October 1833-December 1834

The Collected Letters, Volume 7


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN; 6 July 1834; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18340706-TC-JCA-01; CL 7:229-234.


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London, 6th July, 1834—

My Dear Jean,

Your Letter,1 which was the first I had received from any of my Friends in Scotland, proved one of the welcomest I ever got. The Postman's two knocks (for all Postmen give two smart thumps, which are known here and elsewhere as the “Postman's Knock”) brought me it and the Newspaper, and delivered me from a multitude of vague imaginations. Newspapers indeed had come the week before, and persuaded me that nothing material was wrong: however, it was still the best that could happen to have it all confirmed in black-on-white. Tell James that, in spite of his critical penetration, the Letter “could go,” and did go, and was welcomed as few are.2

Whatever you may think, it is not a “ten minutes” matter with me, the filling of a frank that will carry an ounce of thin writing paper: it is a decided business, which breaks the head of a Day for me; which breakage, however, I am generally well disposed to execute. Do you also take a large, even a long-shaped Sheet, a clear-pointed pen, and in the smallest hand you can master, repay it me. By no means must I want Dumfriesshire news, especially news about my Mother. The tax-loaded Post-Office is still the most invaluable of Establishments; and the ancient men, that invented Writing, and made the voice of man triumphant over Space and Time, were deservedly accounted next to gods. I would have you in particular, do your endeavour by assiduous practice (there is no other method) to perfect yourself in that divine art, the uses of which no man can calculate: in time, as I predict, you will acquire very considerable excellence. As for good composition, it is mainly the result of good thinking, and improves with that, if careful observation as you read attends it: the Penmanship is a secondary matter, and has only three points of perfection, or at most four, that I know of; in all of which one may advance indefinitely by exertions of one's own: that it be straight across the paper, that it be distinct, that it be rapid,—to which, if you like, add that it be close, or much of it in a given space. “These are good advices”? They are not mine, but the Apostle Butterworth's!3

I did not design answering you so soon by a week or ten days; as I said in Alick's Letter: but there has come a sheet from Naples,4 which I was beginning to be very impatient for, and I would not keep it back an instant from my Mother, whose impatience probably is still greater. She has already got hint of it in the last Examiner, and also that it is coming by you on Wednesday: so I take occasion by the forelock, and hope I shall not miss the day again, as I fear was done in the Catlinns case, after all my exertions: as for you, make up the parcel again instantly for Jardine and Scotsbrig, or there will be no forgivenness [sic] for you.

As you have doubtless seen or will see the copious despatches I have sent to Annandale about our Household Establishment here, wherein nothing from the very watering-pan and marygold flowers upwards is forgotten, I need not dilate farther on that topic. We have at length all but got the last stragglers of the Upholsterer squadron handsomely conducted out of doors, with far less damage than might have been apprehended; and sit quietly in a Dwelling-place really much beyond what could have been anticipated; where, if Providence but grant us grace not to be wanting to ourselves, the rest may pass quite uncriticised. We have not yet ceased to admire the union of quietness, and freshness of air, and the outlook into green Trees (Plum-trees, walnuts; even mulberries, they say), with the close neighbourhood of the noisiest Babylon that ever raged and fumed (with coal smoke) on the face of this Planet. I can alternate between the one and the other in half an hour! The London streets themselves are a quite peculiar object, and I dare say of almost inexhaustible significance. There is such a torrent of vehicles and faces: the slow-rolling all-defying waggon, like a mountain in motion, the dejected Hackney-coach, that “has seen better days,” but goes along as with a tough uncomplaining patience, the gay equipage with its lightbounding air, and flunkies of colour hanging behind it; the distracted Cab (a thing like a Cradle set aslant on its foot-end, where you sit open in front but free from rain), which always some blackguard drives, with the fury of Jehu; the huge Omnibus (a painted Corn-kist [corn-bin], of 20 feet long, set on four wheels: no it cannot be twenty feet!) which runs along all streets from all points of the compass, as a sixpenny or shilling stagecoach towards “The Bank” (of England); Butchers' and Brewers' and Bakers' Drays: all these with wheelbarrows, trucks (hurlies), dogcarts and a nameless flood of other sma' trash, hold on unweariedly their ever-vexed chaotic way. And then of foot-passengers! From the King to the Beggar; all in haste, all with a look of care and endeavour; and as if there were really “Deevil a thing but one man oppressing another.”5 To wander along and read all this: it is reading one of the strangest everlasting Newspaper Columns the eye ever opened on. A Newspaper Column of living Letters (as I often say), that was printed in ETERNITY, and is here published only for a little while in TIME, and will soon be recalled and taken out of circulation again!

For the rest, we live exceedingly quiet here; as yet visited by few, and happily by almost none that is not worth being visited by. At any time, in half an hour, I can have company enough of the sort going; and scarcely above once or twice in the week is my Day aken from me by any intrusion. I am getting rather stiffly to work again; and once well at work, can defy the whole Powers of Darkness, and say in my heart (as Tom Ker the Mason did to Denby and “the Marquis” or some military minion of his): “ye will go your lengths, Gentlemen; my name's Tom Ker.”6— By and by, if all go right, you shall see some Book of mine with my name (not of “Tom Ker”) on it, and the best I can do. Pray that it be honestly done, let its reception be what it will.

Of “amusements,” beyond mere strolling I take little thought. By acquaintance with Newspaper people (such as Hunt), I fancy we might procure free admission to the Theatres, even to the Opera, almost every night: but, alas, what would it avail? I actually went, one idle night before Jane came, to Covent Garden; found it a very Mystery of Stupidity and Abomination; and so tiresome that I came away long before the end, and declare that the dullest sermon I ever heard was cheery in comparison. The night before last, looking out from our (back) Bedroom window, at midnight, I saw the many-coloured rockets rising from Vauxhall Gardens,7 and thought with myself: “very well, Gentlemen, if you have “guinea admission” to spare for it; only, thank Heaven, I am not within a measured mile of you!”— There are a few good even noble people here too; there must be a few; if there were not, the whole concern would take fire: of these I even know some, and hope to know more.

But now, my dear Sister, you have enough of London: let me turn a little northward. I am much obliged by your descriptions of our Mother's settlement; I can form a very tolerable notion of her arrangement in the two well-known Rooms, and find it the most natural that could be made. I hope, however, the Clock is now got safely hoisted up: surely, among so many stout hands, any task of that kind could not be difficult. However, where a Honeymoon is in progress one must thole [endure], one must thole. I also like very well to hear of your Jamie's boarding with our Mother, while he is at his work in the neighbourhood; I follow him across the fresh fields, early in the morning, to the Ha', and heartily wish him a useful day.8 There is no other way of making a pleasant day, that I could ever hear of. That he finds employment in his honest vocation is a great blessing, for which I trust you are thankful. Tell him to follow his vocation honestly, not as a man-pleaser, or one working for the eye of man only, but as one forever under another Eye, that never slumbers or sleeps, that sees in secret, and will reward openly. I hope and believe that this is his course, that he will persevere in it, let the wind of accident blow fair or foul; and so I can prophecy all manner of good for him.

Your description of poor William Austin was in the deepest degree tragical. Poor young man! I see him there, on his last journey; wending painfully homewards; alas, to his long home, for the shadows of Death are already fast darkening down on him! He sees Carstammon again, but it is only to die there. The depths of Eternity lie under those Moors as they do under the proudest dwelling-places; the poor Ploughman also shuffles off his mortal garment, and is, with Kings and Patriarchs, naked before God!— If you see any of the Austins tell them how deeply I sympathize with them; how fain I would comfort them if the power were given me.

There is much loud thunder today, and a copious deluge of rain; of all which we hope to reap the benefit tomorrow; for the air was growing foully uncomfortable and oppressive too; a sour east-wind, amid the sultriest brick-kiln heat, with dusts enough and vapours as we have them on these streets and ways. A day's rain washes everything above ground and beneath it; next morning we can “snuff the caller [fresh, cool] air,”9 for it is there to snuff.

M'Diarmid's Note you can hand in as you pass the Courier Office. Glen's will go by M'Knight* (if you see none of themselves), who puts up about the head of the sands (next inn eastward from one Pappel's),10 and leaves the Town about noon. [Carlyle's asterisk. He writes the next two sentences in the margin opposite it.] After all Friday is soon enough; and Thursday is no delay at all [torn] you must cover Glen's anew, or I fear it will not go well by John.11 Mind your two strokes while you can, put them below the “London[”], as if they were your way of finishing off. Will you also make some inquiry about the poor fellow, from the Austins, and endeavour to learn from [for] me how he is. I anticipate hearing of little change in him.

Yesterday I met “old Dalgonar”12 at Allan Cunningham's. Singular, to meet a Dunscore door-neighbour, for the first time, in London! He seemed to me not half so bad an old fellow as he has been represented; he walked along with me (not in his own road) when we went out; testified a kind of almost joy in me, and bade me “a kind farewell.”

This is a far longer Letter than your's, Dame; and deserves two in return f[or it—] think of that, and of what you are to do in consequence. Alick's Letter is the first due to me, but then come your two. Or if Alick loiter (which he must not, and will not), leave him out of the question. Can you tell me anything of Mary, and how she gets on? I often figure her at the Battery, and hope it is all well with her. That Scotsbrig residence, I think with you and have always thought, can hardly be permanently comfortable for our Mother; if it serve well for one year, that is all I hope of it: then other outlooks may have opened.13 In the meanwhile, Toleration, “the Act of Mutual Toleration”! One can live without it nowhere on this Earth's surface.— Remember me kindly to dear Little Prudence. Tell her to mind her seam, and be considerate and wise, and grow daily wiser; and it will go better and better with her.14— Jane, whose health seems better than of old and still improving, sends her love to all of you.— The Newspapers come, I see, on Thursday when James is at home, otherwise on Friday, about noon. Tell James, he is a punctual man, and strive more and more to rival him. And so farewell my dear Sister. Be true and loving!

Ever your affectionate /

T. Carlyle—

I have not seen Edward Irving again, tho' I called once; nor heard of him, except that he is better in health, and toiling along in the old element, as before.

This Document
Right arrow Similar letters
Right arrow Alert me to new volumes
Right arrow Add to My Carlyle Folder
Right arrow Download to citation manager
Right arrow Purchase a volume of the print edition
Right arrowSubject terms:
Right arrowRecipient terms: