October 1833-December 1834

The Collected Letters, Volume 7


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 23 October 1834; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18341023-TC-MAC-01; CL 7:311-316.


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London, 23d October, 1834—

My Dear Mother,

All is right here at last; I have time now to send you news of myself, and also a Letter from the Doctor, which was more than bargain. I am afraid, you think me a very bad boy for putting off so long, especially when you had encouraged me by a Letter of your own: but I was in the thick of a Chapter of that French Revolution, and wished particularly to finish it first; a result which proved unattainable for three or four days later than I expected. However, yesterday (having got it off my hands) I walked out eastward into the throng of the City, partly also to give myself the air; obtained the promise of a frank from Mill, which I hope to see today; then Jack's Letter, which arrived on Tuesday last, can go too, and tell you that he is still well. You will find that the Vesuvius Explosion was at a comfortable distance from him, and did not destroy any life, even of those that were nearest it:1 the Doctor and one of his ladies went up to see the ground after all danger was over, and looked at the lava “forty feet deep.” The thunderbolt which struck their house, and almost miraculously, harmed no one, was a much more perilous matter,—to the like of which all of us are daily liable. How little thankful we are for escape, in comparison with what our sorrow would have been in the other case! We are car[e]less, thoughtless beings; and indeed as Jack says, it need not require a thunderbolt to make us consider how fearfully and wonderfully we hover in the midst of danger all our days, and are mercifully preserved nevertheless till our hour come.— The good Doctor is well, which is a great blessing to us; and we can hope to see him, were the summer come again; and to keep him nearer home for the future.

One of the reasons why I did not write directly after Mary's Letter2 was my desire to ascertain first what was to be said about that Chelsea Provision-barrel, which you had set off to get ready for us. I wrote to Willm Hamilton3 (an old friend, from Sanquhar, who dwells near the shipping region here) asking what the circumstances, fare, time &c of that Whitehaven Shipping Company were: he did not answer me for above a week; and then only answered that the people could answer him nothing. We had, indeed, already determined or next to it that it would be better to have nothing to do with them; but to trust to Liverpool, where we already knew the conveyance was sure: at the rate of some six shillings a hundred-weight. Your plan therefore will be to give up the Potatoes altogether (for we can get them here, good enough, tho' dear), and get us fifteen stone of Oatmeal, and pack this, with the sixty pounds of Scotsbrig butter (in two pigs), into a moderate barrel, and send it off by the Steamboat. The oatmeal I need but bid Mr Carlill procure at Satur Mill, and before all things exceedingly dry (since it will have to stand so long); the butter, I fancy will stand very safe in it: Jane once spoke of bacon hams, but now despairs of there being any to be got at this season. I mention only farther that our house-doors (even the outer door) are not more than 3 feet wide, so the barrel must not be more; let the meal be well rammed into it, and we need not take it out except as we need it. Finally, direct it to us here: “to be forwarded from Liverpool by Messrs Pickford and Co, by Canal.” If Jamie go down with it to Annan, Ben Nelson, or Nicholson, or any of them will write the direction as it ought to be written (plain, large, and on a Card); “Pickford and Co, and by Canal” is all that he has to remember. The Pickfords are the most extensive and the most punctual Carriers in the world: in less than a fortnight after you give it to the Steampeople, the barrel (if nothing happen it) will be sitting safe here.— It will seem absurd enough to tell you that we are in haste, now after waiting so long: but the truth is, our meal has been done for a fortnight, and we have had the strangest shifts for a supper (among others, flour-porridge; exactly, Shoemaker's paste, only clean); and at last have been obliged to take to some of the “Scotch oatmeal” sold in the shops here,—very dear (5d for a quart by measure), very rough, and not always very sound. However, we have got a small stock now (7 pounds for 18 pence), which tho' rough is quite sound; which therefore we can thankfully use. So you need not suppose us starving. The Butter too is almost always excellent (churned, I believe, out of milk); at the easy rate of 16 pence a pound! In regard to provision, I shall only add that the Beef-ham daily plays its part at breakfast, and proves thoroughly genuine. The Butcher came here one day to saw the bone of it; and asked with amazement, whether it was pork or not? He had never heard of any ham, but a bacon one; and departed from us with a new idea.— N.B. We get coffee to breakfast (at 8 or nearly so), have very often mutton-chops to dinner (at 3), then tea at 6; we have 4d worth of cream, 2d worth of milk daily: this is our diet; which I know you would rather know than not know.

But now quitting the Pantry and Buttery, let me tell you a little of the upstairs work; which you have got too little of lately. In regard to health, we have every reason to be thankful: Jane is evidently better than she used to be; I no worse at least: I had a pitiful fraction of a Cold some fortnight ago, but it has now left me, and even better than it found me. I am making no money, but can do without any for a long time (for we live very cheap), and wait till I see which of the many courses of making a little will be the best for me, that of Literature being now so confused and even dishonest a way. In the mean time, I sit busy at my Book, which is the only thing I have any business to think of at present: it goes along not so badly; I have three little Chapters of it fairly done, and so the rusty wheel is in motion; and I ought to think that like “a begun turn,” it is half ended. When once I get fairly afloat in work, I do not care a farthing for all the obstructions of this Devil's den of a world, were it twice as bad. Thou too, as I say to myself, hast a small fraction of a gift: God has given it thee, the Devil shall not take it away! Unfortunately I cannot now run over to Scotsbrig, when I have got a little job done: but you see, I write; which is the next best; and by and by I shall run over too, and meet you again (if the good Providence permit), and tell you a whole bag of news. There is plenty of work here for me; and hundred thousands of more feckless characters than I make a living of it too: so I whistle up Johnny O'Cox, and fear nothing. They may use my poor Revolution well or ill, or not notice it at all if they like that better: it is a very indubitable fact that no service God meant me to do can remain undone; and should one not “learn therewith to be content”?4 Jane rather fancies, however, that this will prove a more readable kind of Book: it shall be the best I, in these circumstances, can make it; and then if the people like to read it, we shall wish them great profit of it.— I am afraid, you make nothing or very little of Teufelsdröckh; which however I am very glad to know that you have got: I wrote to Tait at Edinburgh about it, and that, I suppose, had set it under way again. Do the best you can with it! Take it any way as a token of my love. By and by you shall get this “more readable” one.

Our friends now are all coming back: we were at Mrs Austin's lately (who has been in Jersey, France &c, and returns as affectionate as ever); we had Mill long last night; have seen the Cunninghams &c &c. We spend the evenings very comfortably without company too; reading, for the morrow's writing; or even writing when the task is behind hand. The bield [sheltered] situation of Chelsea is in our favour now, the October gusts can get no painful hold of us; our weather too has been dry and pleasant (till these late days) better I fear than yours. We see comparatively little of the Hunts for some weeks; they have sickness in the house, and many sad cares: poor Hunt himself I think one of the most innocent men I ever saw in man's size; a very boy for clear innocence, tho' his hair is grey, and his face ploughed with many sorrows. I have met some new people too, not without worth; meet with nothing but regard and kindness from every one.— No other domestic news, except this, that our Servant Bessy is gone home to Birmingham again, after a month's warning, some days ago. She was a quiet useful creature in the house; but quite sorrow-stricken for Badams (and the strange questionable things she had suffered and witnessed with him), and felt that she could have “no comfort anywhere,” for the present, but would be better with her mother than elsewhere. We were very sorry for the poor girl; but, on the whole, rather glad to see her go than otherwise. Her violence of feeling, her strange diseased state of mind, were quite foreign-looking things in our still bit of a household. By what seems great good fortune (for Servants here seem worse than even with you) we have got another very decent-looking innocent kind of creature5 (of whose character there can be no doubt) who had been brought lately from Lancaster by some of Mrs Montague's people: she keeps everything again as tight as need be, and looks out far too red-cheeked, and glad that she has got a shelter, to be unhappy. Lastly we have removed up-stairs this day; for I cannot write without fires any longer; and this is a larger room than either half of the ground-floor one, where we are obliged to shut the folding-doors in winter time: so Jane sits here sewing, and I before her (at one of the three windows), and all is as comfortable as it ought. I stick by my diminished quantity of Tobacco; or even diminish it still more (for my Edinburgh Pipes are done, and the Liverpool ones far smaller): Mundell's6 man furnishes me with the right kind of weed (at 3/10 a pound), which is a great comfort to me. Finally (which is later than “lastly”!) I have got on my brown-grey socks, which are as they before were the best foot-clothing I ever had.— Is not this minute enough?

Jean's Newspaper has just arrived; and has not the strokes on it: may I hope, it was only forgetfulness? I wish she had not forgotten! Tell Jamie (Aitken) I was much obliged by his Letter, and right glad of the news: my only fault to him was his brevity. I will write to them soon, when franks get rifer. Mary's Letter was as welcome as Letter could be: Jane said “none of them but poor Mary will write to me”! I believe the Dame means to add some kind of Answer to this frank.— Does not Alick think he should have written to me long ago? Tell him the harvest is now done; and he is standing greatly in his own light.7 If I have any time tomorrow, I will add a little scrap for him.

But how are you yourself, my dear Mother? I only wished your Note had been a yard long: the other one is sent off verbatim to Rome,—but this is a secret between ourselves! I fancy you now in your two upper rooms, and beginning to get hefted [adjusted]. I beg of you to keep a rousing fire on; there is nothing else can withstand the weather and damp there. Is Jenny with you again? Tell her that she and you must make out a Letter hither without delay; at latest, when the Barrel goes off. Tell me what you have got to read? I mean some time to send you a few Books; but know not whether they were worth the direct carriage, 5d a pound. You should not be without Books. Tell me what you do: whether you have begun to spin that far-famed Dressing-gown? I think, you had better give it out to be done. Keep within-doors, dear Mother, in the wild weather. The Spring will come; and the Summer, and, if it please God, your two Sons! In the dull winter, you shall not want for Letters. I wish I knew anything I could do for you! One thing I can always do is to love you, and pray from my heart of hearts that it may be well with you.— I will add a word on the Cover when it comes.8 Good day till then, dear Mother! Yours Wholly,

T. Carlyle