October 1833-December 1834

The Collected Letters, Volume 7


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 21 January 1834; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18340121-TC-JAC-01; CL 7:74-82.


Craigenputtoch, 21st Jany, 1834—

My Dear Brother,

It is exactly four weeks since I wrote to you; and three since I received your last Letter: perhaps it had been more in the order of time to wait till next Tuesday; but as I may be busier then, and had rather be too soon than too late, I set about it now while nothing hinders me. As I conjecture, there are few occurrences in your Roman Month that bring more pleasure than news from home: let me be careful then to furnish you as regularly as I can.

On Wednesday gone a fortnight (two weeks since, all but a day) I drove down to Dumfries, by appointment, to fetch up our Mother, who had been waiting at Jean's there for several days: she had come up so far with Austin and Mary, who were at Carstammon with a Cart; and on that day of my journey had set out again for home, glad to seize a tolerable day amid such weather. Passing the Post-Office, I alighted, and found, among other things, your Letter! Our Mother was waiting for me, and Mary sat there warming her children's feet, Jean moving hither and thither, as Mistress; and so when they asked, “Any word from the Doctor?” I was enabled to answer cheerily, Yes; and to “run it over” for them, to universal satisfaction. My Mother and I got home betimes; found Archy Glen and William, the former of whom went off on the following Sunday, and left us a little more composure. My Mother was wonderfully cheerful and composed; seemingly in no worse health of body or of mind, but rather in better than when you parted with her. She read various things, Campan's Memoirs,1 and such like, with great interest; sewed a little, smoked and talked, and on the whole was very tolerably off. Her calmness in the midst of so many vicissitudes, and now while her immediate future is still so problematical, was very gratifying to me; shewed the admirable spirit she is of. It is one of the saddest possibilities now that lies before me, the losing of such a parent. One thing with another, and altogether apart from natural affection, I have seen no woman in the whole world, whom I would have preferred as a Mother.— On the following Sunday, Alick and Jamie both arrived; so that again we had a full house. They staid till Wednesday morning, when I accompanied them as far as Stroquhan: it had been arranged that Alick was to come next Saturday to Dumfries, and meet our Mother there, if the day was tolerable. She and I accordingly set off; met Alick there, who had his Cart (having preferred that to taking on the Gig), and stood ready to set off with our Mother and Jean (on a week's visit), when I reyoked poor Harry and turned back again to the solitude of my moors. Our Mother was wrapped to all lengths; and having the wind favourable I hope would not suffer much from cold. It is the dismallest weather with rain and wind any mortal ever saw; there has not been so much disaster from the elements for many long years: shipwrecks on all coasts (steamboats at Liverpool driven over the very piers), trees uprooted, streets covered with canns and blown slates; not two dry days together, almost since we can remember. Half of the big Tree at Sundaywell is rent down, and lies across the road the very image of strages [slaughter (archaic)]. One of the cope-stones (a considerable flag) of our kitchen chimney was blown up; yet not off, and down thro' the roof as it must have gone; but is turned very handsomely over on the other, and lies there precarious-looking, and may lie till Spring come. This however is nearly all our damage.2

Alick looked well almost florid in health, as “well-mounted,”3 a sufficient-looking little fellow, but almost more grim and belligerent than ever. We must all take our Destiny, and let it mar us—only as little as we can. [A line has been obliterated here.] Did I tell you that he had got another son, and named it after me? To Jamie and him I had again to “run over” your Letter. Jamie's marriage is still understood to be fixed upon; and no prayer for the present were more natural for us than that “the swine might run thro' it.”4 Perhaps for him it were an unfriendly prayer; so we do not openly utter it. But the Austins can get no place this year, have now very little chance or even hope of getting one. They offered for various farms, but in vain; are now again on treaty for Howcleugh;5 but none expects that it will be successful. Tho' this is one of the worst farming years, Cattle so dear, grain so hopelessly cheap, there never were so many candidates for farms. What the Austins will determine on, if not to continue another year at Scotsbrig, is still quite uncertain. Jamie presses my Mother to retain the two upper rooms at Scotsbrig, and live if not with him, yet under the same roof with him. An arrangement which none of us approve of, except perhaps as a bad best. A month or two must now decide. Our Mother says, she knows who will provide her a home while she shall need one; and so remains quite quiet and patient. I spoke of building her a house here; and she was gratified at the offer: but my own uncertainity of continuance, the foreign neighbourhood, and its loneliness and dulness, render this a hazardous speculation. We shall struggle to do the best possible.

As for our own household, it is much as you can fancy it. Jane continues in a tolerable an[d] improving state of health, tho' the last five weeks of bustle have done her no good: I when I take walking enough get along as I was wont in that particular. Continual sickness is a miserable thing; yet one learns to bear it: I could even fancy situations in which I might get rid of it; but such are not likely to fall in my way. Our new Servant is Grace Cavens, whom you remember at Alick's, a thoroughly honest woman, but with hardly any other quality; the slowest, most sensitive, most inexpert of women: nevertheless she struggles on, almost as well as the others used to do, and has that great quality over and above. Rob Austin brings our Letters; or, when the Macadams go, and Letters only are wanted, works in the outdoor premises on Wednesdays. Glen is just gone to Peter Austin's since I began this paragraph; Jane accompanying him. We were to have both gone down with him last night, and (with Tea) warmed the house for him: but it was a deluge of rain, and none of us stirred out. Archy Glen has sent down a Carpet and bed-mattress, with various etceteras; and now it is really quite a respectable little apartment; where the poor fellow may wait what Providence has decided for him. We can yet form no fixed prophecy about him; our experience of such things is so limited. He has the two states: one a most quiet, almost languid state, like a kind of collapse; with an appearance of consciousness that delusion is in him, an apprehension to commit himself by speaking; his answers are perfectly sane, even judicious and intelligent; but he originates nothing, or next to nothing; sits silent or reads in an inattentive wandering manner. His second state is one of much more energy, when his crotchets get the force of beliefs in him; and he will utter, and even maintain them, tho' with a singular tolerance of contradiction, and with arguments of such a sort for feebleness as you never heard man utter. Mostly however, with me, even in these states, he draws back again; says he cannot discuss such things at present till he “get sentience.” These varieties I have found depend altogether almost on the state of the digestive organs. It is here that you could be of the best service; but I with my utmost care can do too little. He has some bad colocynth pills, and needs to be driven to take them: I am by no means sure that they are the best kind, that they are not the very worst. On the whole nothing ever was gentler, more grateful, kindlier, one would say sounder, that the heart of the poor man; it is only the intellect (one of the worst trained ever seen) that ever his bodily disease can act on. Meanwhile he has learned (and in the most irrefragable manner) the first twenty Propositions of Leslie6 with me; we are to begin Homer tomorrow night: Our hope as before is in his goodness, his youth, and the influence of Time. He speaks of writing to you, and perhaps will do it: we need not hinder him. He walks much.7

But now, my dear Brother, I have a very mournful piece of news for you; tho' hardly an unexpected one. On Saturday came a Letter from Tom Holcroft;8 wherein quite incidentally, as if speaking of a thing known, he mentions that poor Badams died in September! How this affected and affects me you may figure. A deep Tragedy, transacted before one's eyes, you might say in one's very household circle; for Badams was among the men I loved most in the world[.] Poor fellow! With such endowments too, with such worth; but the Spirit of the world, its distractions and its persecutions were too hard for him. The Montagues may now hold their rabid tongues, or give them full range: it is all one to him; his ear is forever shut, his heart is forever still. I reckon that his foolish marriage had a great hand in it too, tho' the poor widow is not to blame, for being naturally a fool. It is all over now. I have written to Holcroft to tell me at least where he lies buried; whether his Father and Mother still live. Jane speaks of trying if a Letter will find Bessy Barnet9 (whom we love for his sake and her own), and whether, if she stand desolate and destitute, she could not in some way be attached to us. I counsel writing at any rate. You shall hear what we learn. Holcroft it seems was seized with a brain-fever before you left town, and often called for you in his delirium, which lasted three weeks. What will become of poor Tom seems also very problematical.

Environed as I have been ever since you last heard of me, I could naturally do no work, only wait for a better time. The house within this half hour is clear for the first time these five weeks. Within the last few days, I have made a proposal for a Public Office, and been rejected! There is to be an Astronomical Professor and Observer in Edinburgh, and no man of the smallest likelihood to fill it:10 I thought what an honest kind of work it was; how honestly I could work at it for my bread, and harmonize it with what tended infinitely higher than bread; and so wrote to the poor Advocate with great heartiness telling him all this. He answers me by return of Post in a kind of polite Fishwoman-shriek; adds that my doctrines (in Literature) are “arrogant, antinational, absurd,” and to crown the whole “inconclusive”; that the place withal is for an old secretary of his11 (who has not applied to him), unless I can convince the Electors that I am fitter;—which I have not the faintest disposition to do. I have written back to the poor body, suppressing all indignation, if there were any; diffusing over all, the balm of pity; and so in a handsome manner terminate the business. One has ever and anon a kind of desire to “wash away” this Correspondent of ours; yet really it were not right: I can see him, even in this Letter, to be very thoroughly miserable, and am bound to help him, not aggravate him. His censures too have something flattering even in their violence otherwise impertinent enough: he cannot tolerate me, but also he cannot despise me, and that is the sole misery. On the whole, dear Jack, I feel it very wholesome to have my vanity humbled from time to time: would it were rooted out forever and a day! My Mother said, when I showed her the purport of the Letter, “He canna hinder thee of God's Providence,”—which also was a glorious truth.12 Gordon writes me that old Rhetoric Andrew13 is thought to be near his end: but whether I could now undertake to have anything to do with Rhetoric, were it offered me; much more whether I shall stir myself to seek it, is a question. The probable answer, No.

What you say of Periodicals is mournfully true;14 yet it is true also that a man must provide food and clothes for himself as long as he honestly can. While you write down a Truth, you do an honest duty, were the Devil himself your Editor, and all fellow contributors mere “Incubi and Foul Creatures.”15 One loses repute by it, but nothing more; and must front that loss for a gain that is indispensable. Indeed, had I the best Book possible for me, I see not, such is the condition of things, when I could so much as get it printed. Your money, my dear Boy, I will not take at this time, till you are settled with it, and making more. Come home, and let us settle in London together, and front the world together; and see whether it can beat us! Let it try it. And in the mean while never fear but I hold on; now as ever it lies with myself.

Mill tells me that he and Buller and a number of Radicals with money capital, and what they reckon talent, have determined on a new Radical Review, which they want me to write in. Unitarian Fox16 is to be the Editor. I calculate that it may last three years at any rate, for money is found to that length:17 if they pay me rightly, they shall have a Paper or two; if not, not. The Radicals, I say always, are barren as Sahara; but not poisonous: in my Prophecy of the World, they are my enfans perdus [lost children], whom I honestly wish well to.— James Fraser writes me that Teufelsdreck meets with the most unqualified disapproval; which is all extremely proper. His payment arrives, which is still more proper. On the whole, dear Jack, it is contending world, and he that is born into it must fight for his place or lose it. If we are under the right flag, let the world do its worst, and heartily welcome! I will now go and walk till Dinner: the weather if not fair, is not absolutely wet. God bless thee, dear Brother! Auf ewig

T. Carlyle

I am very glad to hear of your Library;18 your time cannot be lost while you have good Books to read. Tell me what you make of Thiers19 and the rest: I found Thiers full of information, tho' there was much to dissent from. Pity that [there] are so few rational English! But speak to your Germans, to native Romans, to whosoever has a reasonable response to give. We hope your Books are now come, and your plans more fixed: so long as there is work among your hands, no fear of you; & a man in all places can find work.— Tell us more and more minutely how you get on.— I did drink your health, tho' not on Newyears-day (for that was the day I went for my Mother, and so got no dinner); but next day here, mindful of my duty. Have you begun to any study of Artistics? Or do you find it a pursuit too unproductive for you? My own impression is that the Cant in it is great; but also that there is a Reality in it, tho' of smaller magnitude. “Keep your eyes open, do honestly whatsoever your hand findeth to do.” Blessings with you my dear Brother!

Halte Dich ans Weib, und frage nicht warum [agree with your woman and ask not why].20

Andrew Anderson,21 we hear, has come to Dumfries, and set up there, in furnished lodgings! He was at [Bryden's?], but has not yet been here. It Bodes no good, I doubt.

My Mother says she has found your lost shirt (do you remember it?) at Scotsbrig; has laid it by undressed [not ready to wear]; but hopes to dress it yet, and see you put it on again. Do not neglect to write to her; she is much gratified with your Letters and were poor indeed if the postage were not cheap to her.

Mrs Welsh is still in Liverpool; but now heartily tired of it, and urgent to get home. She has some kind of talk about going by Scotsbrig; in which case I must be there to meet her.

Jane sends this message, when I ask if she has aught to say: “My kindest affection to him; that I have a headache, and that everything is said.”— What trust can you put in women? She engaged to write, and see!— —I go to Glens tonight yet and smoke a pipe with him. He was very wae.

Jean (of Dumfries) read your Letter, sends all regards.

Adieu! I do end here.

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