January-September 1856

The Collected Letters, Volume 31


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN ; 5 May 1856; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18560505-TC-JCA-01; CL 31: 81-82


Chelsea, 5 May, 1856—

Dear Jean,

I will in spite of fate write you a word today,—you have no idea how many days I have been disappointed in that good purpose, and found my time all up decidedly and more, or some still uglier impossibility. Ah me, Ah me!—

There was not much to be said, at any rate; in the shape of news, next to nothing. We have got round into our usual condition, in spite of the continuance of wintery weather into May,—the harshest frostiest May I ever remember to have witnessed, thus far. Even Jane is fairly on foot again (tho' still feebler, and making complaint of the north wind): as to me, I am fully as well as before, perhaps a shade better;—and as so much depends on comparison, I hail this degree of bad health as good, after its sort. When clear of dinnering (whh I exert my best industry to be, but am led in once in the fortnight or so, do what I may), there is some capability of work in me again, and I stagger forward with less of despair.

Nay I believe I shall have to get to Press this very Autumn (or sooner) with the First Half of my wretched Book:1 once fastened to the Printer, I shall have to sort these accumulated rubbish mounds, and cut my way thro' them better or worse: I see little chance of doing it so well otherwise as on brief compulsion of that kind. Two Volumes cd perhaps be done in that way; then a little pause for other two (or one), whh ends it! At no period of my life have I had such an affair. I have often weakly sunk; and wished I were dead and that job well done. But it will not do except by living,—by standing to it with the “obstinacy of ten mules” as I sometimes say.

There is also going to be another work: an Edition (Cheaper if not exactly “Cheap”) of all my bits of Works; 14 or 15 volumes, 6/ per volume, and very respectable paper & print.2 This is very welcome for several reasons,—first of all that it will yield a little fraction of payment again (more than I ever got before perhaps) after so long an interval. For the rest, it will not create much fash to me,—at least not if I can get a right hand, to correct Press, to make Indexes &c, and steadily oversee the thing; which I must be all means endeavour to do.3— All this is of the nature of good luck comparatively. The Bookseller4 came down with it the other morning under that character; I believe he was afraid I might take my new Book past him, whh he would not have liked. A stingy close-fisted kind of fellow; but long-headed, skilful in his craft; and, as far as I know, exact to his bargain. I shall probably continue with him after all,—“keeping an eye upon my partner,” as the Irish gentn did when dancing with a Bear!—

Your sorrows with servants are of a kind growing ever more universal; I often wonder what on Earth is to become of all that! We have to step canny, steady, and get thro' our part of it as we can.— Jim's Translation from the Ghost seer5 seems spirited and good,—here and there an error in it, mostly produced I shd guess by hurry of transcribing. It is far too close-written, and crowded on the paper, for correcting, or even for reading to eyes like mine, except with spectacles. It is an excellt way of occupying idle time: tell the good youth so, and bid him persevere, persevere. Every bit of useful knowledge he can acquire is worth more than silver or gold to him. A good boy, I do think; and you a lucky mother, as mothers go!

Adieu dear Jean; throw me a word again soon, and I will write.

Yours ever /

T. Carlyle