October 1856-July 1857

The Collected Letters, Volume 32


INTRODUCTION; 2004; DOI: 10.1215/ed-32-introduction; CL 32: firstpage-32-xi-lastpage-32-xvii


This volume includes letters from October 1856 to the end of July 1857 and covers a period of major events: in the Carlyles' personal lives (particularly the death of Lady Ashburton), in Thomas Carlyle's life as a writer (the preparation of the first edition of Frederick and the preparation of the first collected edition of his works), and in the world of politics and international affairs, with the bombardment of Canton, the dissolution of Parliament, and the “Indian Mutiny.” The volume also includes two appendices: the first traces the history of the publication of the cheap edition of TC's works through advertisements that appeared in the Athenaeum 1856–58; the second gives transcriptions of TC's marginalia on a copy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh. Of the 168 letters, 132 are from TC and 36 from Jane Welsh Carlyle.1 That we have fewer letters by JWC is nothing new and is partly explained by the fact that fewer of them have survived.2 However, several of her letters in this volume are particularly long, especially those to Mary Russell, her own and her mother's old Thornhill friend.

The volume opens with the Carlyles at the end of a two-and-a-half month holiday in Scotland, much of which they spent apart. Their meeting at Scotsbrig, 1 October, was hardly an affectionate reunion, and their journey back to Chelsea together, 4 October, was also fraught. JWC told Mary Russell that TC arrived at Scotsbrig, “in what the people here call rsquo;a state of mind,’” and that she wished he had gone back to London with Lady Ashburton in the Ashburtons' railway carriage rather than accompany her, to whom “Providence” would have been a more agreeable protector (JWC to MR [6 Oct. 1856]).

The time in Scotland, for both of them, had been a poignant journey through the emotional and physical landscapes of their past. TC had been moved to tears by the sight of family graves at Ecclefechan and spent much time riding and exploring places of his youth. He, more than JWC, noticed and disliked the changes in the economy and the landscape, as he reported to his brother Alick in Canada: “Everything is now changed and changing with furious rapidity in this country,—principally owing to the railways I think. A great increase of luxury is coming over all ranks; … Jamie says, porridge will be out of use altogether in 20 years.—I cannot say I love these aspects of things” (TC to AC, 3 Oct. 1856). By the end of their stay, TC could not wait to get back to Chelsea: “[T]he day after tomorrow, we hope, if all go right, to reach Chelsea again, and get to something more profitable than touring” (TC to [KE?], 2 Oct. 1856).

As soon as they arrived TC was immediately back at work, while JWC continued to be deeply affected by Scotland. Much of the Scottish focus of this volume comes through her. Her regular correspondence with Mary Russell became more frequent. She wrote three long, affectionate letters in October alone, and more than a third of her letters overall are to Mary Russell. Her attachment to Scotland, with some reservations about the weather, is clear: “Scotland—dear dear Scotland! I could have found in my heart to lie down and take the ground in my arms, and kiss it, that morning I came away.—Only it was raining torrents!” (JWC to MR, [6 Oct. 1856]).

JWC's letters to Mary Russell are full of references to past acquaintances and events in Scotland. It is the place where her health improved. It was there that she could achieve the happiness and tranquility recommended by her London doctor long before (JWC to MR, 10 Oct. 1856). She returned to Scotland in July 1857 with the hope of once more gaining strength after a long illness. Although she was disappointed that her health did not improve as quickly as she expected and her morbid thoughts were not all dispelled, Scotland, friends associated with her childhood and youth seem to have become more real to her than Chelsea. While staying with the Donaldsons, she wrote: “[L]ife here is as good for me as any life could be—tho most people would wonde[r w]here the charm lay which [makes] me all day long as content as I can ever hope to be in this world” (JWC to TC, [12 July 1857]). Where in the past she had discouraged TC's searches for a home in Scotland (TC to JCA, 18 Dec. 1850), here she even recommends that they take lodgings in Aberlady: “I am sure I could make you comfortable there—and should feel heimlich [cosy] myself” [12 July 1857]. She then wrote from Haddington: “No where in the world that I know of are there such beautiful drives! and I recognise places that I had seen in my dreams!” (JWC to TC, 14 July 1857).

From October 1856 onward, back in Chelsea, their lives were dominated by Frederick, by preparations for the cheap edition of TC's works, and by JWC's health. As soon as she arrived in Cheyne Row she became ill and blamed TC for making her sit in “a violent draught all the journey.” She painted a scene for Mary Russell of absolute misery: London fog, air like “liquid soot,” TC at breakfast, sitting at one end of the table, looking “bilious,” and she at the other, looking “half-dead.” Yet the vigor with which she described her condition, TC's irritation, and the infestation of bugs that greeted their arrival in Cheyne Row (JWC to MR, [10 Oct. 1856]) is meant to make the reader feel her despair through a veil of amusement. The letter is an entertainment as much as anything else.

Throughout the winter, JWC's illness caused her lengthy bouts of insomnia, confined her to the house and, frequently, to her bed, leaving her weak and dispirited by the time summer 1857 came. Yet, in spite of her illness and low spirits, JWC never lost her fascination for her friends. She was still desirable company for Ellen Twisleton, who wrote to her sister, probably at the end of October, complaining of London parties where no one knew anyone else because the parties were “a perpetual entrance and exit. … [I]t is so impossible to make any mark on such a sea that there is no temptation to try”; she was refusing all engagements except with the Carlyles (Houghton 45M-98). Although no cup bearer to JWC, Twisleton's comments about her show the strength of JWC's ability to excite loyalty and affection in independent and intelligent younger women (see JWC to EDW, 15 Dec. 1856). Jewsbury, who sat sewing beside her (see JWC to MR, [6 Oct.] 1856), was concerned about her health too, but JWC was much less gracious toward her, complaining about her constant presence and insensitivity in the face of illness to Mary Russell and to Twisleton (see JWC to MR, [28 Nov.] 1856). But Jewsbury was an older friend with whom she had a many-layered relationship.

At the end of October 1856 Henry Larkin entered their lives. He had corresponded with TC for some years and was an admirer but not an acolyte. He offered TC his help in 1856 and was a frequent visitor at Cheyne Row. Writing in 1881, ostensibly to straighten the record after the publication of Reminiscences, he gave a picturesque description of what JWC was like during the period of this volume.3 He called her TC's “queenly wife”; on their first meeting, she greeted him kindly and “looked ill, and yet there was evidently something more depressing than mere bodily suffering” (32). However Larkin also described JWC's ability to charm. He was summoned to Cheyne Row in mid-February 1857 (TC to HL, 4 Feb. 1857), when, to his delight, JWC's health had improved:

She had been very kind before; but with a patiently hopeless look, like a mourner by an unclosed grave. But all this had now passed away. … [H]er face was illuminated with the brightest of welcomes. I never knew any one who could deal out little flatteries so pleasantly and judiciously. I have seen it administered by the spoonful … ; and even laid on … with a plasterer's trowel. But she knew better. She knew the sensitive points exactly; and if she choose, could touch them so delicately, that it almost seemed like a happy inadvertence; and she could also prick them with the deftest of needles, if she saw fit. (36–37)

By this time TC was deep in preparing new editions of his works for publication by Chapman & Hall. Larkin's work was mainly helping TC with corrections for this edition.

TC's ability to draw younger people to him was still evident during this period. Alexander Gilchrist had moved next door in order to be able to help him (see 31:207 -->TC to AGI, 2 Sept. 1865) and did so until his brother died in November 1856 (see TC to JCA, 7 Dec. 1856). Vernon Lushington, another young admirer, volunteered his help and worked with TC consistently throughout the publication of the cheap editions. In June 1857 Turgenev visited him, then wrote to a friend describing TC's curiosity about Russia and “his courage and originality.” He did not agree with TC but obviously enjoyed his evening with him and JWC, saying that they were both “likeable and good soul[s]” (see TC to HT, 4 June 1857).

Neuberg continued to work on Frederick, along with the unfortunate Frederick Martin, who stole from TC and became a byword among the Carlyles' acquaintances for everything irritating. According to Espinasse, TC and Martin complained about each other. Martin was apparently paid very little and, out of that, was expected to pay his own fares when he went off to do research for TC (see TC to FEMA, 15 Oct. 1856). TC's attitude to Neuberg can still surprise; he gave Neuberg no acknowledgment and was crudely insulting behind his back, calling him “the Beauty” (TC to JWC, [27 July 1857]), a sarcastic reference to what the Carlyles considered to be his extreme ugliness (see JWC's Journal, 25 April 1856). To John Carlyle, he wrote that Neuberg “can attend to nothing but the sorrowful cares and gloomy confusions that now devolve on him” (TC to JAC, 2 Nov. 1856). This was not true. Neuberg's brother-in-law was dying, yet Neuberg stayed working on Frederick throughout, helped TC find a suitable horse, and ordered paper for him. In his letter to Neuberg, 29 October 1856, TC told him not to forget the ream of paper (see TC to JN, 29 Oct. 1856) and, on 18 May 1857, Neuberg wrote at the beginning of his letter answering queries on Frederick: “If you do not receive today a packet of Note-paper from Parkins & Gotto, please to let me know.” TC wrote 15 letters to Neuberg during this period, all concerned with Frederick.

The publication of the Works as a series that could be collected into a complete Collected Works was clearly to do with Chapman & Hall's marketing strategy (see TC to VL, 5 Dec. 1856), but it meant a tremendous amount of work for TC, in spite of the help he was receiving. Of the letters he wrote during this period, more than a third were to Chapman & Hall, Lushington, Larkin, and Neuberg. All his letters to them were concerned with the publication of either the cheap edition of the Works or his new work Frederick. Most of his letters to his family and friends mentioned the continuous grind of preparation and proofreading. With JWC ill, Lady Ashburton abroad and ill, and the burden of his work, what comes across frequently in his letters is a feeling of isolation and disengagement. He relaxed by taking long rides on his horse Fritz, bought in November 1856. He often rode alone but was sometimes accompanied by, among others, Monckton Milnes, Robert Farie, or, after Lady Ashburton's death, Lord Ashburton.

The death of Lady Ashburton was a major event in both the Carlyles' lives. JWC was not unmoved by it, and this is shown in her letters. But it also made it possible for a change in the Carlyles' relationship, again shown in the letters, particularly those that JWC wrote to TC while she was in Scotland in July 1857. They have none of the edge of the letters of summer 1856 when the Carlyles were apart. They are more open, often more dependant, and more openly depressed than the previous summer's. The relationship is closer, TC is once more her best friend, “It is certainly a questionable privilege one's best friend enjoys: that of having all one's darkness rayed out on him! … to you I cannot for my life be anything but a bore!” (JWC to TC, [23 July] 1857). TC's responses were affectionate, as if to a frightened and sick child, telling her not to worry about expense or him, reassuring her about Nero and the canaries, and telling her that when Frederick was finished they would be more to each other than they had ever been, finishing the letter: “Whom else have I in the world?” (TC to JWC, 9 July 1857).

Although Lady Ashburton's death was presumably something of a relief for JWC, for TC it was the loss of a great friend. He told Neuberg that he had “had no such blow for a long while” (TC to JN, 7 May 1857). The depth of his sadness confused him; he found it difficult to remember the day of the funeral although he went to it on Tuesday, 12 May 1857. He told his brother it was on Monday (TC to JAC, 22 May 1857); in his journal, 11 May, he wrote that it was on Sunday, calling Lady Ashburton's death a “great and irreparable sorrow to me” (TC to JCA, 11 May 1857; Froude, Carlyle 4:186). Although he mentioned his grief only briefly in his letters and never stopped working, it is clear that however close his relationships with others, for TC there was never to be another friendship to take its place. For him it was the end of an era.

There are two interesting additions to the main content of letters in this volume: TC's close reading and marginal comments on two newly published books. The first was Hugh Miller's Testimony of the Rocks (Edinburgh, 1857), sent to him by Miller's widow, Lydia. TC liked Miller and was interested in his geology but found his creationist theories irrelevant. The reading of Miller's book, his comments on it, and his instruction to his nephew James Aitken (to whom he gave it) to take care of it were clearly pious acts in memory of a man who had taken his own life (see TC to LM, 15 April 1857). The second was Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh. TC's comments on this book were a good deal less pious. He was no lover of poetry, and his comments were, in the main, dismissive. However, in view of the influence TC had on Barrett Browning in general and Aurora Leigh in particular, they provide an interesting addendum to knowledge of TC's views on Barrett Browning's poetry (see TC's Comments on Aurora Leigh).

The background to this volume of the letters is one of great political and international turmoil, with which, at this period, the Carlyles made very little engagement. Their comments on political events were, in the main, not analytical. The Arrow affair (see TC to JCA, 5 March 1857) and the subsequent bombardment of Canton (which brought down the government and started a war that lasted nearly four years) were not mentioned in the letters. TC told his sister Jean that he could not “pretend to care one farthing” about the resulting general election. News of the rebellion in India, 10 May 1857, reached London at the end of June and was first reported in the Times, 27 June 1857. TC's first mention of it in his letters was in TC to JWC, 13 July 1857, the same day the Times reported that it was more than a local disturbance. Even the news of the massacres, received toward the end of July, was only mentioned in passing between writing about Nero and his page proofs (see TC to JWC, [25 July 1857]). JWC was more interested in morbidly reading pamphlets containing the love letters and trial in Edinburgh of Madeleine Smith, who had allegedly poisoned her lover (JWC to TC, [26 July 1857]), than she was in world events. It was not until she wrote of her meeting with Col. Hamilton Veitch that there was any mention of India: “He [Veitch] had just read the Indian news and said People generally would think it bad, rsquo;because Delhi was not alreadytaken and the mutineers already put down—The English being so conceited that they always thought they had nothing to do but walk up to a thing and it would fly before them—’ But those who knew the country, he said would only be too thankful that Bombay and Madrass were still quiet” (JWC to TC, [30 July 1857]).

The Carlyles' lives were more circumscribed than previously during a large part of this period. TC was even unwilling to become involved in the National Portrait Gallery (see TC to LA, 9 March 1857) or the choice of a replacement for William Bodham Donne at the London Library (see TC to JAC, 21 March 1857). The burden of Frederick and the cheap edition seemed almost too much for him. It is surprising that he should have compounded the suffocating load of Frederick by agreeing to work on the cheap edition, given that, on his own admission (see Reminiscences 160), they were not in need of money. What remains impressive is the amount of work that went into each volume and the complexity of producing the new editions. This volume of letters also shows TC's infinite capacity for work and his single-mindedness, even in the face of the tragedy of Lady Ashburton's death.

JWC was ill and depressed for most of the period, and yet she still had the power to attract and to charm. Her letters to TC at the end of the volume were as open and frank about her feelings as her 1855–56 journal had been (see JWC's Journal). The death of Lady Ashburton had not lightened her heart but it had made TC her best friend once more. Interestingly she was uneasy about this. He was being as loving as he knew how, and yet his “soothing” note soothed her “the wrong way of the hair somehow! Makes me feel I had been making a Baby of myself and a fractious Baby” (JWC to TC, [26 July 1857]). This period of closeness might be short-lived in the face of many more years of work on Frederick, but it undoubtedly shows a dramatic change from the previous year and another facet of their deeply complicated and contradictory relationship.

Sheila McIntosh

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