1854-June 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 29


TC TO LADY ASHBURTON; 8 February 1855; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18550208-TC-LA-01; CL 29: 248-250


Chelsea, 8 feby, 1855—

Is there no word of your coming back to Town, then; no hope of my ever seeing you again? I did not see Lord An, tho' I tried twice, and he came once down hither while I was out. On Monday last1 I had calculated you were to be here: but no, in the gateway of Bath House2 I found men in paper-caps, seemingly with paint pots, miscellaneously busy; nobody could predict your coming,—uncertain all as the taking of Sebastopol.3 Some day, I suppose, you will come; if once the Ministry4 had come alive again, and the snow were away.

All has been dark with me these many weeks; physically my glass-roof, loaded with snow, sends in only a strange grey light, sufficient for writing by; and on the spiritual side, it is the same or worse. You have escaped many complaints by my silence! In fact I find nothing else fit for me; the duty of holding my peace is plainer, in present circumstances, than any other. However, I have got a little bit of my Book done: to get done with it, and fling it away from me to all eternity, is nearly the only clear hope I in these times have. I seem to see very well that it will never be worth one farthing as a Book; but I, poor soul, shall be rid of the martyrdom of it forevermore; and that will be a blessing worth coveting. Under such auspices I persist; and manifest (I sometimes feel) an obstinacy which is respectable. You know the nature of the beast;—and I hope are patient with it! Hope; yet sometimes fear very much too: in my haunted condition, under this grey light, silent as in the heart of a mountain, spectres rise in one's imagination, and all visitants are not of the angelic nature!—

That day Lord Ashbn called I had gone to a Breakfast of Milnes's:5 in fact, I had ended a bit of work the evening before, and virtuously resolved to go and look on human faces once again. We were rather cold, rather noisy, not unhappy tho' chaotic. Layard was there, very loud and coarse;6 one Seymour who had been in Russia; a wounded officer from Sebastopol;7— Bishop Thirlwall, looking old and frosty, who laughed (between his hands) at my beard. The Bunsens too; and a junior Prince of Nassau, a wise effective-looking youth.8 Sebastopol, Alma, Raglan, wreck of Army, shame of England:9 It was one Pauce Lingua [small talk] (especially from the Layard side) upon these interesting topics;— so that one felt at last, as I whispered to Bunsen, “Nothing remains for us, then, but to curse God and die!”10— I had the merit, however, of keeping silence better than usual: the Bishop (who did not come till late) was conservative even; and the wounded officer spoke his profoundly sad convictions (total inutility of Alma, total want of plan, insight or commandership anywere) in a measured decorous tone. I came away;—and have thought as little as I could of all these things ever since. Young Ld Stanley11 (whom I did not know at that time) asked me, What my remedy was? I could only answer sulkily, “To hold one's tongue and pray to God!”—which did not much illuminate the young man. But in fact it seems always to me this failure at Sebastopol is simply the outcome of a National Govt spending all its industry in Talk: every other part of our Social Apparatus wd equally, if you brought it so to the test, fall flat upon its face, like a sack of clay, and declare that it could not act, that “acting” was not the thing it was meant for. Panizzi's Museum is equally incapable of real function as the War-Office, when one applies to it.12 And how many “souls” is it understood the Archp of Canterbury13 has actually “saved” within the last year or two? Let us not “move for a return”14 of them!— Alas, alas— But let me follow my own advice to the young Lord above-mentioned.

I could have come to The Grange, about the time I went to Milnes, for a ten days of holiday:—yet perhaps it was as well not. I am too dark a creature really, and should stay at home in this grey light. Besides the frost is very ugly upon me. I shd like to see The Grange once again in summer-dress, but know not if I ever shall. Do not be angry at me; do not, oh do not!—

Yours ever / T. Carlyle 15