The Collected Letters, Volume 4


JWC AND TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 17 February 1827; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18270217-TCJWC-MAC-01; CL 4:187-191.


Saturday,21. Comley Bank [17 February 1827].

My dear Mother

My Husband is busy below stairs with his book1 and I, it seems, am this time to be the writer:—with greater willingness than ability indeed; for I have been very stupid these some days with cold. But you must not be left in the idea that we are so neglectful as we have seemed; a little packet was actually written to go by the Carrier on Wednesday (my modesty will not permit me to call him by his popular name)2 when the rain fell and the wind blew so that no living [creature] durst venture to his quarters. The Doctor proceeded thither, as early as was good for his health, the following morning, in case Fortune in the shape of bad weather or whisky had interposed delay; by that time however Carrier, boxes and Bobby were all far on the road. So you see there was nothing for it but to write by post, which I lose no time in doing.

And now let me thank you for the nice eggs and butter which arrived in the best preservation;—and so opportunely! just when I was lamenting over the emptied cans, as one who had no hope. Really it is most kind in you to be so mindful and helpful of our town-wants: and most gratifying to us to see ourselves so cared for. Good ham and cheese and even good eggs are to be had here in Edinr, good butter too, perhaps, if one knew where to seek: but the Annandale cheese and butter &c have a certain relish of their own which makes us all set a surprising value on them.

The new book is going on at a regular rate; and I would fain persuade myself that his health and spirits are at the same regular rate improving: more contented he certainly is since he applied himself to this task; for he was not born to be any thing but miserable in idleness. Oh that he were indeed well—well beside me and occupied as he ought! How plain and clear would life then be before us! I verily believe there would not be such a happy pair of people on the face of the whole earth! Yet we must not wish this too earnestly. How many precious things do we not already possess which others have not—have hardly an idea of? Let us enjoy these then, and bless God that we are permitted to enjoy them; rather than importune his goodness with vain longings for more.

Indeed we lead a most quiet and even happy life here: within doors all is warm, is swept and garnished, and without the country is no longer winterlike, but beginning to be gay and green. Many pleasant people come to see us; and such of our visitors as are not pleasant people, have at least the good effect of enhancing to us the pleasure of being alone. Alone we never weary; if I have not Jane's3 enviable gift of talking, I am at least among the best listeners in the kingdom. And my Husband has always something interesting and instructive to say; then we have books to read: all sorts of them, from Scot's bible down to novells;4 and I have sewing-needles, and purse needles, and all conceivable implements for lady's work. There is a Piano too, for “soothing the savage breast,”5 when one cares for its charms, but I am sorry to observe neither my playing nor singing seem to give Mr C much delight. I console myself however with imputing the blame to his want of taste rather than my want of skill.

So Jane is not coming too us yet. Well, I am sorry for it but I hope the time is coming. In the mean time she must be a good girl, and read as much as she has time for, and above all things cultivate this talent of speech; for I am purposing to learn from her when she comes. It is my Husbands worst fault to me that I will not, or rather cannot speak; often when he has talked for an hour without answer, he will beg for some sign of life on my part; and the only sign I can give is a little kiss. Well! that is better than nothing—dont you think?

[JWC ends, and TC begins:]—So far, My Dear Mother, had the Goodwife proceeded, when visitors arrived, and the sheet was left unfinished. It is now, in the evening, with due composure, laid before me to conclude; an employment which I need not say I am happy to undertake, my task of writing being over, and nothing to prevent me (save want of room) from chatting with you about all and sundry that pertains to me. Would that you could write as easily, and tell me all your cares! My dear Mother cannot speak to me at this distance; but I know her good heart, and find words for it myself; and no day passes but I remember with gratitude to the great Giver of all Good that she is still spared for a blessing to me. Jack, I think, is coming down by and by; he will tell you much; but there will be no right sense of it, till we come ourselves and talk with you (who knows but we may craik [gossip] also?) for the space of ten days and nights. Then we shall begin to see how matters stand; but not till then.

Meanwhile assure yourself, my good Mother, that no evil has befallen me, nay that I have the prospect of being far better, both in body and mind than I could ever have hoped. Many a time of late, it has seemed to me, as if these sore afflictions with which I have been tried, were truly the richest blessing that could have been conferred on me; as undoubtedly they are, if I can learn from them the wise Lesson whi[ch] Providence kindly tho' with many stripes has been teaching me by means of them. After all, what are the light afflictions of this life which are but for a moment, if they teach us heavenly wisdom! These are not words, my [dear] Mother; I should bless God that they are becoming feelings in my heart, and that healing and hope come into my benighted spirit along with them. When I look upon the empty struggles of the world, the cruelty and blind selfishness of worldly men, I feel that even ill health, if it teach one other and more precious and truer things, may be a merciful allottment. But I must check my speculation, however gratifying to myself and you; for my space is very limited.— You will tell my good Alick that I had written him a letter too, which the mischance above described has detained with us. It contained nothing of any consequence; save only a request that he would not call the stock, which he talks of selling at Whitsunday, any longer ours but his own; and in consequence dispose of it, in all points, entirely at his own discretion. I rejoice heartily that, on any terms, you are at length done with the Laird of Hoddam; of whom, “since we can say no good, we shall say no evil,” but leave him to oppress and legally plunder his inferiors, while time is, remembering that every dog has his day,6 and no dog any more. Heaven mend him, and us too, for we all need it!

I told Sandy that I had a letter to Jeffrey the Advocate. Last week I went up one evening and delivered it. The little man received me in his kindest style; talked with me for an hour, tho' very busy, on all possible things; and really proved himself by much the most agreeable citizen of Edinburgh that I had ever met with. I am sorry the man is so immersed in Law; otherwise it is possible enough we might even become friends. He invited me repeatedly to come to the “Court” any morning, and he would introduce me to various people, among others to Sir Walter Scott. I have not gone yet, being little careful of such introductions. He also spoke about writing in his Review; but I told him he must first read the German Romance to see what manner of man I was, and then we might determine if I could suit him. We parted in the friendliest style, mutually tolerant of each other. In a week or two, we may perhaps meet again.— The German Book is getting praise rather than censure: I was about sending Alick a copy of the last Examiner Newspaper, where it was rather sensibly criticised.7 The man praises me for this and that: but then, it seems, I am terribly to blame for condemning Voltaire and the Sceptics! This is exactly as it should be. But what care I for their reviews? I have begun another Book, which if I had rightly finished I would not give a fig for them all! It is to be a curious book this; but I hope a good and even moral one! It proceeds slowly, yet constantly day after day.— Now, my Dear Mother, I really must stop: I have not room to write one half of the questions I would put to you about your health and habits and welfare. Is there any thing that I could do for you? I know you will answer Nothing; and yet it is not so; but till Summer I shall hardly see.— My kindest affection to all, from my Father down to Jenny, name by name for even now I recollect them all. If Alick do not write soon, I will write again. The selvage as usual belongs to Jack.8 Good night my Dear Mother; I am ever your affectionate and grateful son— T. Carlyle—


“The Doctor,” i.e[.] Brr John, appears to have been on visit to us at this time. “Carriers name” nickname properly was “Waffler” (whiffler9 with increased emphasis); he stuttered intensely, drank much, & had sunk in the world (pitied, laughed at, almost loved),—down to “Bobby” (B—b—bobby!) and the road-car Bobby drew.

The “Book” mentd here with such enthusiasm (beautiful dear Soul!) is that wretched “Didactic Novel”; whh, in spite of all my obstinacy, declared itself desperate soon after this; and was shoved aside for other tasks—at last bodily into the fire.10

3. Postscript 3d is properly a Proscript, the beginning of the Letter being Hers, & the end mine,—whh is of no use here or elsewhere; except only that I now gather from it the real date of my first interview with Jeffy: ‘Last week,’ says the Letter, i.e. some 8 days ago, or abt Feby 5th, 1827. Procter (kind gentle “Barry Cornwall”) had sent me a Note of Introductn. It was in J.'s town house in George street: I remember the fine airy evg right well, and even some steps of my walk up thither, tho' nothing of what preceded and followed thereon. Dialogue itself was light enough on both sides; to me, for the moment, quasi-comfortable, hopeful with a perhaps.—11

[Oh my blessed One:—to read this in feby 1869! Sad as Death, beautiful as Eternity.]12