October 1833-December 1834

The Collected Letters, Volume 7


TC TO WILLIAM GRAHAM; 24 December 1834; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18341224-TC-WG-01; CL 7:348-353.


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London, 24th Dec. 1834.

My Dear Sir;—

Will you again be content with the day of small things? It is late, and my head and hand are weary; yet as a frank is going to Scotsbrig, I must not leave you without a word.

Many thanks for your letter.1 It is a most cheery “Hurrah for our side!” the like of which does one's heart good. I can assure you, the sound of it sent new life thro' me, like a breath from old true Annandale in the middle of these Babylonian fogs. Surely friends should improve, on far better reason than wines, by long keeping! The very enemy that we might have for twenty years would almost become a friend. While Death thins our ranks, mows down our stateliest, oh surely, surely let the survivors rank themselves the closer, and await what is appointed them not single but together!

I will send you the mournfullest New Year's Gift in a few days; but one that came from my heart, and will reach into yours: a funeral word on our departed Irving. The Magazine Fraser requested me to write such a thing; which in the feeling of the moment I could not refuse to do: he prints me half a dozen separate copies; and you shall have one. It is but two pages; put it into some blank space in one of Irving's Books, and let it stand there as a memorial for you of him and me. David Hope, who wrote also requesting such a thing gets a copy of this sent off to-night (the others are not yet ready till the new month); and will probably print it in some Glasgow Newspaper. I intend another for poor Mrs. Irving of Annan, whose fate in these vicissitudes seems the mournfullest of all. Widowed indeed! Stript bare and desolate; of husband, sons, and hope on this side the grave. Will you go and call for her when you are at Annan? I feel very sad to think of her household: the old feeling when I last saw Edward there returns on me: he was stepping out to return to wild London; he hit his hat on the door lintel of the little snug cabinet you may remember of: There was no rest or shelter and warm motherly wrappage for him any more; he must forth; forth to toil, to confusion, to disappointment, and to death!

The news of that event, as you suppose, fell heavy on me; not unexpected (for I had heard worse news since I wrote to you); yet unexpected so soon. D. Hope tells me he had no expectation of death himself; they had prophesied &c., &c. Alas! Alas! On the whole now when I think of it all, and consider him and his position, there was nothing for him to do but to die. Let us rejoice that he died the death of the just; and pray that our end may be like his.— I was anew affected to-day to learn that he had been heard regretting (to Henry Drummond, who partly knew me) that he had been “so estranged from his old friend Carlyle of late years”! It was indeed a pity for him, a great loss for me, who like yourself owed him much; more, I may say, than man usually owes to man.— It is a tragedy if you knew it all, that life of his. But the curtain has fallen now: he is gone, out of your sight; out of our memory never while we remain behind him.

You send me many kind criticisms of poor Teufelsdröckh; but none that pleases me more than that of “the Mill shillin.” Tell Mrs. Howatson2 (for I think, it must be she) that I am greatly honoured by having tempted her to reading me, which was not a thing I could expect. Cowie3 also speaks to the point, and I do believe as sincerely as any of you: “What is ta use on't?” The happiest remains always that I have now done with it, be the “use on't” either something or nothing.

Thanks also, very hearty thanks for your sympathy and anxiety about me here. It is a confused warfare to venture on; however, I have ventured: “I could no other,” as old Luther said in a far grander cause, “I can no other; God be my help!”4 And therewith in presence of principalities and powers, the man put on his hat, and stood waiting what might be allotted him. He had said before that: “Were there as many Devils in that town as there are tiles on the roofs of it, I must on.” Nay, what of Luther? Old John Smeal (oftener named Reckie) the Blacksmith of Ecclefechan, once answered, when a customer threatened to cast him off: “Well then, we must just do the best we can for a living, boy.”5 And accordingly old Reckie did it, and succeeded too. Go ye and do likewise! The truth is, when I look abroad over these wonderful persons that drive on their existence here, and consider what fecklen jenny-spinners6 the most of them are, and yet how they live and digest, and get always something to digest, I could take shame to myself, and laugh at the whole business rather than shudder at it. Stout heart and open eye! It is my fixed creed in which I more and more confirm myself, that no true man can be beaten down by the Devil or the world; alas, their false favour (as our poor Irving may teach us) is far more fatal than their frowns.— So I toil along, as stiffly as I can, at this new Book of mine; and if I hope little from the future, fear it perhaps even less. Soon it is over; so soon! and then it is not asked, what worth in Banknotes hadst thou? but quite another question. Forward! Forward!

My health is not so bad as sometimes in the hot dusty weather; I am now very generally what I call unusually well. The Fog-Babylon too does really rather interest me, were it only by its hugeness, and the stupid vitality it has; there are good souls in it too; and one's very sufferings and disappointments (including even the want of bossness [hollowness]) are lessons for one. A great blessing we have here is the possibility to speak or listen to no word about Politics. The very Radicals in general will hardly trouble you that way except in their public meetings; there again, if you want it, you may hear enough about it. I went to one some weeks ago, where my old Pupil Buller was presiding: two thousand most grim looking fellows, in bitter earnest! To rule 10 millions of such by the drill sergeant scheme may be work for Wellington, such as he has not tried yet. Peace be with him! If he want war, I can promise him plenty of that too; and prettier men have lost their head ere now in such a cause.— For me, I declare I can see nothing but destruction to the whole concern; speedier or slower is of small moment to me.

It is the night before Christmas, Christmas-eve; there are chimes from our old Church of St. Lukes! A blessed night; full of holy remembrances to man. Good night, my friend; may all good be about you, and abide with you.

Yours most truly, /

T. Carlyle.

I know not what day or how these Printed Pages will arrive; but one way or another, you shall have them.— Thanks for the Annandale news; few commodities more welcome here. My kind regards at Grange.7 The Missus (gone from me some minutes ago) sent her affectionate regards.


[Carlyle was not, as Althaus had stated, Irving's colleague at Kirkcaldy.] No, I was his “rival” rather; had been as I found more plainly on arriving there, set up by a discontented opposition-party of his once unanimously admiring constituents; he was 3 or 4 years my senior, the facile princeps [indisputably first] for success & reputation among the then Edinburgh Student[s]; famed Mathematician, &c, famed teacher (first at Haddington, then here, and paid beyond example, “£200 a-year,” no less, with two “Assistants”[)]; a flourishing man, whom crossfortune (in the shape of myself) was beginning to nibble at! I had been rough to him, too, on the one occasion we had spoken together (had snubbed his grandiloquence to me, finding it a little de haut en bas, in a surly sarcastic way, which raised the laugh against him & shut him up):—in spite of all which, and of my own shy ways, Irving received me with open arms; and was a brother to me, and a friend, then and elsewhere afterwards, at heart constant till he died. Such a friend as I never had again or before in the world. For these 3 Kirkcaldy years, [actually less than two] when we were continually together; and for the next 2? [“3” crossed out] while he was in Glasgow, seen by me from time to time, writing to me often,—he was as the sun in my firmament, where all else had become so wintry. His talk was so genial, cordial, free-flowing, hopeful & delightful to me; all my meetings with him stand out still as sunlit. A man of noble faculties & qualities; the noblest, largest and brotherliest man, I still say, whom I have met with in my Life-journey. The sad fate he had, & how it came on him, I have marked elsewhere. His Biography is not yet known; perhaps will never be. Mrs Oliphant's Book is ingenious, well-intentioned, and has a kindly, graceful and attractive quality; but her picture both of his Annan or Scottish and of his London life has little of real portraiture, and strictly speaking (except in the concluding part, where his Letters tell their own tragic, almost sacred story) is not to be called like anywhere. “Why not write his Life, yourself?” ask some. Alas, the element is bottomless; the labour would be great; the readers mostly questionable, many of them bad;—besides the ground is, for the time, in a sort preoccupied.—

Irving's influences on me were manifold; till after his removal to London, and engulfment in the mud-sea of Pulpit Popularity, we were in constant correspondence, & he knew all my secrets. Afterwards there came silence for most part, so occupied were his thoughts then; silence, but no estrangement, and broken by many a bright gleam in chance meetings. It is to him & his London journey that I owe my connexion with the Bullers, & Tutorage of the late Charles Buller; which, in all essentials, was altogether profitable & pleasant to me. Above all, it is to him, as primary occasion (without which it had probably never been), that I owe Her and all she was to me for the last 42 years: Oh Heavens; Oh Time, oh all-engulfing Time! Irving did “introduce me to the house” at Haddington, but not while Dr Welsh lived, nor in the manner Althaus thinks.— But I must stop.8