The Collected Letters, Volume 28


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE ; 28 December 1853; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18531228-TC-AC-01; CL 28: 360-362


Scotsbrig, 28 December, 1853.

My dear Brother—To-day comes the saddest news I ever sent you from this place; the sorrow you have no doubt long been anticipating: our good and beloved old Mother is gone from us; on this Earth we have no Mother. She died on Sunday last (the 25th) at ten minutes past four in the afternoon; nothing else had been expected for many weeks and months; she had endured much suffering too (tho' without any disease except old age), and was spent to the last thread of weakness, hardly could you fancy a weaker creature with life, with clear intellect and generous affection still left. The good Doctor was unwearied in his attendance, coming from Moffat once or twice a week this long while, and lately staying here nearly altogether. Jean and Mary alternated in their attendance for several months; for almost the last two, it had been chiefly Jean alone whom our Mother seemed to prefer, and who indeed alone of the two had strength sufficient either of body or mind: Jean refused to be worn out, and has indeed stood with faithful, almost heroic affection to her task, in a loving manner well rewarded with love; looks greatly fatigued and excited, but I think will recover herself gradually without damage. I came from Chelsea hither only on Friday morning last, after great uncertainties as to what I ought to do,—for I could ill move, and felt that I should be in the way here. It had long been signified expressly to our dear Mother that if she gave the least sign of wish to me I could be with her in one day; but she was too magnanimous ever to express such a wish; and it was not till last week that I could fairly see I ought to go without delay. During the journey it became frightfully uncertain to me whether I should still find her alive; walking from Kirtlebridge where the morning early train had set me down, I durst ask nobody; I learned with certainty only when half-way up this stair-case. Thank God (as I may do for the rest of my life), my dear old Mother was still alive, still able with a perceptible joy to recognize me: her mind tho' occasionally clouded with pain and extreme weakness, was there, as it had always been, and as it continued still more conspicuously to the end, clear, quietly nobly patient, simple and composed: her spirit, her very form of character and humour (for she occasionally spoke with a faint touch of jocosity, in her old fashion even in late weeks) continued entire to the very last, to a most singular degree; I likened it to a bit of sharp steel ground now to the very back, yet still the same steel in all respects, and with the same edge. Her weakness that Friday, after all I had heard so long, was almost beyond my expectation; she had a restless weary day, asleep and awake from minute to minute;—mistook us several times; me once, “did not know me at all,” yet sent Jane out directly after (the good generous ever-loving Mother!) to bring me back with apologies, “That I was Tom, that she knew me right weel.” After midnight when I was retiring, she said as in old healthy days, “Tell us how thou sleeps!” Ah me, ah me! On the morrow, especially towards dusk and afterwards, she was visibly weaker; but her mind was steady and clear as it had ever been, indeed to a degree that still astonishes me. Struggling for breath (for she had not strength to take half an ordinary fill of the lungs, as John explained to us), she was in great suffering and distress for some hours; little sips of a kind of drink (“give me a spark of that thing”), shifting of her posture; restlessly struggling (as seemed evident then) with the last enemy, in this condition she asked for Jean; heard that she was “seeking up coals” (from the old shed you will remember), and thereupon ordered John to “hold the candle to the Window” for light to Jean! Such a trait I never witnessed from any creature before; and there were others of the like which I shall remember with satisfaction as long as I live.— Jean said she nightly heard her whispering her prayers all along; forgetting none of us, “going round by America too now” (as she sometimes would say, when speaking of it), nay not forgetting any public or general interest fit for prayer; and thinking only of herself and her own grandest interests as subject and posterior to these. Oh my Brother, we are to be forever thankful to such a Mother! A pious dignity, a truth, affection, generosity, and simple valour and invincibility were in her, such as are given to only very few; and are a high and noble treasure, far above this world's wealth, to all connected with them.— About midnight of Saturday, there being no relief visible anywhere, John ventured not without apprehension, on a small appliance (half her former quantity) of laudanum, in two portions; this very soon brought abatement. A little after midnight, John said to her, “Here's Tom come to bid you good-night.” She looked kindly at me, as she had done even in the worst pain, and she was now somewhat easier; I kissed her cold lips; and she took leave of me in these words, “I'm muckle obliged t'ye,” audibly whispered; which are forever memorable to me;—which except a “yes” and a “no” in answer to questions from John about one and about four o'clock, were the last she spoke in this world. For shortly after midnight, she fell asleep, slept ever deeper for sixteen hours; her look on Sunday morning and all day pointing gradually towards death as we sat by her: about 3.45 P.M. the breathing rather suddenly sank fainter (it had never been harsh, nor was there any phlegm),—paused once or twice, and then gently ceased; and she was with God. Amen, amen.— My only consolation ever since is, the thought that she is freed forevermore from great bodily suffering; that she finished a life full of sorrows, but also full of worth, and such as only a few whom God loves can lead.— This is what I had to write, dear Brother, not in good circumstances for imparting in a proper way such news to you. Please send the Letter forward to Jenny, to whom I will now write only the bare fact. The Funeral is to be to-morrow (Monday);1 the weather is frosty with some snow. You will, after that, hear some humbler details about business, and have your consent asked to what the other three parties here shall think wisest to be done in that respect.— I received from you duly what you wrote; well that you rejected the Books.2 I hope to write soon again; and now bid God bless you!

Your affectionate Brother