January 1835-June 1836

The Collected Letters, Volume 8


JWC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 23 December 1835; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18351223-JWC-MAC-01; CL 8:272-277.


[23 December 1835]

My dear Mother

You are to look upon it as the most positive proof of my regard that I write to you in my present circumstances; that is to say with the blood all frozen in my veins, and my brains turned to a solid mass of ice, for such has for several days been the too cruel lot of your poor little daughter in law at Lunnon; the general lot indeed of all Lunnon so far I can observe. When the Frost comes here, “it comes” as the woman said with the four eggs.1 and it seems to be somehow more difficult to guard against it than elsewhere for all the world immediately takes to coughing and blowing its nose with a fury quite appalling. The noise thus created destroys the suffering remnant2 of senses spared by the cold and makes the writing of a letter or any other employment in which thought is concerned seem almost a tempting of Providence. Nevertheless I am here to tell you that we are still in the land of the living,3 and thinking of you all from yourself the head of the nation down to that very least and fattest child, who I hope will continue to grow fatter and fatter till I come to see it with my own eyes— I count this fatness a good omen for the whole family! it betokens goodnature which is a quality too rare among us. Those “long sprawling ill puttogether”4 children give early promise of being “gy ill to deal wi.”5

That one of them who is fallen to my share conducts himself pretty peac[e]ably at present, writing only in the forenoons. He has finished a chapter much to my satisfaction, and the poor book begins to hold up its head again.6 Our situation is further improved by the introduction of Ann Cook into the establishment instead of the distracted Roman Catholics and distracted protestants who preceded her. She seems an assiduous kindly honest and thrifty creature, and will learn to do all I want with her quite easily. For the rest, she amuses me every hour of the day with her perfect incomprehension of every thing like ceremony. I was helping her to wring a sheet one day, while she had the cut finger and she told me very flatly it was “clean aboon my fit”7— “I should get at it by practice” said I “for weaker people than [I] have wrung sheets—” “May be sae,” returned she very cool[l]y, “but I ken na where yeel find ony weaker; for a weaklier like cretur I never saw in a my life.” Another time when Carlyle had been off his sleep for a night or two; she came to me at bedtime to ask—“if Mr. Carlyle bees ony uneasy thro the nicht, and's gaan staiveren8 aboot the hoose wull ye bid him gee us a cry9 at five i' the morning”! We may infer however that she is getting more civilisation from the entire change in her ideas respecting the handsome Italian Count10 for instead of calling him “a fleysome11 body” any longer she is of opinion that he is [“]a real fine man and nain that comes can ever [be] named in ae day wi him,” nay I notice that she puts on a certain net cap with a most peculiar knot of ribbands every time she knows of his coming. The reward of which act, is a “I weesh you gooday” when she lets him out. So much for poor Ann who I hope will long continue to flourish in the land. My Mother is still in Liverpool and talks now of remaining till after newyearsday—how much longer will depend on various chances apparently— If she can be comfortable there it is better she stays at this dead season of the year. Still better could she have remained in comfort with us. but she did not take to London at all—nobody seemed to please her except Count Pepoli with whom she could not interchange a word in any language of articulate speaking men—and that was perhaps the reason— I am much better off this winter for society than I was last—Mrs Sterling12 makes the greatest possible change for me. She is so good so sincerely and unvaryingly kind that I feel to her as to a third Mother. Whenever I have blue devils I need but put on my bonnet and run off to her and the smile in her eyes restores me to instant good humour— Her Husband would go thro' fire and water for me and if there were a third worse element would go thro that also—the son is devoted to Carlyle and makes him a real friend which among all his various intimate acquaintances and wellwishers he cannot be said ever to have had before—this family then is a great blessing to us. And so had been my study of Italian which has helped me thro many dullish hours. I never feel any thing like youth about except when I am learning something, and when I am turning over my Italian dictionar[y] I could fancy myself thirteen—whether there be any good in fancying oneself thirteen after one is turned of thirty I leave your charity to determine.

We sit in hourly nay in momentarily expectation of the meal &c which has not yet arrived—but will soon I am sure for I dreamt two nights since that I saw them fetching it out of the waggon—meanwhile we sup on arrowroot and milk—the little bag being done.

Dear Mother excuse this blash13 in consideration that I really have a very bad cold—which I am resolved however to be rid of on Christmas day (the day after tomorrow) on which I am engaged to dine at the Sterlings— Ever since I killed the goose at Craigenputtoch (with the determination to make a Christmas ploy in spite of nature and fate) and immediately thereupon took a sore throat my Christmas days have found me ill or in some way unlucky; last year I was lying horizontal with my burnt foot this year then I am very desirous to break the spell and Mrs Sterling make[s] a ploy for the purpose

God keep you all and make your new year no worse and if may be better than all that have preceded it—your affectionate Jane Carlyle

[TC's postcript:]

There is a little scrap of clean paper here; which (having finished the Cover)14 I may as well fill.— Jane is really considerably annoyed with her cold; “sniftering,” and even coughing: the worst is, she cannot get out to walk, but has to sit wrapt up over the fire. However, it does not sicken her, and will soon pass we hope.— I had a Letter from John Gordon of Edinburgh;15 it is the second he has written; passionately desiring to hear from me: I scribbled the poor man three or four lines to p[ut] him to peace. Edinburgh and all its ways lie at an immeasurable distance from me now. They live, and I live,—apart from one another.— I send you many Globes, and could send more were they worth anything; but they seem very dull. Ch: Buller does not write there now, and all is, as I say, like pig-lead. The Examiner comes irregularly from Hunt; therefore irregularly to you. Your best way is to call whenever you are in Ecclefechan; there being now no regular day: if I did know any day likelier than another, I could aim towards that; but I suppose there is none.— Tell Jenny to write very soon, and quite in the same fashion: the only point is to be as small as possible, and as thick. You can add a P.S. in your own hand: it does me good to see it; the rugged honesty of the letters, the cheerful unwearied affection of the words. Take care of yourself My Dear Mother; and may God on High care for you!— Your loving Son T. Carlyle.


Mrs Welsh came to us in the last days of Augt,—by an Edinr Steamer:— I was waiting at the St Katherine Dock, in a bright afternoon; pleast meeting, pleast voyage up the river in our wherry; and such a welcome here at home as may be fancied. Abt the end of the next month, I had finished my Burnt Ms.; and seem then to have run for Scotsbrig, and been there perhaps 3 weeks (scarcely a detail of it now clear to me), in Oct following; I was sickly of body and mind, felt heavy-laden, and witht any hope but the “desperate” kind, whh I always did hold fast. Our Irish Cathc housemaid proved a mutinous Irish Savage (had a fixed persuasion, I cd notice, that our poor House and we had been made for her, and gone awry in the process): one evg while all seated for supper Mrs Welsh, Eliza Miles & we Two, the indignt savage jingling down her plates as if she had been playing coits, was instantaneously dismissed by me (“To yr room at once; wages tomorrow morning; disappear!”)—so that the bringing of a Scotch Servant was one of [my] express errands. ‘Ann Cook,’ accordingly, & the journey with her, by Steamer from Annan, by “Umpire Coach” from Lrpool, some 40 or 50 hours, all in a piece, is dismally memorable! Breakfast at Newport Pagnell16 (I had given Ann the inside place, night being cold & wet) awkwd hungry Ann wd hardly even eat, till bidden and directed by me, landing in Holborn, half-dead, bright Sunday aftrnoon, amid a crowd of porters, cabmen, hungry officials, some 7 or 10 of them, ravenous for sixpences & shillings, till at length I shut the cab-door, “To no person will I pay anything more at this time!”—and drove off, amid a genl laugh, not ill-humoured, from the recognising miscellany. Drive home, surrounded by luggage, and with Ann for company, seemed endless. I landed at this door, in a state of misery, more like mad than sane:—but my Darling was in the lobby; saw at a glance how it was; and almost witht speaking brot me to my room, and with me a big glass, almost goblet, of the best Sherry, “Drink that, Dear, at a draught!” Never in my life had I such a medicine. Shaved, washed, got into clean clothes, I stept down quite new-made, & thanking Heaven for such a Doctor.

Mrs Welsh went away a few weeks after, to Livrpl to her Brother John's there,—favte [favorite] and now only Brr; a brave and geners [generous] man much liked by all of us.—

John Sterling had turned up in the early part of this year: John Sterling, and with him all the Sterlgs; whh was an immense acquisitn to us for the ten years that followed. As is abundtly betokened in the Letter that now follows.17 T. C.

That ‘sore foot of Xmas last,’ whh has never otherwise been forgotten by me, now dates itself. She was in the kitchen one evg, upon some experimt or other; pouring or being poured to from a boiling kettle, got a splash on her poor little foot,—instantly turned ran with it to the pump (following some recent precept in the Newsprs), and there had it pumped upon till quite cold—whh indeed “cured” it for abt 4 & 20 hours; and then it began anew worse than ever. It seems to me to have lasted for weeks; never did I see such patience under total lameness & imprisont[.] Hurt was on the instep,—no Dr's advice had been dreamt of; “a little wound, don't hurt it, keep it clean; what more?”—and it wd not heal. For weeks I carried her upstairs nightly to her bed; ever cheerful hopeful one: at length one Willis,18 a medical acquaintance, called; found that it needed only a bandage,—bandaged it then and there; and in two days more it was as good as well, and never heard of agn. Oh my poor little Woman,—become “poor” for me!