1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 12 November 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18241112-TC-MAC; CL 3:193-197.


23. Southampton-street, Pentonville, / 12th November, 1824—

My dear Mother,

I promised to send you some account of my proceedings the moment I was settled; and I now hasten to fulfil my engagement. You must have already received my Dover letter, with the narrative of my French journey; so that the present sheet will be expected. I have another reason for speed in writing; the desire, the pressing anxiety I feel to hear from you. I know well you are not in proper health, tho' your care for my comfort prompts you to conceal it from me, and often I daresay almost from yourself. Many, many are the anxious thoughts and prayers I send towards you, across the hills and rivers and long miles that divide us: let me trust that they are not all unheeded by Him who regardeth the cry of his children, and to whom the wishes of pure affection must be acceptable beyond all other wishes! One blessing, in the midst of many crosses, we have still to rejoice in: tho' not so happy or so healthy as we could desire, we are still here in the land of the living to console and love each other. Death has mowed down many millions since we first knew each other; yet we are still spared; and while either of us lives, never never can the other want a heart to trust in. Let us be thankful for what we have; and hope that yet in spite of every thing we shall live to see much good beneath the sun. The blessings I pray for to you must in part be realized; and already in the breathing of them forth they bless myself: my love to my mother is enshrined in the holiest place of my soul; the darkest clouds of suffering, which obscure or obliterate other feelings, only render this more bright and moving. But for you, I should often have felt myself almost utterly forsaken.

These things I have often told you; but I feel them so often, and it does me good to speak of them. For the present I must take to humbler matters. I told the good Jack, at Dover, that I meant to make all speed to London, and there establish myself in the most convenient manner, and forthwith betake myself to some more profitable course of life than I had long been following. I have in fact been wandering far too long; but on tuesday night, my wanderings at least for a few months, I trust, came to an end. The Stracheys took me with them in their carriage to Shooter's Hill, and I made my way to the hospitable mansion of the Orator at Pentonville by various coaches as I best could. Next morning, no entreaties for delay could detain me: I set out in quest of lodgings, determined to take no rest till I had found some place which I could call my own, where I might at last collect my scattered thoughts, and see what yet remained to me to be accomplished or avoided. I found the task of taking lodgings considerably less abominable than I used to reckon it in Edinr; Irving and his wife went with me to one or two, till I got into the way; after which I dismissed them and proceeded in the search myself. Ere long I landed in Southampton-street, a fine clean quiet spot; and found a landlady and a couple of rooms almost exactly such as I was wanting. The rent 16 / per week, which is even cheap for London, was a less matter with me than the comforts of the place, which were certainly such as I never hoped to realize in London. The landlady is a middle-aged cleanly, substantial, most discreet looking person; she has a tidy girl for a servant, and one old asthmatical damsel who lodges with her on the ground floor, for her sole inmates. I occupy the whole second floor, with my bedroom and parlour, and above me, there is nothing but two empty rooms, neither of which is likely in my time to be occupied. I have now tried the place for two nights, and find it altogether excellent: if it hold on as it has begun, I shall reckon myself fortunate indeed that I have fallen in with it. She, the good landlady, cooks me my morsel of victuals in a style of truly English neatness, making me a little dinner too, which is not usual in lodgings, and so saving me the discomfort of hunting in chop-houses for a single mutton cutlet, and three potatoes, which is all that Badams allows me. The room which is of moderately large dimensions with two windows looks out upon a little empty space, neatly paved with clean tiles, the[n] a green wooden railing, then the flag-stones, then a new smart street, travelled by few itself, but communicating at the distance of a few scores of yards with the New Road, one of the greatest thoroughfares in London. The bedroom looks out upon green plots (one of which belongs to the house), then a field cut with walks, and beyond this a neat building which I believe is some public charity, and beside it among other houses the chapel of St. James' Clerkenwell, which affords me the service of a town-clock. Both rooms are about the neatest I ever inhabited; papered and cleaned like bandboxes, and quieter than I supposed any were in this monstrous place. The people go to bed early; after half past ten, there is scarce a murmur to be heard till towards seven in the morning; and throughout all the day there is nothing that even approaches to noise. I give you all these details; because I know they will gratify you; the minutest circumstance that affects my comfort has an interest for my kind-hearted Mother.

Here then I have fixed my abode for a space; and design to set seriously about remoulding my affairs. On the whole I am happy that I have got into a house of my own, where I am sole lord and master, and can manage as I list without giving an account to any one. This I have found to be an essential requisite; the everlasting explanations and apologies and disappointments that attend a dietetic among strangers, however well disposed to him, are to me a continual annoyance. Ever since leaving Birmingham, I have found it impossible even to adhere to my regulated system of diet, much less to accomplish aught in the way of study. Irving could not take me to board in his house, having engaged to admit one Parker from Glasgow (at a very high rate) who is coming here to study law: indeed after inspecting the state of his internal economy I more than ceased to desire it. He himself is of rough-and-ready habits, and his wife is not by any means the pink of housekeepers: for one like me their house and table would have suited but indifferently in point of health, and their visitors and other interruptions would have sadly interfered with my standing business. Irving's kind and interesting conversation was the only thing that tempted me; and even this for the present could not have been got. The good Orator's whole heart and soul seem for a while to have been set on two solitary objects; the Caledonian Church, and a squealing brat of a child which his “dear Isabella” brought him some three months ago. This smallest and wershest1 of his Majesty's subjects the worthy preacher dandles and fondles and dry-nurses and talks about in a way that is piteous to behold. He speculates on the progressive development of his senses, on the state of his bowels, on his hours of rest, his pap-spoons and his hippings [diapers]; he asks you twenty times a-day (me he dare not ask any longer) if he is not a pretty boy; he even at times attempts a hideous chaunt to the creature by way of lullaby. Unhappy gorb [newly hatched bird]! I have wished it farther than I need repeat at present: its mewing used to awaken me at night, its history kept me silent by day. Now that I am gone from its sphere, I can wish it well, as the offspring of my friend, whom after all I like not much the worse that he is overfond and foolish as a father. In my present state, too, I can enjoy all that is enjoyable of his company and friendships[:] this house is within three minutes walk of his, where I design to be a frequent visitor. They have been kind friends to me, I were a worthless creature to forget them.

Thus, my dear Mother, have I endeavoured to paint to you my present situation. What I mean to do in it is known to you already. This book of mine must be printed and of course made ready for printing: till that is effected, I am fixed in London. I am just now gathering all my things around me, getting books and shoes and clothes and every thing put in order; with the intent of commencing strenuously and prudently in the great work of writing and doctoring. I expect it will not be less [than …] months before the printing is done; in the meanwhile I can keep looking about me, if anything eligible occur; if my health will be kind enough to improve, I should like to stay here for a longer period; but if it will not, then also I know what to do. I will come and set up house with you in Scotland: I will have work to write, a little garden to cultivate, a horse to ride upon, and all the kind souls of Mainhill to love. I will have my health again, cost what it may! And what is more, I believe I can.— Meanwhile I expect to pass my time neither unpleasantly nor unprofitably in the city. I have people enough here, whom I wish to see and may see; some of them are attractive by their talents or knowledge, several by their kindness. The Stracheys I have found to be friendly in a high degree; Mrs Montague (Irving's “noble lady,” whom I do not like so well as Mrs S.) had a note lying for me at Dover, inviting me in very warm and high-flown terms to come and live with them. The Buller's are here at present; they sent inviting me by Arthur their son to come and dine with them to-day; I would not dine with the King, but I engaged to go and take tea. Badams, whom I hope to see in a day or two, predicts that I will come back to him; but this I do not expect. I must try to regulate myself by my own strength, or it will never do.

Now, my good Mother, lose not a moments time in answering this long-winded letter. I know you cannot get time to write much yourself; but you can send a line or two, and the bold Alick, my old and faithful correspondent, will do the rest. Let me know about your health and proceedings in the first and chief place; then about all the movements that have taken place in your oeconomy, the small as well as the great, there is nothing that will not interest me. This is the fourth letter that I have written since I received any! Let Jack (for I suppose him in Edinr ere this) be told of my address, and of my instant need to hear from him. You might send the newspaper round by Edinr, if he cares aught for it: to me, the ganz wohl is its most important information. How does my Father get along? He is now a letter in my debt; tell him in his own words that he cannot pay me a minute too soon. I trust his wonted good health is continued to him, and that he feels contented, active, and moderately comfortable. Is he saying aught of farms this year? I really do wish you had some more snug and sheltered spot than Mainhill: it would be the greatest pleasure for me to contribute all my little stock of cash to this purpose, and to come and live along with you, if all things suited. Bid Alick or my Father tell me all they know or think of this affair; I feel concerned in it.— How are Mag and Mary and all the rest, and do they ever recollect me? Poor things! I know they do, and love me with the love of true and warm-hearted sisters. Tell them to get needles ready: I will send their needle-cases to them by the first conveyance. They are not cases worth a rush; but being French, and brought by me, I know they will be prized.— But the day is up, and shining, with a lustre more agreeable, that yesterday was like a deluge: I must out and walk and—buy a hat! Now, my dear Mother, will you see and make them write to me, without the loss of a day? Tell me any thing, all things; the news from Dumfries, the news of your own neighbourhood, above all, the news of yourself and household. Be minute and speedy! Give my heart's love to every one at home, including Jean and Jenny, and the austere but faithful Maistar Cairlill!2 May all good be with every one of you, here and here after! I am ever, My dear Mother's boy

Thomas Carlyle3