The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 26 November 1828; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18281126-TC-JAC-01; CL 4:419-424.


Craigenputtoch, 26th November, 1828—

My Dear Jack,

As the Letters seem to take at least a week longer in travelling to Vienna than they did to Munich, it behoves me to answer you with the least possible delay. Ten days have already elapsed much against my will; and I write to-night in great haste, rather than wait a few days more. Your welcome Letter met Mary and me at Dumfries, as we were bound to Scotsbrig, in stormy weather, on a rather melancholy errand; and diffused a gleam of real joy over that otherwise rather despondent household. For you must know that our sister Mag was very ill, and we were sent for to come and see her with our own eyes. Happy that I can now in a great measure say was; for tho' still very weakly the poor lassie is considered out of danger; indeed I did not see that any real immediate danger had ever been in the case, tho' for two or three days, some of the symptoms were alarming enough. I judge it fair and right to tell you of this fact; but, not to give you unreasonable anxieties on the subject, I must explain it with more minuteness. All Autumn and Fall, poor Mag had been labouring under great indigestion (not in the form you saw her suffer it, but in that of want of appetite and the necessary consequences); one day in ‘Potatoe-raising time,’ she had farther caught a little cold; and so when I was at Scotsbrig about six weeks ago, she looked very pale, complained of feverishness, and could not speak with any force for a swelling in her gums and windpipe. I rode down with her to Annan; consulted Waugh, who declared it to be a disease of the small intestines, to be cured by senna &c; the main thing for the present, however, being to subdue the inflammation in the larynx—by leeches, unguents, and a blister. Leeches accordingly were applied, with some effect; then a blister, which almost instantly removed the whole pain and swelling from the inside, but left a wound on the outside, which to the surprise and partial terror both of Simpson and our Mother, not only did not heal, but was visibly spreading and deepening! Cressfield and Dr Arnott were sent for; they conceived this strange gangrening of the blister to indicate a bad habit of body; and proposed with new medicines a different sort of dressing. Before Mary and I arrived (9 days ago), the worst was over, and the wound looked decidedly better. So far as I could judge, the whole sickness that she had might be thought to originate from the fretting of so large a sore, and the mere languor produced by a bilious state to which I myself am no stranger. The whole method of cure seemed plain enough: to keep the bowels as easy as possible (our Mother had already done good service by her Castor-oil); on the other hand to support the strength by nutritive alements (arrow-root, fresh-eggs, beef, wine) till the blister being once healed, horse-exercise might be added, and so our poor Mag once more restored to her wonted activity. She lies at present mostly in bed (in the room that was our Mother's and Father's) pale and thin, but clear and undespondent; supporting her painful dressings &c with a Spartan silence. It would have done you good to see how she brightened up when I read her your Letter, as I had to do that night I arrived. Mary and I left her exactly this day week, and she seemed growing better and better; since which, a short letter received two days ago gives a similar report. Our Mother and all the rest were perfectly well (Jane is returned thither some weeks ago, and proves highly useful); and all seemed greatly lightened in their prospects with regard to the sick one, and indeed not even my Mother seemed to apprehend anything. This is the true account of the matter, Jack, so far as I can express it; I myself do not think there is danger, tho' I should not say but the complete amendment may be tedious, I mean that of the bowels and general health. If any perceptible alteration for the worse take place, be sure I will warn you instantly: so, in the mean time, do not annoy yourself with surmises and forecastings, where, tho' no one is sure of more than the breathing he draws, there seems no reason for special fear. I believe, I have said too much about it already; indeed far too much: but I approve of punctuality in ill as well as good news; and I think I have made it worse rather than better for the telling. And so let us rest (in this as in all other matters) in hope and contentment not grounded on darkness but on light.

Your last Letter, as I have said, gave us all the greatest pleasure; both by the news it brought us, and the sensible style it was written in. It exhibits you in quite another state of welfare both outward and inward than any Letter we had received for months. And the grand news of all news for us is that your travelling mania has now subsided, and we are to see the Doctor's gawsie face back among us, so soon as the winter is over! Come, dear Jonathan, for thou hast tarried too long already. What is in Dutchland or any other land save old Scotland, but a sun above thee, and earth and water beneath; and no soul that has time to care truly for thee? Here is bread and lodging on your native soil; and fool is he that expects aught more from any soil under the heavenly vault. O that the roads were open, and we saw our brave Lord Moon, once more stumping about these wolds, whether it were that he walked wrong with the left foot or the right! His very Logic would be welcome to us; and I have it on authority, that a dumpling of one cubic foot in extent would be cooked on the day of his arrival. Come therefore, dear Doil; and do not lose thyself in Pepperfield any longer!1

But I must more seriously incline to send you news of Craigenputtoch, for which you express such friendly curiosity. Know then that we are all well, and struggling with as much heart as ever. The fruit of our labour is not to be altogether hid in a bushel; for we expect to astonish you with the figure we make here, even by the time of your arrival. This house (bating some outskirt things which must be left till Spring) is really a substantial, comfortable and even half-elegant house[.] I sit here in my little library, and laugh at the howling tempests, for there are green curtains and a clear fire and papered walls; the ‘old Kitchen’ also is as tight a dining-room as you would wish for me, and has a black clear-barred grate, at which, when filled with Sanquhar2 coals, you might roast Boreas himself. The goodwife too is happy, and contented with me, and her solitude, which I believe is not to be equalled out of Sahara itself. You cannot figure the stillness of these moors in a November drizzle: nevertheless I walk often under cloud of night (in good Ecclefechan clogs) down as far as Carstammon-burn, sometimes to Sandy-wells) conversing with the void heaven, in the most pleasant fashion. Besides Jane also has a pony now, which can canter to perfection even by the side of Larry! Tomorrow she is going over to Templand with it; and it is by her that I send this Letter. Grace, our servant, a tight, tidy, careful sharptempered woman is the only other inmate of the house; and except Ben Nelson, we expect no more visitors thro' winter. But I write hard all day; then Jane and I (both learning Spanish for the last month) read a chapter of Don Quixote between dinner and tea, and are already half thro' the first volume, and eager to persevere.3 After tea, I sometimes writ[e] again (being [dre]adfully slow at the business); and then generally go over to Alick and Ma[ry and] smoke my last pipe with them; and so end the day, having done little good perhaps [but] almost no ill that I could help to any creature of God's. So pass our days; except that sometimes I stroll (with my axe or bill) in the plantations; and when I am not writing, am reading. We had Henry Inglis here for three days; and our Father for a week, lately; both of whom seemed highly contented with this wonderful Craig.—— Alick and Mary, you already understand, live in their own cottage, or rather double farmhouse; for, were it once dried, it will be the bieldest [best-protected] tightest mansion of its sort within some miles of it. They have two men-servants and two maid-servants; are fattening or merely boarding quantities of black-cattle, have almost a dozen pigs, and plenty of weak-corn and about 80 cartloads of potatoes (to say nothing of turnip-acres) to feed them with. Alick is about thatching a cattle-shed, long since built (of dry stones)4 down near the moor; and we have had roadmen, for many weeks, gravelling the front of this door (a most marked improvement), making us a proper road to it, and thoroughly repairing the old road (to the outmost yett [gate]), which last task they have not yet completed. Thus you see, Chaos is rolling himself back from us by degrees; and all winter, we are to have stone-diking and planting and draining (if I can write for the cash!) till by and by I think this hermitage will positively become a very tolerable place, and the Doctor, as we said, will be astonished to behold it. For the rest, we drink tea together every sunday night, and live in good brotherhood, having no neighbours that do not wish us well.—— As to my writing of which you hear so much, it is only for the present a most despicable ‘article’ entitled German Playwrights (including your Grillparzer)5 with which I expect to be done in a week: next I mean to write one on Novalis,6 and probably a larger one on Voltaire.7 Some day, these roads will be made and skylights mended, and all tight and pargetted, and I shall have leisure to cease reviewing a little, and try to give work for reviewing.

Our news, beyond our own household, are mostly I think of a sombre cast. James Anderson, the young Laird of Stroquhan, our kind neighbour and acquaintance died of two days' illness a few weeks ago; an event which causes deep sadness among all connected with him. What will become of his Distillery is not known. Poor John Welsh, the Coachman, was to be buried the last day I was at Ecclefechan: other deaths also there are of persons known to us; for ‘the cup goes round and who so cunning as to pass it by?’8— Waugh still lives with Marion; the laziest man the sun shines on. Thom is degenerating or degenerated into a blackguard. Ben Nelson and Carlyle are still buying wool; the former seems to have a real friendship for you.— Alas! I had almost forgotten to say that honest good old John Grier9 of the Grove is gone to his long home. Alick and Jamie and I assisted at his funeral some three weeks ago: he also died suddenly; but like a just man, and with entire composure. Gracious God! Is not this thy world a mystery, and grand with Terror as well as Beauty!— My Letter, you see, will end in sable, like the life of man. My own thoughts grow graver every year I live.— Write instantly my dear Brother; say that you are well, and will soon be with us. Good night! my candle and time and paper are done. Ever Affectionately Your's, / T. Carlyle.

[Alick's postscript:]

My Dear Brother,

The broad sea and the long, long miles which ly between us.—and the bustle of life, have I am sorry to acknowledge, all but utterly, cut off our correspondence: neither breadth of sea however nor length of road, can stay the kind wishes or supress the earnest heart-felt prayer. Nay, my dear Jack, thine is a heart that I can, independent of our brotherhood, cease to love and admire, only when very good and honest emotion has withered & faded within me. Mary my little housekeeper sends her dearest love to you and prays for your speedy and safe arrival on this side the watters. Tell us seriously my dear Brother when you are purposing to return to your home and your kindred. God Bless you

A. Carlyle

[TC's postscript:]

I am very busy with my “Playwrights”; but shall soon be done. Jeffrey is again full of love to me, and Burns, already printed, will appear ere long. These people invite us kindly to Edinburgh: could we meet thee there! Again Good night!

29th Novr! — Dear Jack, Jane did not go [to] Templand, the day being so stormy; and this must now (on Tuesday night) be sent down to John M'Knight's by the servant and Larry, tho' the weather is the darkest and rainiest. Write thou directly

By all means, go and see F. Schlegel, and tell us what manner of man he is. Can you not find poor Juster?10 Is he slain by the Turks?