October 1831-September 1833

The Collected Letters, Volume 6


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 10 January 1832; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18320110-TC-JAC-01; CL 6:82-89.


4. Ampton Street, London, 10th January 1832.

My Dear Brother

I am not without anxieties on your account; for I cannot but recollect that you volunteered, in your Letter from Rome, to write “every three weeks,” and now I think it is almost five, and still no second comes to hand.1 These last ten days accordingly I have rather taken to “watch the Postman”; which you know is none of the most pleasant employments. However, I strive to banish apprehensions, and often say to myself, Why should any evil have befallen even now? Many risks have been happily run, since you became a Traveller: I will hope that here also there is nothing but some trifling delay caused by irregularity of Posts, or the like, and boding no mischief. At all events, I will wait no longer for your Letter; but write as matters stand, that I may not drive you into the same embarrassment. Two Letters of mine are still unacknowledged: one to Florence (Poste Restante, Firenze); another to Rome, despatched some day or two after yours announcing your arrival in that City had reached me. As I can speculate little about your proceedings, and only hope and pray that all may be well, I will here (in my smallest type) give you what light I can about my own, as if that were the only topic this world afforded: the best for you I will know it to be.

Not long ago we had a Letter from Scotsbrig (tho' I think it was before my last communication with you); indicating that all went well. I have written, at large, twice since then, and look for a specific detail ere long. Meanwhile the Courier, which now goes to Scotsbrig first, and finally t[o] Craigenputtoch, brings us weekly a token of their existence, and last time had “all right” scratched on it in Jane's hand. I suppose Alick to be vigorously bestirring himself for his new Farm; I have written two Notes to him, but yet have no answer: the Scotsbrig people had been able without difficulty to “meet him2: all seemed to be proceeding in the usual fashion. May God be thanked for it! Mrs Welsh also wrote to us lately: she is in a situation full of discomforts and difficulty; her father so failed and helpless, herself so sickly and sad: however, she struggles thro' courageously, and not without effect does her best. This I think is all the Scottish news we have that can interest you.

For ourselves here, we are not in the most vigorous state, yet nowise entitled to complain. Jane, as was natural after such a tumult as she came thro' in her passage hither, has had but a weakly time of it, now and then quite disabled: Dr Irving's medicaments too gave her no satisfaction; so she took the matter into her own hand, for the last four or five weeks has been living dietetically like a very Kitchiner,3 and is now growing decidedly better. She walks out every day, all wrapped in furs, cloaks, and what not, [lifted] out of the mud-sea on “French clogs”; is quite resolute in her own way, and quietly perseverant, and inde[ed] begins to bloom up again and look like her former self. She sees little company except what comes here; but that is enough: she has an engagement with George Irving4 to go and call on Miss Macdonald,5 which is to be fulfilled one of these days. I myself have had no positive ailment till within this week; when a cold partly by my own mismanagement laid hold of me, and set my eyes running: I took it resolutely by the head yesterday, and what with physic, what with gruel diet have already almost conquered it; but mean to keep the house for another day still. It is a climate this of London against which all manner of objections might be made, its two great elements being unhappily reek [smoke] and glar [mud]: we have had “real London fogs” too, the liveliest image of Pandemonium, torch-bearing spectres shouting thro' the gloom, an atmosphere that you might “dig with shovels.” Then rains, and damp chill vapours, and frosts against which in these gigmanic-fashioned rooms there is no protection. But what is there in climate that by much vituperating you can alter? It is one of Heaven's ordinances, to be received silently, even thankfully: is not all weather so much Time that has been lent us? No Cholera, or other epidemic yet attacks us; nor except with very cowardly people is such greatly apprehended: that Cholera will arrive seems likely; but what then? Except the name there are other far more frightful maladies which we look on with indifference. Typhus-fever, for example. At Sunderland, it seems nearly burnt out; also at Newcastle: two weeks ago it appeared at Haddington, where there have been between 20 and 30 cases, and several deaths (to us not known); it has not reached Edinburgh, but of course is dreaded there, where already there seems to be a Fever, much more fatal in its character, tho' being only common death, little heed is paid it. Did you see in the Newspaper that poor Dr Becker6 had died of Cholera at Berlin? Alas, it is even so; another friend is taken from us! Hegel also is dead of the same malady (the Philosopher Hegel):7 both these events are now of old date, tho' perhaps still unknown to you. Nor is my catalogue of mortality yet full: I went to call on Charles Buller the day before yesterday, and he confounded me by mentioning that his uncle Strachey8 was dead and buried! It had been a most sudden call: on a Tuesday night (exactly this day fortnight) poor Strachey came home complaining; the disease, treated by unskilful Doctors, proved to be inflammation of the liver, which soon became inflammation of the lungs also, and on the next Tuesday Night, it was all over. Mrs Strachey, it is said, bears it courageously: I design to write, and were I once in travelling order, to go and see her. I believe her to be a genuine woman, a schöne Seele [beautiful soul]9 such as there are few; and pity her much in her new lonely state. You spoke of writing: have you ever done it? I know not that she now cares much for me; but that does not alter my care for her: we have never met since you were there.

With respect to my personal occupations and outlooks I will soon give you some light. I have corrected the Proof sheets of that Article “Characteristics” for Napier, who receives it with respect, yet finds it “inscrutable” on a first perusal: my own fear was that it might be too scrutable; for it indicates decisively enough that Society (in my view) is utterly condemned to destruction, and even now beginning its long travail-throes of Newbirth. I believe it will be published in a day or two: if I can find any opportunity (of which I yet hear nothing), you shall have it sent you. Meanwhile I have various other things on the anvil: first a Paper on Johnson, probably for Fraser, tho' that is no good vehicle: I have spent two weeks in merely reading Croker's five volumes, and do not yet see my way: I design to be short and rather superficial. One has no right vehicle: you must throw your ware into one of those dog's-meat carts, such as travel the public streets, and get it sold there, be it carrion or not. Each age has its capabilities; these are the capabilities of ours. Perhaps they will mend; at all events, let us use them with our whole wisdom; our whole might. Then I have some trashy thing (I yet know not what) to put together for Bulwer;10 whom I have not yet seen but who writes, in sickness, cravingly. Cochrane also engages for the old Black'sche rate of wages,11 and wishes me to do him something on Diderot,12 which [I have] partly undertaken. Farther there are one or two bits of pieces which I have in view for Napier: but these will probably lie till I see him. Lastly I must tell you of something much more extensive than all the rest: no less than the “History of German Literature.”13 At William Grey's,14 I met a little Templar, named Hayward15 (Editor of a Periodical work, “the Jurist,” or some such thing), who took very much to me then and since; on his own motion, went to Lardner of the Cyclopedia,16 and made arrangements about the History of G. Lit. (concerning which I felt indifferent enough); and now, after two interviews between Lardner and me, I think it is nearly settled that I am to have such a thing ready, against next November: I am to have 2 volumes (and £300), to incorporate all that I have already published in Reviews (Black grants me his permission in the handsomest way); and to produce 170 pages of new matter, binding up the whole into a Zur Geschichte [Toward a History], to which I can put my name. Lardner I understand is a sure ready-money man; offers to get me Books, &c so I think the business will come to a bearing; indeed it had come to one apparently last time we met (a week ago), only nothing has yet been written about it: I have not even sent him my list of “Books wanted,” having been too busy and catarrhal to think maturely of it. There will be much labour here; but also a kind of remuneration: moreover, I shall thereby get my hands washed of German, and my whole say about it honourably said. It is our present purpose to get on with everything belonging to London with all despatch; to take the Steamboat for Edinburgh about the month of March; arrange what is arrangeable with Napier, perhaps also with Tait (whose projected “Liberal Periodical” gives no farther note of being), and then fix ourselves once more at Puttoch for the summer; and be ready to start anywhither (if hope offer) with the ensuing winter, and set the Printers in motion. We both reckon it an all too hazardous enterprize that of taking up house here; and lodgings, even of the best as we have them here, are full of annoyances and drawbacks. Besides there is nothing in London at present but stagnation and apprehension, and Radical Reform: the Bill will not pass yet for months, and then—what better shall we be?— With Teufelsdreck17 I believe I can do nothing: I took it back from Dilke18 last Saturday, who could give me no light but a sort of dull London fog, or darkness visible (tho' I find him a kindly and not altogether obtuse man); and now it lies in the hands of Charles Buller, who seemed anxious to see it. My chief comfort is in the effect it appears to produce on young unbestimmt [undecided] people like him: Glen was even asking for a third perusal of it. The whole matter is none of the weightiest: yet also is it not wholly a Lie that Lucubration of Dreck's; it can rest for twelvemonths and will not worm-eat. British Literature is a mud-ocean, and boundless “mother of dead dogs”:19 nevertheless here too there is stilting (with clean boots), and steering towards true landmarks or false. God give us more and more insight into our Duty; ever new strength to perform it! I have no other prayer.— Of preferment, in any shape, except that of being maintained alive for writing my best indifferent Prose, there is not the faintest symptom: indeed I scarcely care twopence about it: once get your footing in Eternity, all “Time-vestures” are but a cobweb and the Chancellor's jupe like any other beggar's blanket.20 The day is at hand when it will be asked us, not what pleasure and prog [food] hadst thou in that world? but what work didst thou accomplish there?

Thus, dear Brother, have I given you the minutest possible description of our whereabout; you can see in some measure what we are doing, and like to do. You may perhaps get two Letters out of London yet, or perhaps something new may turn up in the interim, and detain us longer. Either way, I am content enough. I do not rue my journey to London; but already feel my mind much stimulated, and as it were filled with new matter to elaborate. It will be very useful for me to come back from time to time: tho' I think I have hardly found a single man that has given me a new idea, and I have on the whole been called to talk far oftener than listen, yet the very view of such a huge phenomenon as London life works deeply on you, and will have its fruit.— I have left little room for tidings of your other friends, having said so much of your Friend. Arbuckle was about settling with appearances of very tolerable omens at Banbury; but his relations seemed to wish him rather in Liverpool; so at last, after much waiting, he is to set off thither, and meet his Brother (and partner) tomorrow morning: Jane gives him a line to her uncle; I one to George Johnstone: he goes with our truest wishes; a more hopeful man than I should once have reckoned him. Indeed he seems a very good youth; both amiable and rigidly honest, prudent also and nowise without an eye to see his way. George Irving flourishes and flounders, fit fish for such a pool as London. Of Edward we have seen nothing for some weeks: his tongues go shrieking on; the Chancellor is expected to take away his Church; and now some say Henry Drummond is minded to buy it back. Gott hilf ihnen—und uns [God help them—and us]!— Glen is rapidly progressing in Lessing[,] reads some six Fables in a night,21 and often visits us: I find him a person of great gifts, but in an even more “backward state” than I had anticipated: a man sorely beset with obstruction; indeed quite paralysed for the present by the most transcendental “I-ety”22 that has come under my inspection. I have told him of it, but he of course cannot see; so rages and stumbles along—whither I know not. He is trying to write, wherein I do my best to help him; but here again there is much to be conquered. We asked him to come with us to Puttoch, but he stormfully refused. Jeffrey has written to Brougham about a “Tancred Law studentship” (£100 a year) for him: Glen, if he do not go mad, will accomplish something:—Badams has been here once; telling enormous fibs (to Jane, for I was out); seems busy about the Mint, steady in diet, and doing well enough. Tom Holcroft also comes bawling in; a not uninteresting creature, yet he too, I fear,—fibs. How few are there that, taken strictly, have even this the beginning and first possibility of good conduct! Of Mill (who maintains his place here), the Bullers, the Examiner (whom I mean to see soon),23 Jeffrey (who comes skipping over twice a week), &c &c I shall say nothing this time for our space is done. Accept this scrawl in good part, my dear Brother; and soon send me another as long and as strictly biographic. I will hope for all good news of you: [be] wise, be resolute; there is nothing outward that one has to dread. Tell me all about your Lady, your relations towards her, how you proceed, what you have to struggle with, what you accomplish, what you cannot get accomplished. Keep your Journal, think often of me, or rather always: / and may God be ever with you, and with us all! Amen!— Your affectionate Brother, T. Carlyle


——I have now had my dinner (of gruel and toast), and must finish with all despatch to have this at Leigh-Street before five.— I can only bid you a second time Addio! If Letters take such a time as this, it will really be better to write without waiting for answers. I will write again within the month: sooner if anything notable befals.— John Gordon of Edinburgh24 sent me a long stupid Letter yesterday, wherein is little except speculations about victual, news that Mitchell is unwell, that George Moir writes in Blackwood, and that Gordon himself is a Tory. A la bonne heure [well and good]!——

James Hogg the Ettrick Shepherd25 is walking the London Streets with a grey Scotch Plaid! The vain goose. He has come hither to meet with Booksellers. Dunlop the Haddington Distiller26 has bankraped—£80,000: the Donaldsons27 are said to be partly implicated.

And so at last farewell dear Brother: Let me soon hear of you; and pray God we may [be] kept for one another, to be a mutual blessing!

[Jane] is busy writing Arbuckle's Letter, and except affectionate regards and good wishes can send you nothing.

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