TC TO JAMES CARLYLE; 26 October 1854; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18541026-TC-JC-01; CL 29: 177-179
TC TO JAMES CARLYLE
Chelsea, 26 Octr, 1854—
My dear Brother,
It is positively a shame that I have not written to you long ago! It seems so easy done any day; and yet it is still to do. The truth is, I intended faithfully; and surely could, and should, have saved a half-hour out of some forenoon, for the sake of one I like so well: but alas, all forenoons, and some of them to an insupportable extent, are filled with confusions, and unfulfilled labours for me; I think always I ought to get some definite task of writing done; and every forenoon proves hours too short for any available good I can get of it! Never in my life had I such an unbounded burble (wide as five parishes!) to try whether I could ravel out, and weave into a web! You must have patience with me. I can only say I do not design again to be so long in sending you a line of writing. One has not now so many persons in the world whom it is in the least worth while to write to, that one should neglect those that in every sense are worth while and must continue to be, while we are alive along with them. Alas, alas!— But no more of all that.
We have staid steadily here, as you know; I have never been away one night since that bright stern morning when you put me into the Rail at Ecclefechan: one grand duty, therefore, I have not been remiss in; that of staying at home. Which indeed has various advantages; and is, at any rate, the easiest method. I do not find that my shattered nerves get rapidly better by dint of mere letting alone; but I sometimes think they do improve rather than otherwise; and it is the monition of long and sad experience to me that the uproar of railway journeying, and the confusion produced in me by all change of any kind, are good to be avoided, for most part. We have been, and are, after our fashion, quite tolerably well; never specially unwell, either of us:—if I were able to get master of my work, and see it progressing under my hands, I should never complain of health,—tho' it is very mainly want of health, and of the consequent stock of hope, energy and good spirits, that so terribly holds me back, and prevents any conquest over this immense Coil of disorder that is round me. If I myself were once in a right fiery state of activity, I should dash it to the right and left in some way, and get thro' it. One of the chief effects of age, almost the only one I very definitely trace, is this great decay of interest in things presented to me: the sad question, “What is the use of it? Where lies the beauty, worth or importance of it?” is much readier with me than it used to be; and it requires a far greater stretch of effort to “get up the steam” about anything than was of old the case. No wonder!— I often think of an old spavined horse; cannot mark the ground till it is once got warm; but can then go a reasonable pace still, for some time. We must try, we must try!
There was in Autumn a good deal of cholera here; evidently an unwholesome atmosphere, tending to biliary disorders; plenty of cases in Chelsea and all about: we endeavoured to avoid speaking of the subject (for terror, so far as I can judge, is the worst “predisposing cause” of all); and to follow our affairs as if it were not there. After all, what could one do to better the business. Seemingly there was little use in running away, which with an effort we might have done: Cholera was in the Isle of Skye; in the airy quiet village of Ecclefechan, I find, the cases were just about twice as numerous in proportion as here in London: you lost about 1 in the 100, we 1 in the 200! The disease has now disappeared, at least gone out of notice;—swallowed in Russian victories &c &c, in which also I cannot find that there is much to disturb my composure. From the first I regretted and disapproved all that Turk affair, a thing recommended by the fools of the Country and not by the wise; and I believe we shall get as little by it as by most things we have tried lately.1 As even fools will discover by and by!— One other bit of news, more interesting to everybody, is, that the American harvest is deficient, and that we are not to have cheap prices in spite of our own abundance: the price of corn (wheat) is still high, and “rose 10 shillings” within the last week, as I heard. But indeed there is such gambling in the Corntrade, I believe, one can hardly ever know what the real price will be or should be. We find the potatoes much more tolerable in quality then they have been for seven years back or more.
You must have got done with all shearing and digging by this time; I have always from time to time heard of your operations; and hoped you were reaping a “good crop.” Tell me, some way or other, or bid Isabella or the Doctor tell me, how that is.— Poor Doctor! That was a sad visit he made to London this year; and he had to leave it in sadly changed circumstances! I have not been concerned, that I remember, in a more sorrowful and miserable thing; and my heart is yet often sad to a degree when I think of poor Phoebe and her fate. What the Doctor, poor fellow, will now do, I cannot guess; can hope and pray only that he may decide on some course that will be useful for him and the best.— Dear Brother, I have done with this bit of paper; and the iron pen (I have now been driven mostly to iron) is but a disobedient one. I must not start another sheet; I must let you go for this time. Give our kind regards to the good Isabella; bid her not forget us, as we do not her. I surely mean to write again, myself, before long; and hope I shall, some way, soon hear news of you.
Your affecte Brother,2