January 1835-June 1836

The Collected Letters, Volume 8


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 29 January 1835; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18350129-TC-MAC-01; CL 8:24-27.


Chelsea, London, 29th January, 1835—

My Dear Mother,

Scarcely was my last hasty Letter out of the door, when your Scotsbrig one, bringing so much comfortable intelligence, came in. I had returned to my work again; and went on with the more alacrity for knowing that you were well. It is now almost ten days since I had done with that section of my task; the next section must very soon be begun; and a fierce struggle I expect with it: but before beginning I will send you a small notice of me; being indeed bound by the mere law of Debtor and Creditor to do it. Jane's Frank will carry this to Dumfries; from which, I hope, it will reach you on Wednesday, and be as cheerfully welcomed as all the rest have been. Besides Jean's Letter, there is one to Alick; and with this sheet of yours the Frank will be full: so that you must excuse me both to Jamie and whoever else has claim against me; assuring them that I will pay, if they only give me time. Mary I think has some claim for a Note from me; this you may assure her I have not forgotten: say, however, that if she will write another Letter to me soon, her payment shall be all the luckier (I mean, in the sense of larger); and that I want really to hear what they think of their Annan life, and how they get on there. Jean told me once they had still some thoughts of farming, and partially an eye to Will Brown's place: I of course know not what is to be said of that speculation, understanding so little about the circumstances; but if they are actually making a livelihood in honesty at Annan, I should recommend them to be cautious of quitting it: a livelihood is all one has a right to look for in these times, and the rolling of the ball is always sure at least to waste the fog [moss] from it.1 They I believe can change with as little loss as most; and it may, as well as may not, be a change for the better. I can only wish them good counsel, grounded on clear insight into what is best for them; and best success when they have resolved.

I have told Jean to get you twelve ruled sheets of Paper at Dumfries, and send them out for my benefit: it appears to me, you need nothing but straight courses laid out for you to write as well as need be; you will be slower than some of us; but you can begin in time always, and fill your sheet independently of any of them. I have strictly charged Jean to look to the paper; so now it will depend on yourself.— The Letter you sent was very gratifying and cheerful: I could fancy you all there, assembled in peace and goodwill, and see all the marketing, beef-salting and other winter-work going on; I sent off an account of it to Rome almost immediately, for I was in Jack's debt, he had got all my Letters, and I all his. We shall now perhaps go on in the Letter-and-Answer way for he has got somewhat nearer now, and a Letter can come and go in some five weeks, if it have fair play. Poor Jack, as you would see, is getting patients, and seems to be doing very well: I think we may henceforth reckon on the probability of better prosperity for him. I wish he were home again, and at length done with his travels: you used to say he had “another journey to make,”2 but I hope it also will soon have been made, and an anchorage of some sort found.

My own work here gets forward as well as it can. I am very anxious to be perfectly accurate (which I find to have been exceedingly neglected by my forerunners); the consequence of that is great searching and trouble; yet the thing when one is doing it ought to be done. Hollow work always shows its hollowness one day or other: all men in all places at all times ought to decline working hollow. As to the reception I shall meet with, there is no calculating, nor indeed does it give me almost any anxiety whatever. The people that judge of Books and men in these days are a wretched people, without wisdom, nay without sincerity which is the first chance for having wisdom; one is under the necessity of letting them babble out their foolish say, and heeding it no more than the cawing of rooks,—in whose [sic] sound guidance is not for man or woman. If I write anything that has meaning [in] it such meaning cannot be lost. He that gave me the meaning will care fitly for it. I wish, however, I were done with it! But I must stand to my tools first; there is no other way. The trees will be all leafy and the fields all gowany [daisied] before I even see the end afar off: nevertheless thro' it I will be, if life and strength are lent me. For the rest, dear Mother, be not concerned about my health suffering: I find it from day to day the thriftiest way not to overwork myself; and really my health stands wonderfully well. You see I am at this very time giving myself a half-recreation of ten days. By the time you read this, I hope to be in full activity again.

The Bullers are come to live in London; Mrs Buller thinks Charles's health will fare better, were she here to look after it. She is almost fearfully bound up in Charles; and I think if he were to die, would almost die too: it is not safe to lean so on aught earthly. Charlie however is really a good fellow, and rising in his sphere of life; yet one cannot well prophecy much of him, he is so flighty, not in his purposes, but in his fits of application. He and his mother and the whole of them are radically given, to a very decided degree. That also is my humour, but I find little profit in speaking it out; rebellion, against authority of any kind, is always a barren matter, full of irritancy, of poor painful feelings which are more of the Devil than of God. We are to dine with the Bullers tonight. I have not been in the Town these three days, but took my exercise in delving the garden, of which I have got a quarter put in order again. You will judge what a dry soil we have by my delving at this season. It is indeed and has been the finest winter I can remember; no snow at all, little rain, occasionally two days of black frost; and often quite a mild spring sky. We shall sit very bield [sheltered] I suppose from the March winds; in summer again, for the same reason, we have far too little wind.— When I think of Scotsbrig I rejoice much to fancy you snug and warm, with plenty of fire, and a drop ale, and so contented with what is allotted you. Alick's songs and Johnnie O'Cox were pleasant to me, even at this distance: there is nothing one is more bound to be than cheerful for the bounty of the Giver; a little spell of singing is good and right; helps to “haud one's heart aboon.”3

Yesterday afternoon a son of Leigh Hunt's4 sent me a Letter to say that he was out of his Father's house, could not get back again, and wanted “a few shillings,” being in a “starving” state! We sent for him to come at [and] get some meat; shillings we could not give him. I find on talking with the poor Youth (about 22, strong and healthy) that he is very much what I had supposed: a creature grown up to manhood without the slightest nurture or admonition, with wild hungry wishes in [him], with very considerable natural faculty, but without any the faintest principle of conduct; whom accordingly (for what else could happen?) they have had to keep for the last 20 months or more up in a garret none of them speaking to him; from which state he is at last broken out—into the street, and a “starving state.” I gave him numerous “good advices”; without much hope that he could (with all his wish to do it) profit much by them. “Do you think, I should go into the army, Sir?” I had been telling Jane a few minutes before that I saw nothing under the Sun he could or should do but that. However, I counselled him to try all other honest shifts first; in the meanwhile not to go back to his garret (from whence he would certainly have to break forth again) if there remained a resource for him on Earth: but above all to Know and lay deeply to heart that without quite a total change in his inner man, and way of thinking and managing himself, no thing whatsoever could or would go well with him. He stared on me with his keen black eyes, astonished, not unthankful looking; and went his way, with our “best wishes,” but not “best hopes[”]; and no pressing invitation to come back, for, as I calculate, one is better out of all that folly, and could do no good in it. Hunt is a fool surely (tho' very clever too): but this is quite a common method of education here. The people have no wisdom, no religion, no principle of any kind; this is the result it leads to.

I must now end, my dear Mother: I will write again soon; a frank to yourself. Jean's Newspaper has just come with the two strokes on it, which I am thankful for, and try to believe. I hope you will confirm it soon by a ruled sheet. Did you go to Annan? If your weather is as good as ours, you might take to Harry again. Jane's foot is quite well; she is now making up for her weeks of imprisonment. She is not here at this moment, and cannot charge me to send her love, which however you can reckon as certain. She has heard nothing from her Mother for some time, who is gone to Edinburgh: I insist that there is nothing wrong. Now write you soon, on a ruled sheet, and tell me that you are well, and all going well,—if you can with truth. Let us be thankful that we have such a method of communicating, while separated: I hope we shall meet before very long. But my Book must be done first! Give my brotherly affection to every one of them. God be with you, dear Mother!

Your affectionate /

T. Carlyle.

I have another Letter from my American friend;5 full of comfortable things: he wants me to come out thither, and give a course of Lectures!— The Butter goes on quite handsomely; the cracked Pot was beginning to threaten; but Jane scooped it out to beneath the crack, and the remainder ails nothing whatever.