January 1835-June 1836

The Collected Letters, Volume 8


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 12 January 1835; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18350112-TC-JAC-01; CL 8:7-16.


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London 12th Jany 1835—

My Dear Brother,

Your last Letter came on Saturday, your prior one had been here (or rather in our Mother's hand) some three weeks: I was reproachfully reminded that I had delayed so long; I write now without loss of a post, sorry if I have even run the risk of giving you uneasiness. The truth is, I had privately determined to be done with a certain portion of my Book first; and that has spun itself out in the most unexpected way: so that I still write some three days off the end. It is on the whole perhaps as well; for I can now wind up all matters at once: nay, as it chanced, I had a Letter this very day from our Mother,1 and can give you the latest “all-well” from Annandale too. My Paper you see is decidedly improved (the best I have had for months, and a kind I will stick by): my morning's writing lies safe in the drawer; tea is away. I will make you amends if possible.

Our Mother's Letter is mostly written with her own hand; but contains two Postscripts by Jamie and by Alick, who had just returned from Annan market: the tone of the whole is cheery and animating. Jean had sent me a word, some three weeks before, of the same character. My mother says, “I like to hear our good Doctor in that thoughtful strain he is in. When think you he will be home? I trust you will all come and see us this summer, God willing.” Her little room looks quite cheerful (by Jean's testimony too) with the new window in it; she keeps on “roaring fires”; and “Sandy was so kind as to send me a cask of excellent strong ale to comfort my heart.” “Plenty of reading”; “quite snug and warm, and wish every one were as well.” Alick had been down a few nights before, and was very merry, they had “store of songs.” He had come, that Thursday his own postscript was written on, for “half of a beef-cow Jamie had been killing.” You see the whole of their simple kleine Welt [little world] in these phrases, and will rejoice with me in the simple wholesome thriving of it. I had despatched your Letter towards Scotsbrig (Mill, I think, would get it franked tonight), so that one good turn will be answered by another. Alick expected with some confidence to get one settlement or another with his Land-owning people; seemed rather to think it would be an abatement, and continuance; was cheerfully prepared either way. He says he is no poorer, nor worse any way, and the world is wide, and “ay life in it for a living body.” Mary with her new daughter (called Jesse2) was doing well, and her husband employed; Jane and her Alick the same;3 her James had bought Uncle John's house (Academy Street) for £360; paid what he could of it, and was to pay interest for the rest. James of Scotsbrig sticks exclusively to general history; but seems lively and in good heart; able to “go on as usual,” the farm produce of all kinds is excessively cheap.— There was no other Annandale news, except this: the death of poor little Edward Scott;4 which I had noticed in the Courier, but had no particulars of. My Mother says, “he was nearly starved in coming home from Africa,” and survived only a fortnight with his Brothers at Liverpool. This seems to indicate that he had gone out on some subaltern surgency, and for the rest perished tragically. Not very many months ago, I heard of him in Ecclefechan; he had fallen from a gallopping horse in the Langlands: poor innocent lad (for I remember his face well), he was near darker journeyings—into cruel paths and the Shadow of Death! He also is gone.

Your Letters, my dear Jack, are always a great comfort to me: with your brotherly affection and trueheartedness, you are one of the best possessions I have. Always a shelter for me, in the background, whether I retire, if not to safety and covert, yet to sympathy, and the precious assurance of sharing what covert there is. For, be certain, I will share, if need be; it were but poor pride to resolve otherwise: with you, alone of men, such a thing were possible: am I not rich that it is so? Nay, it is to you only that I can so much as complain: my true Annandalians (meine Getreuen [my faithful ones]) would but in vain afflict themselves with my cares; other heart there is not in the world that would even very honestly do that. My friends here admit cheerfully that I am a very heroic man,—that must understand the art (to them unhappily unknown) of living upon nothing! Mill, I think, alone of them, would make any great effort to help me; I find him really assiduously serviceable: but he is so theoretic a man, and like a printed Book, I never open myself to him: besides we meet only some once in the fortnight, or seldomer. At Mrs Austin's one may see floods of people; but people barren as the East wind; she herself is dissipating all away into spray of gossip, almost a terror to one: I go once in the month or so, for mere civility. As to heroism (bless the mark!) I think often of the old rhyme: “There was a piper had a cow, / And he had nocht to give her; / He took his pipes and played a spring / And bade the cow consider!” &c.5— In a word, my prospects here are not sensibly brightening; if it be not in this, That the longer I live among the people, the deeper grows my feeling (not a vain one; a sad one) of natural superiority over them; of being able (were the tools in my hand!) to do a hundred things better than the hundred I see paid for doing them. In bright days, I say: It is impossible but I must by and by strike into something! In dark days, I say: And suppose, nothing? My sentiment is a kind of sacred defiance of the whole matter; a verachtung, ja Nicht-achtung [disdain, indeed scorn]. In this humour, I write my Book; without hope of it, except of being done with it: properly beginning to as good as feel that Literature has gone mad in this country, and will not yield food to any honest cultivator of it. For example, as I see it is: if this Book ever prosper, the issue will be, applications in mad superabundance from able Editors to write Articles for them (“with my heart's blood,” as you sympathetically say) for perhaps six months; then a total cessation:—tho' I myself am abler to write Articles than ever, that is nothing; they are off after “any new thing,”6 and you stand wondering, alone on the beach. As to “fame” again, and “distinguished men,” I declare to thee, Jack, a “distinguished man” (but above all extant things, a distinguished woman) is a character I had rather not see; and “fame” (with such miserable cobwebs as gain it most,—and are burnt up by it) is heartily worth nothing to me; nay sometimes, with pious thought, I feel it a mercy that I have it not. Who knows whether it would not calcine me too; drive me too mad? A Newspaper Editor can gain a living: I too could be a Newspaper Editor (the Globe one comes here sometimes; a very decent little fellow, who knew me three years ago7); but have small stomach for it, in these distracted times. Literature, then, does not invite me. Sometimes I say to myself: Surely, friend, Providence, if ever it did warn, warns thee to have done with Literature, which will neither yield thee bread, nor stomach to digest bread! I will sum up my speculations by one anecdote, which will tell you much: There is a scheme here for carrying out a Colony of superabundant Labourers8 (one of the only two public enterprizes that seem to me worth engaging in; that of teaching the people is the other): over this scheme a certain Colonel Napier was to preside, go out as Governor;9 and I heeded it hardly at all. One day, however, in the Newspaper, I came upon an extract from Napier's History of the Peninsular War,10 and found, to my amazement, that this Napier was actually a man (not the sham of a man), with a strong head, a valiant heart; a “clang in him as of steel”: I remember also that Buller was intimate with him. What did I do? Took my stick silently the second night, and strode off to Lincoln's Inn Fields; resolute that Buller should bring us into contact! I would finish my Book first; then (with wildpealing heart) go over the seas, to spend and be spent; happy at least in having companionship with man, in having work and food! From Buller I learnt, without hinting at my project, that the Napier was not my Napier (of the Newspaper Extract) but a Brother, of whom I knew nothing. I told Jane of my adventurous humour, for the first time, when I came home: you here, for the second time.— I know some Engineers and Architects (the Rennie Squadron):11 once or twice, I have dreamt of trying that. My thinking faculty was not to sleep (far from that), nor even my speaking one; nay I should learn much, above all, get into health, and write much nearer wisely than I can do now. Unluckily I am forty years of age; and have sworn defensive and offensive league with Realities, everlasting war with Shams, at least resolute non-alliance with such! A practical friend were of great use to me: had the poor Duke (whom you inquire after) but been able to go on! Unluckily he could not; we had one Letter (Jane had), in the old intolerable strain (reprimanding you, for the thousandth time, for not being “happy”) which remains unanswered these four months.12 Mrs Welsh says he is reputed “to be getting silly.” I did not send him Teufelk (and fear I have offended him thereby), but mean to send him my next: I really love the little man, and mourn that he must leave me. Must; for he would not let me live, unless I became a Sceptic and Edinburgh dilettante, made money, and was “happy.” How happy is he!

Now, dear Doctor, if here is not enough of complaining; the faithfullest picture of all my tristia [sadness]! Nevertheless dream not, my Boy, that it is all wreckage with me, not a whit of it! Like Doctor Bowring13 (one of the chief quacks going here) “I am calm but energetic:” I am writing really a very surprising kind of Book, hitting bits of the truth in it; and care not a snuff generally for the Devil and the world. It is, after all, pe[rhaps] not so bad a Book; only I get along at a frightful pace, and it swells on me: I think of three small volumes now; and am about ending the first (perhaps almost the size of Sartor). Small praise will it look for; at best, much censure: but as I said, I shall be done with it. I speak as much as possible in the dialect of this lower world; yet it is wonderfully unlike a this-world's Book: Jane says it will do; and Mill; no other knows of it.— Thousand thanks for the good you get of Teufel! A few such voices are real votes, and outweigh all the babble or no-babble that is, was, or will be. I meant the thing for what you find it in some measure to be. Getroffen [A hit; Bullseye]! therefore is the word; and I am right well pleased.— Let me add only, for your farther consolation, that we have still some £230 hard money; and can stand out handsomely twelve months without farther supply of any kind; and wait and look, all that time, what the hours will bring.— I have done with Fraser's Magazine; as good as formally: I wrote a two pages (headed “Death of Edward Irving,” which stands printed in last Number); but amid such a jumble as makes me pause aghast. Nay Doctor Maginn who has evidently a sneaking pique at me thought good in a fearful thing he called “the Fraserians” to introduce “Carlyle” speaking nonsensical Scotch: Blackwood-Hogg to Paddy Maginn!14 It was a thing “not to be repeated” (as I briefly wrote to Fraser); nay to pull noses for, if it were repeated. We rest there upon our oars; and I think the poor drunken scrub of a Doctor will steer clear of me in future: otherwise (as Allan Cunningham once threatened the same man), one must “kick him down to Charing Cross,”—if no easier remedy turn up. The wooden James is probably much surprised at my touchy contempt for his Doctor; an innocent kind of creature James, with cockney precision, a kind of honesty; becoming cockney-dandiacal; like to get (commercially) drowned one day in that “drunk man's vomit” of an (Irish) Magazine of his. Whether he will or shall publish my Book? I can get it done.

But now, a word of Rome. Nothing gives me such pleasure, my dear Jack, as to learn that you have settled that Practice matter (very reasonably, I think), and have even got some patients. Hold by that: watch it with open eyes; it is better than all Books. Such a kind of life is the very health of you. Doubt not, either, that you will find work to do: work in all climates of the world has he who can alleviate disease! At worst, “a good physician saves if not from the disease, yet from the bad physician.”15 Whether you should return to Rome, or stay in England? I think not too much of it: do wo du bist, da wo du bleibst [there where you are, there where you remain], be busy, be happy. As for me I know no Doctor here (except Willis,16 whom I picked up lately in Picadilly and have seen and mean to see); I know not how they stand: one has a natural call to be at home; it will depend on what Rome offers: we will decide on nothing till we meet, which (if merciful Providence will) is a date approaching now. I noticed also what you said (judiciously, in German) about my coming to Rome! It were much preferable to the Back woods of America, whither in my splenetic humours I many times look. Could I but find any work there to live by! I could follow my other work, as well as anywhere; and perhaps the climate were far better for me. We will dandle it for moments, now and then, as a Dream! This Country I take to be on the edge of perilous (perhaps bloody) strife; confusion; it may be, dissolution and chaos: rottenness is written over it thro' every relation of man to man. Is the End come then? It is coming, and was: God alone knows! But for me any work is not Revolution; at least not Hunger-revolution (for that is the melancholy truth of it): if they set up any kind of guillotine, I will be off, I think! Really these things give me great pain. Wakley17 is a Metropolitan Member! Wellington has resolution; depends from of old on the bayonet:18 my first remark was that prettier men had left their head in such a position as he has taken. I sincerely pity them all: myself first and then the King.— But enough for tonight. Post is tomorrow: I will then fill the margins; Jane promises a postcript. She has been terribly plagued with a scalded foot, which she may tell you of, which is now better. Good night, my dear Brother. Gehab Di[c]hwohl [Farewell]!— Ever your affectionate,

T. Carlyle

[JWC's postscript:]

My dear Brother. Your affectionate letter is the greatest comfort we have had this new year. Otherwise it has been rather a detestable one. I said to Carlyle some weeks ago “I am resolved to make a little fun this Christmas for our Christmases for a long while back have been so doleful.” “I shall be particularly delighted said he if you can realize any fun” Well the next morning at breakfast my Maid poured a quantity of boiling water on my foot in consequence of which, and I think also of improper applications, I have been confined to the house five weeks! The most of that time indebted to Carlyle for carrying me out of one room into another. Dr Willis did me good by a light bandage and I am now moving about again but hardly with my usual alacrity. This is the reason why I have not yet been to return Miss Morris's call. Mrs Montagu wrote me a sentimental effusion on the death of Edward Irving threatening as heretofore to come and see me but has not been yet. nor will not: the only pity is that she will not let the matter lie quite dormant. It is not worth telling so many lies about. Emily is in Italy—with some great relations.19 Mrs Austin sends me occasional “threepennies,”20 overflowing with “dearests” and all that, asks me to her soirées now and then, and even flashes down here in wheeled vehicles at rare intervals— But what is all this to one who really longs for a little sincere friendship? There is a Mrs Tailor21 whom I could really love; if it were safe and she were willing—but she is a dangerous looking woman and engrossed with a dangerous passion and no useful relation can spring up between us. In short dear Doctor I am hardly better off for society than at Craig o' putta. Not so well off as when you were there walking with me and reading Ariosto. So hasten back and let us read Ariosto again, and what else may turn up for us[.] I could act out of all patience with life when I look round me on such floods of selfish sentimentality and pretentious inanity; if it were not for the grateful sense I have of the worth of my own people. God bless you dear John. I also am thankful for you. yours affectionately Jane Carlyle

[TC's postscript.]

Willis asks us to dinner this morning (Tuesday; noon now !), I will be excused, go to tea some night. W. is unwell (pepsia!), looks dispirited; I rather like him.

Do you see Fraser's Magazine? You will approve these two pages, the last I purpose writing there. I sent a copy of them to poor Mrs. I. at Annan thro' our Mother. No word of any kind about the widow or family. David Hope wrote to me (wishing a Newspaper Notice; I sent him that); he says the Cardales22 had persuaded Edward he was not to die. He (E.) was insensible for the last day. Henry Drummond has also written, in Fraser: the “Church” and “Angels” will soon go to pieces.

A kind Letter from Grahame always asks affectionly for you.

I am not in bad health: I walk daily 2 hours (from 2 to 4, when we dine): sometimes westward as far as Fulham; sometimes city-ward (oftenest); or by Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park & home by the H.P. Corner. We have often fine weather: today, for instance which I will out and enjoy,—tho' my task is far back; waits for after-tea!

You will of course write instantly, if you have not written. Adieu, dear Jack! we will fear nothing; defy the world together! ‘A Dieu!”

Old Mr. Badams (of Warwick) died lately at Birmingham: Jane Barnett wrote us.23

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