January 1835-June 1836

The Collected Letters, Volume 8


TC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 15 May 1836; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18360515-TC-MAC-01; CL 8:341-345.


Cheyne Row, 15 May, 1836—

My Dear Mother,

I am afraid you begin to think us rather negligent: at all events you have good right to be impatient to get some news from us; for since Jack's Letter, announci[ng ha]stily nothing or little more than that he was arrived, you have not received the smallest scrape of a pen from us,—if it were not the two scrapes on the back of the Newspaper. It should not have been so. But the matter went as matters often go: I thought Jack would write, having less to do than I; Jack thought probably I would write: and thus as the old Proverb teaches, “between two stools, the unfortunate sitter came to the floor.” Whether Jack will write today I cannot tell, tho' I have urged him: but one thing I can tell, that I will write. None of us are going to any Church, and it seems to me I [cou]ld not readily find better employment.

The truth is, there was hitherto almost nothing definite to be written. Jack has been flying about here, as you can fancy him: entirely uncertain this day what he would do the next; speaking about doing all things under the Moon and above it; but with no means of forming any positive plan for the future. It is to a good degree the like case with us all. As to setting up as Doctor in London, the difficulties are evidently great; they are great as to setting up anywhere: till a man greatly, and even desperately set his face against them, there is no use in his pretending to determine. Now, however, I begin to conjecture that there is a [sma]ll fibre of certainty in our brave Doctor's schem[e:] he has written to Lady Clare, asking whether she would have him go back to Rome with her on the old footing (the Munich one, of living in his own room &c) for a short time: with a view to his trying yet a while whether he could not manage to get into practice in Rome rather than London. He wished to know this before going farther; it was a kind of guidance to him to know even that she would not. Well, yesterday the Lady answers by a Letter (for she is in the country at present) that she will with great readiness make such an engagement; a six-months engagement, beginning from the first of September; so that after March next the Doctor shall find himself brought to Rome; and left ready to do all there that may then seem good to him.— My own private conjecture, tho' nothing yet has been seriously said even among ourselves about it, is that the man will accept; that we shall have him among us till September; and that, after that, he will off again to Italy, were it only as a kind of furlough, to save him yet another year or so from the necessity of making any final decision. All things considered, which I see in him and in his position here, I am not sure but it is the wisest; tho' I carefully abs[tain] from giving any positive counsel, where it were so easy for a third party to be mistaken. Another prediction I hazard in consequence: that you will before very long see him yourself in Scotland. He speaks often about it: about “going off next week” &c: but I do think that had he this business settled in any way he will go; till it is settled, he naturally ought not to think of going. For the rest, the good Doyle is the same guileless affectionate soul he ever was; and very comfortable to us here: he [him]self too, flying at large hither and thither “over this large and populous city,”1 seems not to be unhappy at all; but to mend in flesh, and on the whole do very handsomely. It is long very long since I have seen him generally cheerfuller.— But on the whole, why do I fill my paper with his affairs? He is writing, or will write; and himself explain them.

By way of farther excuse for our delays, I ought to add that for the last ten days especially we have [been] a good deal put about by the sickliness, natural to this season. Jane has been usually but feckless [weak]: tho', only one day very ill (with headache it was): then our Servant Anne fell ill and very ill; not even Jack and I but got our colds, and have gone about sniftering and barking; tho' all is better now. It was one of the ugliest springs I ever anywhere beheld; the worst within man's memory the people here say: Cold as charity, bitter, biting, barren; till within these five or six days, when it has all at once grown warm and delightful and put out our fires. That this sort of weather had a good deal to do with our sickness, I think very probable. At any rate that business of Anne Cook's threatened really for a day or two to prove very bad: she had some sort of Natural illness (I believe) which had been too long delayed; she was also said to be the greatest haveril [simpleton] and foolishe[st] deceiving and self-deceiving gomeril [idiot] in the world: so Jack had a heavy handful doctoring her, bleeding, physicking, starving from food, restraining from coming out of bed; but some days ago, it seems to be “all by,” and the creature is stepping about again; looking indeed better than formerly, tho' much paler (her former complexion being that of the Northwest moon, tho' not so uniform). A more uncultivated human being has rarely or never come across my path than Anne Cook: however, she wants not for natural sagacity; is full of good nature, of robust contentment; take this along with you, and understand that she is swift of work, most ready and most rough in all things; means no harm, knows little difference between truth and untruth (except the mo[men]tary convenience, often not even momentary),—and you have certainly not the model of servants, yet a rump of a hizzy [raw-boned, awkward wench] who gives you less annoyance than the most do with all their gifts. She talked once of going home (for she has some kind of permanent ailment in the back); and if her stout health go, there is really little left her; but whether now that she is likely to be well and even better than before, she will persist in that, I know not: Jane has taken means to do, if so; and Anne shall be sent honestly back—with our good wishes, the poor slut. I rather conjecture she will incline to stick where she is, however.— The first opportunity you have, it were good charity to inform her friends about this; they have probably heard something about her being ill, and do not yet know that she is quite well again. The rest of her attainments and graces you will not speak of to them (or to any one) except “in the general way,” and with healing clauses.— There surely is enough about her.

As to myself, for the last three weeks I have been going what you call bane-idle [bone-idle]. I finished my second volume then, and determined to have a rest for one week, it was very grand; Jack and I went swashing [bustling] far and near: but the second week, the bile declared itself (it had been lying hidden, as I knew, before that); and now this third week, I have had my cold, and been dealing a little in caster &c, tho' but a little. I meant to resume work last Monday; b[ut] not only the cold came in the way, there was also a fresh proposal (and entreaty) from Mi[ll:] write him an Article for his Review, and get a little ready money by it: which of the two to do I knew not, and yet know not; but rather think I shall stick by my old job till I [be] done with it. No rest for me in the world till it be off my hands! I often [thi]nk it is a great malady and madness this poor Book, which wear me so, and has been so unlucky: yet rather I should say, it is a great happiness, and gives me the completest indifference towards all fretting of fortune, towards much that has haunted me like pale spectres all my life long. With little in my purse, little in my hope, and no very fixed landmark in this Earth I stand serene under the sky, and really have the peaceablest fearlessness towards all men and all things. Such blessing I owe to the poor Book; and therefore will not abuse it, but speak well of it. In some s[ix] months it will be printed and done, and the wo[rld] all round me once again,—much more homelike than it ever before was. The people are all exceedingly good and kind to me; the better and kinder, that I depend little on that, or not at all on it, and could do quite tolerably, with their badness and their indifference. And yet, poor brothers! I like them very well.— So fear nothing for me, dear Mother: I will work on: what the great Taskmaster has appointed me, doubt not that; neither is there any other thing properly that I desire. I have not “tint [lost] heart,” not a jot; and so not “tint a' [lost all].”2

I have fancied you all this while at Dumfries with James and Jean; to whom doubtless you are useful in these circumstances.3 Poor Jean! She has early tasted one of the bitternesses of married life; blessing and bitternesses alternating like the balance! I was deeply sorry for the loss of the poor little cre[ature an]d for the sorrow it was sure to give them.4 To the poor child. …5

Monday morning.— Jack, I believe, is writing you a short Letter today: he complains that I have represented him here in colours not without “hidden satire.” I said, you would hear both sides of the matter, and then know.— Our Eclipse,6 yesterday, was very visible, thro' smoked glass; the dim faintness of the light, when at the lowest point, was rather singular. Jack and I had gone up to Hyde Park to see it better; there was hardly anybody there; all London we heard had run out to Greenwich where the Astronomical Observatory is.7 I remembered the last eclipse well, and where I saw it, or rather could not see it for clouds: at Mainhill.8 Ah me!— We are all going on well today: I am for a shower-bath to drive out the remnants of the Cold. Jack seems determined on Italy: but you will hear.

I will not be so long in writing again. Take care of yourself, dear Mother. Jane sends her love to all as [surely] we all do.— Ever Y[our] affectionate, T. Carlyle