July-December 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 30


ELLEN TWISLETON'S ACCOUNT OF LIFE AT CRAIGENPUTTOCH, 1828–1834; 2002; DOI: 10.1215/ed-30-ellen-twisleton-account-of-life-at-craigenputtoch; CL 30: 267-lastpage-30-274


Ellen Twisleton's account of life at Craigenputtoch, 1828–34 [Nov.? 1855]. MS: Houghton bMS Am 1408: 376. Pbd: K. J. Fielding, “The Cry from Craigenputtoch,” Times Literary Supplement (13 Aug. 1999) 13–14. Quot: Ashton 102–4. The MS appears to be a fair copy with some alterations, written on 27 unnumbered pages of a 28 page booklet, made out of 7 sheets of Ellen Twisleton's monogrammed writing paper folded and stitched together (3¾ × 6½ ins. [10 × 16 cm.]) plus a single sheet neatly stitched over the last 6 lines of the 12th page. The account continues on both sides of this sheet which extends below the page and is folded to fit into the notebook. The account is undated but was probably written down soon after Twisleton's letter to her sister, Mary Parkman, 23 Nov. 1855: “I had such a long, interesting talk with Mrs Carlyle the other day, all about their life just after they were married—I couldn't help wishing you were in the wall,—a more miserable story I never heard,—but never say so” (MS: Houghton bMS Am 1408.61). JWC spent an hour with Ellen Twisleton, 17 Nov. (see Journal, 17 Nov. 1855); this may have been when the “interesting talk” took place. The opening of the account suggests that JWC had read a draft; there is no mention of this in either Journal entries up to 14 Dec. (there was then a gap until 24 March), or in the only letter she wrote during that time, JWC (writing as Nero) to Ellen Twisleton, 3 Dec. 1855.

Ellen Twisleton's account of life at Craigenputtoch is placed as an appendix because, though closely related to the main body of the Collected Letters of this volume, it is not written by either of the Carlyles.



[Nov.? 1855]

I asked Mrs Carlyle if the description of “Craigenputtoch” in this Memoir was like;—she said, “Yes, for it was the dreariest place on the face of the earth—1 I lived there five years,2 & the only wonder is I didn't go mad; the only women that had ever been there before me, were four farmer's wives,—& of that kind of woman, with all their own rough work about them which they were used to occupy themselves with doing, three went mad, & the fourth took to drinking!”3

“But what made you go there, or what made you stay there,” I said; “did you like the idea of it before you went?”

‘Oh no, I never liked the idea of it—oh, there's no way of making ye understand what kind of a wretched place it was,—I had seen it only once in my life, when my grandfather took me there, when I was quite a little child, & had always remembered it as the most dreadful, lonesome, barren of places,—and all thro' my childhood I used to be frightened with it,—it used to be the threat if ye understand, “if ye behave so badly, ye shall go to Craigenputtoch;”—& I remember once, when I must have been fourteen years old, & was self-willed about something, my Mother's telling me that I “deserved to be sent to Craigen-puttoch to live on a hundred a year;”—and to think that I did live there five years, with not much more than a hundred a year. It was that sort of hopeless place, that as long as my grandfather lived, there was never anything attempted to be done with it,—but when my father began to manage the property,—4 (who was the sort of man that never can have anything that belongs to him out of order,)—he drained it, & manured it, & planted it where it was possible— And did all else that could be done about it;—but there was very little of it that ever could be made into anything but a black peat moss;—5 have ye ever seen one?—if ye have, ye know what an ugly, dreary thing that is,— & of course, they were only the hardiest trees would grow—& so all the plantation there was, was of Scotch firs, which make a wood fit to hang oneself in. But Carlisle6 took a strange fancy to it, & offered to me that we should be married & live there,—it was a time when he was very much out of health, & very desponding about himself, & didn't see at all what he should do in life,—& he took it in his head that if he could go & live there, & have a horse to ride, he was sure he should get well & get on— So I wrote him back word that I wouldn't live at Craigenputtoch with an angel,7 & how I'd been always scared with it, as a child, &c; & that was given up. And then my Mother took a little jewel of a house for us in Edinboro', & furnished it all for us, so that it was the neatest, prettiest thing—as pretty as any picture, & we went into that.8 But we hadn't been there two months, before Carlyle grew perfectly frantic with it all, & couldn't support it any way, couldn't endure his life at all nor get on with the people that were about us,—but had it all this time fixed in his head that if he were only at Craigenputtoch he should be well, & everything that was wrong would grow right;—I might refuse before, but then, you know, it was a different matter, & there was no use refusing.9 But ye may imagine my——situation, & how I felt it, for we'd no money, & I had to go for it to my Mother—which I was excessively loth to do,—for she was no longer so well off herself as she had been used to being, & had done a great deal for us, already,—and we had to take a thousand pounds from her which was sunk, literally sunk in all that was to be done to this place before we could get there as I knew it wld. be,—in buying out the farmer10 who was there, & persuading him to give up the rest of his lease, & then in taking down that house & building another for us, which would never be fit either for a farmer afterwards,—such a house as no farmer cares to have the expense of to keep up. However it was all done, & we went; & then Mr Carlyle's brother came,11 & he was to manage the farm, & to pay rent to my Mother.12 But nothing cld. turn out worse than that, for he was a man of the most outrageous, coarse, violent temper,—(he's gone to Canada, since, & done very well there, I believe,) & nobody can imagine what I went through with that man,—and it had to be all alone,—for I could never say a word to Carlyle,—that would be to drive him perfectly crazy, & “my dear, what can I possibly know, or do, about all this!”13 So his brother was always getting into difficulties with his workmen, & everybody on the place, & all were brought to me, to “the Mistress” as they called me, to settle;—(they called him “the Master,” & me “the Mistress,” & Carlyle “the Laird”—) and one day I'd have the people in declaring they'd all leave, at once,—& then we'd perpetual trouble about keeping them,—he wanted they should have had food so as to eat less—& I, of course, tho't only to make them comfortable. In those days, no bargain was ever concluded in Scotland without the parties drinking together, they always must sit down together over their whisky, or gin, or whatever it was,—so, of course, every time he went into Dumfries on his business, he came back14 as drunk as a man could be—15 and at that time he did all the errands of the household, & got me all the things I needed from Dumfries—so ye may imagine the state they used to come in, the keg of gin broken into the bag of flour—& the powdered sugar mixed up with the sugar-of-lead16 I was goin' to say, & so forth. I had to learn to do & undo everything, & down to doctoring horses. Carlyle & his brother both lost their horses, & then mine fell sick of the same thing, & I would not let any of them touch him— I sent a boy to a sensible physician there was at Dumfries, & asked him what he would do to a person who had a severe inflammation—& then I applied the blisters & doses to my horse, only increasing the quantity according to my own ideas—& I carried him thro' so that he got well again. But I used to get up & go out to the stable to him three times in a night, while he was so sick.”17

“How old were you then,” I asked.18

“About 22 then,”19 she said. “And that man lived with us for four years;20 after he was gone, I could manage to live better. But one of my miseries was about the rent—for he seemed to think because he was Carlyle's brother, it was no matter to be accurate about that, when he paid it, or almost whether he paid it at all,—& there was my Mother, I knew, wanting her money & waiting for it—& she that had had every luxury all her life, not knowing where to turn for ten pounds,—as I knew, tho' she never told me so—and I not able to get her rent paid her! I remember one time, it had not been paid for four months beyond the time, & Carlyle got some money from London, for something he'd written, in a cheque upon the Dumfries bank; I seized the cheque, got on my pony, & rode, all alone no servant with me, into the town, to the bank, got my money, & off another sixteen miles to my Mother's (for it was in a kind of triangle we were, 16 miles one way from her, & the other way from the town,—) and gave her the money, & then another 16 miles home again.” “Three times 16 miles in one day, I said, & alone,—did you not make yourself ill?”21

No, I wasn't ill— I was so thankful to get the money for her;—of course I had one of my dreadful headaches the next day.— One thing about it was that it was a place you couldn't get servants to come to, except the roughest & wildest sort of creatures, such as I had never been used to, & didn't know how to manage,—but nobody that could help one, or be friendly with one. I've often thought since, that the only thing that kept me from going crazy was just what I tho't then eno' to make me so, that I had so much of the re'l haird work of the family to do, for often I couldn't read;—22 I had to get a Dodds's Cookery-Book23 & learn how to cook every single thing that was eaten, & how to mix & bake the bread,—for I never had a servant the whole time we were there, who could make bread—and Carlyle thought all the bread we could get at Dumfries made him ill.24 Finally I had a sister25 of Carlyle's come, & she was with me 18 months, & those were the worst of the whole—she was a coarse, rude girl and had such a temper, & such a tre-MENDOUS will as I never met with in any other woman but herself,—a will just like Carlyle's, without anything besides to induce ye to put up with it.— She assumed authority over the servants, & made constant quarrels with them in the house, as his brother did out,—& I had no authority over her, for if I found fault with her, she went to Carlyle, & “Jane” was doing this & that to her; & that couldn't be done, you know. So she came to breakfast with her hair in curl-papers, which I never could put up with, & other things of the sort. I used to go out & sit down in the middle of the moor, on a stone, & wonder if this were I, & how the same persons could live such a life, that had lived the one I'd been used to before,—so petted generally, (though I got whipping enough, to be sure, at times;) but, being an only child, even if I was punished, I always felt myself an object of importance, at any rate.

Living at Craigenputtoch, it wasn't as if I saw anything of Carlyle;—he went to his own room directly after breakfast, & worked there till 2 hours before dinner, & always rode those two hours. And he rode alone, because he only galloped or walked, and it fretted him to have my horse cantering along by the of26 his side, so he rode alone & I rode alone,27 then he came to dinner very much worked-up, as bilious people always are by a ride, & he was “dangerous,” you know, & there was no freedom of communication during dinner; then he went to walk for an hour, which wasn't very wholesome, I always tho't, right after eating, & to his room till tea; & afterward to his room, until about ten o'clock, & then he'd come in, quite tired out with his work, & say, “Jane, will ye play me a few of those Scotch tunes”—& so I would sit down & play Scotch tunes till he went to bed,—oftenest with the tears running down my face the while I played.”—28

“And was there nobody you cared for in the town,—had you no friends that ever came to see you from Dumfries? “No, nobody:—sometimes, when I couldn't bear it any longer, I'd go over to my Mother & spend the night with her;—but I had to be back in the morning, for it couldn't go on without me,—we'd no servants that could be trusted.29

“And did you really live five years,” I groaned out, “that fearful life? “Yes,” she said, “except at the end of the fourth, we came for a few months to London.30 Carlyle came down to see about publishing “Teufelsdröck,” & then afterwards wrote for me to come.

“And then from Craigenputtoch where did you go?”

Then we came to London, & have been here ever since; in this same house we are now.

I asked who was kind to her then—what friends she found—

She said Mrs Austin31 was kind to her, whom she had known before; when she was in London for a short time—but that didn't last.”

“What was the matter?

“Why, she was the sort of person I couldn't be friends with—everybody's friend—with superficial kindness enough & to spare, but no real comprehension. No, it couldn't possibly have lasted long, tho' I've got her letters, now, beginning “Dearest of friends” & all that sort of thing. Then there was Mrs Basil Montague,32 whom I'd known a long time; i.e. I hadn't seen her till then but I'd corresponded with her— Edward Irving talked to her about me, & made her write to me, & I tho't so much of her letters! He admired her so much, & used to call her the “Mother of the Gracchi,”—33 nice kind of Gracchi, Carlyle said, one ended in prison, & another in a drunken fit, or something of that kind. But all those sort of people fell off. About the first people that really were kind were the Stirlings—34 I don't think I knew anybody that was, till I knew them:—they used to live in the old red house that stands just below yours, here.35 The first winter after we came to live in London, I got a dreadful illness, & nothing could be so kind as old Mrs Stirling—she was in my room every morning by ten o'clock, though it was winter, & the snow on the ground. But finally they had to send for my mother, & I didn't get better till she came.

She travelled night & day, & came quicker than anybody thought was possible, before, but she came into my room as quietly as if she'd had neither hurry nor fear. She was such a gentle, beautiful woman, & everything she did, she did so well! & when she came I grew better.36

Oh, I used to be so fond of her—though I didn't see her much—once or twice I went to Scotland, & once she made me a visit—but I was always thinking about her, & thinking what would please her, & looking about for some little cheap thing I could send her—or if I met anyone she would like to hear about—so that it has never seemed the same since she died,37 & at first I seemed to have no object any more, & nothing to live for.—38