January 1835-June 1836

The Collected Letters, Volume 8


TC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN; 4 December 1835; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18351204-TC-JCA-01; CL 8:263-268.


Cheyne Row, Chelsea, 4th December, 1835—

My Dear Sister,

For the last ten days I have daily (or rather nightly, for I attempt working usually thro' the day) meditated writing you a word along with this Letter of the Doctor's; but always some mischance or other has come in the way; and my “good resolution” remains one of those things which, a stern Proverb says, the Place of Darkness is “paved with”!1 To lift it out of that frightful condition, into the rank of a “good action,” I take pen this morning before attempting anything else: my state of mind, or rather of body, renders me unfit for work at any rate this day: biliousness, blue-pill &c &c; so let the duty which can be done have fulfilment, and the poor unhappy French Revolution lie over till fitter hours.

We received the Frank, the German Coach-parcel, both of them the day before yesterday: a poorish pennyworth as it proved, but the best the day would bring. The frank is from a Painter I once saw in Dumfries for some fifteen minutes, in the midst of a heap of hideous Portraits, of David Hannay,2 Galloway Lairds and such like; who now wishes me to aid and assist in setting him up here in London. Alas, except by good wishes, due indiscriminately to all the Sons of Adam, I do not in the least see how I can aid and assist this pourtraying [sic] Mr Lewis3 (I think he calls himself); or indeed what I am to do or say for him that were much more judicious than simple nothing at all. The German4 is a Berlin Literary character, whom I had heard of thro' Goethe, but never communicated with: he is about translating Burns into German; and has sent me specimens, for my counsel, or rather I think for my admiration,—which latter unhappily is not altogether forthcoming. However, he seems a good man, with good purposes; one can wish him good speed by and by. These Fraser's Magazines seem to be a very troublesome thing.5 I think I may promise that except perhaps one other you shall not be plagued with them again: the very first time I go so far into Town, it is among my obligations to speak to Fraser with emphasis on the subject. And so let us rejoice that it is over, all that shovelful of rubbish swept into the dust-box; and no bones broken. It is not at all likely that any more German Manuscripts will visit you: but if any do, let them lie till you have given me warning; perhaps they will not need forwarding at all, or at any rate I can usually get a frank for doing it.

Lastly the Newspaper has come, not an hour ago; and we have, with considerable endeavour[,] even made out the sympathetic writing! Pity that there are no news from Scotsbrig about poor Jenny.6 but what can we do except keep waiting and hoping. Pray thank your assiduous punctual James for all the pains he has taken: I will owe him as much when his turn comes my way. One other thing I have to request: that he or you, or both, will take paper and plain copperas-gallnut black ink, and by post write us a most full Letter. There is no satisfaction in anything else; and no other hand, belonging to the Brotherhood, is to be depended on for that. Pray suggest to James (if the little Totum [Toddler] of an Alick be too squally) that any quiet evening will accomplish the object; will be grateful and useful here, if so spent, and to himself not unprofitable. One gets very uncomfortable in the middle of such entire silence: nothing but black-bile and blue-pill to guide your imagination, all goes to sixes and sevens with it; becomes a void darkness; a Chaos, or (as the Terregles7 Schoolmaster more poetically called it) even a “Tchaw-os”! Be such consummation far from us!

Almost the only business I had to write of was one of the smallest; directions about a Parcel which you will very soon received [sic] thro' the hands of Mrs Welsh. It contains a pair of boots, for which the former were exchanged (you will know for whom they are intended); a Book, of great size, meant for my Mother's winter-reading; certain pairs of gloves (poor scraes [shriveled objects] as they are), of which the white-leather pair is for my Mother also, and the other pairs are for Sisters and Sisters-in-law indiscriminately, a pair for each: do you take the first pair, and send the rest all on to Scotsbrig with “specifications.” This is all.— Mrs Welsh left us a fortnight ago, for Liverpool; intending to stay there ten days, and then forward by sea or land as the weather and circumstances might direct. A Newspaper, this day, indicates that she is still at Liverpool; tho' whether setting out or farther postponing it, the words “still in the wind,” which she has unsympathetically, most palpably written on the margin, do not too clearly indicate. It seems probable that you will see her in passing, or hear after as new-arrived, in no great length of time. She saw all manner of things in London, and for the rest held herself very quiet; but did not seem to get much good of our Babylon. No wonder at all! It is a place in which no man's head or heart can, otherwise than by effort, and as a gracious exception and favour of Heaven, have any calmness. O the sputtering, crackling, everlasting mad-spinning whirlygig that it is! One closes his eyes on it, many a time, and says: Go then, and whirl and spin, to Tophet,8 since thou wilt!

My paper is fast fading, and nothing communicated yet about what we are doing here ourselves. In fact, there is not much to communicate. Old acquaintances are mostly come back for the winter, old circumstances getting themselves arranged on the former footing. Jane is, on the whole, very considerably improved from the date of my quitting her last, when indeed she was weaklier than I had for long seen her. She is not strong today, being just risen from a two-days headache: she had a purpose of writing something in return for your Note; but, I doubt, will hardly make it out this time. Our new Annan Servant goes on rattlingly, a brisk uncomplaining, unhesitating lass; we hope she will rattle away there, astonishing the natives with her pure Annandale breadth of utterance; and for us, cooking the morsel that is needful, and sweeping the daily product of dust in this dusty confusion of a world, without unnecessary disturbance. It will be a great and almost blessed deliverance, in comparison. She is well herself and hearty; but longs much to hear from her friends now; this you can impart to them, if you have opportunity. As to myself I have really been but in a feckless sort of state these last two or three weeks; sitting at my Desk once more, but with a degree of helpless ineffectuality that might surprise one. The liver is not right within, nor the heart; nor is the world right without. Little would tempt me to fling that thrice unfortunate Book of mine, even at this advanced stage of it, cleverly into the fire, and so have done with it. However I do not take that rash method; I, as you have heard, take a blue pill rather, and wait for better days. Like the man I one night heard on Leith Walk: a drunk individual whom he met growled out indignantly, “Go to H—, sir!”—to which the other, in a frank historical tone, replied, “G—, I'm gawn to Leith”;—and have not convenience for the other expedition just now! Let not me be less judicious. In fact, I have scrawled and glarred [daubed] some portion of my poor Book but brought nothing whatever out in a clean shape yet. It is what James would call “laying it,” perhaps the other finer parts of the process will follow in due course. I must be quiet, quiet: it is a canny [cautious] way of working, not the right-forward main-force way, that will serve me in this case. The Book, be it worth nothing or worth something, shall, if Heaven please, be finished. After which it seems possible a radical reform, at any rate a radical change, in my figure of life may follow. I am grown or fast growing entirely wearied of much; especially of this perpetual pining in sickliness, i[n] the mean painful enchantment (for it is very much that) of nameless woe and dispiritment. Nameless and needless; for I am not bound to it: one can live otherwise than by ink (and poison as it proves); otherwise, were it even by breaking stones on the highway. I believe myself to have at bottom a very healthy frame of body, for one so sensitive; and soon sur[ely] or never I ought to think of getting in possession of that. Let the whole world sing or say what it will, the course that had led a man into continual ill-health is a wrong course, a[nd] Nature herself surely warns him aloud to quit it. The only thing to be prayed for however, i[n] this matter, is that you keep your temper. Cheerful heart, and such clearness of eye as is! If one gets enraged, he flings all topsyturvy; and is, and produces round him, a mere “Ttchaw-os.” Consider, on the other hand, that “smallest of Barley-men”;9 how he speculates not, neither does he inquire: yet Solomon in all his wisdom and might said, “Vanity of Vanities”;10 and he, purchasing a cask of small ale, thinks it nourishing liquor.— The truth is, dear Jean[,] as thou seest, I am fit for nothing this day but bilious croaking: and had not this Letter been to do might as well have lain dormant, and not attempted doing of any kind.

We shall look very anxiously for news from Scotsbrig and you. Jenny seemed but in a weak way all the time I was there: perhaps this violent sorethroat bringing the business to a head, may leave her better than it found her, and be one of those painful blessings one often experiences here. But we long very much to hear how it is with her. James will probably take this down to Scotsbrig when he goes; I have warned my Mother that it would go out on Wednesday in any case: James by some Newspaper when at Scotsbrig can give us a hint. An interior wafer, and two or three words in a small hand will bring us most directly to the point. Till, as I said, James and you can11 … write us a long Letter!

It is good news to [he]ar about the Lasts [bein]g in the course of finish. I … pair of Blücher Boots;12 wh[ich] as is too usual, pinch me troublesomely, and would [pinch more if] I did not take heed. By a [si]ngular mischance, they are from the very same mould … were last year which set me hitching [hobbling] and banning [cursing]: the two shoeshops were far … pair of shoes, as I found too clearly, were the same, in perversity of shape, e … weaker leather! They come all from Northampton or such places; and my evil … so; that I should land—on my head. If the judicious chance have complied with … -y, it is well: but if I had it to order again, I should bid him paste four plies of … the sole of the foot (the stucco-foot), and then. At worst, one can nail a bit … [s]ole leather on the bottom of the Last, and it will amount to the same thing. Tell James, however, not to forward the new pair of shoes, till I or he hear of some gratuitous opportunity; only to have them ready when he is satisfied. A Coach-parcel, were it never so light, costs 7/2 to this door[,] too much to risk on it.

Poor Jane can write nothing, only send you her love and regards: she is free of headache today, but all “daddit abreed [shaken to pieces],” as she says, and as you may fancy. I must write a small scrap of inquiry to Alick; and then seal and despatch. The answer to Jack's Letter is already over the sea. Tell my dear Mother that so soon as my first Chapter is fairly clean and concluded I will get a frank for her. Give my brotherly affection to all and every of them, not forgetting Thomas your neighbour in the list. Take care of yourselves; and keep the little creature warm.13 Farewell my dear Sister!

T. Carlyle.

[JWC's postscript:]

My dear Jane I have swallowed a doze [sic] of soda since Carlyle wrote the above which has considerably ameliorated my condition— I will write you a regular letter by next opportunity—in the meantime I [am] greatly obliged by yours which has no fault but its exceeding smallness— C has omitted in his mention of sundries sent by my Mother a pink gown for Jenny to wear at Manchester tea parties— A kiss to the amiable atom and compliments & thanks to your Husband— Miss Morris (Johns Miss Morris) was here yesterday about the Drs return.