January 1829-September 1831

The Collected Letters, Volume 5


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 29 June 1830; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18300629-TC-JAC-01; CL 5:116-120.


Craigenputtoch, 29th June, 1830—

My Dear Brother,

I regret having promised writing to you next day after that sad event, for I now feel how impatient you must have been; and as it turned out, I had no leisure to have written more than a line at the time appointed; neither at Scotsbrig afterwards was there any convenience for such a thing.1 It would have been better to send that same line, however short; more especially as I had engaged for it: but not till yesterday, when we received your Letter, did all this strike me. I thought, the fatal stroke having fallen, the rest was all of little significance. Now, however, I am at home, in my usual quietude; and will write you deliberately; carrying on my narrative with the old minuteness to its final winding up in the still dwelling,2 where she that was dear to us, and will always be dear, now rests.

It was on Monday Night, when Alick took leave of our Sister: on Tuesday, if I remember rightly, she felt ‘better,’ but was evidently fast growing weaker; in the afternoon, it was pretty evident to every one that she was far gone. The Doctor, who was unwearied in his assiduities, formed a worse opinion at every new examination: all hope of a complete cure had vanished some days before; it now appeared that the whole of the lower bowel was in a state of decay, and the bowels generally as it were already dead. Our Mother asked her in the afternoon if she thought herself dying; she answered: ‘I dinna ken, Mother, but I never was so sick in my life.’ To a subsequent question about her hopes of a future world, she replied briefly but in terms that were comfortable to her parent. It was about eight at night, when John Currie3 was despatched to go and seek a horse, and proceed hither, where as you already know he arrived about midnight: by this time the sick-room was filled with sympathizing relatives, the Minister (Mr Clyde)4 also came and feelingly addressed her: she recognized every one; was calm, clear, as she ever had been; sometimes spoke, in whispers, directing little services to be done for her; once asked where Mary was, who had gone out for a moment. Twice she asked for the ‘drops’ (I believe, that quina mixture I spoke of): the first time, our Mother, who now cared chiefly for her Soul's weal, and that sense and recollection might be given her in that stern hour, answered dissuasively, but said if she asked them a second time they should be given her. Some hours before, our Mother had begged her forgiveness if she had ever done her anything wrong; to which the dying one answered: ‘Oh no, no, Mother, never, never,’ earnestly, yet quietly and without tears. About a quarter past ten, she asked again for the ‘drink’ (or drops, which were taken in water), and took the glass, which Mary also held, in her own hand: she whispered to Mary, ‘pour up’; swallowed about half the liquid; threw her head on the pillow, looking out with her usual look; but her eyes quickly grew bright and intense, the breath broke into long sighs, and in about two minutes, a slight quiver in the under lip gave token that the fight was fought, and the wearied spirit at its goal.5 I saw her in the winding-sheet, about six o'clock; beautiful in death, and kissed her pale brow, not without warm tears which I could not check: about midday when she was laid in the coffin I saw her face once more—for the last time.

Our Mother behaved in what I must call a heroic manner. Seeing that the hour was now come, she cast herself and her child on God's hand, and endeavoured heartily to say: His will be done. Since then she has been calmer than any of us could have hoped; almost the calmest of us. No doubt the arrow still sticks in her heart, and natural sorrow must have its course; but, I trust, she seeks and finds the only true balm, howsoever named, by which man's woe can be healed and made blessed to him.

Thus, dear Brother, has our eldest and best Sister been taken from us; mercifully as you said, tho' sorrowfully; having been spared much suffering, and carried in clear possession of her sense and steadfastness thro' that last solemn trial. We all wept sore for her, as you have done, and now do; but will endeavour to weep no more. I have often thought, she had attained all in Life that Life could give her: a just, true, meekly invincible, completed character; which I, and so many others, by far more ambitious paths seek for in vain. She was, in some points, I may say deliberately, superior to any woman I have ever seen: her simple clearness of head and heart, her perfect fairness, and quiet, unpretending, brief decisiveness, in thought, word, and act, for in all these she was remarkable, made up so true and brave a spirit as, in that unaffected guise, we shall hardly look upon again. She might have been wife to a Scottish Martyr, and spoken stern truths to the ear of Tyrants, had she been called to that work: as it is, she sleeps in a pure grave; and our peasant maiden, to us who knew her, is more than King's daughters. Let us forever remember her, and love her; but cease from henceforth to mourn for her. She was mercifully dealt with; called away when her heart, if not unwounded, was yet unseared and fresh; amid pain and heaviness, it is true, yet not in any agony, or without some peaceful beam of Hope enlightening her to the end. The little current of her existence flowed onwards, like a Scottish brook, thro' green simple fields; neither was it caught into the Great Ocean over chasms and grim cataracts; but gently, and as among thick cl[oud] whereon hovered a rainbow.—

I might tell you something of the funeral arrangements; and how the loss has left the rest of us. Early on Tuesday, our Mother and Mary set off for Scotsbrig,6 in one of Alick's Carts, which happened to be there: a coffin was speedily got ready, with burial Letters &c;7 and it was soon agreed that Alick and I should attend the body down to Scotsbrig next day, where it was to lie till Saturday the day of the funeral. All Wednesday these things kept him and me incessantly busy: the poor Alick was sick to the heart, and cried more, that day, than I had ever seen him do in his life[.] At night I had to return hither, and seek Jenny. I was the messenger of heavy and unexpected tidings. Jane too insisted on going with us. So next morning (Thursday) we set out hence: Jenny and I in a gig, Jane riding behind us. At Dumfries, where Alick had remained to watch all night, we found Jacob with a Hearse; about two o'clock we moved off: the gig close following the Hearse, Jane and Alick riding behind us. We reached Scotsbrig about six. Carts went and came between this and Scotsbrig (with clothes &c &c) almost every day. Poor Robert Clow8 was dreadfully affected: he waked every night; spoke earnestly and largely on the subject of the deceased; and by his honest sensibility, and pure sincere religious bearing, endeared himself to every one. On Saturday about half past one, the procession moved away: our Mother stood like a priestess in the door, tearless where all were weeping. Our Father and Alick went in the gig: the former, ill in health, looked resolute, austere, and to trivial condolers and advisers almost indignant. The Coffin was lowered into a very deep grave (secured otherwise also against disturbance) on the east side of our Headstone in the Ecclefechan Churchyard; and the mourners, a numerous company, among whom were our uncle John and others from Dumfries, separated; W. Graham and a few others accompanying us home to that stupid horrid ceremony a funeral tea, which however in our case was very speedily and quietly transacted.

Yesterday morning we set out on our return. It had been settled that Mary was to stay yonder for a fortnight or ten days, our Mother & Jenny to come hither: I drove the former in the gig, Jenny came in the cart with Bretton. We settled various accounts &c at Dumfries, were kindly entertained by John,9 and arrived here about eleven, all well. Mother had a good sleep, and is pretty well in health, her slight cough having almost left her. She expects to hear from you: in the end of next week she talked of returning to the Sacrament.10 Our Father was complaining much, and evidently suffering somewhat severely: his appetite is very bad; he has a cold, coughs a little, and is in very bad spirits when left to himself. I brought him some paregoric, and his cough seemed to be troubling him little, but he was breathless, dispirited, and could not eat. We hope, the good weather will mend him, would it come. The rest of us [are] well.— God bless you dear Brother! T. Carlyle11


A comely, quiet, intelligt, affectionate and altogr mildly-lucent creature (tho' of strong heart and will); simplex munditiis [plain in her neatness],12 the definitn of her [Margaret], in person, mind and life. The clearest, practically wisest little child in her 4th or 5th years, that I can remember to have seen. She had become my Father's life-cloak (so to speak), his do-all, and necessary-of-life, he visibly sank on loss of her, and died within 2 years. To me it was the most poignant sorrow I had yet felt; and continued long with me,—nay at intervals is not yet quite dead. June 1830, that dusky, dusty evg with its poor noises, while she rode in a Chair on my sorrowing Wife's knee, I walking by their side,—to the new Lodging we had got for her; whh only lasted half a week! June 21, Alick and I were called, by express, to ride (ever memorable “shortest-night” with its woods & skies); abt 3 a.m. we found her dead:—abt sunset that evg, riding home alone, so broken by emotions & fatigues, I fairly, on getting into the quite solitary woods of Irongray, burst into loud weeping, lifted up my voice and wept, for perhaps ten or 20 minutes,—never the like since. We all of us mourned long; and the memory of our good Margt is still solemnly beautiful to all of us.—13