July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 12 August 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18370812-TC-JAC-01; CL 9:282-289.


Scotsbrig, 12th August, 1837—

My dear Brother

Your Letter1 has been two days here; I take the first opportunity there is of answering it. Mother and I had many a computation about the time of its coming; but happily before my pleadings for delay had lost effect, the welcome sheet itself arrived, and told us all was well. My Mother's anxiety was always great, and is now grown greater than ever: she had failed to get a Newspaper while I was journeying hither, and had almost made up her mind, they told me, that I would never come, but was drowned in the Humber. It is beautiful to see old age produce no worse effect; only weaken the force of hope, not that of affection.— My pen is sharp enough in the point, and I have started with a small hand; nevertheless it is to be feared you will get small good of me this time too; my sharp pen is embarrassing and uncomfortable, my flat table itself is against me;—worst of all, O Doctor, blue pill and senna, and the chagrins and heats which have driven me to that! However, allons [let's go on].

I was in hopes, as the cholera seemed to be girdling you in, that Lady Clare in her known apprehension of it, would surely come home in September. But it seems there is less hope than ever of that. Having no map here, I do not rightly know at what distance the danger is from you;2 but I conclude somehow or other that you will not remain there exposed to risks which were almost needless on your part. One who had duty to do would do it in the middle of ten choleras, but without duty there is no wisdom in staying where it is. Has Lady Clare lost her terror of it? I wish the Gnädige Frau [Gracious Lady]3 had put off her Gute Hoffnung [good hope] for a little, if she could! However, I will not afflict myself without known ground; let us hope that it will again be all well.— In other respects, I really do not see what better you can do than try Rome again, as you propose. The conditions for settling in London are really frightful to a man; you have on the whole to say to yourself: I will either succeed or die! There is no other way of succeeding there. Now at Rome and in your present position you go on without such terrible pitch of resolution; spite of all discontents you are at lowest laying by a little money annually; very soon, see, you will have a purse of £1000, and are then secured at least against want, and can live either working or not working all the rest of your days. This is something; it is not all, but in these days it is something considerable. Do the best thou canst therefore; and may the good Powers speed it! The only other thing I know about Rome for the present is that John Sterling persists yet in going to Pisa rather. I had a Letter from him lately, written in great haste, of hand and mind, not momentary but continual haste; in which without mentioning Rome, he speaks of Pisa as decided on; for the end of September. His Brother Anthony, who knows Pisa and him, has mainly influenced this result. I could have wished another one for your sake: nay I think you will still see Sterling once at least at Rome; he is a restless man. He is at Bourdeaux again by this time. His main errand to England, it seems, was the negociating of a marriage between his friend Maurice and his sister-in-law Anne Barton whom I think you saw: the high Barton family thought it lowish; John had to remonstrate and demonstrate; and all is now got settled, and they are to be as happily united as need be.4 She is a fine sensible-looking girl Anne; Maurice too is not without superior qualities, but at bottom I fear always very much of a burble of wiredrawings. His intensity far exceeds his proportion of strength[;] there is something ominous in men that cannot rest. No tidings of Fraser:5 he too looked very restless; soft, unstable as water.6

But to speak of Scotsbrig. Our good Mother keeps very well here. What she suffers from when none of us are with her, is solitariness; but of course she has nothing of that at present. She and I have been out once or twice, for two hours, helping Jamie with his hay; she is “waul [nimble] as an eel” while working. We have also made experiment on your pills (happily that is very rare with her); but they seem to have entirely lost their virtue. She cooks our little meal, which we eat peacefully together; she mends clothes, bakes soda-scones, is very fond of Newspapers, especially radical ones, and stands up for the rights of man. She has toiled into near the end of the second volume of the F. Revolution, not without considerable understanding of it, tho' the French names are a sad clog: she will make it out pretty completely by and by. No other of them has got so far, or indeed entered at all; except Alick, whose impression seems to be a deep but confused one of battles and trials and a whole Nation rioting for hunger. For his own share, Alick has now formed a scheme.7 The American speculation being renounced, and that of the Puttoch and Scotsbrig farming, he set off some four weeks ago with Jamie Ewart for Liverpool, on some project of going thence in Ewart's Sloop to the Herring-fishery. At Liverpool, however, the tidings from the Fishery-stations was such that nothing could be hoped; so Alick after waiting for some ten days found good to come home again, and nothing done in that line. He had lived in Jamie's Sloop, in Liverpool Harbour; he had seen the Election riots;8 and been out for a day or two at Manchester. The thing then that he had set his intent upon, guided I suppose by what he saw of wholesale merchandise, and talk with Hanning, was the old scheme of a shop in Ecclefechan.9 One could not find in one's heart to say a word against it; nay it seems to be agreed upon that there is a kind of opening there; also wholesale goods were never so cheap as now in this great wreckage of trade. Alick seems steadier than he once was; with a hearty appliance of himself, with patience, with thrift and perseverance, may he not do something? The immediate increase to his happiness will be great. For he starts instantly. Hall Moffat10 who has fallen quite behind with his rent agrees to pay up arrears as far as Whitsunday, and flit immediately; whereupon Alick, in the course of next week, will start repairing and remodelling. He can shift from his Annan house at a day's warning. In a couple of months he may be fairly under way in that new enterprise; as my Mother's tenant; to whom at least he will be of great comfort there. He has not seen your Letter yet, but shall, probably tonight; your brotherliness will be a real comfort to him. I think his demeanour in these painful windbound circumstances of his does him credit. I have thought for long that the only quite fatal peril for him was that of learning to drink; but there seems distinctly less tendency that way, so far as I can judge: sore affliction was needed for training the headstrong nature of the man. We will still hope good for him, poor Dillick; a brave little fellow, and one of the lovingest hearts there ever lived with such “a dibble of a temper.” Clow11 has sold Land (£4,000); is about rouping [selling by auction] his stuff &c, and goes to America in a fortnight. Ben Hawkins the Smith says, “It is a terrible pity such a man should have his grun' to sell to Irvims [sic] of Burnfoot,12 a set of persons rich indeed, but sprung from the worst stock, known, in his Father's time, as mere thiefs”! Clow is resolute tho' agitated; I give him a line to Greig; he will be able to buy an estate cheap at present, and with five or six sons may readily do well. Our half-brother John went off, as perhaps I mentioned in last Letter.— The rest of our people here go on as they were wont. Austin has always a little work, seldom enough; a well-conditioned, innocent toilsome man; Mary one of the thriftiest of wives. I was at Dumfries shortly after writing; Alick, Mother and I, in a kind of spring-cart, with one of Jamie's horses: the weather broke down there into rain for three weeks or more, and I never got back; till now I begin to resolve about it again. Jean and Jamie were doing very well; a prosperous shifty fellow Jamie, and Jean healthy and hearty, full of shrewd stubborn remarks with a great deal of natural fun and stuff in them. Painting is worse than ever at Dumfries; but Jamie makes it do very cleverly for him. They have a little boy called Jamie; perfectly silent as yet, but with a singular share of wit in the eyes and movements of it. At Scotsbrig here all is as when you saw it, or nearly so. A new gravelled road has been shaped from the Fairy-brae, along the top of the steep to the clayey corner where the Plantation begins and the ground all on to the Stack-yard is then smooth. It is quite sheltered that road; a dike pared down till it is grown very high on the north side of you; the burn and the bushes and branches sounding on the other side of you, with views of Criffel13 and the Solway; the road itself qu[ite] dry: I used often to walk there in the wet weather. The season, in spite of the bad spring, promises to be gr[eatly] bountiful; potatoes all excellent; the poor people have fallen to them everywhere, doubtless with thankfulness[. I] understand many of them have hardly known for many long months what it was to be satisfied with food! Such I believe is literally the case with hundreds of thousands of British men at this moment: there is no kind of peace to be expected, or to be desired, while that, or the risk of that, continues at its present height—I have hardly seen any other person here in Annandale. Graham is kind, but hebetated to a degree. Ben Nelson I see a little of when at Annan; I understand his pecuniary affairs are in the worst state; his son's money all seized by Carlyle of Waterbeck:14 a Bankruptcy, in order that all his creditors may have their share, is understood to be the thing he is striving after. I saw Robert Dixon,15 his Wife and Mother-in-law, one day. Sad enough to see: the old woman all gone to tears and clatter, the daughter hard with sore distresses of many kinds; Dixon himself is still lively, has had an operation on his eyes at Glasgow with marked improvement. Waugh was standing by the jetty of the Steamer on that day when Alick & Ewart went off for Liverpool; I had run down thither to see Alick before going: nothing could excel the absurdity of Waugh; who is printing a new Theory of Vitality or Nerves or something (price three and sixpence), and could hardly articulate intelligibly for a kind of ornamental lisp he had adopted!16 I left him with promptitude. Cressfield I have never seen yet, tho' I still mean it some night when in heart. Dr Arnott I did see; fat, quiet, stupid: one of his neaphews [sic] more is going out to India, or gone; one of the old ones returning. I think there are no more Annandale news. You have a sheet-ful!

On Tuesday last (this is Saturday) when at Annan I learned that Mrs Welsh with her Brother and three other Liverpool relatives had just passed thro' for Thornhill out of the Steamer; they had accidentally seen Ben Nelson, and reported all well. Next day there came a long and long-expected Letter from Jane herself: she had delayed writing till she could give me some account of her motions, which had only just then got decided on. She, her Mother being gone, was to go with the Sterlings to a place called Malvern, a watering-place in Worcestershire (I think), the Wilsons &c were also to be there. She was to go round by Oxford, to stay with “Archdeacons” and such like; and, on the whole, appeared to have been half constrained to go. I am to hear from her again in a day or two. The expedition was to last some four weeks or so; but she threatened to run home in the Mail sooner than that. She represents herself as better than she was, but far enough from well. I do not at all like the state she is in; but I cannot alter it; I try always to hope that it will alter. She writes in great spirits, but there is no fund of real cheerfulness, there is not even a serious melancholy visible.17 My poor Jane!

I wrote to Cavaignac, he has written to me that the last Parcel went punctually off to Paris on the 2nd of June. It is pity that you have never got them; the Book would have interested you in your solitude. Cavgc is angry with me for my treatment of the Seagreen Man and my impartialité generally: I take no side in the matter; how very singular! As to the success of the Book I know almost nothing, but suppose it to be considerably greater than I expected. Mill's Review was in a great style of eulogy, the best review a man could wish of himself. I understand there have been many reviews of very mixed character. I got one in the Times last week; thinking it might be worth more to you than the postage I sent it forward. The writer is one Thack[e]ray, a half-monstrous Cornish giant; kind of painter, Cambridge man, and Paris Newspaper Correspondent, who is now writing for life, in London: I have seen him at the Bullers' and at Sterling's; his article is rather like him, and I suppose calculated to do the Book good. I wish you had the Book itself. Cavaignac has renounced his review (I think) in favour of somebody or other, or even somebodies, in National and elsewhere; about whom he wrote me largely.18 His own mind is struck with perplexing variety of emotions about it; not to be uttered as yet except by a snort thro' the moustachios. So goes the Book.— What I shall take me too, or how demean myself on returning to London is all as yet profoundly uncertain. What the real possibilities of the case are I cannot yet even guess. My ambition is small, that of being allowed to live. No duty is so clear for me at present as the necessity of letting my perturbation subside, Which really I hope it is doing, tho' slowly. I look much better in health, and several of my symptoms have abated. The black speck itself is sometimes away altogether. Into my mind too there comes occasionally a glimpse of insight; as if old clouds were parting. I keep silent; am very sad still, but make no tumult. All will grow better. My Mother is here, come to write her P.S. “if thou wad tell me what to say!” I give up the pen to her

[MAC's postscript:]

Dear Son if I could I should like to writ you a long long letter but your Brother has told you all the news much better than I could so may God be with you is the prayer of your

affect Mother


[TC's postscripts:]

I do not see very well how you should address your next Letter. Chelsea will be the safest, I think. Jane will be there at any rate; I either there, or accessible therefrom. My Mother and I go to Manchester together, where she stays for some time. The address is: 7. Bank street, Oldfield Road, Salford. No time is yet set for my going off; while the good weather lasts I shall not be in haste.

Had you been coming home, I once thought of meeting you in Switzerland. But that is up. The likeliest is, I shall stay here till tired, three or four weeks yet, then wend homewards; the hot weather will be gone at least. Direct to Chelsea. And do not delay writing: surely you will move out of the way of Cholera? The Pope's cordons are not worth a doit.19 Take care of yourself well; and so adieu dear Jack!— T.C.

I bathe occasionally; riding, by the Brickworks.20 I wear your old schuifs [rags] of shoes here, as slippers.

I read almost nothing; I lounge and dawdle, and do nothing. It is best.

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