1854-June 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 29


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN; 16 February 1855; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18550216-TC-JCA-01; CL 29: 265-266


Chelsea, 16 feby 1855

Dear Jean,

Thanks for your Letter; and for all your goodness to me. Today you must put up with a very small contribution in the way of writing, as I am much hurried and driven; and indeed I give you the top of my morning, being determined not to disappoint myself another day in this small matter.

Here, inclosed is the little account for the Sponges you got me: 12/3 (if I remember, for Jack has the letter) was the shop cost of the articles; the carriage I suppose would be sixpence: if there is any surplus of pence, give it to the most deserving Bairn you have, or divide it into halfpence, and distribute it, beginning with the youngest, as far as it will go. And so that weighty matter will be settled! The Sponges themselves are the best I ever had; they will inundate me, I may hope, with wholesome cold water, comfortably, every day, for years to come. The use of them at present is distressingly fettered, but does not discontinue. They will freeze in two hours if left in my dressingroom (which looks to the east and north); wherefore their abiding-place is appointed down stairs in the kitchen, and they are brought up every morning in a state fit for immediate duty when I give the signal out of bed. A cold bath seems rather a severe operation in these grim mornings; and I did try to discontinue it, but found I had better not. I rush out, after bathing, cold as an icicle, and run (literally) thro' a certain round of streets, the quietest and openest I can think of; and return, all thawed except perhaps the little-fingers, much abler for breakfast than at starting. I find however that it is apt to suit the feet very ill; these latter I occasionally omit therefore, and give them a small dose of oil (like cracky boots), the night before, instead. If you or James are plagued with corns, attend to this.— Our weather is perfectly horrid for severity: a grim iron frost set in at last; and such a quantity of snow fallen (in drifts too) as I have never seen in these parts before.1 The streets are well cleaned, however, indeed all the snow is getting fast carted off into icehouses; but nothing can prevent slipperiness,—from which various people have accidents; I none, till this morning, when I fairly fell, deceived by a powdering of snow over a glassy place; but soon gathered my old bones, and ran on as if nothing had happened. Everybody, except idle skaters, is tired of the thing: the skaters enjoy it much; last sunday in Hyde Park, on a sheet of water they call the Serpentine (say from your Old Brig to the bottom of the Dock, and perhaps 4 or 6 times as broad), there was such a crowd of people sliding and skating as I never saw in my life: “80,000,” I heard an inexperienced Snapman2 guess them at, I shd have roughly said, somewhere between 50 and 100,000: poor devils, after all! We hope to be relieved by west-wind “at the change of the moon,” whenever that may be; which I shall be very glad of.

My work is threatening to get into a terrible stagnation again, but I won't allow it,—won't! In fact there never was such a job as this I have got in my old days; and I often resolve it shall be the last I try. But it shall not beat me, at any rate, if I can help it. There is hope in the obstinacy of the poor wretch, also in the remorse he feels at seeing his days go by without profit from them!

Jack has a haggling remnant of cold; which, except that it forbids going out at night, does not seem to trouble him at all. I very often go up in the evening, my last daily walk,—always, if I can rouse myself to get out before his house is shut. He has been down here once or twice in the day time; cannot come otherwise, and is always rather in haste than otherwise. He is full of “business,” writing infinitudes of Letters, about Guardianship, Lawyers, Schools &c;—in fact one may foresee a long occupation for him built chiefly on these things. He reads, too; but there is no chance of his taking up Dante again, or any real task, in present circumstances. For the rest, he is wonderfully hearty; I should say fully as cheerful as I have seen him for years back. I guess he does not think of quitting London for a good while yet.

Your little Jim seems doing well at Glasgow; poor little Tom too:3 bid Jim be patient, improve his handwriting, improve his mind and capacity of working & serving: he will, sure enough, get better work after he is once really fit for it,—sooner wd be too soon.— But, behold, here is the end of the Paper;—the beginning of a sorry miscellany of other things I have to do! Take care and don't catch more cold in this frost. Be patient with your Ecclefechan Warriors!4 This has been a precious job for us, in every way, this of “helping our friends the Turks”! I send my kind regards to James. I am ever / Dear Jean's Brother,

T. Carlyle