Unpublished Letters of Carlyle


IN April, 1861, Carlyle went to hear Ruskin’s lecture on Leaves; and in August, 1862, highly praised to Erskine the same writer’s Unto this Last.

April 29, 1863, Carlyle wrote thus of one of Dickens’s readings: “I had to go yesterday to Dickens’s Reading, 8 p. m. Hanover Rooms, to the complete upsetting of my evening habitudes and spiritual composure. Dickens does do it capitally, such as it is; acts better than any Macready in the world; a whole tragic, comic, heroic theatre visible, performing under one hat, and keeping us laughing — in a sorry way, some of us thought — the whole night. He is a good creature, too, and makes fifty or sixty pounds by each of these readings.”

Carlyle’s unfortunate horse, mentioned in the following letter, was Fritz. He was sold for nine pounds. Lady Ashburton supplied a successor, whom Carlyle called Noggs.


CHELSEA, LONDON, 13 Aug. 1863.

DEAR SISTER JENNY, — It is a long time since I have had on hand to send you the little bit of remembrance marked on the other page, but I am held in such a ferment of perpetual hurry and botheration here and have grown so weak and weary of my sad work, (till it do end), that I have seldom five minutes to dispose of in my own way, and leave many little jobs undone for a long time and many little satisfactions unenjoyed for want of a bold stroke at them. Finally I bethought me of the Dr. in Edinburgh and he has now got me your little paper into readiness for sending. I understand you have nothing to do but present it at the Bank and at once get payment. If, (till you have time to write a long letter of news, which will be very welcome), you at once address me a Canada newspaper with three strokes, nothing more will be necessary in regard to this little bit of business.

I expect to get done with my book in six or eight months. O that I saw the day! I can and have been working thitherward with all the strength that I possess, to the hurt of my health as well, but I calculate when the end have once come I shall begin directly to improve more or less, and perhaps by degrees get very considerably better again. I had an excellent horse who had carried me 7 years and above twenty thousand miles, his hoofs were got spoiled on the stone hard roads. He came plunging down with me one day, (not throwing me nor hurting me in the slightest), — a most decided fall for no reason whatever — upon which I had to sell him (to a kind master for an old song), and for the last six weeks have been walking, which was a great enjoyment by way of change. It would not do, however, and since about a week I am mounted again : — very swift, very rough (in comparison to my old friend), but good natured, healthy, willing: — and must continue adding a dozen miles daily to the twenty thousand already done.

We have had such a winter for warmth as was never seen before, not very healthy, I believe, but it has agreed well with Jane :—and indeed the kindred, I think, are all well. Poor “ Wullie Carlyle ” (if you remember him at all) died lately at Edinburgh, an old man, as we are all growing hereabouts.

Tell Alick about my affairs and this last news you have had. That I never do or can forget him, he need not be told. I hope your lasses are doing well and that Robert and all of you are pushing along patiently, faithfully as heretofore.

In August, 1863, Mrs. Carlyle fell in St. Martin’s Lane and broke her thigh. The accident resulted in long illness and pain. During the spring of 1864 she grew worse, and in March was taken to St. Leonards. From a subsequent trip to Scotland she returned in October to Cheyne Row, “ weak, shattered, body worn to a shadow, spirit bright as ever.”

The last volume of Frederick was published in April, 1865. When the proofs were finished, Carlyle and his wife went to Devonshire for a few weeks with Lady Ashburton.


CHELSEA, 4 May, 1865.

DEAR JENNY, — Two or three days ago, I saw a letter from you to Sister Jean ; which was very welcome here, as bringing more definite news of you than we had got for a good while before. I have now got done with my Book (a copy of it probably in your hands before this); and am not henceforth to be so dreadfully hampered in writing a little note to my friends from time to time. I am still in a huge fuss, confusions of all kinds lying about me, and indeed I am just about running off for Scotland (to Jean’s, in the first place), to try and recover a little from the completely shattered state these twelve years of incessant drudgery and slaving have reduced me to. But there is something I had meant, this long time and here it is — just come to hand. Inclosed is a Paper which will bring you the amount of Dollars for £20, on your presenting it at the Hamilton Bank. If by way of “ identifying,” they ask you who sends the money, you can answer with my name, and if further needful, add that the Negociator for me with the Edinr. Bank, was Dr. Carlyle of that City. Nothing more, I suppose, if even that much will be necessary. Let me know by return that it is safe in your hand (a newspaper with three strokes will serve if you are short of time for the moment). And so with my best blessings, dear little Jenny, accept this poor mark of my remembrance.

My Jane is very frail and feeble, but always stirring about, and has got blessedly away out of the horrible torments she had (and all of you had on her account) last year. Scotsbrig, Gill, Dumfries, Edinburgh; all is going in the usual average way there. To you I can fancy what a distress the removal of your poor little Mary and her Husband to the Far West must be ! These things happen and are inevitable in the current of life. That your son-in-law is a good man, this should be a great joy to you. Do not you be too hasty to follow to Iowa ; consider it well first.

You see what a shaky hand I have; you do not see the bitter hurry I am still in! With kindest wishes to you and all your household,

Ever your Affectionate Brother,


Carlyle was elected Lord Rector of the University of Edinburgh in November, 1865 ; and on April 2, 1866, spoke his inaugural address at Edinburgh, of which the best account known to me — best for a general impression of Carlyle — is that given by Mr. Moncure Conway. On the 21st of April the news of Mrs. Carlyle’s sudden death was brought to Carlyle at his sister’s house in Dumfries.

The epitaph which he wrote for her grave in the abbey church of Haddington ends with the words, “ And the light of his life as if gone out.”

An episode of the time when that light was fading will remain longer with some of us than most of the occurrences of Carlyle’s life. Mrs. Oliphant has left a sketch, done with very few lines, of Mrs. Carlyle playing Scotch airs " to the tall old man in his dressing-gown, sitting meditative by the fire.” Carlyle himself, in his Journal for December 3, 1867, described the last of these occasions : " One evening, I think in the spring of 1866, we two had come up from dinner and were sitting in this room, very weak and weary creatures, perhaps even I the wearier, though she far the weaker; I at least far the more inclined to sleep, which directly after dinner was not good for me. ‘ Lie on the sofa there,’ said she — the ever kind and graceful, herself refusing to do so — ‘ there, but don’t sleep,’ and I, after some superficial objecting, did. In old years I used to lie that way, and she would play the piano to me : a long series of Scotch tunes which set my mind finely wandering through the realms of memory and romance, and effectually prevented sleep. That evening I had lain but a few minutes when she turned round to her piano, got out the Thomson Burns book, and, to my surprise and joy, broke out again into her bright little stream of harmony and poesy, silent for at least ten years before, and gave me, in soft tinkling beauty, pathos, and melody, all my old favourites : ‘ Banks and Braes,’ ‘Flowers of the Forest,’ ' Gilderoy,’ not forgetting ‘ Duncan Gray,’ ‘ Cauld Kail,’ ‘ Irish Coolen,’ or any of my favourites tragic or comic. . . . That piano has never again sounded, nor in my time will or shall. In late months it has grown clearer to me than ever that she had said to herself that night, ‘ I will play his tunes all yet once,’ and had thought it would be but once. . . . This is now a thing infinitely touching to me. So like her; so like her. Alas, alas! I was very blind, and might have known better how near its setting my bright sun was.”

The following letter is shadowed with the death of Mrs. Carlyle, although nearly two years had passed.


CHELSEA, 14th February, 1868.

MY DEAR Jenny,—This is a little New Year’s gift which I intended for you sooner. It (the essential part of it) has been lying here apart and wrapt up for you ever since Christmas time, but I never could get up to have it made into a banking, portable form till now, so languid, sad and lazy have I been ! The banks all close at an earlier hour than my walking one, and it is rare that I can get so far into town in time. I am dreadfully indisposed to writing, and even my poor shaking right hand makes continual protest! I hope the poor little Gift will be welcome to you and in some savings bank or otherwise be innocently waiting to do you good some time or other ! — I am told there will be no difficulty for you at the “ Gore Bank ” in Hamilton merely to go thither and sign your name. A newspaper with three strokes will sufficiently announce it for me till you have leisure for writing. I have also sent a photograph for nephew Tom’s young wife, to whom, with all my affectionate regards to them both, pray send it by your first opportunity. There is another (if the letter will carry it), for yourself for your own free disposal otherwise.

I am not specially in worse health than usual, but excessively languid, dispirited, weary, sad and idle—especially in the late dark months of winter, which however are now gone, and indeed were never severe, but lighter upon us than common. Jean has been here ever since early in December. It makes the house a little less lonesome to me than it has become for the last twenty two months, but cannot, as you may imagine, lift the heavy heart of me into anything of cheeriness, nor indeed perhaps should it. She will go home by Liverpool before long, where her son Jim (who is a clever solid fellow and has got promotion in Liverpool) is just setting up house with his sister Maggie as Manageress. Their mother will look in so soon as they have the home settled. All kinds of business are reported as utterly dull here : much distress among the idle poor — and a general silent anxiety as to this new “ Reform Bill ” or “ Leap in the dark,” — poor stupid souls !

An extremely accursed atrocity of murder and worse has happened in Cummertrees, which has thrown all the community into horror and excitation — of which you will see or hear soon enough in the newspapers and probably know the location as I do.

Your kindred in Annandale and here are all well and I can send their best regards.

Ever your affectionate brother,


In October, 1868, Carlyle was again thrown, — this time from a horse named Comet. A conversation with the Queen, the death of Mr. Erskine of Linlathen, and a letter to the Times newspaper on the Franco-Prussian war were among the events of the next few years.

Carlyle speaks again now of his shaking right hand. A few weeks after he quite lost the use of it for writing with a pen. “ Mary Aitken,” ready to write to his dictation, was Mary Carlyle Aitken, daughter to his sister Jean.


5 CHEYNE ROW, CHELSEA, 13 Feb. 1871. MY DEAR SISTER JENNY, — Here is a little bit of a present which you must accept from me ; it was intended for the New Year’s time, but has been belated ; which will do it no great ill with you. Buy yourself something nice with it; and consider at all times that my affectionate best wishes are with you ; and that if I could in any way do you a useful kindness, I gladly would.

We get a good few Canada newspapers from you; welcome tokens of your remembrance: in one of the last, there was a very melancholy item of news marked by your hand, — the death of your dear little grandchild, poor Mary’s Bairn ; we conceived painfully how sad it must have made you all ; and were ourselves sad and Sorry. Poor Mary, she was herself a child when I saw her last, and she is now a bereaved mother : — Death snatches us from one another at all ages ! I often think with silent gratitude to Providence how gently we older ones have been dealt with in this respect; saved, a whole family of us, for so many years ; none lost but poor Margaret, (very dear, and very sacred to me at this hour), and a wee wee Jenny whom you never saw, but whose death, and my mother’s unappeasable grief for it, are still strangely present to me, after near seventy years. All we can say is, both the Living and the Dead are with God ; and we have to obey, and be of hope.

You regret sometimes that I do not write to you ; but it is not my blame, it is my misfortune rather. For rather above five years past my right hand has been getting useless for writing, (the left strangely enough, is still steady, and holds good) ; the weight of years, too, 75 of them gone December last, presses heavy on me ; and all work, but most especially all kinds of writing, are a thing I avoid as sorrowfully disagreeable. Mary Aitken, who drives an admirable pen, is indeed ever willing to be “ dictated ” to ; and I do, in cases of necessity. trust that method ; but find, on the whole, that it never will succeed with me.

From the Dr. and from Jean I believe you get all the news that are worth writing ; and that is the main interest in the matter.

The Dr. is in Edinburgh of late weeks, and seems to be en joying himself among old friends : — and finds it, no doubt, a pleasant and useful interruption of his Dumfries solitude, to which he will return with fresh appetite. He is much stronger and cheerier than I; five years younger, and at least twice five lighter of heart. He has an excellent lodging at Dumfries yonder ; and is of much service to all the kindred ; every one of whom he is continually ready to help. Mary Aitken has been here with me above two years : — a bright little soul, writing for me, trying to be useful and cheerful to me. I have plenty of friends here ; but none of them do me much good, except by their evident goodwill ; company in general is at once wearisome and hurtful to me ; silence, and the company of my own sombre thoughts, sad probably, but also loving and beautiful, are wholesomer than talking ; these and a little serious reading are my chief resource. I have no bodily ailment, except what belongs to the gradual decay of a digestive faculty which was always weak; except when sleepless nights afflict me too much, I have no reason to complain, but the contrary. This winter, now nearly done, has been a blusterous, cold, inclement one as any I can latterly remember ; it grew at last to tell upon me as the unfriendliest of all its brethren : — but I think, after all, it may have done me little or no intrinsic damage. With the new Spring and its bright days I hope to awaken again and shake away this torpor of nerves and mind. I have long owed Alick a letter — that is to say, intended to write him one, though by count it is his turn. I often think of you all on that side the Sea as well as this ; if that could do you any good, alas ! I will end here, dear little Sister; wishing all that is good to you and yours, as at all times. I am and remain,

Ever your affectionate Brother, T. CARLYLE.

Send a newspaper with 3 strokes when this comes : don’t trouble yrself with any other announcement.

In November, 1872, Emerson made his last visit to England. Carlyle was now reduced to writing “ in largish letters with blue pencil.” After the next letter he never wrote again with his own hand to Mrs. Hanning or to any member of the family across the Atlantic.


CHELSEA, 2 Jany. 1873.

DEAR SISTER JENNY, — I please myself with the thought that you will accept this little Newyear’s Gift from me as a sign of my unalterable affection, whh. tho’ it is obliged to be silent (unable to write as of old) cannot fade away until I myself do ! Of that be always sure, my dear little sister, — and that if in anything I can be of help to you or yours, I right willingly will.

“ Cliuthill’s ” Photograph is wonderful and deeply affecting to me. Not one feature in it can I recognise as his : such are the changes half-a-century works upon us ! If you have any means, send him my affectionate remembrances and unchanged good-wishes.

No more from this lame hand, dear Sister Jenny, — except my heart’s blessings for the year and forever.

Yr. affectc. Brother, T. CARLYLE.

Carlyle’s eightieth birthday— December 4, 1875 (year of Early Kings of Norway and Portraits of John Knox) — was celebrated with a memorial from his friends and “a whirlwind of gifts and congratulations.” In February, 1876, John Forster died, and in April Carlyle’s brother Alexander. Carlyle wrote in his Journal: “ Young Alick’s account of his death is altogether interesting — a scene of sublime simplicity, great and solemn under the humblest forms. That question of his, when his eyes were already shut, and his mind wavering before the last finis of all: —

' Is Tom coming from Edinburgh the morn ? ’ will never leave me should I live a hundred years. Poor Alick, my ever faithful brother ! Come back across wide oceans and long decades of time to the scenes of brotherly companionship with me, and going out of the world as it were with his hand in mine. Many times he convoyed me to meet the Dumfries coach, or to bring me home from it, and full of bright and perfect affection always were those meetings and partings.”

The last bit of Carlyle’s writing printed during his life was a letter to the Times, in May, 1877, on the Russo-Turkish war. In the same year Boehm made a statue of Carlyle, and Millais a portrait.

John Carlyle died in 1879. Carlyle was now growing steadily weaker, and by October of 1880 was under the constant care of a physician.

Mary Aitken, by marriage with her cousin Alexander Carlyle, was now become “ Mary Carlyle.”


24 CHEYNE ROW, CHELSEA, 18 July, 1880.

MY DEAR AUNT, — I received my Cousin Mrs. Baird’s letter about ten days ago, asking for tidings of my Uncle. I am extremely sorry that you have been made anxious about him through my not writing; but indeed there have been many sufficient apologies for my want of punctuality in that way, which, however, I need not trouble you with here. It will suffice to say that I use the very first chance I have had to answer your enquiries.

It is not very easy to explain to you exactly how Uncle is. He is exceedingly weak, hardly able to walk fifty yards without help, and yet until about ten days ago, when he had a very severe attack of Diarrhœa which has left him much below par, he was what one might call for him very well. He generally spends His mornings till about half past two o’clock between lying on the sofa, reading in his easy chair, and smoking an occasional pipe ; at half past two he goes out to drive for two or two and a half hours, sleeps on the sofa till dinner time (half past six) then after dinner sleeps again, at nine has tea, reads or smokes or talks, or lies on the sofa till bed time, which is usually about midnight, and so ends the day. He looks very well in the face, has a fine, fresh ruddy complexion and an immense quantity of white hair, his voice is clear and strong, he sees and hears quite well; but for the rest, as I have said, he is not good at moving about. In general he is wonderfully good humored and contented ; and on the whole carries his eighty-four years well. He desires me to send you his kind love, and his good wishes: as you know, he writes to nobody at all. I do not think he has written a single letter, even dictated one, for over a year.

We are very glad to hear that all is well with you and with all your family. I have not time for more just now, as I am interrupted. Good-bye, dear aunt.

I am, Your affectionate Niece, MARY CARLYLE.

Carlyle died on the 5th of February, 1881. The Abbey was offered, but refused ; and, as the world knows, Carlyle was buried in the kirkyard of his native Ecclefechan. The following narrative of the funeral is from the pen of Mr. John Carlyle Aitken, brother to Mary Aitken Carlyle. One likes his letters less than his sister’s, which are perfect in their unaffected plainness.


THE HILL, DUMFRIES, N. B., 11 Feb., 1881.

MY DEAR AUNT, — Today I mean only to write a note of the more needful details, reserving for a more fitting time the full statement. I need not worry you with the account of my tempestuous voyage from New York, in which I made acquaintance with a hurricane, and its full meaning — nor how glad I was at sight of the dear bare and rugged hills of my native land — Leaving America to the Americans — and welcome ! I shall think for sometime ere I do the “ herring-pond ” again ! Well, no more of that if you love me ! no more o’ that! I am home, and well, and likely to remain there for the remainder of my days in one shape or other. Let that serve just now on that score.

You would observe the date of Uncle’s death and might hear of it the same day, as I thought. At all events The Scotsman would supply more details; and that I hope reached you all right. All has been in such hurry, bustle and confusion ever since that no one has had time to think of writing anything requiring time or calm consideration. Uncle had not been considered seriously ill more than about a fortnight or so before the end. The vital spark of life towards the last days kept flickering in a way so extraordinary that the Doctor declared he had never met such tenacity of life and vitality in the whole course of his varied London and other experience. Dear Uncle, the good, true and noble old man that he was, really suffered little in the way of pain for some weeks before his death, which was itself little more than a gentle flickering sleep, ending in a scarcely heard last sigh of sound. While lying in a comatose or unconscious state his mind seemed to wander back to old Annandale memories of his ever loved ones and their surroundings ; his mother holding her supreme seat surrounded by a trooping throng of once familiar faces, not very greatly less dear to him. He died full of years, with all his weary task of world’s work well and nobly done, and leaves no mortal behind him who does not love and reverence his life and memory.

By the newspapers I send today you may see how very quiet the funeral yesterday was. The vale of Annan was grim and wintry. You could catch a glimpse of Hoddam, the Brownmuir, Woodcockaire, and all the old places through the white roupy mist hanging over and round them. The most touching sight I saw was that of three gray haired, smooth crowned fathers of the village of Ecclefechan, who stood together by the way-side, bare-headed and with unfeigned sadness of face and manner silently and impressively bearing witness to their sorrow. It was really very touching to look upon. The Presbyterian Kirk bells tolled mournfully as they laid him gently in the bed of rest within a few yards of the place where he first drew the breath of life, and all was as unostentatious as he himself desired it might be. Ah, me ! Ah, me! Uncle James was there, as the last male link of the ever shortening chain. Mother bids me send her love to you and your fellow mourners who here and over all the wide world are many. All would gladly unite in sympathy and love with yon in your far away home.

Ever affectionately, JOHN C. AITKEN.

I give here the conclusion of Mr. Reginald Blunt’s account of the movement to preserve Carlyle’s bouse : —

“ The canvass was pushed vigorously forward from the beginning of 1895. Circulars and letters were widely distributed, the assistance of libraries throughout the country was invoked, and, by the invitation of the Lord Mayor, a crowded meeting was held at the Mansion House at the end of February, and addressed by Lord Ripon, the United States Ambassador, Mr. Leonard Courtney, Mr. Leslie Stephen, and Mr. Crockett. Funds came in slowly, but steadily ; auxiliary committees were formed in New York and in Glasgow, and over £400 was remitted from America. By the end of April about £2000 had been collected, sufficient to complete the purchase, pay the expenses of the fund, and carry out part of the essential repairs. The freehold of the house was accordingly bought in May, and, after a careful survey of its actual condition, the necessary works were put in hand at the end of the month, and completed in June. The end of the season in London, and the occurrence of a General Election in July, rendered the arrangement of any opening ceremony impossible, and the House was therefore opened informally at the end of July, and was visited by over a thousand persons, from all parts of the world, during the next six weeks.”

In December, 1897, at the age of eighty-four, died Janet Carlyle Hanning, the last surviving Carlyle of her generation. As the reader has seen, many of the foregoing letters were addressed to her. Those which had passed between other members of the family, and were afterward either carried by her beyond seas or sent to her in Canada, were kept by Mrs. Hanning as precious memorials of family affection.

Charles Townsend Copeland.