January 1835-June 1836

The Collected Letters, Volume 8


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 1 July 1835; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18350701-TC-MAC-01; CL 8:161-166.


Chelsea, 31st June [1 July], 1835.

My Dear Mother,

The accompanying Letter1 from our dear Doctor will give you, as it has given us, not a little disappointment. Just when we made sure of his return, and were expecting daily to hear word at what hour it should be, comes this announcement that at soonest it cannot be for two months yet! Lady Clare has fallen sick, or perhaps only fallen weary and disheartened; so our poor Jack dates not from Paris, whither my Letter had gone to wait him, but from Munich, with notice to address him next at Geneva, which is aside from the road homewards. We are very much grieved; and all our schemes are tumbled heels over head, for the present. I had been sitting quite idle ever since I wrote to you the time before last; with the determination that I would work no more till we had all met again; and very impatient was I to see that day arrive: but now, as is often the case, “between the cup and the lip”2 a thing has intervened! However, we must shape a new course, and adjust ourselves once more to that.

My first reflexion was a petulant one, on the power of the rich over the poor, how the whim of one rich individual can turn to confusion the schemes of so many poor ones, and set us all a-sorrowing, simply by the power of money: but I checked that as unjust; I felt how much cause there was still for joy seeing we were all in life and health; nay my pity for ourselves gave place to pity for the poor Lady who seems the cause of it all. Perhaps she is not to be blamed in any way but rather to be sympathized with. Our own private conjecture is that she has been turned back from England by a reason of which Jack may be still ignorant. Her Husband, it appears, is just come home from India;3 nor is it unlikely the news of that may have met her by the road, and staggered all her resolutions. If so, our conjecture is farther that she will not come home this summer at all; but spend the pleasant weather in Switzerland, and turn back to Italy before winter; so that unless Jack give up his engagement with her (or rather do not form a new one, for the old expires in September) all his expectations and ours of a meeting are postponed for a year.

He asks very seriously as you will see, and very wisely in his way of doing it, what advice I have for him in regard to this renewal of his engagement. I intend writing to him tomorrow, and distinctly counselling him to insist either on £500 for another year, or liberty to practice with his old salary, or else a direct return home. Money, Heaven knows, is not without use to us; but time and the best years of one's life are also useful. I see very well the poor Doctor is in sad want of employment in that dead City; that his mind is in no cheerful or altogether wholesome condition; that he ought to make and indeed ere long must make some resolute start for fixed employment somewhere; finally that with his faculty and character there cannot ultimately be a risk of finding honest bread somewhere on this Earth's surface, where sickness always is, and the power to cure sickness always remains valuable.— So we shall see how it goes; but nothing can be decided yet for a month or two.4 My guess rather is that the Lady will give him the £500, and engage him for another year: in which case, alas, there is greatly less chance of our seeing him for this season. But what can we do, my dear Mother? what but wait—on the guidance of One who knows better than we! Let us never despond, or be downcast: I know, dear Mother, you will pluck up your heart again, and taking the best view of everything, again begin cheerfully expecting. Five hundred more pounds will prove of great service to Jack when his liberty comes; and we shall all be the gladder to meet when that glad hour does arrive. In this way, at any rate, we must leave the business, so far as he is concerned; and wait patiently what Time and Providence will bring.

As for our own share of it, there is need of a new resolution, and we have gone far to form one. Jane thinks that if we are to wait till September, it will be needless for her to come to Scotland this year: she had in the main only her Mother to see there; and it seems the shorter way to send for her Mother up hither, without delay (if she will come, as at some time or other she purposed to do): Jack and I (if he is coming) can go to Scotland by ourselves; at lowest, when Mrs Welsh was returning, I would accompany her, and you would see me at least.— The most important part of the resolution is that I, at any rate, am to fall instantly to work again; having now filled up my full measure of idleness. This is the way it stands.

So you see, dear Mother, how our bits of plans are all turned topsy turvy (as Burns's Mouse might be, when the ploughshare went thro' its nest);5 and we have all to make what industry may be possible to form new ones. I think I am sorriest for you of the whole of us. I see the sad look of resignation you put on, and how all your expectations for these bright summer days are so sorrowfully overclouded. Nevertheless I know you will soon rally, and not let it beat you; you will think August is coming, and with the yellow crops, your two Boys. Nay, I shall then perhaps have my Book done, and shall come home with twice as light a heart. Doubtless it will be better for us all.— You will notice that I have given you above the very sourest interpretation the thing seems capable of; in order that if you are to be disappointed again, it may rather be in the glad way. There is a clear probability of Jack's actually coming in August; two probabilities, both that the Lady and he may come, and also that he may come by himself. Let us see how it turns; let us pray and trust that it may turn for the best, whichever way that be.

I must now tell you a little how we go on here. As mentioned already, I have been altogether idle these five or six weeks; reading insignificant Books; talking to people; resting myself, till I saw what the days brought forth. If this have done nothing more for me, it has evidently made me a good deal stronger: I have recovered my colour and force; and mean now, as I said, to begin working again with new vigour. That wretched burnt Manuscript must, if the “gea [vigour] of life” remain in me, be replaced: you cannot fancy how the whole business has got inexpressibly ugly to me, how I long to be done with it, and have my hands free again. “It shall be done, Sir,” as the Cockneys say!6 After that, the whole world is before me, where to choose.7 I cannot say that I am, in the smallest degree, “tining [losing] heart,” in these perplexities: nay, I think in general, I have not been in as good heart, these ten years. London and its quackeries and follies and confusions does not daunt me; I look on all matters that pertain to it with a kind of silent defiance; confident to the last that the work my Maker meant me to do I shall verily do, let the Devil and his servants obstruct as they will. Have I not reason to thank God for all my sorrows too? They have burnt away much impurity that was in me; some things too they have called into life and vigour for me. At worst, I always feel that here is the place for me to make the struggle; distracted as the world is, it is still God's world, and here in the middle of it, not in solitude as at Puttoch, must I strike forth my capabilities, and work and do, while it is called Today.8 O Mother, if I can retain the precepts that you and the good men who have gone before us walked by, why should I fear aught under the stars? A thousand thanks to you for what you taught me from my birth upwards! Mother's milk nursed my little bodily life; and a still more precious milk ministered to my spiritual one. Let it be a comfort to you to hear this deliberately, and with a son's gratitude, testified now when I too have grey hairs here and there and do know it. I would not exchange my own humble Father and Mother for the richest and greatest I have yet seen in this world. They gave me what the world does not give, and also does not take away.

The Literary Craft, as I have often explained to you, seems gone for this generation: I do not see how a man that will not take the Devil into partnership (one of the worst partnerships, if I have any judgment) is to exist by it henceforth. Well then it is gone; let it go with a blessing: we will seek for another. We will seek, and find:9 this is what I say to myself, looking composedly into this mad whirlpool; noting in it what my grey Annandale eyes will inform me of. I do not get angry with it, impatient with it; I have computed the worst it can bring me, and also the best, and find there is at bottom a very small difference between these! It is on oneself and what comes of one's own doing that all depends.— However, to be a little more particular I must have this Book off my hands (should I even burn it, I will be done with it): this is the first thing I found on at present. Secondly, I have, as was hinted once before, some kind of outlook in regard to being employed about National Education; which is the work I ought perhaps to covet more than any other in the world. There is no doubt but something will be done in that matter, and of course that some persons of ability will be10

[TC's postscript written in margins of first page:]

If Mrs Welsh come she must see you first; either come to you, or get you to her. She will welcome you in her choicest mood.11

Mill is going off to Germany on a tour for a month. If the Newspapers fall off (which I know not that they will do) impute it to that. Tell Grahame of Burnswark how we are postponed in getting home. He knows about the burnt Manuscript too, which indeed is quite public now, some of Mill's people having told it. There is a little comfort that one can speak of it, that people do not ask now, “when is your Book coming out?”

We saw Miss Morris here lately; I am to call for her today.— Mill and two others to meet him are coming here to tea tonight: one of the smallest tea-shines [tea-parties]. The “two” are a Miss Wilson and Brother “quality” people, of considerable worth. “They have begun to ca'”!—