TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE; 29 November 1836; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18361129-TC-AC-01; CL 9:93-96.
TC TO ALEXANDER CARLYLE
Chelsea, 29th November 1836—
My dear Brother,
It is a very long while since I have sent you the smallest direct notice of myself; for many years there has not been such a gap in our correspondence. As I can do nothing else for you, one would think I might at least write you a Letter now and then! It seems so very easy to do; and yet it is never done. Tomorrow night will suit better than this night: and so tomorrow after tomorrow passes away, and no line goes to paper.— The truth is, I am and have been in the greatest fry [tumult] I ever in the world felt myself in: not strong of body; uncertain as to all things; my whole head filled with one toilsome enterprise, which alone has kept me swimming in the confused whirlpool that has been about me and within me. I had no heart to open my lips to anybody. You must all excuse me, till a quieter time come. Were I free of this Book, then will be, as it were, a conflagration quenched in the head of me: I shall see the blue skies again, and look round on men and things as one having a part and lot among them.
Meanwhile, here has a Letter come from Jack, announcing his safe arrival at Rome.1 As I wrote only last week to our Mother, I resolve on addressing this to your care; and scrawl a few hasty words to go with it. Doubtless you will hasten to let our Mother know: very probably she is anxious about Jack's arrival; and brooding one knows not what in these dark winter months. I was extremely glad to get the Letter myself; I know not what had led me to fancy some mischance might have occurred. It came yesterday morning: I bespoke a Frank today; in hope of I scribble this for you over night.
I mentioned to my Mother that I had had a cold; that it had come back on me, and again been driven away. I think it is gone in earnest now: nevertheless I have seen good to abstain altogether from writing these three days, in hopes that I should gain by it in the end. The head, from running water, had dried up; and there dwelt in it a dirty feverish headache, which always grew worse when I took to stooping or writing. So the day before yesterday, I flung down my tools; and struck out with long strides towards the rising-ground on the Northwestward here, and walked for four good hours. I also foreswore senna and drugs; and instead of that, drew a bottle of liquor, and determined on taking a drop of it to do me good. Yesterday and today, the like. In consequence of which the headache is daily abating, and now all but off, and the feverish sickly feeling along with it: so that perhaps tomorrow I calculate on taking my pen again. It is but one bold rush now, and the thing is done. It has given two years of a struggling (bad luck to it!) which I shall not soon forget.— This Cold, which is very general among weak people at present, has been hanging about me, for weeks; but now I hope I am rid of it. One cause, added to others in my case, is undoubtedly the miserable weather. We have had such a year as I do not remember to have seen before. Incessant changes; no two days alike; wet, wet; cold and dark. There come, as indeed is usual in this months “November fogs” which surpass all that any mortal but a Londoner can from an idea of: mist, stagnation, darkness frost and soot can go no farther. Today on the other hand we have had a torrent of rain; and such a b[l]ast of wind as should clear us out a little! I waited in the house till it was over, but going out soon after, I found canns in abundance scattered along the streets, a huge Tree flung out of root in the Hospital Park here, three others in St James's Park their roots lying up to the Sun; and in the Strand (our most crowded street) a whole stack of chimneys (that is, an entire chimney-head with all its canns &c) blown into the street, or down thro' the roof: a dozen masons were busy sorting it, as I went by.2 So goes the weather. And who can mend it? One must jook and let the jaw go by [duck and let the wave go by].3 The worst feature of it, by far, is beginning to be felt here too: the defective harvest. Our fourpenny loaf has become a fivepenny already. The potatoes, we hear are sore ruined. The poor people have taken to begging with more zeal than usual. There is a class called “Sweepers of Crossings,” persons, women, men and children, that establish themselves with a besom where two streets cross, and sweep a clean passage for the footpassengers from flag-pavement to flag-pavement again: these are more numerous and more assiduous dunning you for halfpence than I ever saw them. There is one in a street I go by, an old sailor, very like Rowantree4 whom you remember, except that one leg is wood and leather: he bothers in a half-daft manner, enough to make you first swear at him, and then griet [grieve] for him.— “The living on Earth have much to bear.”5 Trade also is in a very insecure state: I do not advise you to make large ventures in any way; but to be canny [careful]; canny and patient,—and wait till we see what it will turn to.
Most of our friends are come back, and all stands about us here much as it did; but we do not as yet get much good of them; my sole care and occupation being to have done with the Book. That is a thing that friends cannot help me in. I find I shall have the offer of work enough in the writing way, when this is over: but I do not resolve to take them; I resolve on nothing till once I am rested, and myself again. It is in a melancholy state that affair of writing; and wearies the heart of me to consider it. We will, if we see good, let it go its way; we going ours. By the help of Heaven, there are other sections of the world with living in them for a man. We shall see.— Two Pieces that are both printed now, of my writing, will be out about Newyearsday.6 I mean to let you see them by some conveyance I shall contrive. The Book is to be printed forthwith after that; and published and off my hands in some two months or little more! March is the time for it. I shall be a happy man.
Jane is but sickly at present too. She is lying on the sofa here with a headache where I am writing. It is but temporary; she is better today than yesterday; tomorrow we hope she may be on her feet again. She is on the whole much stronger than when you had her with you in Scotland:—so heavy a handful at Annan; of which she still speaks, with gratitude for the care you took of her. She returned with a huge deal-box, full of Hams &c, which the Omnibus Drivers could hardly lift: we eat of them daily to breakfast; esteeming it wholesome. Our oatmeal subsists; but now, I think, is not strong as to quantity. It has held out well; and always continues good to the last.
Without doubt there has been a sad confusion of Harvest-work &c in Scotland too and much hubbling [troubled hustling] you have all had. I begin to feel very dark about it; and desire you very much to take a long sheet and without preface send me accounts. Especially tell me what you yourself are doing. Have you begun pork-curing again? Or what are you after? Jenny said you spoke of being at Manchester perhaps. Tell me very strictly whatever you attempt or do. Above all, be cheery and quiet. A man ought to button himself together, and step along without too much criticising of the way. Shakespeare says, “A merry heart goes all the day, a sad one tires in a Mile O”;7 which is very true and applicable to all life. Many times I think of you on the Hilltop8 with the wild Atlantic winds piping round the little cottage. Shut them out, and put on a good fire!— I hear no word of Grahame of Ben Nelson or of anybody. Pray write to me.— I recommend myself to my Mother and to the whole Kindred, widespread as it is now: I have every one of them in my eye at this moment. Special compliments to little Jean and Tom, and Jenny their Mother. Good be with you my dear Alick!—— Ever Your affectionate Brother—
Give that little Picture to Mary as a remembrance of me. It is Lichfield the Birthplace of Dr Johnson; the three Steeples are the Cathedral.— I think I will send the two Printed Things to Jean's care or rather her James's. It will be in about a month. I mean to write to Jack forthwith. I have sent him at least Two Newspapers, which probably he has got before this time. Good night, my Boy! the paper is done.