1854-June 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 29


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN; 25 December 1854; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18541225-TC-JCA-01; CL 29: 224-227


Chelsea, 25 decr, 1854

Dear Jean,—I am up to no work today; have gone groping about for above two hours, not able to get hold of any handle that will act on these rude rubbish-heaps round me, in my present humour and condition: I will write a word to you, pay my debt on that side; and take out to walking,—tho' it is mud and rain; and, my feet and shoes being in such a relation to one another, walking is not a good job either. But it may prove a beneficial one. For really I am quite stupified in this dark muddy element, and may be better even for a look at the Battersea Cabbage fields (on the other side of the river), and a brush from the wet southwest winds.

Poor Jane is just gone out in an Omnibus, for a shilling's worth of driving deep into the City and back again: she is still weakly, little able to shift about, tho' her express “cold” is gone or nearly so. She has not ventured upon The Grange any more than I; after much hithering and thithering, she gave it up; and except (which also is doubtful) at some solitary future invitation, when winter is a little over, neither of us will be there this year. A big fluctuating party, many of whom you care nothing about, does not suit at all, at all. To me in my present mood, and at this present time, it would have been intolerable, & a thing to be shuddered at. Alas, I remember too well where we were last year this time, and what we were doing and witnessing! All yesterday the scene stood before me as if I were still in it; indeed it is no day out of my mind: and I find in general it has made an irreparable breach in my existence,—and strangely left me with a feeling of being stript bare in this world. To you who have children of your own, and are so many years younger, the breach will gradually heal itself: but for me, I feel constantly as if I were henceforth irrecoverably an impoverished man. Our dear and good and brave old mother! Yet it is not a sorrow to me, it is a stern comfort rather, that she is now out of the wind and wet, from which none of us could screen her loved existence. From her grave she yet calls to us, Struggle faithfully piously, and you also may reach a happy haven!— God is great; God is also good. We will say no more on this sad subject. It continues very sad to me, and very stern and grand and strange.

The Dr as you know is at Clifton, in Lodgings, with the two Boys, during their Christmas holidays. How long that lasts I do not know: he has not written to me since they got into their own lodgings; I sent him an insignificant word on Saturday last. He did not seem morbidly depressed, or much unwell either in mind or body, while here: but I apprehend it will be very difficult for him to come well to anchor again; and that is a great and constant drawback. I wish he would fasten to his Dante again: there is really no other remedy apparent to me. Poor Jack: to him also this Christmas is far other than a “merry” one; and much is sadly different from what it was last year!—

What a strange account, that you give of your little Glasgow mason; working nightly at h[is] Ezechiel wheel for the purpose of “shortening labour” to mankind.1 He comes often into my head, since your Note; a strange little type of the bewilderment of Adam's posterity in these days.

I am very glad to hear of Jim's hungry appetite. You must let him stay with you till he is quite sound again;—and I think it will be an evident piece of wisdom not on any terms to concern him with those Jews again. Worthy masters do exist, and will prove discoverable, even if Glen2 cannot find one all at once: if you are once satisfied of the dishonesty and bad nature of a man, it is better to have no more to do with him. A faithful Helper of any ability (as I hope and believe Jim is) must be a valuable acquisition, too, to any right master. I wish I had any help for you in this business; but do not see how;—and hope only you will get it well settled before long.

I am, tho' at a scarcely perceptible rate, getting forward a little with my ungainly work. Indeed it is a radically ugly job; and will never do me any good, except make me rid of it one day, if it please Heaven! I am much mauled, these some years, by many causes, and do not think I shall ever get up my hand (or liver, I ought to say!) rightly again, at this age I have reached:—but one is not willing to be beaten either; one must learn one's limits, and observe them. Thriftily employed, there is still strength in an “old quarryman” (tho' not like Archy White, do you remember Archy? “The tightest old quarryman in the whole Howrigg!”).3

I have got a Pamphlet from Glasgow, about that Lord Rector Election which was going on while you were there. It contains (I was surprised to find) fierce denunciations of my Heterodoxy,—tho' itself very favourable, and in the way of condemning these. “Can do thee naither ill na' guid,” all that! In fact, tho' I find all the rabble of Literature, or a great part of the rabble, are set against me, there is a steady, satisfactory, and to myself surprising progress with the small better class in all kinds. Which, I find on the whole, is quite as it ought to be. Let us hold on therefore; and never mind the village curs, nor the muddy ways and other difficulties.

I have now got my garret here made into a really habitable (I hope), and even rather pretty and commodious room. There was never seen such pasting up of holes, altering of grates, and fiddling and puddling as I have had,—in the sorrow and the indignation of my heart! But the place is now actually warm (I hope), as well as light to a degree; and hardly any sound at all reaches me in it, in this close season, sometimes almost less sound than I could wish. Let us hope now I shall get something done in it, to make it homelike and agreeable to me!—

Give my kind remembrances to James & to James the Younger and all the little Bairns. Poor little souls, tell them and teach them unweariedly to be good and wise, and something good will await them, never fear.— I am often angry and sorry at that sad invalidating of your forefinger: but you seem to be learning well to make the mid-finger do instead. Good b'ye, dear Sister.

Yours ever /

T. Carlyle