1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TO JAMES CARLYLE, THE ELDER; 4 October 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18241004-TC-JCE-01; CL 3:165-170.


Dover, 4th October, 1824—

My dear Father,

I engaged to send you a letter so soon as I had reached the coast: I have been here four days, and I now proceed to fulfil my engagement. Our movements are not yet altogether ended; we have already shifted our lodging once, and shall have to shift it again this week when Mrs Strachey1 arrives; so that being in a state of partial fluctuation I must not be expected to give you any very definite details of the objects surrounding and concerning me: but at least I shall communicate the name of my abode that you may be able to write to me, and assure you of my welfare which is the main value of all my letters.

In Jack's epistle, which you must have received some days ago, I brought down my history, with some minuteness, to the time of my expected departure from London: that sheet of intelligence had not crossed the Trent, when I received my packet of books from Birmingham, with a notice from the Orator that all was ready for me here. In consequence I mounted the Canterbury Coach and proceeded to my destination. I had been agreeably enough situated in the Wen (as Cobbett calls London), yet I was not lo[a]th to exchange its tumults for the clear atmosphere and wholesome quiet of the country; so I journeyed with no unpleasant feelings thro' the green fields and waving downs of Kent, across Dartford, Rochester, Chatham and Canterbury, and finally along to this corner of the sea-girt land, where I arrived in the dusk of a bright and sharp autumnal day. There has been no fixed arrangement in our plans as yet. Mrs Irving with her infant had come down hither with a Miss Kirkpatrick2 a cousin of Mrs Strachey's, in whose hired house we are all living, till the rest of the party arrive, when it is understood that the Irvings and I shall evacuate the place and seek lodgings of our own, it being reckoned unsuitable for the young lady to be left in the house alone till her other friends arrive, and there not being room enough to hold us and them. Irving and I, however, have established ourselves at our desks and are scribbling away, as if we were to live here for half an age. I expect to be very snug and comfortable while here: the seabathing seems to agree as well with me as ever, and the people are all anxious to treat me as a kind of established invalid, whose concerns are to be attended to as a prime object. This young Miss Kirkpatrick, with whom I was already acquainted, is a very pleasant and meritorious person, one of the kindest and most modest I have ever seen. Tho' handsome and young and sole mistress of fifty thousand pounds, she is meek and unassuming as a little child: she laughs in secret at the awkward extravagances of the Orator, yet she loves him as a good man, and busies herself with nothing so much as discharging the duties of hospitality to us all. I believe there is something Asiatic in the girl: her mother was an Indian Princess, and much of the quietude and contemplative imagining of that people is visible in the daughter. Of Irving I have much kindness towards me to record: I like the man as I did of old, without respecting him much less or more. He has a considerable turn for displays—which in reality are sheer vanity, tho' he sincerely thinks them the perfection of Christian elevation; but in these things he indulges very sparingly before me; and any little glimpses of them that do occur I find it easy without the slightest ill-nature arising between us, to repress. We talk of religion and literature and men and things, and stroll about and smoke cigars, a choice stock of which he has been presented with by some friend. I reckon him much improved since winter: the fashionable people have totally left him, yielding like feathers and flying chaff to some new “centre of attraction”; the newspapers also are silent; and he begins to see that there was really nothing supernatural in the former hurly-burly, but that he must content himself with patient well-doing and liberal tho' not immoderate success; not taking the world by one fierce onslaught, but by patient and continued sapping and mining as others do. I for one am sincerely glad that matters have taken this change: I consider him a man of splendid gifts and good intentions, and likely in his present manner of proceeding to be of much benefit to the people among whom he labours. His “Isabella” also is a good honest-hearted person, and an excellent wife. She is very kind to me; and tho' without any notable gifts of mind or manners or appearance, contrives to be in general extremely agreeable. Irving and she are sometimes ridiculous enough at present in the matter of their son; a quiet wersh gorb [an insipid, always hungry young bird] of a thing, as all children of six weeks are, but looked upon by them as if it were a cherub from on high. The concerns of “him” (as they emphatically call it) occupy a large share of public attention. Kitty Kirkpatrick smiles covertly, and I laugh aloud, at the earnest devotedness of the good orator to this weighty affair. “Isabella,” said he the other night, “I would wash him, I think, with warm water to-night”; a counsel received with approving assent by the mother, but somewhat objected to by others. I declared the washing and dressing of “him” to be the wife's concern alone, and that were I in her place, I would wash “him” with oil of vitriol, if I pleased, and take no one's counsel on it.— When Mrs Strachey arrives I expect some accession of enjoyment. She has taken a great liking to me, and is any way a singularly worthy woman. I had a very kind note from her this very day.

Of the country about this neighbourhood I have not yet seen much. Kent is a delightful region; fertile and well cultivated; watered with clear streams, sufficiently and not excessively besprinkled with trees, and beautifully broken with inequalities of surface, among which the white chalk cliffs are frequently conspicuous. The whole county rests upon chalk: they burn this mineral in kilns and use it as lime. In its native state, it lies in immense masses, all divided into strata or courses, of various thickness, by immense multitudes of lumps of flint distributed among it in parallel seams. The chalk itself is of a dim white, is soft as quarry-damp, when taken from the ground, but hardens on exposure to the air. Much of it is hewed or rather chipped, with a kind of two-edged axe, into square blocks, and used as building stone. The husbandry in Kent is beyond that of many counties in England; but a Scottish farmer would smile at many parts of it. They plough with five horses and two men (one ca'ing); and the plough has wheels! Many a time have I thought of Alick with his Lothian tackle, and two horses, setting these inefficient loiterers to the right about. Yet here they are much better than in Warwi[c]kshire, where farming may be said to be an unknown art; where the fields are sometimes of half an acre, and of all possible shapes but square, and a threshing mill is a thing nearly utterly unheard of. Here a fifth part of the surface is not covered with gigantic and ill-kept fences; but they grow their wheat and their beans and their hops (a peculiar product) on more rational principles. In all cases, however, the people seem to realize a goodly share of solid comfort; the English hind has his pork (often raw) or his beef, with ale and wheaten bread three times a-day, and wears a ruddy and substantial look, see him where you will. I have looked into the clean brick-built, tile-flagged, little cottages, and seen the people dining, with their jug of ale, their bacon and other ware, and a huge loaf like a stithy-clog towering over it all. It is pleasant to see every one so well provided for: there is nothing like the appearance of want to be met with anywhere.— This [Dover] is a douce, ancient, cleanly burgh, built in a niche of the high chalk cliffs which to[wer] against the billows of the ocean for several miles to the east and west. It stands in the bottom of a crevice or break in this white and massive wall (in general some hundreds of feet in height), which seems to have been hollowed out in the course of distant ages by a brook about the size of Mien, which now assists to form the harbour. It is built somewhat in the form of a capital A large capital Y in bold font, the broadest part (A large capital Y, in bold font and rotated counter-clockwise one quarter turn) fronting to the flinty beach of the sea, with the tail extending a mile up the rivulet; the old grey flinty castle rising on the top of the cliff to the left or east, the houses on the right or west actually joining by supplemental roofs with the perpendicular wall of chalk. It seems to contain about 10,000 inhabitants; is full of revenue officers and sailors and passengers, and soldiers to man the castle and fortifications with which the whole coast is provided. We can see France any ordinary day, distant about twenty-one miles. From the beach it has the look of three Barhills laid on the tails of one another somewhat in this way (A bold, jagged line representing the hills of France); then a little hillock to the west, then another. Steam packets cross every day: the eggs which my fair landlady provides for me, are laid in that hostile country.

Thus, my dear Father, have I given you a kind of sketch of the objects that surround me; willing that you might be able to conceive my situation accurately. Of my ulterior views I have already spoken all that I know with certainty. It is in fact of little use to speculate on distant contingencies; the true way is to discharge the duty well that is among our hands, and be ready to discharge the next that comes to hand. The present duty with me is to get this little Book prepared for the press; and with that I design to keep myself busy while here. I have got my whole array of materials gathered round me, and doubt not I shall have it ready against my return to London. After that, I shall be at liberty to look about me, and guide myself according to circumstances.

You need not doubt that I am anxious for news from home; to hear how you all fare, and what occurrences diversify the course of your lives at Mainhill. What a blessing for me that you are all spared in the enjoyment of moderate health and contentedness! I am fortunate in this respect beyond many of my fellows. Alick told me something about your having some views on the Mainholm farm; I should like extremely to see you settled in some such place, if you judged it prudent; Mainhill is far too laborious, and in its present state has many discomforts. You must tell me more about this matter: all the stock of cash that I possess, you know, is at your service; there is no danger of my replacing it speedily by farther exertions.

To-morrow I partly expect my paper at the post-office; and shall eagerly look for a letter afterwards. Jack is my goodly scribe and will not fail me; but from you also I expect ere long a line or two, if it were but for the sight of your name at the bottom. My mother sent me a pretty little note some time ago; she must not forget to do the same again. Tell her I consider myself as getting better in my health, and have no warmer wish than to know that hers is also improving. Jack must describe minutely how she is; and be sure that she wants nothing that might even have a chance of doing her good. Her life among us, as well as yours, has been one of labour and continued effort for our interests: it would be hard if any thing that our exertions could procure should be witheld. I send my unabated love to all my brothers and sisters great and small. Alick owes me a letter: Jack must lose no day till he writes. I need not add that I am always—Your affectionate son— Thomas Carlyle

Address to me at 2. Liverpool Terrace, Dover; and the letter will find its way to me.