The Collected Letters, Volume 28


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN ; 15 August 1853; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18530815-TC-JCA-01; CL 28: 250-251


Chelsea, 15 Augt, 1853—

Dear Jean,

I suppose you back at Dumfries again; I have heard no farther word from Scotsbrig since you wrote to me; nor am I quite sure of getting any, except round by John and Edinburgh. A little Note from you, with or without any definite tidings in it, but with your own ideas there, will be very welcome to me, the oftener the better.

I am much bothered here at present, very low in heart,—my work not able to get on at all; which nevertheless is my one defence agt a whole world of paltry annoyances and impediments (sorrow on them! says the lone man, trying not to be quite beaten by them):—and at present I am as short of time even as is usual, or as need be: wherefore I will at once address myself to a small bit of business; a small commission namely, which you are to get James to do for me.

A certain John Chorley (once a gentn of mark in the Railway world and elsewhere; at present, a retired philosopher, tho' still young; really a clever, learned man, and very fond of me) is the only person now known to me in the world who fairly possesses the faculty of mending a pen. He has other, many other, fine and useful faculties, and with these too serves us here; but in a particular manner with penmaking and what belongs to that.— Well, this excellent Chorley complains that, in the whole Earth, for a long time back, he has not been able to find what he accounts a really good penknife,—but finds all blades (even Rogers's of Sheffield1 &c &c) to be made of poor ill-tempered steel. I lately gave him my penknife to sharpen: he made both blades keen and fine as a razor;—observed withal that he had not seen such a bit of honest steel as was in that knife for ten years back, and could not get such a piece for love or money. That penknife was got new-bladed by your James at Cutler Hinchcliff's;2 it was Hff who put that preeminent bit of steel where it now is! In consequence, I have come to the plain resolution (and stated it to Chorley) of getting him a penknife from the same place,—the very best Hf can be persuaded to make. That is all: but really that is something considerable; for Chorley has obliged me hundreds of times, and wd run for me by night or by day (tho' a hard and angry man otherwise); so that it wd give me real pleasure to make him this little Gift in a complete and triumphant form. Here are the essential particulars of the thing:

Double-bladed knife,—one blade a “cut-stick,” the other for pens (or there may be two for pens, if you like, but one will do), and sharp-point shape is preferred for this). Buckhorn handle. These however are all perfectly unimportant particulars in comparison: the particr of particulars is, That the steel be as good as mine is! This will cause the grim heart of Chorley to rejoice when he sees it; and he is a judge. I earnestly entreat James and the excellt Hinchff to do their very best towards attaining me this small but useful blessing. And there shall be cheerful payt, not of money only, but of gratitude, as reason good. Perhaps Mr Hf does not make knives at all? In that case, he must knock the blades out of some useful buckhorn handle, and put in right ones of his own, right ones, right ones! And this is all.

We have again a host of masons &c (but this time, expert fellows and under real command), building us a big room which shall be airy, and yet utterly deaf, inaccessible to sound—it is to occupy all the available part of a new uppermost story (old roof to come off &c &c): 20 feet square, and light from the top, to be the result:—Oh Heaven, I could not help it, I was driven to it, and hope it will answer. If it do not—!— Well, I can fly to the moors at any rate; and will. Adieu dear Sister. We hope better things, tho' we thus speak. Yours ever T. Carlyle