The Collected Letters, Volume 28


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN ; 18 November 1853; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18531118-TC-JCA-01; CL 28: 313-315


Chelsea, 18 Novr, 1853—

My dear Jean,

I am again very much in want of news about my Mother, tho' your last Note is not yet answered. Day after day, and yesterday in particular, I have intended to write; but, as usual, confused interruptions abound; and you see, I have not yet got it done, I am yet only doing it.— Pray write me a word as soon as you can, how the dear old Mother gets along, in this harsh weather: I often fear for her, when I feel the harsh air; but, I suppose too, she is mostly in bed; the room kept very warm; and perhaps the weather makes less difference in her weak state, than it did when she was stronger. Alas, alas!— Tell me, at any rate, how matters are. We have got out of rain here, into dim chill fogs, the sun hardly mastering them and giving us a bright sky, for perhaps two hours in the day (which two hours I generally miss, being late with my work!)— there is then, and indeed always, a good deal of frost in the air: this morning my bedroom [win]dows were all frost-flowered, and out of doors everything was hard, under a sky of reek and mist. I run, rather than walk till heat come to me after my morning bath, and find in certain quiet rounds of streets, an excellent smooth pavement and do not quarrel with my walk or my atmosphere, putting one thing to another. On the whole, I ought to call myself well; wonderfully well, for my years and long grumbling: there is really, at many times, very little fundamentally wrong with my health; it is my trade rather (as I may perceive) that weds me to pain, and has deformed all my life in that sad manner. We cannot help it; we must not complain! Jane, who is much weaker than I, continues to go out &c, and fights along with the best spirit she can. We have now, by her industry, got the new Drawing room (this where I now am) carpeted, curtained &c; and a capital room it is (nearly 20 feet square, by its new dimensions); and may serve us well for a winter-evening sitting-room for the rest of our time.

Before I forget let me bid you tell Jamie to tell Tom Garthwaite that his drawers and trowsers were perfectly the thing I wanted, fitting as well as need be; and that he, T.G., must now send me his account. Of the excellent and welcome oatmeal I now and then have a cup of porridge as in old times; no equally agreable1 and useful supper could ever yet be devised for me,—and this in the absence of first-rate milk, in the presence of only second or third rate. We have not broken into the Hams yet; but shall not fail, once the previous stock is cleared away. The butter did not seem to prosper quite; we thought, for some time, it might be the top stratum (it never was bad, yet never so good as intended): finally, the other day, Jane exchanged it with her Butter-merchant, on fair terms, and is to have fresh butter, or new salt, instead (10d a pound allowed): so that all is right on that side too.— We had a Note from Jack this morning, Jane had; tomorrow (Saturday), as you know, he hoped to be at Moffat again. He will at least be nearer my Mother; tho' alas I know not if he can do her much good! It will at least console one's imagination a little. As the Note is here, I may as well send it.

The other night some Americans were here; one of them, an official man in his own country, certified me that my dormant American Bonds would yet be paid, principal and interest to the last penny, and that before long!2 Very well; it was a loss of £230, to which I had quite reconciled myself; and so the £350 it has now grown to will be like money found, and very useful in these present expenditures,—if we actually had it! The truth is I never bother myself about money at all; having other far deeper bothers which quite abolish that.— There is another thing I wanted to confide to you and to my Mother, tho' it is a secret, and I wish you to keep it such. This is it. Prince Albert, as I know from a very sure hand (one Sir Jas Stephen, once an Official of weight) proposed me, at the end of this session of parliament to Lord Aberdeen for a Pension! Canny Aberdeen, a douce, smallheaded, sleek and feeble old gentleman, whom I have seen once, and talked a little to, getting little but smiles and commonplaces in return,—he shook slightly his canny head, and thought my “heterodoxy” on some points might be objectionable. And so it stands;—and may as well stand; for I am sure I should have had to refuse Ld Aberdeen's offer (in the quantity and in the style he would have offered); and that would not have been pleasant. I consider it likely enough there will yet a better offer of the kind be made, if I live some years; and that we can deal with, as shall then (on clearer grounds) seem good.3 Few men, I suppose, everi wanted a Pension less: and if it is thrown me as a bit of a charity, I am bound not to take it; if either it, or the way of giving it, is not quite to my mind, why should I dream of taking it? “Having carried on my work thus far, ” as Johnson said, with so little help from the powerful, I am content to finish it, if less be possible, with less!”4—and no Supreme Burgh Baillie (of the Aberdeen species), never so sleek or canny, “can do the’ aither ill [n]or guid”5— — This is the little bit Secret, which is for my Mother and you. I think it will be better not to mention it farther; for really I should not like it to be known or talked of at all.

You never said more to me about your James the Younger: I fancy it is a very good change for him that to Glasgow. Bid him be careful of his health, for one chief thing.

I must now end. Write to me, however briefly, what word you have. Give my continual affection to my Mother, for whom I would so gladly give something usefuller, if I had it. Alas, Alas! I send my heart's blessing to her and you all.

Your affectionate /

T. Carlyle