January-October 1859

The Collected Letters, Volume 35


TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE ; 7 October 1859; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18591007-TC-AC-01; CL 35: 225-230


Chelsea. London, 7 Octr, 1859—

My dear Brother,

I have been in Scotland, this long while; above 3 months in all, the last 3 weeks of it in Annandale;—and have often been thinking to write you a long Letter out of those old scenes, where at every turn the deep remembrance of you rose so fresh in me. I came home about a week ago; I find, in the confused weak state I have been in, my resolution of writing to you not yet fulfilled: but I set about fulfilling it before attempting any kind of work here;—regular work is to begin again on Monday; and on this Friday I will write my good Alick's Letter, and have the comfort of despatching it. While I continue in this world he is one I can never forget, or cease to be thankful for!—

Last year was not a propitious one to me: I returned, rather before this day of the month, out of Germany, as I think I then told you;1 and in a few days farther I started the attempt to finish my miserable big Task, as it were by sheer force, and violently cut my way to the end of it. Alas, the attempt had no success with me. The attempt was itself an unwise one, could not well have succeeded in any case: moreover, I had got myself so smashed to pieces with that sleepless German Tour (the effects of which I still feel) that I was quite below par in health:—in short, I prospered worse and worse all thro’ winter & spring, and made no real way at all; only in my obstinate persistence, like a man trying to dig tho’ up to the neck in mud, grew stupider & stupider! Jane too was very weak; & in May, got into the worst fit of illness I ever saw her have,—kind of cold caught then, in the burst of wild weather we had; but cold attended with such spasmodic pains, and such a degree of utter weakness as were alarming to behold. A Doctor2 of the neighbourhood, who forced her to eat a little, did her a great deal of good: that, I think, was his chief medicine, that of eating; on which followed sleep and other good things. Finding herself a little reinstated tho’ in such a state of feebleness, and seeing me so bemired and farspent, she recommended “a long flight to solitude and the sea-shore”: so after much haggling we did take flight in the end of june,—to the shore of Fife (place called Aberdour, about 4 miles west of Burntisland, if you recollect those localities);—and there for the first 6 weeks, lodging in a rough Farmhouse (upper story of it ours, and a maid with us), and after that for 5 weeks more in “Auchtertool House,” a big vacant Mansion, all to ourselves, about 3 miles inland, we did our best to be dietetic, quiet, idle, and to get good of Fife. The finish was, I went to Annandale; Jane, soon after, into East-Lothian for a while, whence home to Chelsea by the East road (Maid, Horse &c preceding her by Edinburgh-London Steamer), I following, about a week after, by the western rail-courses,—namely starting from Cummertrees. Nearly a week ago I too got home; and it was all over. We had an immense quantity of fash, of expense &c &c; whether benefit in proportion may well be questioned: but I do hope we are both a little better; and a little must be reckoned precious in the circumstances we have now arrived at. Jack was in Edinr most of the time (living in Lodgings there, poor soul,—very lively still), and was often coming across to us; always prompt to help in every way he could. For the rest, I studied to have no company, or as little as possible; Fife was grown old and tragic to me; I passed my time, riding about, walking, diligently bathing, generally in a sombre silent mood. One day in Kirkcaldy I rode up the Kirk Wynd,3 saw the old room where we two lodged together long ago,—the staircase window &c seemed all younger rather than otherwise, in their bright new colourings by lime and paint, but the Two Lodgers had not been growing younger the while! Kirkaldy is still a flourishing place; and Peter Swan (whom you may remember as a little black-eyed boy), now an old bachelor, inclined to corpulency, is the chief man of the place. All new paved, old Jail quite swept away; screaming with railways &c &c: a place I had no pleasure in re-surveying.

Down in Annandale, at Scotsbrig, I again met Jack: in Scotsbrig you know what sad change had occured in the first days of June; poor Isabella carried to her last home, after long years of sickliness and sufferings, the last months and weeks of which had been tragically severe! Her complaint was of the liver and bowels; you may fancy all the rest: Jamie & the two Boys were her nurses; she kept her composure, and was singularly quiet, clear & steady to the very last day.— Jamie seemed to me to be silently very sad, tho’ he makes no open lamenting: poor little Jenny (not yet quite 17) has to act as mistress,—and, for one so young, she seemed to do it admirably well. Jamie hopes, her love of him being great, that she will be abler for her post as she grows older, and stand faithfully to it with increasing sense. Poor Jamie: we went to the Ecclefn Kirkyard together, one day, and spent a few silent minutes, which could not be other than solumn.4 There they all lay, so still and dumb those that were once so blithe and quick at sight of us; gathered to their sleep under the long grass:—I could not forbear a kind of sob, like a child's, out of my old worn heart, at first sight of all this. A high wall now surrounds the Kirkyard, no entrance till you get the key: Jamie has on hand a bit of low masonwork & railing to be put round our portion of the place, about which he had consulted me before: it will probably be finished this month or next.5

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Carlyle family gravestone, Ecclefechan

From a photograph by K. J. Fielding


The old “Kirkyard Tree” is nearly all blown away, at least ⅔ of it gone within the last 5 or 6 years;—and there is a great yellow fungus, or mushroom (large as a cow's liver, visible off the road), growing in a cleft of the stem of it.

Jamie, I believe, is doing well enough in his farming operations,—tho’ this Year was not so favourable as others; “the driest year since 1826”; all the turnips wasted into fingers-and-toes; crop short, and never such a dearth of hay.6 But farming is still a good trade there, in comparison with what you once knew it; and Jamie seems very gleg, to fit himself to the new circumstances that are changing so many things. Crop farming is almost out; grazing, stall-feeding, for Liverpool and the railways, that is now the method. Jamie's two Boys are at home: the elder of them (Jamie junr, a nice rational kind of dandyish figure) has left Glasgow, on the score of health, and also I think of dislike; and does not at all know what he will go into next.7

At the Gill, Mary & her Husband & House hold were all brisk & busy; building new Offices &c. They have got a new Lease,8 as you doubtless heard; I think, some £20 more of rent yearly,—they still hope to do, in the improved times, tho’ the place is fairly dear. Mary is much worn in appearance, but I judge her to be in stouter health than in former years, and still full of activity and energy (the whole management lying on her mainly, as some of them say). Austin is but little changed: a quiet, laborious man; many worse for one there is better. Margaret (I was privately told by her mother) is likely to wed soon; one of the Holly-Bush people,9 a partner in the farm, and the best of the 3 brothers,10 it appears. She is a right clever lass; that I can testify: a better pair of hands I have seldom seen, in that country or elsewhere.

Jean came out to me & staid several days at The Gill: Dumfries is going on as it did; Aitken prosperous, steadfast; but a “dibble of a temper,”11 Jean hints. At The Gill too Mary read me, out of Canada, something abt your Tom12 coming to visit his Kindred in the old Country. It was not very distinct, some Letter from Jenny,13 perhaps in haste: but Tom is affectionately expected among his Kindred, where I can testify to him he stands in good esteem, as a sensible useful and true-hearted solid young fellow.—— Dear Brother, I am got got14 to the end of my second sheet, and must close this rambling account; without almost a word addressed from myself to yourself! You know all that I could say, without a word spoken on that head. Ah me, ah me! We have been young & now are old; and surely it is a blessing to us that we are thus still together! If I live to get done with my Book, I will write to you then; I mean to work no more in this world then! Your Letter to me came;—as you know? God bless you all, my ever-dear Brother. T. Carlyle