October 1831-September 1833

The Collected Letters, Volume 6


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 24 January 1832; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18320124-TC-MAC-01; CL 6:102-106.


London, 24th January, 1832—

My dearest Mother,

I was down stairs this morning when I heard the Postman's knock, and thought it might be a Letter from Scotsbrig: hastening up I found Jane with the letter open, and in tears. The next moment gave me the stern tidings. I had written you yesterday, a light hopeful Letter, which I could now wish you might not read, in these days of darkness: probably you will receive it just along with this; the first red seal so soon to be again exchanged for a black one. I had a certain misgiving, not seeing Jane's customary “all well”; and I thought, but did not write (for I strive usually to banish vague fears) “the pitcher goes often to the well, but it is broken at last.”1 I did not know that this very evil had already overtaken us.

As yet I am in no condition to write much: the stroke, all unexpected tho' not undreaded, as yet painfully crushes my heart together; I have yet hardly had a little relief from tears. And yet it will be a solace to me to speak out with you, to repeat along with you that great saying, which could we lay it rightly to heart includes all that man can say: “It is God that has done it; God support us all!”2 Yes my dear Mother, it is God that has done it; and our part is reverent submission to His Will, and trustful prayer to Him for strength to bear us thro' every trial.

I could have wished, as I had too confidently hoped, that God had ordered it otherwise: but what are our wishes and wills? I trusted that I might have had other glad meetings and pleasant communings with my honoured and honour-worthy Father in this world: but it was not so appointed; we shall meet no more, till we meet in that other sphere, where God's Presence more immediately is; the nature of which we know not, only we know that it is of God's appointing, and therefore altogether good. Nay already, had we but faith, our Father is not parted from us, but only withdrawn from our bodily eyes: the Dead and the Living, as I often repeat to myself, are alike with God: He, fearful and wonderful, yet good and infinitely gracious, encircles alike both them that we see, and them that we cannot see. Whoso trusteth in Him has obtained the victory over Death: the King of Terrors is no longer terrible.

Yes, my dear Mother and Brothers and Sisters, let us see also how mercy has been mingled with our calamity. Death was for a long time ever present to our Father's thought; daily and hourly he seemed meditating on his latter end: the end too appears to have been mild as it was speedy; he parted, as gently as the most do from this vale of tears; and Oh! in his final agony, he was enabled to call, with his strong voice and strong heart, on the God that had made him to have mercy on him! Which prayer, doubt not one of you, the All-merciful heard, and in such wise as infinite Mercy might, gave answer to. And what is the Death of one dear to us, as I have often thought, but the setting out on a Journey an hour before us, which Journey we have all to travel: what is the longest earthly Life to the Eternity, the Endless, the Beginningless, which encircles it? The oldest man and the newborn babe are but divided from each other by a single hairsbreadth. For myself I have long continually meditated on Death, till, by God's grace, it has grown transparent for me, and holy and great rather than terrific; till I see that “Death, what mortals call Death, is properly the beginning of Life.”3— One other comfort we have, to take the bitterness out of our tears: this greatest of all comforts, and properly the only one: that our Father was not called away till he had done his work, and done it faithfully. Yes, my beloved Friends, we can with a holy pride look at our Father, there where he lies low, and say that his Task was well and manfully performed; the Strength that God had given him he put forth in the ways of honesty and well doing; no eye will ever see a hollow deceitful work that he did: the world wants one true man, since he was taken away. When we consider his Life, thro' what hardships and obstructions he struggled, and what he became and what he did, there is room for gratitude that God so bore him on. Oh, what were it now to us that he had been a King; now when the question is not: What wages hadst thou for thy work? But: How was thy work done? My dear Brothers and Sisters, sorrow not I entreat you, sorrow is profitless and sinful; but meditate deeply every one of you on this. None of us but started in Life with far greater advantages than our dear Father had: we will not weep for him; but we will go and do as he has done. Could I write my Books, as he built his Houses, and walk my way so manfully thro this shadow-world, and leave it with so little blame, it were more than all my hopes. Neither are you, my beloved Mother, to let your heart be heavy. Faithfully you toil[e]d by his side, bearing and forbearing as you both could: all that was sinful and of the Earth has passed away; all that was true and holy remains forever, and the Parted shall meet together again with God. Amen! So be it! We your children, whom you have faithfully cared for, soul and body, and brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, we gather round you in this solemn hour, and say, be of Comfort! Well done, hitherto; persevere and it shall be [well!] We promise here before God, and the awful yet merciful work of God's Hand, tha[t we] will continue to love and honour you, as sinful children [can] and now do you pray for us all, and let us all pray in such language as we have for one another; so shall this sore division and parting be the means of a closer union. O let us all and every one know that tho' this world is full of briars and we are wounded at every step as we go, and one by one must take farewell, and weep bitterly, yet “there remaineth a rest for the people of God.”4 Yes for the people of God there remaineth a Rest, that Rest which in this world they could nowhere find.

And now again I say do not grieve any one of you beyond what nature forces and you cannot help. Pray to God, if any of you have a voice and utterance; all of you pray always in secret and silence, if faithful, ye shall be heard openly.5 I cannot be with you to speak; but read in the Scripture, as I would have done. Read, I especially ask, in Matthew's Gospel that Passion and Death and Farewell blessing and command of “Jesus of Nazareth”; and see if you can understand and feel what is the “divine depth of Sorrow”;6 and how even by suffering and sin man is lifted up to God, and in great darkness there shines a light.7 If you cannot read it aloud in common; then do each of you take his Bible in private and read it for himself. Our business is not to lament, but to improve the lamentable, and make it also peaceably work together for greater good.

I could have wished much to lay my honoured Father's head in the grave: yet it could have done no one good save myself only, and I shall not ask for it. Indeed, when I remember, that right would have belonged to John of Cockermouth,8—to whom offer in all heartiness my brotherly love. I will be with you in spirit, if not in person: I have given orders that no one is to be admitted here till after the funeral on Friday: I mean to spend these hours in solemn meditation and self-examination, and thoughts of the Eternal; such seasons of grief are sent us even for that end; God knocks at our heart, the question will we open or not?— I shall think every night of the Candle burning in that sheeted room, where our dear Sister also lately lay. O God be gracious to us; and bring us all one day together in himself! After Friday, I return as you too must, to my worldly work; for that also is work appointed us by the heavenly Taskmaster.— I will write to John tonight or tomorrow. Let me hear from you again so soon as you have composure. I shall hasten all the more homewards for this. For the present I bid God ever bless you all! Pray for me, my dear Mother; and let us all seek consolation there. I am ever your affectionate

T. Carlyle—

Most probably you are not in want of money: if you are, I have some ten pounds or more which I can spare here, and you have only to send for.


Jany 24th 1832, news came suddenly of my Father's Death: a plunge for me into deepest gloom; say rather, [s]addest grief, retrospectn, & feeling of bereavet and eternity; wae, wae;—traceable in Johnson when I read the Proofs lately. Her help to me at this time I remember as priceless. Where is the Ms. scrawl on my Father now lying?9