January 1835-June 1836

The Collected Letters, Volume 8


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN; 9 April 1835; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18350409-TC-JCA-01; CL 8:89-93.


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, 9th April, 1835—

My Dear Jean,

Your Letter1 arrived the day before yesterday; and today comes the Newspaper, with James's two strokes, always welcome. There is a frank going off to Mrs Welsh, which will carry so light a sheet as this: so I, having slurred-over rather than done my day's task, will answer you; preferring that to my due daily walk;—for indeed I have to walk some five miles into the Town, to Tea, this evening, at any rate; and that ought to suffice. You shall hear what I on the spur of the moment can tell you; and in the first place that all goes in the old way “tolerably well,” which we ought rather to account “very well,” as the world wags now.

There is none of my Scotch Correspondents that gives me so authentic a picture of things as you do; wherein I can see the wrong-side too, with its seams and thrums [tangled threads] (as every earthly thing has a wrong-side), and know that it is all authentic. If you wrote a smaller hand and wrote oftener, I should have no quarrel with you. Our dear Mother seems to be going on in moderate health at least, and moderately well every way: I hope [to] see more minutely how, in the course of this present summer. What Jenny and she do, or how they get along in that new Scotsbrig world, I still very imperfectly make out. The “new relatives,” poor little things, are right welcome into this evil Earth: may they find it a place if not to be at ease in, to be busy in wisely! That is always possible for all men. I can see “James of Scotsbrig” tolerably from what you say; and reckon that the Opposition Parties are arranged there on the proper footing.2 So Alick has about engaged with the Howes!3 I do fancy it may be the best thing he could do. He must write to me soon, and tell me how it is arranged. Say to him from me that all will yet be well; that the faithful man was never yet beaten; if he stand to himself the Heavens stand by him; the troubles they afflict him with are actually but trials, to try what stuff is in him, and bring it out.

Of James and you nothing but good accounts come to me. Know this always, my dear friends, for a very truth, even as it stands written in your Bible: “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.”4 Let a man reverence that Unseen Highest; feel that “he is ever in the eye of his Great Taskmaster,”5 and it shall be well with him.— You are perhaps no worse for the present that you have little society; unless your neighbours can teach you something, or strengthen you or be strengthened by you in some useful way, you are as well to let them go their gates [ways], with your good wishes. Have nothing to do at any time with malicious, false, idle or god-forgetting people! Good is the company of four bare walls compared with that of these. By degrees, however, you will find more or less of real worth in several that you must be thrown in contact with. One never gets much good of society, or even much favour from it, I think, till once one have learned how easily it can be done without: as for him that leans any of his weight on it, he leans on a broken reed. Mind thy work, honest man; and let the world mind its,—or neglect it.— I suppose you go into that new house at whitsunday: I shall fancy you as more comfortably situated there. Be “busy,” whether “bare”6 or not; and there is no fear of tomorrow.

Did you send out my Mother the “ruled sheets”? I rather fancy not; for she has never filled one of them yet.7 But indeed perhaps she still expects some notice about Jack's money; of which I have still none to send: so soon as I get any, I will put the matter under way, and send word; you will likely get your Visitor then. In the meantime send word that you have heard from me, that we are all well. I fear my Mother is too much vexed about that Manuscript mischance. Tell her, the thing shall be for good: I will actually make it better than it was, if I can; nay I think it will be better, tho' I get along very toilsomely. Do not speak of it to any body till I am fairly done; then we will speak. I hope Jack will come safe, in good time, and that I shall be done when he comes. I never had as long a spell of writing; and could like well enough to take my ease a while: but alas, bairn, I have “the Bastille to take” a second time, so unlucky am I! For the rest, my health &c is not to be despised. I am never yet in the same way I used to be in: our water, our climate, all sorts of things are different. The water I fancied at first must have something to do with it; I now find there is “epsom salt” and other dainties dissolved in all the spring water hereabouts: the river-water carries a solution of dead dogs, glar (the most infamous): such a thing as a cup of genuine water in this “large and populous city”8 I have not yet fallen in with. In return we have “Beea” (Porter, or “Heavy wet”);9 of which Jane drinks one tumbler (value 3 farthings) every day at dinner; I sometimes only, and wish I could do it always. One [sic] the whole however my health is certainly not worse; perhaps it is considerably better; nay at times I almost fancy I shall get well again some day!— There is one thing James must do for me—go and inquire till he satisfy himself about the capabilities of your Dumfries Shoe-last Maker. Can one get a plaster cast of his foot taken in Dumfries; and will the Lastmaker construct a wooden model in the similitude of that? I am quite serious. For the last fifteen years I have absolutely lost (given away &c) some considerable proportion of my new shoes (Shaw's last pair, for instance, I wore just one day,—with toes bleeding); and nevertheless I find my feet getting more and more lamed, tho' perfectly unexceptionable feet; nay I have been hopping about for the last 8 weeks really often in considerable uneasiness with quite a new injury there. Wherefore I have determined one good time for all that I will have a pair of unmistakeable lasts made; actually made, in the shape of my feet, should I even take a knife and whet [cut] them out myself. It is a thing sometimes tried here; but by the inquiries I make there seems great danger they might only make you fashionable lasts, not fitting ones; which latter are the kind I want. It is due to Shaw's Lastmaker,10 whoever he be, to say that his Lasts are greatly more like a foot than any going here; I think were I beside him, there were m[y] best chance. I have tried various places here with my bruised toe; but not succeeded yet: Shaws l[ast] boots however I can wear with it perfectly easily; and so having thrown away the villainous [Cock]ney shoes (for they shall never cross my instep again) I can, at worst, hold out till I return. Le[t James] satisfy himself, and tell me next letter.

There were great quantities of things to write about tea-parties, and societies and people: but the sheet is so near done! A small circle of good people seems to be gathering about us here: we might have a much wider one, if we wanted to get people merely. We are to lose Mrs Austin: her husband is in perpetual ill-health and depression here; so determines to go to Boulogne in France, where he was once better, and leave all: employment, society, and what not. I feel she will be a loss to us: for herself perhaps it may turn out a gain; she had got to be that unfortunatest thing in nature, a “London distinguished female,” and this is the handsomest chance she could ever have of walking out of such froth-element; which otherwise would have cast her out, when her day came. She is a good woman; and will be far better when she becomes undistinguished again.— My little Lord Jeffrey interrupted me since I began this Letter; coming down to inquire if we were “happy.” He is here for some weeks, enjoying his vacation: a nimble little individual, whom I wish heartily well to, but have no farther trade with, I apprehend, except in the “Fine-day, Sir” manner. His ladies are with him; but their way is not our way.11— Allan Cunningham's Brother was here last night: he wrote a Book about New South Wales; is a most modest, intelligent man, with much simplicity and a kind of blateness [bashfulness]; we gave him a bowl of porridge, friendly greeting, and he goes his peaceful way. I have had much “going out” with other people for the last fortnight; but am as good as determined not to go out again for six weeks; but stand by my work, which is the only thing that turns to aught.— “Sandy Donaldson”12 is here from Haddington; but I was out when he called yesterday: Jane is going to dine at his Brother's some day; I “decline from eet.”13—— Of public news I suppose you get enough from M'Diarmid. The Peel Ministry are all out since yesterday; what will next be done, his Majesty is revolving in that wise head of his. To walk over to Hanover and leave them to seek a King, were for him the wisest thing.14— Did I forget the two strokes on the Globe? Or rather was it not sealed with some internal wafer; the sign that it contained writing; which you did not find, so cunning was I? I will not forget again, I hope; while the liberty to do it is continued one.— Will you send our kind love to Mary, our hope that her little Mag is better. I sometimes send her a Globe too, and would do it oftener: but that I think it costs her a halfpenny, which perhaps it is scarcely worth.— I had a Letter from Burnswark15 lately: which I was very glad of, and mean to answer soon.

Jane comes up to say that it is far more than time I was off!16 For it is after dinner now (so long did his Lordship detain me); also I have long since smashed asunder an old Dumfries Barrel (which came with furniture, and has stood with lumber) since that. Our piece of Garden is all dug, and has wall-flower blossoms, plum-tree blossoms, vines budding, and much spearmint. It is bright beautiful weather; I have sat for a week without fires; wind is west, and we are clear as azure.— God bless you, my dear Sister; you and your Husband and Child!

Ever your affectionate Brother, /

T. Carlyle

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