to meet me and was told her Mother was at the point of death— She is still here but goes home tomorrow I believe, and John goes back to Moffat today— He will probably be down again tomorrow— It is a comfort to himself to come—but he can do nothing—no Dr can do anything against old age—which is your Mothers whole disease—

I shall be home one of these days any little spirits for visiting and travelling that I had left are completely worn out by what I have found here. I only wait till things are reestablished in a state in which I can leave with comfort—

I have just been to see if your Mother had awoke— She has slept two hours—I asked her if she had any message for you—and she said “none I am afraid that he will like to hear—for he'll be sorry that Im so frail”— She had had some chicken broth— I will write after tomorrow—and I beseech you not to be fancying her ill off in any way. She has no pain, no anxiety of mind—is more comfortable really, lying in bed there “so frail,” than we have often seen her going about after her work. She is attended to every moment of the day—gets every thing she is able to take— No one can predict as to the length of her life after what we saw on Monday—but there is nothing in her actual state or appearance to make it impossible or even improbable that she should live a long time yet—

I would much rather not have written today—but I judged that my silence might alarm you even more than the truth told you— I like few things worse than writing ill news

Ever affly yours /

J W Carlyle

I had a very kind letter from Jeannie Crystal2 pressing me to go there for a week or two—but as I have said I am quite out of heart—I have had no sleep the last two nights and shall get none now probably till I am in my own bed at Chelsea

It is quite affecting Jamie's devoted attention to me— If I am but out one half an hour for a walk he will follow me to my bedroom—no matter how early in the day, carrying (very awkwardly you may be sure) a little tray with a decanter of wine— (not the “greek wine” but wine bought for me by himself) and a plateful of shortbread—Nor can an[y]body3 be more heartily and politely kind than Isabella has been to me

My remembrances to Fanny—