October 1833-December 1834

The Collected Letters, Volume 7


JWC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 1 September 1834; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18340901-JWC-MAC-01; CL 7:287-291.


[1 September 1834]

My dear Mother

Could I have supposed it possible that any Mortal was so stupid as not to feel disappointed in receiving a letter from me instead of from my Husband, I should have written to you very long ago. But while this humility becomes me, it is also my duty (too long neglected) to send a little adjunct to my Husband's letter, just to assure you “with my own hand”1 that I continue to love you amidst the hub-bub of this “noble city”2 just the same as in the quiet of Craigenputtoch, and to cherish a grateful recollection of your many kindnesses to me, especially of that last magnanimous purpose to “sit at my bedside” thro' the night preceeding [sic] my departure “that I might be sure to sleep”! I certainly shall never forget that night and the several preceeding and following—but for the kindness and helpfulness shown me on all hands I must have traiked [collapsed] one would suppose. I had every reason to be thankful then to Providence and my friends; and have had the same reason since. All things, since we came here, have gone more smoothly with us than I at all anticipated. Our little household has been set up again, at a quite moderate expence of money and trouble (wherein I cannot help thinking with a chastened vanity, that the superior shiftiness and thriftiness of the Scotch character has strikingly manifested itself). The English women turn up the whites of their eyes and call on the “good Heavens[”] at the bare idea of enterprises which seem to me in the most ordinary course of human affairs— I told Mrs Hunt one day I had been very busy painting: “What?” she asked is it a portrait? “O No,” I told her “something of more importance; a large wardrobe”— She could not imagine she said “how I could have patience for such things”— And so having no patience for them herself what is the result? she is every other day reduced to borrow my tumbler's, my teacups, even—a cupful of porridge, a few spoonfuls of tea are begged of me, because “Missus has got company and happens to be out of the article”—in plain unadorned English because “Missus is the most wretched of Managers and is often at the point of having not a copper in her purse”— To see how they live and waste here it is a wonder the whole City does not bankrape and go out o sight—flinging platefuls of what they are pleased to denominate “crusts” (that is, what I consider all the best of the bread), into the ash-pits— I often say with honest self congratulation in Scotland we have no such thing as “crusts.” On the whole, tho' the English Ladies seem to have their wits more at their finger ends, and have a great advantage over me in that respect I never cease to be glad that I was born on the other side the Tweed, and that those who are nearest and Dearest to me are Scotch.

I must tell you what Car[lyle] will not tell of himself—that he is rapidly mending of his Craigenputtoch gloom and acerbity— He is really at times a tolerably social cha[r]acter and seems to be regarded with a feeling of mingled terror and love in all companies, which I should expect the diffusion of Teufelsdreck will tend to increase.

I have just been called away to John Macqueen, who was followed by a Jock Thomson of Annan whom I received in the choicest mood, to make amends for Carlyles unreadiness who was positively going to let him leave the door without asking him in a neglect which he would have reproached himself with after— My love to all— Tell my kind Mary to write to me she is the only one that ever does— your affectionate

Jane W Carlyle


‘Tuesday 10 june 1834,’ it appears, was the date of our alighting, amid heaped furniture, in this House, where we were to continue for life. I well remember bits of the drive from Ampton-street; what dashing damp-clouded kind of sky it was; and how, in crossing Belgrave Square, Chico, her little Canary-bird, whom she had brot from Craigk in her lap, burst out into singing; whh we all (“Bessy Barnet,” our romantic maid sat with us in the old Hackney Coach) strove to accept as a prom[is]ing omen. The busss of sorting & settling, with two or 3 good carpenters &c already on the ground, was at once gone into, with boundless alacrity; and (under such managet as Hers) went on at a mighty rate; even the 3 or 4 worst days of quasicamp life, or gypsy life, had a kind of gay charm to us; and hour by hour we saw the confusion abating, growing into victorious order. Leigh Hunt was continually sending us Notes; most probably wd in person step across before bedtime, and give us an hour of the prettiest melodious discourse. In abt a week (it seems to me) all was swept and garnished, fairly habitable, and continued incesstly to get itself polished, civilized and beautified to a degree that surprised one. I have elsewhere alluded to all that, and to my little Jeannie's conduct of it: heroic, lovely, pathetic, mournfully beautiful as in the Light of Eternity, that little scene of Time now looks to me. From birth upwds she had lived in opulence; and now for my sake had become poor,—so nobly poor. Truly her pretty little brag (in this Letter) was well-founded. No such house, for beautiful thrift, quiet, spontaneous, nay as it were unconscious; minimum of money reconciled to human comfort and human dignity, have I anywhere looked upon where I have been.

From the first or nearly so, I had resolved upon the French Revolutn; and was reading, studying, ransacking the museum (to little purpose), with all my might. Country health was still abt me; heart and strength still fearless of any toil. The weather was very hot; defying it (in hard almost brimless hat, whh was obligato in that time of slavery) did sometimes throw me into colic; the museum collectn of French Pamphts, the completest of its sort in the world, did after six weeks of baffling wrestle, prove inaccessible to me; and I had to leave them then,—so strong were Chaos and Co in that directn. Happily John Mill had come to my aid, and the Paris Histoire Parliamentaire3 began to appear: Mill had himself great knowledge of the subject; he sent me down all his own Books on the subject (almost a cartload), and was generously profuse & unwearied in every kind of furtherance. He had taken a great attacht to me (whh lasted abt 10 years, and then suddenly ended I never knew how): an altogr clear, logical, honest, amiable, affecte young man; and respected as such here, tho' sometimes felt to be rather colourless, even aqueous,—no relign in almost any form traceable in him. He was among our chief visitors & social elements at that time. Came to us in the evgs once or twice a week; walked with me on Sundays &c; with a great deal of discourse not worthless to me in its kind. Still prettier were Leigh Hunt's little nights with us; figure and bearing of the man, of a perfectly graceful, spontaneously original, dignified and attractive kind. Considerable sense of humour in him; a very pretty little laugh, sincere & cordial always; many tricksy turns of intellect, of witty insight of phrase; countenance tone and eyes well seconding; his voice, in the finale of it, had a kind of musical warble (“chirl” we vernacularly called it) whh reminded one of singing birds. He came always rather scrupulously tho' most simply and modestly dressed. “Kind of talking nightingale,” we privately called him,—name first due to Her. He enjoyed much, and with a kind of chivalrous silence & respect, her Scotch tunes on the Piano, most of whh he knew already, & their Burns or other accompaniment: this was commonly enough the wind-up of our evg; “supper” being ordered, (uniformly, “porridge” of Scotch oatmeal), most likely the Piano, on some hint, wd be opened, and continue till the “porridge” came,—a tiny basin of whh Hunt always took, and ate with a teaspoon, to sugar, and many praises of the excellt frugal and noble article. It seems to me, in our long, dim-lighted, perfectly neat and quiet room, these ‘evg parties’ of 3, were altogr human and beautiful; best I anywhere had before or since! Allan Cunningham occasionally walked down; pleast enough to talk with,—tho' the topic was sure to be Nithsdale (mainly Nithsdale Fun), and nothing else. Mrs Austin, Mrs Buller, Darwin,4 Wedgwood5 &c &c (of this or shortly posterior dates) I do not mentn: I was busy, She still more hopefully & gaily so; and in what is called ‘Society,’ or London interests for us, then there was no lack.— Of all whh, these bits of Letters, accidental waifs among such multitudes as have carelessly perished, are now the only record.

I perfectly recollect the day this following Letter6 describes tho' I cd not have given the date of it, even by year. ‘Macqueen and Thomson’ were two big graziers of respectability, ‘Macqueen a native of Craigenpk, Thomson from nr Annan had been a School fellow of mine; they had called here witht very specific errand; & I confess what the Letter intimates (of my silent wish to have evaded such interruptn, &c &c) is the exact truth.

‘Traiked’ means ‘Perished[’],—contemptuous term, applied to cattle &c: ‘Traik’ = German ‘Dreck’ [Dung].7 To ‘bankrape’ is to ‘bankrupt’ (used as [a] verb passive). “And then he bankrapit, and gaed out o' sicht”: a phrase of my Father's in the little sketches of Annandale Biography he wd sometimes give me. During two whole wet days, on my last visit to Scotsbrig in 1830, he gave me a whole series of such; clearest brief portraiture and life-history of all the noteworthy vanished figures whom I had known by look only, and now wished to understand. Such a set of Schilderungen [descriptions] (human Delineatns of human Life), so admirably brief, luminous, true and man-like, as I never had before or since. I have have [sic] heard Wordsworth, somewhat on similar terms (twice over had him in a corner, engaged on this topic, whh was his best); but even Wordsth was inferior.8