NEW LETTERS AND MEMORIALS
JANE WELSH CARLYLE
ANNNOTATED BY THOMAS CARLYLE
AND EDITED BY ALEXANDER CARLYLE,
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
SIR JAMES CRICHTON-BROWNE, M.D., LL.D., F.R.S.,
WITH SIXTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS,
IN TWO VOLUMES.
JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD
LONDON AND NEW YORK. MDCCCCIII
by John Lane
[Mrs Carlyle, aged 48]
THE New Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle, which Mr. Alexander Carlyle has with pious care arranged and annotated, will give pleasure to those who are capable of appreciating the brilliant epistolary powers of that remarkable woman, and satisfaction to those who have made acquaintance with the works of her husband, and who desire to revere the man as well as admire the writer. They sparkle with wit; they afford delightful glimpses of the meagre fireside in Cheyne Row, around which the great ones of the greatest epoch of a great age were glad to gather; they throw illuminative side-lights on memorable events, and above all smooth out the dints and brush away the stains and blurs with which negligent usage and venomous breathings have blemished and tarnished the most massive and shining literary reputation of the last century. The letters are residual in character, for they are those which Mr. James Anthony Froude mutilated or put aside, and he of course selected from Mrs. Carlyle's writings whatever was of most literary merit or popular interest; but they are still intrinsically worthy of publication, for even her "notekins," as her husband called them, contain pungent particles and happy turns of expression, while adscititiously they deserve attention, because they clear up
[Page vi] some obscure points in a complicated controversy and help towards a just judgment of two prominent figures in our English Pantheon. Like the letters published in 1883 they are open to the objection that they are overloaded with domestic details about spring-cleanings and other housewiferies, trivial incidents of travel, intricate itinerary arrangements and complaints of postal irregularities; but as Froude who had a free hand with Mrs. Carlyle's correspondence introduced such superfluities while he omitted much that was essential to the understanding of her story, it is undesirable that there should be any avoidable elisions in the letters that are intended to refute his errors. Had Mrs. Carlyle's correspondence as a whole to be edited de novo a very different method of dealing with it from that adopted would have been followed, but Froude's indiscretions have made complete candour necessary, and it has been felt that the text of Mrs. Carlyle's letters which have been preserved, set forth with all practicable fulness would best serve to dissipate the cloud of disparagement which Froude has succeeded in gathering around her husband's memory. The letters are not studied compositions, but free-flowing unpremeditated missives, written mainly to bring letters in return.
The vicissitudes of the fame of Thomas Carlyle have been strange; one might say unparalleled. Late in life in securing the recognition of his claims as a writer, for it was not until his forty-second year that the British public really took note of him, he rose rapidly thereafter, in reputation and popularity, and after his Rectorial Address at the University of Edinburgh in 1866 - "a perfect triumph," Tyndall called it - he was the object
[Page vii] of general and enthusiastic national regard, and of European and American adulation. For the rest of his days he remained dictator amongst English men of letters, as Voltaire had been in France and Goethe in Germany; tokens of esteem flowed in upon him; pilgrims of no mean order came from afar to do him reverence, and in 1874 the Prime Minister of England in offering to him the Grand Cross of the Bath and a pension from the Civil List told him that his of living names was one - there were but two - that would be remembered and stand out in uncontested superiority. In the same year the German Emperor conferred on him the Order of Merit, a distinction that must be earned even by Princes of the Blood. When his eyes closed in 1881, there went up a flare of apotheosis, but it proved but a flare, and died out almost at once. In his obituary notices the best and highest of his contemporaries vied with each other in doing him honour, in lauding his literary achievements, his quietly heroic and unspotted life. But he was scarcely cold in his grave when there sprang up a breeze of detraction, rising in the following years into a whirlwind of condemnation that threatened to sweep away his name and his works into a limbo of contempt, a breeze that, although it has subsided since, is still brought to mind by occasionally angry puffs and gusts here and there.
What is the meaning of this extraordinary collapse in the public estimation of Carlyle? What induced so sudden a revulsion of feeling? Undoubtedly it was his own familiar friend who did all the mischief. Within a month of Carlyle's death the 'Reminiscences,' in two volumes, edited by Froude, appeared; these were followed in a year by 'The Early Life,' in two volumes; in 1883
[Page viii] came 'The Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle,' in three volumes; and within another two years came 'The Life in London,' in two volumes. These nine volumes, defying all Carlyle's wishes and requirements, were the cause of the rising against him. Obviously very hurriedly prepared, full of the most slovenly press errors - Professor Eliot Norton found one hundred and thirty-six corrections necessary in the first five pages of the 'Reminiscences' - they depicted Carlyle in his darkest and least amiable moods, ignoring the bright and genial side of his nature, and gave prominence not merely to the biting judgments he had passed on public men, but to the sharp and wounding things he had said about a few private individuals still living. They opened the flood-gates of malevolence, supplied all the shams, and quacks, and fools - twenty-seven millions in number - and sects and coteries whom Carlyle had scourged in his lifetime with nasty missiles with which to pelt his memory, and shocked even fair-minded people by the contrast they suggested between the nobility of his teaching and the seemingly crabbed and selfish temper of his life. Froude first shattered Carlyle's reputation in the 'Reminiscences,' and continued through the subsequent volumes, although it must be admitted with a diminuendo movement in the last two, to grind it to powder. He succeeded in producing a false and forbidding presentment of the man he was under a solemn obligation to limn faithfully.
It is impossible to believe that Froude contemplated or foresaw the evil he wrought. He was, in his later days, Carlyle's closest friend. Powerfully affected by the reading of the 'French Revolution' in 1841, he obtained
[Page ix] an introduction to its author through James Spedding in 1849, and that event was, he declared, a landmark in his career. He became Carlyle's most effusive disciple, literally sat at his feet in Cheyne Row for years, and was so submissive to his authority that at one time when he wrote anything he fancied himself writing to Carlyle, reflecting at each word what he would think of it as a check on affectation. This wholesome discipline was, unhappily, not maintained when he came to write Carlyle's Memoirs, but even then he was unstinted in expressing his admiration of the extraordinary personality he was engaged in portraying. Now and again he burst out into fervid eulogy of the greatest and best man he had ever known, in whose life was no guile, whose lips no insincerity ever passed, in whose heart no dishonest or impure thought ever lodged, in whom malice would search in vain for one single blemish. And yet while from time to time giving vent to spasmodic praises, he was systematically holding up to obloquy the man he extolled. He began with Hero-worship and ended in a study of Demoniacal possession. At first he abjectly prostrated himself before Carlyle as before one immeasurably his superior; at last he constructed a patched and repulsive mosaic representing him as a gruff and grotesque monster.
To understand Froude's treatment of Carlyle it is necessary to look into the character of Froude; and an examination of that reveals that his intellect, capacious and well polished as it was, had the trick of distorting the impressions made on it. He rarely saw the true meaning and intent of any matter that he studied, but wrested facts from their exact shape and nature, and made them
[Page x] conform to his prepossessions and fancies, while he coloured them beyond recognition. His judgment was built askew, and he had a positive genius for going wrong. In private life an honourable and straightforward man, the moment he took pen in hand he became untrustworthy. There has never, I suppose, been a prominent English author who has been as frequently and as flatly contradicted, or who has taken his critical chastisement more meekly. It would not be fair to argue that the study in his first book of Edward Fowler, a boy driven by ill-treatment into falsehood and deceit - autobiographical although it undoubtedly is in many particulars - betrays a consciousness of his own tendency to stray from the strictly veracious, but it is fair to remember that he passed rapidly from one phase of belief to another, and soon after taking deacon's orders had himself unfrocked. His history has owed the vogue it has enjoyed to its dramatic splendour, and to the ease and grecefulness of its style, not, certainly, to its fidelity to fact or to the justice of his conclusions, while all his other works have been discredited, more or less, some of them having been even more widely injurious than his 'Life of Carlyle.' Of his article on South Africa, which appeared in the Quarterly Review, Sir Bartle Frere said that it was "an essay in which, for whole pages, a truth expressed in brilliant epigrams regularly alternates with mistakes and misstatements which would scarcely be pardoned in a special war correspondent writing against time." In 'Oceana; or, England and Her Colonies,' he was shown to have egregiously misrepresented the views of many persons with whom he had had conversations. His book on 'The English in the West Indies; or, the
[Page xi] Bow of Ulysses' (the long bow of Ulysses it should have been), provoked numerous damaging replies, the most effective of which was 'Mr. Froude's Negrophobia; or, Don Quixote as a Cook's Tourist,' by Mr. N. D. Davis. His 'Life and Letters of Erasmus' was subjected to fierce attacks for its blatant inaccuracy. Whatever he touched he twisted and transmogrified, and his 'Life of Carlyle,' which he considered of more permanent value than any other of his books, was his biggest blunder. His father bought up and burnt the greater part of the edition of his 'Shadows of the Clouds.' His 'Nemesis of Faith' was publicly burnt by William Sewell at Exeter College. It would have been well for all concerned had his Carlyle manuscripts been burnt before reaching the printer.
The wonder is that Carlyle, with his quick discernment and passion for truth, should have made Froude his principal literary executor. When he did so he was old, and had but few friends, though many worshippers. He was touched by Froude's personal devotion, and especially by his sympathetic reverence for the memory of Mrs. Carlyle, "that Heroine and truly gifted woman," and so, forgetting his instability, entrusted him with a weighty and precious burden, under which he staggered and fell. Those who had any knowledge of the Carlyle circle when it was nigh extinction, and had contracted to a mere circlet round the still glowing, but less radiant, centre, must for ever regret that the custody and disposal of the Carlyle papers were not given to Miss Mary Aitken - afterwards Mrs. Alexander Carlyle - Carlyle's niece, and most tactful and faithful companion from his wife's death to the end, who had a fine literary taste, a clear insight
[Page xii] into affairs and family idiosyncrasies, and who would have made out of them not, perhaps, a polished ivory gate of delusive dreams, but one of homely horn, through which true visions might be seen. The trust, alas! was confided not to her but to Froude, and sadly did he abuse the confidence reposed in him.
The innate tendency to aberration which I have noted in Froude, and his admittedly treacherous memory, were the primary causes of his impeachment of Carlyle; and tracing these in operation, it becomes clear that they landed him in a preconceived notion of Carlyle's relations with his wife, which was radically wrong, but to which, in spite of correction, he persistently adhered. Regardless of the full scope of the written evidence before him, oblivious of all that he must have seen and heard during the many years that he was admitted to the privacy of the little home in Chelsea, deaf to the testimony of friends, he got it into his head that Carlyle had ill-treated his wife, and that his life after her death was one long drawn-out remorse. "There broke upon him," says Froude, "in his late years, like a flash of lightning from heaven, the terrible revelation that he had sacrificed his wife's health and happiness in his absorption in his work, that he had been oblivious of his most obvious obligations, and had been negligent, inconsiderate and selfish. The fault was grave and the remorse agonising." "His faults rose up in remorseless judgment. ... For such faults an atonement was due." "He had never properly understood until her death how much she had suffered, how much he had to answer for." "I could not tell him there was nothing in his conduct to be repented of, for there was much, and more than he had guessed."
"From the moment that this idea got possession of Froude's mind, he set himself, with the narrow assiduity of special pleader, to bolster it up. He overlooked tbe solemn injunctions which were the condition of his trust, he abandoned the reasonable reticence which is incumbent on every biographer, dragging into the light of day what modesty and kindly consideration would fain have kept concealed, and he exceeded all editorial license in his manipulation of the documents placed in his hands, suppressing what seemed incompatible with his own views, and even sometimes, it is difficult to believe inadvertently, altering the text in a manner favourable to them. These are grave charges to bring against Froude, and must be substantiated in detail.
It has been suggested as an excuse for Froude's indiscretions, which his warmest defenders cannot deny, that Carlyle's instructions were somewhat contradictory, and perhaps they were so, as recounted by Froude. But if, as regards the publication of any biographical records of himself - and it is a remarkable fact that Froude's commission to write a Life of him rested entirely on his own recollection, unsupported by any documentary evidence - Carlyle's expressed wishes varied from time to time, his directions as to the Bit of Writing entitled Jane Welsh Carlyle and as to his Wife's 'Letters and Memorials,' were explicit enough and ought to have been obeyed. Whether he was well advised in collecting his Wife's Letters and other Literary remains and preparing them for publication, may to some seem questionable - he himself at first had doubts on the subject - but that he was animated by the purest and noblest intentions in undertaking the task,
[Page xiv] and that he had definite ideas as to the way in which the fruits of his labours should be utilised, if utilised at all, is beyond dispute, and may be established by a few quotations from his Notes and Journal while he had the work in hand. The idea that her letters were worthy of preservation seems to have first occurred to him while he was writing the 'Reminiscences' in July, 1866, three months after her death, when he had re-perused an old letter which was as sunlight to him, proudly acknowledging and applauding the proof-sheets of the first two volumes of his 'Frederick,' which she received when visiting at Haddington. But no steps were taken in the matter for some time, for in his Journal, under date of November 30th, 1867, he wrote: "Two mornings ago, while I lay preparing to front the frosts of baths, etc., I recalled a merry phrase in one of her Letters long ago. How she said to herself (in parody of the vain French Phantasm St. Simon, Père de l'Humanité, etc., etc., then getting to his foolish brief zenith), she meaning merely some household duties, 'Levex-vous, M. le Comte; vous avez de grandes choses à faire!' Her letters are full of such things, graceful, sportive, witty, which are intelligible mostly to myself alone.... Of late, in my total lameness and impotency for work (which is a chief evil to me), I have sometimes thought 'One thing you could do, write some record of Her, make some selection of her Letters (which you think justly, among the cleverest ever written and which none but yourself can quite understand). But no, but no: how speak of Her to such an audience? What can it do for Her or for me?'"
Three months later, the purpose of collecting the letters is still entertained but without any attempt at
[Page xv] fulfilment, for in the Journal of 27th February, 1868, the following entry occurs: "I have again got into some notion of preparing a selection, from her Letters, etc., and am silently considering from time to time where I could get an amanuensis, etc., and whether the enterprise is worthy and permissible in a brute of a world (especially 'literary world') such as we now have. Certainly not for the brute of a world's sake nor for etc., etc. - but there are silently heroic souls in it too, to whom the genuine image of a Heroine and truly gifted woman might have some real value? Consider it maturely, and not too long while the Night is so near."
In April, 1868, he wrote that "the thought of a selection from her letters (to be printed after twenty years) "had not left him, and in the December following we find that the work is actually under weigh, for he then wrote: "My hour or two of available day I study to employ as much as possible on her Letters which Niece Mary, too is copying - our rate of progress miserably slow. In my tumultuous, wakeful nights, it seems to me sometimes I shall never get it done, but have to depart with a new pang of regret; it, at least the finishing of it, is to be the effort of my life so long as life abides with me. These seem to me about the cleverest Letters I ever read; but none except me can interpret their allusions, their coterie speech (which are often the most ingenious part of the rapid, bright-flowing style), or give them a chance even of far-off intelligibility to readers. Stand to it with whatever capability thou hast. To be kept unprinted for ten for twenty years after my death, if indeed printed at all, should there be any babbling of memory still afloat about me or her? that is at present my notion. At any
[Page xvi] rate they should be left legible to such as they do concern; and shall be if I live. To Her, alas! it is no service, absolutely none; tho' my poor imagination represents it as one, and I go on with it as something pious, sacred and indubitably right, that some memory and image of One so beautiful and noble should not fail to survive by my blame - unworthy as I was of her, yet loving her far more than I could ever show, or even than I myself knew till it was too late, too late."
The subject is next mentioned in the Journal for 29th April, 1869: "I have been dreadfully tormented [by illness and sleeplessness] again (and ever again since September last!) - busy too at all available moments with Her Letters, my one consolation in the worst days that I do something there - lest it be left at last undone and none alive able to do it! Unless this sleepless new misery leave me, it is my last task here below. To Her of no use, - none, alas none! nevertheless it must if I live be done. Perhaps that mournful but pious and ever-interesting task, escorted by such miseries night after night and month after month - perhaps all this may be wholesome punishment, purification and monition; and again a blessing in disguise? I have had many such in my life." Five months later, on 28th September, 1869, he was able to say "The Task is in a sort done. Mary finishing my Notes (of 1866) this day, I shrinking for weeks past from revisal or interference there, as a thing evidently hurtful (evidently anti-somnial even!) in my present state of nerves. Essentially however Her Letters and Memorials are saved; thank God - and I hope to settle the details calmly too."
The final reference to the work was in these words,
[Page xvii] written on 11th November, 1869: "Busy looking over some new Letters of Hers, eighty-two mostly short notes all addressed to Forster or his Wife, 1840-1865, very beautiful, cheery, graceful, true: in some of the dates he (Forster) had fallen wrong: I had to correct as I best could. A mournful fascination to me the reading of them! I felt bereaved, as if I had lost Her again when they ended. My feeling on that side is I think never likely to abate at all. Sorrow not so lacerating, poignant, but almost deeper and tenderer than ever. Interwoven, incorporated (I might say) with all of Religion, of Love, devoutness that is in me. Let it accompany my now lonesome steps till I die."
When in February, 1873, Carlyle came to make his Will, the Selection of Letters, meanwhile laid aside, is thus referred to:
"My Manuscript entitled 'Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle,' is to me naturally in my now bereaved state, of endless value, though of what value to others I cannot in the least clearly judge: and indeed for the last four years, am imperatively forbidden to write farther on it or even to look farther into it. Of that Manuscript my kind considerate and ever faithful friend James Anthony Froude (as he has lovingly promised me) takes precious charge in my stead; to him therefore I give it with whatever other furtherances and elucidations may be possible; and I solemnly request of him to do his best and wisest in the matter, as I feel assured he will. There is incidentally a quantity of Autobiographic Record in my Notes to this Manuscript, but except as subsidiary and elucidative of the Text, I put no value on such: express Biography of me, I had really rather that there
[Page xviii] should be none. James Anthony Froude, John Forster and my Brother John will make earnest survey of the Manuscript and its Subsidiaries there or elsewhere, in respect to this as well as to its other bearings; their united utmost candour and impartiality (taking always James Anthony Froude's practicality along with it) will evidently furnish a better judgment than mine can be. The Manuscript is by no means ready for publication; nay, the questions, How, When (after what delay, seven, ten years) it or any portion of it should be published are still dark to me; but on all such points James Anthony Froude's practical summing up and decision is to be taken as mine. The imperfect copy of the said Manuscript which is among my papers with the original Letters I give to my Niece Mary Carlyle Aitken."
The quotations given make abundantly clear what Carlyle's wishes were with reference to the 'Letters and Memorials.' The revisal and annotation of them had been a labour of love, a pathetic pilgrimage through the land that he and she had traversed hand-in-hand; and the precise and vivid way in which this old and wayworn man of seventy-three recalls the most trivial incidents of the journey, and all the lights and shades of it, is in itself evidence of supreme, almost unique, mental power. Every step he took was poignant with grief, but soothing with dulcet memories; and, as he neared the end, he grieved that his grief was over. "Ah! me, we are getting done with this sacred task, and now there is at times a sharp pang as if this were a second parting with her; sad, sad this too." It was borne in on him as he went along that, discounting the enchantment shed round them by his own exultant love
[Page xix] and cherished sorrow, there remained in the Letters charm and witchery enough to justify their preservation in permanent form; and to make them of value to "silently heroic and worthy souls," amidst "the roaring myriads of profane unworthy." He desired, therefore, their publication; but, mistrusting his own impartiality, he left it to the trustees he named to determine the how and the when of publication and whether there should be any publication at all. As two of the trustees named pre-deceased him, the delicate and responsible duty of deciding on these points devolved upon his "kind, considerate, and ever-faithful friend," James Anthony Froude, who promptly laid sacrilegious hands on the holy of holies, and pulled down and "restored" it beyond recognition. One thing is certain; and that is that Carlyle, appreciating the explosive elements in the Letters, did not contemplete their immediate publication. He well knew that the coruscations which, in an empty environment would be harmless and amusing, might in a still thickly tenanted neighbourhood scorch and scar cruelly; and so he did not want the Letters let off too soon. He spoke of ten or twenty years; and seven years after his death was the minimum time he mentioned. Within two years of that event, Froude had them out singeing and blistering in all directions. Another thing may be taken for granted; and that is, that Carlyle would have insisted that, in any issue that took place, the extent and limit of his own handiwork in it should be clearly defined; but Froude made him answerable for much that he would have repudiated with indignation. The 'Letters and Memorials' bear on the title-page that they were "prepared for publication by Thomas Carlyle," which conveys
[Page xx] the impression that Froude had simply edited what Carlyle had prepared; but that impression is entirely misleading, for Froude's three volumes differ most materially from Carlyle's selection. Not only did Froude omit more than half the Letters which Carlyle had collected, but he substituted, with disastrous consequences, for that portion of Mrs. Carlyle's Journal, sheaved by Carlyle, another portion of a very different complexion gleaned by himself. He cut off from Carlyle's selection all the letters bearing date prior to 1834, the eighth year of his married life, and used them in his 'Life of Carlyle'; and he took unwonted and unwarrantable liberties with the letters which he did publish, subjecting them to amputation or disembowelment as suited his purpose, and sprinkling them as usual with typographical mistakes. He said not one word to indicate that the letters he printed were in reality only a fraction of what Carlyle had made ready; and it was not until 1884 that he confessed that the collection of letters sent to him by Carlyle was "almost twice as voluminous as that which has since been printed." Surely this significant admission should have been made in the proper place in the preface to the 'Letters and Memorials,' and not reserved for the middle of a chapter near the end of a volume published two years later. It is characteristic of the looseness of Froude's methods that he states in the 'Life in London' (vol. ii. p. 408) that the manuscript of the 'Letters and Memorials' was placed in his hands in June, 1871, whereas Carlyle, in February, 1873, speaks of it in his Will as being still in his possession; and, indeed, a number of his notes to it actually bear date in that year.
No one can dispute Froude's legal right to do what he
[Page xxi] did with the manuscript of the 'Letters and Memorials.' It might have been prudent, seeing that the two other executors of the Will (John Carlyle and John Forster) - who were charged with him to give it, the manuscript in all its bearings with their "united utmost candour and impartiality" an earnest survey - were dead, had he consulted about it with one of two or three members of Carlyle's family, who in the Sage's declining years of life had become known to him, not only for their affectionate watchfulness but for their good sense and intellectual capacity. But he was clearly within his rights in proceeding independently in the matter, and no one could have blamed him had he merely abbreviated the manusript, indicating his omissions. But the accusation is, that forgetting "his loving promise" and failing to exercise candour and impartiality he jerrymandered it and made it, conformable to his own conceptions no doubt, but a travesty of the truth.
Of Froude's misportraiture of Carlyle generally I have suggested that the explanation is to be found in his constitutional inaccuracy, flamboyant tendencies, and proneness to preconceived ideas. These adequately account for the incongruities of the original sketch, but as time went on other disturbing forces came into play and still further marred the likeness. The first study in the 'Reminiscences' was received with execration. The artist was declared hopelessly incompetent or actuated by private spite; from all parts of the world indignant protests poured in. From that moment Froude had to vindicate his good name as a biographer, his good faith as a friend. His own consistency became to him of more moment than Carlyle's fair fame,
[Page xxii] and so he laid on with a liberal brush the harsh and sombre colours that had already proved painful and repellent. A little later, too, he was goaded to wrath by a newspaper controversy, and in retaliation as it were for the slight put upon him made still more unsightly the effigy he was elaborating.
It is obvious that until a short time after the publication of the 'Reminiscences' Froude entertained an exalted opinion of Carlyle. His letters to Carlyle which have been preserved and the appreciation in his 'Short Studies of Great Subjects' attest this. Less than a year before Carlyle's death he wrote to Carlyle's Niece: "You know well that there is no man on earth that I love and honour as I do your Uncle, and in that spirit I hope to work." But after the appearance of the 'Reminiscences,' including the article on Jane Welsh Carlyle - the publication of which Carlyle had expressly prohibited - and the tumult of censure that these provoked, his loyalty to Carlyle showed signs of wavering. He felt acutely the imputations of indiscretion and betrayal levelled at him. "I know personally," writes Mr. Alexander Carlyle, "that this was the case, for I met him frequently at the time. He confessed that the reception the 'Reminiscences' had met with was altogether unexpected by him. I believed and believe that in publishing these private papers he simply made a mistake in judgment and was not actuated by any ill-feeling against Carlyle. For some time after the appearance of the 'Reminiscences' and the reviews of the book, he was in a state of deep dejection and apparent contrition; so much so that meeting him as I did more than once, I could not but feel sorry for him." But Froude's contrition was suddenly transmuted into
[Page xxiii] virulence when Mrs. Alexander Carlyle published in the Times of 5th May, 1881, her uncle's solemn injunction (which Froude had suppressed) against the publication of that paper in the 'Reminiscences' entitled 'Jane Welsh Carlyle.' Into the newspaper correspondence which followed, it is not necessary to enter, but in his letter of the 9th of May, Froude made a magnanimous offer which, had he acted up to it, must have resulted in the immediate abandonment of his proposed 'Life of Carlyle.' "The remaining papers," he wrote, "which I was directed to return to Mrs. Alexander Carlyle as soon as I had done with them, I will restore at once to any responsible person whom she will empower to receive them from me." These remaining papers included the whole of Carlyle's correspondence, journals, and manuscripts, except a small packet of Mrs. Carlyle's Letters to her husband and the 'Reminiscences,' the manuscript of which he had already sent back. The offer was straight, unequivocal and unconditional, and was at once accepted. Mr. and Mrs Alexander Carlyle felt that Froude had demonstrated his unfitness to be Carlyle's biographer. A responsible person was appointed to receive the papers, but on application being made the following day, Froude had changed his mind and declined to give them up. Could there be a more convincing proof of his shiftiness? It is but rarely that an English gentleman recedes in twenty-four hours from a definite offer volunteered in the columns of the Times.
What really induced Froude on second thoughts to retract his offer and decline to deliver up the papers can only be matter of conjecture. Perhaps it was his "practicality," which Carlyle emphasised in his testamentary
[Page xxiv] disposition. The reasons given in a correspondence with Mrs. Alexander Carlyle's solicitor, Dr. J. B. Benson, were three in number.
Firstly, it was stated that Mr. Froude, though willing, if not anxious, to carry out his offer, was unable to do so because of a possible claim on the part of the executors on behalf of Carlyle's residuary legatees.
This reason was met by an undertaking to procure the written consent of the residuary legatees or, failing that, to provide a substantial and approved indemnity against any claim of the kind which might be raised.
Secondly, it was suggested that if Mr. Froude were to act upon his public offer he would remain unremunerated for considerable labour already expended on the papers.
This reason was met by the offer on Mrs. Alexander Carlyle's part to relinquish her right to the profits of the 'Reminiscences,' which at that time amounted to £1500, with more to follow.
Thirdly, it was urged that if Mr. Froude were to act on his public offer it would place him in the humiliating position of bowing to an adverse verdict on his literary taste in the publication of the 'Reminiscences.'
This reason was met by the argument that any humiliation thus incurred could not be greater than the humiliation already submitted to by Mr. Froude in his Letter to the Times of 9th May, and that nothing could be more humiliating to a public man than to recede from a pledge, to which, by publishing it in the Times, he had called on the civilised world to bear witness.
But argument, guarantees, exhortations, were thrown away on Froude. He had spoken in haste and repented at leisure, and his repentance was less creditable to him
[Page xxv] than his precipitancy. It became evident that he could not be induced to give back the manuscripts unused, and Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Carlyle had to content themselves with an undertaking from him to restore them when he had done with them, that is to say, when he had finished his 'Life of Carlyle.'
Their failure to secure the fulfilment of Froude's offer was not only a great disappointment to Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Carlyle, but filled them with anxiety, for they foresaw that a Life of Carlyle produced under the circumstances by a man of Froude's temperament was not likely to redress the wrong the 'Reminiscences' had done. They had only too good reason to expect that the proposed Biography of Carlyle might be not so much a history of his life as a vindication of his biographer in his dealings with the papers which had been entrusted to him. This apprehension was shared by many outside observers. The editor of a leading northern newspaper of that date shrewdly remarked: "Mr. Froude comes badly out of his encounter with Carlyle's niece. His letters have been in bad temper, and they have been wanting in straight-forwardness ... After what Mr. Froude has done, all men who knew Mr. Carlyle must await the publication of his Biography and Correspondence with terror ... He will do what he likes, and if in the process he injures his own reputation even more than he will injure that of Carlyle, nobody who has read the 'Reminiscences,' and his correspondence with Mrs. A. Carlyle, will be surprised."
In April, 1882, Froude's two volumes, entitled 'Thomas Carlyle: a History of the First Forty Years of his Life,' were published, and at first produced the effect
[Page xxvi] that had been anticipated. In the sight of many they absolved Froude from culpability in connection with the publication of the 'Reminiscences,' and would have rightly done so had they been a faithful record; but a critical examination of them convinces that they are packed full of misquotations, garbled extracts from letters, and fallacious statements of fact, with a running accompaniment of calumny, detraction and malicious insinuation. Subjected to analysis by Professor Norton, Professor Ritchie and Mr. David Wilson, they have been shown to be compounded of the most adulterated materials. They aggravate the fault of the 'Reminiscences,' and represent Carlyle in an even worse light than that in which he there stands flecked and shadowed.
Final exoneration, as some thought, came to Froude when the 'Letters and Memorials' were issued from the press in 1883, but they too were tainted with inaccuracy and prejudice, and conjured up a grossly deceptive and ungainly phantasm, which it is hoped these present volumes, by filling up the gaps left in Froude's selection, and by a few interpretative words may remove, leaving some true image of the man.
Whatever secondary influences may have contributed to embitter or exasperate Froude while chronicling the 'Life of Carlyle,' it is always to be borne in mind that it was the preconceived idea that was the primary source of all his errors. It was deeply rooted in his mind that Carlyle had, throughout their whole union, behaved badly to his wife, and had deputed him, as a sort of literary undertaker, to superintend a posthumous penance in the publication of his confessions. No wonder that Froude has been described, in his editorial capacity in relation to
[Page xxvii] Carlyle as, like a man driving a hearse. He had been captivated by the prismatic wit and charm of Mrs. Carlyle; he held her in affectionate remembrance, and he was horrified to discover, as he imagined, that her days had been darkened by the harshness and neglect of the man he had been accustomed to venerate. He would not baulk that man, toweringly great though he had become, in his expiatory abasement, and so he proceeded to represent him as an infirm and lachrymose transgressor. Carlyle's mortification was, in Froude's opinion, but justice to the memory of his oppressed wife - and so the whole truth must be told. It never occurred to him that if the publication of the papers was an act of penance, it ought to have been performed in the lifetime of the penitent, and that Carlyle, who had admired Johnson's self-imposed pillory in Uttoxeter market, was not likely to desire the postponement of his own discipline until after his retirement to Ecclefechan kirkyard. No! The preconceived idea was dominant, and he was blind to everything that did not harmonise with it. The shriving of the guilty Carlyle by the virtuous Froude, as described by that spiritual director in the 'Life in London,' would be ludicrous if it were not so mischievously wrong.
But even preconceived ideas have their starting point; and the starting point of Froude's in the case of Carlyle, seems to have been Carlyle's use of the word remorse. It was a word that appealed to him, connoting, as it does, a black immensity; and throughout his life he habitually used it in a sense of his own, meaning by it, not the compunction of guilt, but a gnawing sorrow, and sometimes only mere chagrin. He speaks of remorse
[Page xxviii] for not succeeding better in his work, remorse for idleness when he was resting: of his lecturing he says: "my sorrow in delivery was less, my remorse after delivery was much greater"; and when writing the 'Jane Welsh Carlyle' paper, being interrupted by Froude, he says: "Froude is now coming, and with remorse I must put this away." In these and hundreds of other cases he uses remorse almost as promiscuously as the adjective "awful" is now often popularly used where a much milder word would do, and in his employment of it in relation to his dead wife, it is his sense of profound and unavailing sorrow that he desires to convey by it or his despairing consciousness of his own unworthiness of the woman he had beatified. Even had he, in the plainest terms, professed remorse and set forth the grounds of it, Froude should have been chary in accepting the statement. It is characteristic of men of fine intellect, that, when nipt by the autumnal frosts, they manifest excessive testiness on the one hand, and excessive self-reproach on the other, and that when bereaved they arraign themselves without a jot of justification of high crimes and misdemeanours against the lost one. I have seen an eminent but aged man of science in a fever of distress until he had written a letter of apology to a servant maid, to whom he had, not without warrant, said a sharp word; and I have had to listen to an exemplary husband vaguely, but piteously, recounting imaginary atrocities to his departed spouse. It is noble altruistic natures that thus torment themselves, and Carlyle, being amongst the noblest and most generous, was of a peculiarly self-accusatory type. He was often haunted by the feeling that he had done something wrong or omitted to do
[Page xxix] something that he ought to have done. His wife noticed this trait and tried to laugh him out of it. In describing what he called remorse for imaginary failure in lecturing, she says: "He remains under applause that would turn the head of most lecturers, haunted by the pale ghost of last day's lecture, 'shaking its gory locks at him' till next day's arrives to take its place and torment him in its turn. Very absurd." These supposed sins of omission and commission, when calmly investigated, vanished like clothes-horse spectres of the night. But the written record of them does not vanish so easily, and it is apt to be misunderstood. This almost morbid conviction of some indefinable personal wickedness, was, Carlyle's relations testify, characteristic of him all his life, and it obviously reached its maximum while he was writing his 'Reminiscences,' and preparing his wife's 'Letters and Memorials.' Many instances of Petty-Sessional self-condemnation may be quoted from his writings. In a letter to John Forster, in 1859, he says: "We are greatly shocked and surprised to hear of the bad turn of health you have had, and proportionately thankful to Heaven, and the other Helps, that it is over again; I had intended every day for about a week before leaving town to call at Montague Square [where Forster lived], and there is a mad feeling in me (always till I reflect again) as if that omission had been the cause of what followed. For the human conscience is sensitive, on some points, beyond what you perhaps suppose." There was as much connection between Forster's illness and Carlyle's neglect in not calling as between Tenterden steeple and the Goodwin Sands, and when he reflected he saw this, and realised that the call itself, rather than
[Page xxx] default in making it would have been likely to have proved detrimental to Forster's health; but his comprehensive and sensitive conscience, quivering like the aspen when all was still, blamed him, when he was innocent as a child. That was Petty-Sessional condemnation, but the heavy sentence came when he sat in judgment on himself at the Great Assize, and reviewed his conduct to his wife. He did not bear false witness - that was not in him - but - without any evidence of an admissible kind he pronounced himself guilty, of what? of inappreciation of her gifts and of want of commiseration with her in her sufferings, for that is what it all amounts to. He canonised the woman, and looking back at her in her saintly transfiguration, he felt conscience-stricken because he had not spent all his days on his knees in worshipping her. He saw her as a woman far "too great and good for human nature's daily food," and felt that to consume such an one in the common cares of womankind in these days was an outrage on her divinity. He spent months in the confessional. He ransacked his memory, he hunted up every scrap of paper for confirmation of the gifts and graces of his paragon, and of his own delinquencies, and it is a remarkable fact that, notwithstanding his introspective diligence and self-denunciatory mood, he has not succeeded in adducing a single instance of what could by any stretch of censoriousness be designated cruelty to his wife. Apostrophic railings at himself are abundant, so are lamentations over his blindness and ingratitude, but he is unable to recall any specific act of unkindness to his wife more serious than his refusal to accede to her wish that he should alight from the brougham, and go into Madame Elise's shop to shake
[Page xxxi] hands with the dressmaker. He was half-dead with nervous exhaustion at the time, having just ended his thirteen years' labour on 'Frederick;' he had had more than enough of hand-shaking with tuft-hunters in his day; and yet this trivial incident is magnified in his sorrowful remembrance into a grave offence: "Oh, cruel, cruel! ... I have thought of that Elise cruelty more than once."
With all his perverse ingenuity Froude has failed to discover in any of Carlyle's copious and latterly most dejected writings one tangible proof of ill-treatment of his wife. The so-called "remorse" which he experienced on losing her, and nursed until his dying day, was assuredly nothing more than profound sorrow agitating a nature of rare depth and mobility, mingled with vain regrets (what loving generous soul bereaved has not felt them?) for his powerlessness to shelter her from the "cauld blast" of worldly troubles, and to make her path smoother and pleasanter than it was. The sorrow in all its breadth and intensity was inevitable to one of his temperament, but the vain regrets were aggravated for himself by his wretched state of health when his sorrow came to him, and were thrown out of all focus for others by the sphericity of his language. "Where was my Jeannie's peer in the world? and she fell to me and I could not screen her from the bitterest distresses!" That is the burden of his dirge; his inability under the limitations of his own lot to protect her from care and sickness and misfortune while she lived with him. But that was not remorse, but a generous feeling that will most haunt those who have least with which to reproach themselves for any personal default. The 'Letters and Memorials' were undertaken not as a futile atonement (a
[Page xxxii] cowardly atonement as Froude would have it) to be made when he was beyond the reach of punishment, but as a solace to him in his grief, the only communion with her that remained possible, and the best tribute he could offer to her memory. The one ever-recurring pang of heartache was that he had not told her fully "how much he had at all times loved and admired her," and then he adds: "No telling of her now!" "Five minutes more," he goes on, "of your dear company in this world; oh, that I had you yet for five minutes to tell you all! this is often my thought since April 21st." Any one with moral discrimination and unbiassed by Froude's commentaries, reading Carlyle's Letters to his wife and his writings about her, and her own letters which will be presently appraised, will find in them no grain of cruelty or neglect, no trace of anything of the sort but rich veins of tenderness and affection, and will probably rise from the perusal of them exclaiming: "Was ever woman so loved and mourned?"
Unable to quote from Carlyle's writings, voluminous and unrestrained as they are, anything warranting his assertion that he was the victim of remorse in the true sense, Froude endeavours to show that he betrayed it in his demeanour. If he did not expressly admit his guilt, he behaved like a guilty person. "For many years after she had left him," he writes, "when we passed the spot in our walks where she was last seen alive, he would bare his grey head in the wind and rain - his features wrung with unavailing sorrow." This simple and reverent act Froude has the audacity to construe into a manifestation of "agonising remorse." If so, Carlyle must have felt "agonising remorse" as regards
[Page xxxiii] every relative he lost. It was his invariable custom (a good old pious Scotch custom) when visiting the graves of his relations to bare his head "in wind and rain," or in any other weather that might prevail, and stand for a little wrapt in solemn thought, and the spot in Hyde Park where his wife's life silently and suddenly went out, he regarded, like the green mound in Haddington Churchyard, as dimly, ineffably yet veritably hallowed to him for evermore. Reporting a visit to Ecclefechan in a letter to his brother Alick in 1856, he says: "Yes, there they all lay: father, mother and Margaret's grave between them: silent now, they that were wont to be so speechful, when one came among them after an absence. I stood silent, with bared head, as in the sacredest place of all the world, for a few moments; and I daresay tears again wetted these hard eyes, which are now unused to weeping." Again addressing the same brother in 1859, he says: "We [brother Jamie and I] went to Ecclefechan Kirkyard one day and spent a few silent minutes there, which could not be other than solemn. There they lay so still and dumb, those that were once so blythe and quick at sight of us; gathered to their sleep under the long grass. I could not forbear a kind of sob like a child's out of my old worn heart at first sight of all this." The hard, cross-grained, callous selfish man of Froude's conception was truly a well-spring of fond emotion. There was in the heart of him, as he himself said, a feeling unspeakable for those he loved, and those he loved knew that feeling although it remained unspoken. It was no shallow bubbling affection, but deep coiling unto deep. And the feeling for those he loved survived them, and it is monstrous to represent its unspoken and controlled
[Page xxxiv] expression in obeisance and gesture as a sign of "agonising remorse." What, it is to be wondered, would Froude have said of other more decisive exhibitions of Carlyle's pent-up feelings than that which he witnessed in Hyde Park, such for instance as his outburst of grief for the death of his sister Margaret - a quiet intelligent lucent creature who died of consumption in 1830, making the first break in the family? He had never wronged her by word or deed, but riding home alone from Dumfries to Craigenputtock on the evening of her death, he says: "on getting into the quite solitary woods of Irongray, I burst into loud weeping, lifted up my voice and wept for perhaps ten or twenty minutes."
If Froude had wanted a genuine study of remorse, of the psychological characteristics of which he has evidently no notion, he should have turned to Mrs. Carlyle instead of to her husband. She undoubtedly suffered from it more or less. I do not mean that her visit to her father's grave, when she hopped over the wall and, standing amongst the nettles, scraped the moss out of the letters of the inscription on his tombstone "with his own button-hook with the mother-of-pearl handle," was any indication of it, but I do affirm that her reluctance to revisit Thornhill after her mother's death revealed its existence. There was in Mrs. Carlyle's heart now and then a vehement self-reproach for her shortcomings as a daughter. She and her mother loved each other sincerely, but they were both excitable women, and could not jog on together in the common humdrum. They quarrelled smartly, and when the mother was no more the daughter recalled with sharp twinges her breaches of the fifth commandment, and could not
[Page xxxv] bring herself to gaze on the scene of its infringement. In this connection Carlyle for once employs the word remorse in its ordinary acceptation, and it is probably because he employs it in the plural that he is obliged to do so. "My darling," he writes, "after her mother's death had many remorses and indeed had been obliged to have manifold little collisions with her fine, high-minded, but often fanciful and fitful mother, who was always a beauty too, and had whims and thin-skinned ways, distasteful enough to such a daughter. All which in cruel aggravation (for all were really small and had been ridiculous rather than deep or important) now came remorsefully to mind and many of them I doubt not staid."
Having convinced himself that Carlyle was corroded with remorse, that he had, according to his (Froude's) preconceived idea, maltreated his wife, who was a femme incomprise and sadly injured woman, Froude set himself to trace out the maltreatment and to display for the edification of mankind, the origins of that grisly sentiment that clouded Carlyle'a declining years. And an extraordinary tissue of provocations he trumps up.
According to Froude, Carlyle's initial injustice to his wife was in marrying her. Froude had had two wives himself but grudged his friend one. Carlyle was, he thought, too austere and self-involved for matrimony, and least of all did he deserve a sylph-like, sensitive, magnetic, delicately organised being like Jane Welsh. Was it not his mother's oft-repeated formula that he was "gie ill to deal wi"? which Froude adroitly alters to "gie ill to live wi." Undoubtedly he was; but when we come to think of it so are most men except the nincompoops.
The Kaffir's wife, one of several, who has to dig the fields
[Page xxxvi] and taste of stick and shambok, now and then finds her lord and master "gie ill to deal wi," and the wife of the man of genius has her toils and trials too, but with richer compensations. "Dante himself was wedded," says Carlyle, "but it seems not happily, far from happily. I fancy" he adds, obviously recalling his mother's idiom, "the rigorous, earnest man with his keen susceptibilities was not altogether easy to make happy." And Thomas Carlyle, a rigorous, earnest man with keen susceptibilities, not easy to make happy, was wedded too, and was happy, and made his wife happy in as full measure as the vials of their felicity would allow. Differences from time to time arose between them, mutual accommodations were necessary, cross questions and crooked answers hurtled about, but in the hearts of both of them was for long years contentment with each other. Married life is not at its best without its little asperities. Ginger is hot in the mouth, but it adds piquancy to cakes and ale. "Perfect Peace" is all very well as a tombstone inscription, but it is not practical politics, and I suspect that the pax domestica is not rarely founded on sheer indifference. It is those who love intensely who are intolerant, and brisk affections are scarcely less apt to clash than quick tempers. When in wedlock, brisk affections and quick tempers are arrayed on both aides, collisions with evolution of heat are inevitable, but no harm is done, and indeed closer union is furthered.
Froude misunderstands the whole situation as regards Carlyle's marriage. He actually alleges that Carlyle dragged Miss Welsh down from her own rank in life and made "a menial servant" of a woman "who had never known a wish ungratified for any object that money could buy, who had seen the rich of the land at her feet and might
[Page xxxvii] have chosen amongst them at pleasure," and one can only marvel where he got his ideas as to the social life of Scotland in the beginning of the last century. Writing in the sixties, Carlyle says, "It is inconceivable (till you have seen the documents) what the pecuniary poverty of Scotland was a hundred years sgo, and again (of which I also have the documents) its spiritual opulence." If Froude believed that fifty years later a Scottish country doctor's house was a home of ease and luxury, he is strangely mistaken, and as regards that particular Scottish country doctor's house, in which Jane Welsh was brought up, he is refuted by Dr. Welsh's account books, now brought to light. Dr. Welsh was the leading medical man in Haddington, but the income he made was small and was largely absorbed in paying by instalments the purchase-money of Craigenputtock, and so his household was conducted on economical principles. One servant was kept at wages of £8 per annum, and Mrs. Welsh, and her daughter when old enough, took part in the household work. Nothing was spared on Jeannie's education, but in all other matters thrift reigned supreme and sank into Jeannie's soul as all her subsequent history shows. There was comfort and some scholarly refinement, but no pampering, no spoiling, no luxury; and to say that the girl had "never known a wish ungratified for any object that money could buy" is sheer nonsense. Not less nonsensical is the vision of rich lovers at her feet. She had sweethearts no doubt, - vivacious and lovely girl that she was - an office-boy, a dominie, a stickit minister, a young doctor, and a potential M.P. - but, in marrying Carlyle, she did the best that was possible in a mundane as well as in a spiritual sense, although in its immediate prospect
[Page xxxviii] the match was scarcely a prudent one, for he was living on his wits, and she had no tocher, Carlyle having insisted with his usual magnanimity that she should divest herself of her property in favour of her mother, who was otherwise but poorly provided for. "This foolish feeling" [a dislike to speak to her lawyer on business affairs], she wrote to her mother fifteen months before her marriage, "which has prevented me hitherto from carrying my intention into effect" [of making over the life rent of Craigenputtock], "might have prevented me, I believe, still longer, had I not promised Mr. Carlyle when he was last here that before we met again he should be delivered from the thought of loving an heiress, a thought which is actually painful to his proud and generous nature."
Miss Welsh knew well what she did when she married Carlyle and there is no pretext for Froude's contention - on which he harps again and again - that she lowered her station in doing so; or for his allegations that her mother was violently opposed to the marriage on account of Carlyle's inferior worldly situation; and that Carlyle himself felt remorse for having entangled in an engagement one so much above him. As a small tenant farmer's son he was on a level with the daughter of a country doctor, and as a highly-educated man with a university training and with some kind of professional career before him he might, in erudition-loving Scotland, have claimed admission to the highest social order next to the landed gentry. He had already made his mark as a writer and earned his living and helped others by his pen. Miss Welsh had known him for five years, had visited at Hoddam Hill, made the acquaintance of various members
[Page xxxix] of his family, had had insight into their strength and angularities, and had seen, apparently without shock or disillusionment, the bald realities of their mode of life. Her position at Haddington was anything but the delectable one that Froude depicts. Haddington was in those days a dull, stupid, sedate little town, and she had to seek relief and enjoyment in visits to Edinburgh and in correspondence with intelligent friends out in the big world beyond; she did not get on well with her mother who was "gie ill to deal wi." "To her," says Carlyle, referring to 1825, "the Haddington, &c., element had grown dreary and unfruitful, no genialty of life possible there, and I doubt not many petty frets and contradictions." She was glad to escape from it. Her letters at the time of her marriage breathe a beautiful tenderness and trustful devotion, and it is fair to say that neither then nor at any other time did she utter a word that could be construed into a justification of Froude's absurd statement that she married beneath her. She loved Carlyle, not passionately, but with depth and endurance; she recognised his originality and sterling worth and felt his power, and she linked her lot with his, ready for hardships if such should come, but anticipating with faith and foresight the glory that should be revealed thereafter. She was vastly more ambitious for Carlyle than he was for himself. Her ambition was, as she acknowledged, more than fulfilled, and if the fulfilment of it brought not the satisfaction that was hoped for, her experience in that respect was not singular.
Of the first year of the Carlyles' married life Froude has little to say. It was too bright and joyous for him to dwell on, but he has a passing glance at Carlyle's
[Page xl] agitated and splenetic state, due to biliousness during it, although the bilious one was at the same time announcing himself as "the happiest man alive." She too was buoyant, for in her letters at this time there is no atom of bitterness. Delightful banter lurks in them, but they are sweetly tender and exquisitely expressed. Froude says that "the eighteen months of his new existence Carlyle afterwards looked back upon as the happiest he had ever known"; and in saying so he is, as usual, wrong; for richly joyous as the Comley Bank period was in retrospect, Carlyle distinctly says that his happiest years, and those of his wife, were the ones spent at Craigenputtock in retirement and fruitful industry. His words in the 'Reminiscences' are: "Perhaps these were our happiest days [the Craigenputtock days]. Useful continual labour, essentially successful; that makes even the moor green." But that would not have suited Froude, for over Craigenputtock he is in his most lugubrious mood. Carlyle, having dragged his wife down in the world next dragged her to "the dreariest spot in all the British Dominions," and there subjected her to merciless drudgery and privation by which her health was permanently broken. Not a statement did he make about Craigenputtock and Mrs. Carlyle's avocations there that is not open to correction. "The house," he says, "is gaunt and hungry-looking." It is a substantial and comfortable dwelling, quite as cheerful and commodious as any school-house or manse in which Mrs. Carlyle might have found herself had she married any one else than Carlyle. "The landscape," he says, "is unredeemed by grace or grandeur," and one can but pity his defective artistic perceptions, for it is wildly beautiful with none of
[Page xli] the shaggy sternness or desolation of a highland strath, expansive, sun-swept with far off hill shapes and rolling and variegated moorland around. "Mrs. Carlyle," he says, "shuddered at the thought of making her home in so stern a solitude, delicate as she was with a weak chest and with the fatal nervous disorder of which she eventually died, beginning to show itself." The fact is she went there with cheerful acquiescence. "Both Jane and I," wrote Carlyle, "are very fond of the project." "To her," he writes, "it" [the retirement to Craigenputtock] "was a great sacrifice, to me it was the reverse, but at no moment by a look did she ever say so. Indeed, I think, she never felt so at all; she would have gone to Nova Zembla with me and found it the right place, had benefit to me or set purpose of mine lain there."
Instead of suffering in health Mrs. Carlyle benefited immensely by the sojourn at Craigenputtock, not as regards her weak chest, for she never had one, but as regards her nervous system. It was a perfect sanatorium for a case like hers - mild and yet bracing, with pure air and water, abundant sunshine and new milk, and affording repose and freedom from excitement. Never, at any later period of her life, was she as well and vigorous as when cooped up in that "desert," as in her exaggerative way she called it. Her only illnesses, at this period, were when she went away from it. She appreciated its merits, and when paying visits generally longed to return to it. "Dearest, I do love you; I am wearying to be back at Craigenputtock," she wrote from Templand.
The alleged drudgery undergone by Mrs. Carlyle at Craigenputtock is as mythical as the injury to her health. "She baked the bread, she dressed the dinner, or saw it
[Page xlii] dressed, she cleaned the rooms, she had charge of the dairy and poultry." Probably, in a dilettante way, Mrs. Carlyle meddled in all these matters, for the role of the housewife was agreeable to her, and she had been brought up to use her hands, and then occupation must have been a relief in this desert, which she made blossom like the rose; but there was a servant, and assistance from the farm. But Froude makes too much of her servile activities. "Amongst her other accomplishments she had to learn to milk the cows." Hear Carlyle on this point! "That of milking with her own little hand, I think, could never have been necessary (plenty of milkmaids within call) and I conclude must have had a spice of frolic or adventure in it, for which she had abundant spirit." She baked her first loaf, brought it triumphantly, although somewhat burnt in the crust, to her husband, and compared herself to Cellini and his Perseus. Very pretty and pleasing all this, surely better than novels and the tambour, not at all pitiable as Froude would have us think. "The saving charm of the life at Craigenputtock, which to a young lady of her years might have been so gloomy and vacant, was that of conquering the innumerable practical problems, that had arisen for her there." And besides the conquering of practical problems there were lighter pursuits and theoretical considerations. She rode with her husband every fine morning: they read 'Don Quixote' and 'Tasso' together in the evenings, she gathered flowers, galloped about the country on her own account, entertained illustrious visitors, like Emerson and Lord Jeffery - who did not disdain the accommodation and came twice bringing his wife and daughter with him - neighbours like the Laird of
[Page xliii] Stroquhan, and members of the family who were frequent guests. She sums up Craigenputtock thus: "For my part I am very content, I have everything here my heart desires. My husband is as good company as I could desire." And this is the husband whom Froude described as at Craigenputtock, "a lonely dyspeptic."
Halcyon days those at Craigenputtock, when Carlyle was "nourishing his mighty soul" even in that "lone house" and building up his reputation in huge blocks. 'Sartor Resartus' was written there, so was his 'Essay on Burns,' and many of the finest of his reviews and miscellaneous pieces. But the time came when migration to London seemed advisable for the bettering of his condition and prospects, and of that step his wife cordially approved. Finishing the last page of the manuscript of 'Sartor,' she, so chary of praise, exclaimed, "It is a work of genius, dear," and from that hour she realised that her dear genius required a more stimulating, intellectual atmosphere, than Dumfriesshire could afford him. Of the movement to London she wrote to her mother, "I am sure it is for his good and for all our goods," and to her husband she was hearty for it. "Burn our ships," she gaily said one day, "i.e. dismantle our house; carry all our furniture with us."
In face of such testimony it would not have been feasible for Froude to have said that Mrs. Carlyle was "dragged" to London, but having once got her there he pursues her with commiseration through every phase of the thirty-two years of her metropolitan existence. It would be a tedious work of supererogation to follow him chapter and verse through all his unerring inaccuracies and flagrant incomprehensions, as he delineates her slow
[Page xliv] martyrdom by incessant stabs in non-vital places, inflicted by her maleficent and heedless helpmate. One or two illustrations of his methods must suffice.
When Carlyle was working at the 'French Revolution' his nervous system was ablaze. "At such times," these are Froude's words, "he could think of nothing but the matter which he had in hand, and a sick wife was a bad companion for him. She escaped to Scotland to her mother." The plain inference from this is that Mrs. Carlyle when an invalid was driven away from home by Carlyle's ebullitions of temper. The true reading is that it was solely her own state of health that took her to the north, and that she had no peace of mind till she got home again. On this occasion she writes: "The feeling of calm safety and liberty which came over me on reentering my own home" [this cave of the restless hyena as Froude would have us believe] "was really the most blessed I had felt for a great while." "The house in Cheyne Row," says Froude in another place, "requiring paint and readjustments, Carlyle had gone to Wales, leaving his wife to endure the confusion and superintend the workmen alone with her maid." Thus Froude insinuates that Carlyle selfishly went off to enjoy himself, leaving his poor wife to drudgery and discomfort. But the facts are that Mrs. Carlyle was a house-proud woman and took her pastime in domestic lustrations and upheavals, and that while Carlyle was in Wales at this time on one of those excursions which were essential to the maintenance of his bread-earning power, she went off amidst all the cleanings for a holiday on her own account in the Isle of Wight, from which, however, she speedily returned, as she could not bear to be separated from her dismantled home.
The most serious injury done to Carlyle by Froude was not, however, by the cumulative effect of venial oversights and selfish indulgences such as are thus subtly ascribed to him, but by the immediate coup administered by the gross wickedness which was openly laid at his door in connection with the "Ashburton episode," as it is called. Froude's manner of treating that episode created a wide-spread impression that Carlyle had given his wife grave ground for jealousy. "Carlyle," says Froude, "was to blame," he was "wilful and impatient of contradiction," and persisted in his "Gloriana worship," notwithstanding the pain it caused his wife, thus inflicting on her a wound that fretted inwardly and would not heal. "Once," he says, "Mrs. Carlyle returned from Addiscombe with a mind all churned to froth." "At last things went utterly awry. She set off alone to the Paulets ... there was a violent scene when they parted," and the only ground he has for averment as to this violent scene is to be found in an expression in a kind letter of Carlyle written to his wife next day: "We never parted so before." Froude says, ultimately, in the 'Life in London,' that Carlyle was "innocent of any thought of wrong" in this matter, but he had meanwhile succeeded in persuading the world that he was anything but innocent, indeed highly culpable. His halting language, coupled with his selection from Mrs. Carlyle's 'Letters and Journal,' undoubtedly set agoing a suspicion which soon swelled into a scandal. Society came to think that the Apostle of Hero-Worship had engaged in a discreditable intrigue, and utterly false and demeaning notions as to the relations of Carlyle and his wife got into currency, and for these, when disputed, Froude was invariably
[Page xlvi] quoted as an authority. When in Society at this hour, one presses for an explanation of the dislike of Carlyle that is often freely expressed by worthy women who know nothing of him or his works, the answer invariably is that Mr. Froude proved him to be a bad man who was cruel to his wife and compelled her to go in an omnibus while he was himself riding an expensive horse.
The only extra-mural witness summoned by Froude in support of his theory as to the relations of Carlyle and his wife is Miss Geraldine Jewsbury. She was for five and twenty years Mrs. Carlyle's familiar friend and constant correspondent, and might be supposed to know something of her secluded if not of her innermost thoughts and feelings, and it was natural therefore that, when Froude came upon cryptic passages in Mrs. Carlyle's Journal, he should turn to her for an explanation; but he would scarcely have done so had he at the time given due weight to Carlyle's estimate of her, or had he had even a glimpse of the revelations of her temperament and tendencies given in Mrs. Carlyle's letters. Carlyle in the first bewilderment of his grief, groping for links to connect him with his lost one, conned with emotion some biographical anecdotes which Miss Jewsbury remembered having heard from Mrs. Carlyle's lips and had jotted down at the request of Lady Lothian. The anecdotes reached him at a time when he was in his softest mood, and when a halo of sanctity shone round everything relating to his late wife, and yet in acknowledging them he was constrained to write: "Few or none of these Narratives are correct in all the details; some of them in almost all the details, are incorrect." Miss Jewsbury's encomium on Mrs. Carlyle was genuine and just, but her
[Page xlvii] statement of facts was unveracious, and Carlyle afterwards stigmetised it as "mythical," and distinctly stipulated that no one but Lady Lothian should ever see the Narratives, which were just what might have been expected from the "flimsy tatter of a creature" he knew Miss Jewsbury to be. In violation of Carlyle's solemn interdict, Froude, of course, published them in the 'Reminiscences.' It ought surely to have occurred to Froude that a lady who was incapable of accurately reporting conversations about surface incidents was scarcely likely to be equal to the interpretation of subterranean thrills. And the doubt with which Carlyle's comments ought to have inspired him as to Miss Jewsbury's competency to clear up the mystery he thought he had discovered, would have been converted into a conviction of her incompetency had he turned to Mrs. Carlyle's letters.
Mrs. Carlyle had a sincere regard for Miss Jewsbury, and speaks with warm gratitude of her considerate attentions during her visits to her at Manchester, but she was not blind to her faults and failings. The friendship was all along a lop-sided one. On the part of Miss Jewsbury, who was eleven years younger than Mrs. Carlyle, it was the unreasonable passionate devotion of a weak, unstable but gifted woman to a nature stronger than her own; on Mrs. Carlyle's part it was a sober affection for a bright impulsive being who clung to her, and it had always in it an element of patronage. It was not until they had been three years acquainted that Mrs. Carlyle really gauged the nature of Miss Jewsbury's feelings towards her, and the discovery filled her with consternation. The manifestation by Mrs. Carlyle of some preference, or supposed preference, for another lady
[Page xlviii] led to a wild outburst of what Miss Jewsbury herself designated "tiger jealousy," which says Mrs. Carlyle "on the part of one woman to another it had never entered my heart to conceive. I am not at all sure she is not going mad." From that time onwards there are scattered through Mrs. Carlyle's letters, amongst kindly references to Miss Jewsbury, many derogatory observations on her discretion and good sense, and it is certainly curious that the letters containing these observations, which would have discredited his sole witness, are amongst those suppressed by Froude.
It is not necessary to quote Mrs. Carlyle's candid and caustic criticisms on Miss Jewsbury, further than to show how unsuited she was for the duty assigned to her by Froude. One criticism alone ought to have satisfied him on this point, and it is in these words: - "It is her besetting weakness by nature, aggravated by her trade of novelist, the desire of feeling and producing violent emotions." It is certain that of all her friends and acquaintances, Miss Jewsbury was the last whom Mrs. Carlyle would have selected to perform an autopsy on her heart. And yet it was to this "most gossiping and romancing person," after she had become - what Mrs. Carlyle finally describes her as - "an ill-natured old maid," that Froude appealed to undertake this delicate operation. He gave her her opportunity of producing violent emotions, and she availed herself of it with a vengeance. It is not necessary to suppose that Miss Jewsbury indulged in deliberate invention. The tragic utterances of the Journal were truly as unintelligible to her as they were to Froude, but having as her biographer, Mrs. Alexander Ireland says, her brain
[Page xlix] teeming "with half-formed plots and novels," she proceeded to adapt one of these to what she supposed to be Mrs. Carlyle's situation disclosed by these utterances, and wove a touching romance around her dead friend. Dissociating these utterances from all else she knew of Mrs. Carlyle, accepting them, as a sentimentalist would be likely to do, as the insuppressible exclamations of a soul struggling to conceal a cruel wrong, shutting her eyes to all other solutions of the enigma they presented, she set agoing a calumnious hypothesis, which has proved highly injurious to the fair fame of a man to whom she was beholden for much help and encouragement, and which has necessitated the laying bare of whatever was ignoble in the woman she professed to idolise. She had not a scrap of evidence, documentary or in her own recollection, to support her hypothesis, but it could be hung on to the torture-hooks of the Journal and was well calculated to produce violent emotion, and so she advanced it. It was greedily adopted by Froude.
Miss Jewsbury's exegesis of the Journal was contained in a letter to Froude dated 22nd November, 1876, and it appears therefore that Froude, who had all Mrs. Carlyle's papers in his hands in June 1871, waited for five-and-a-half years before seeking to clear up the penumbra of the Journal, and thus sacrificed the best evidence for its elucidation. Mr. John Forster, who was so unceremoniously intimate with the Carlyles, died in February 1876, and Dr. Carlyle, their trusted and well-beloved brother, who had been in close communion with them throughout their whole married life, was disabled by illness soon afterwards, and died in 1879. These two men were associated, as we have seen, with Froude
[Page l] in the custody of Carlyle's papers, but they were past interference with him when he consulted Miss Jewsbury and bowed to her judgment. There were alive in 1876 many who had been on intimate terms with Mrs. Carlyle, several physicians who had treated her, but their assistance was not sought, and so it stands recorded that a man of singularly heroic and unsullied life, who was described by Goethe as "a new moral force," who had preached uncompromisingly the categorical imperative of duty and the eternal distinction between right and wrong, who had shown unceasingly the tenderest solicitude for kith and kin, at the mature age of fifty entered on the "primrose path of dalliance" (so Geraldine Jewsbury phrases it) for the sake of a great lady - "a frank, rattling woman," he calls her, and for ten years thereafter neglected his wife, "laid waste her love and her life," and remained insensible to the anguish he was causing her. Here, according to Froude, was the meaning of his "passionate remorse," when, after her death, he discovered how "much he had to answer for."
Miss Jewsbury's contention that Mrs. Carlyle was forced into an unwilling intimacy with Lady Ashburton, and driven against her wishes to visit that lady, and even allowed to visit nowhere else, is disposed of by the letters now published. They give a correct account of Mrs. Carlyle's traffickings with Lady Harriet Ashburton; show that it was not Carlyle but Monckton Milnes who introduced them to each other; and prove that Mrs. Carlyle went repeatedly to the Grange and Addiscombe while Carlyle was absent in Scotland or elsewhere. When Carlyle was directly appealed to by his wife about her going to the Grange, his answer was: "Nor can I
[Page li] advise you any way, certainly, as to accepting the Grange invitation - except so far as this consideration will go, that you should follow your own authentic wish in regard to it." The letters further reveal that Mrs. Carlyle derived benefit - yes, and pleasure, too - in her own absinthine way from her visits to Lady Ashburton's great houses, where she became so much at home that on one occasion she spent a day in the kitchen making marmalade, an accomplishment to be proud of in that pre-Keiller age. "A very clever woman, very lovable, whom it is very pleasant to live with," she says of Lady Harriet.
The true story of Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle's transactions with Lady Harriet Ashburton, and of the misunderstanding which arose out of it, is simple enough, and is brought out in the letters, now published, which were withheld by Mr. Froude. Lady Harriet was one of the most brilliant women of the day, and Mrs. Carlyle herself wrote of her on her first visit: "The cleverest woman out of sight that I ever saw in my life; moreover, she is full of energy and sincerity, and has, I am sure, an excellent heart." Was it reprehensible that Carlyle admired this vivacious and fascinating woman, and took pleasure in her society, and in that of her noble and accomplished husband, and of the men of wit and genius she gathered round her? She opened to this reserved, fastidious man and to his wife the highest literary circles, where he could meet on equal terms those most distinguished in rank and learning. Was it flagitious in him to avail himself of the opportunities thus offered? She provided for him and his wife a luxurious convalescent home when they felt need of change of
[Page lii] scene and air, or required to recruit after illness. Was it heinous to accept such kindness? She and her husband lavished on him and his wife delicate attentions. He would have been more than ungrateful had he, at a woman's caprice, thrown over such generous benefactors.
Even Miss Jewsbury allows that Mrs. Carlyle never had an iota of a cause for real jealousy; but, says she, Mrs. Carlyle was sensitive and exacting beyond other women, and the consciousness that she who had been her hero's mainstay through the long days of obscurity was now when the sun of prosperity shone to be superseded in his supreme regard by any other woman, was gall and wormwood to her soul. That she was so superseded for an instant there is not a jot or tittle of evidence to show; in fact, all the documents available go to prove not only that she never had a rival in her husband's heart, but that his fealty to "that most queen-like woman," as he called Lady Ashburton after her death, was not incompatible with a far deeper devotion to the intellectual sovereignty of his wife. "Any other wife," says Miss Jewsbury, "would have laughed at Carlyle's bewitchment with Lady Ashburton," but her it made "more intensely and abidingly miserable than words can utter."
Mrs. Carlyle's primary grievance against Lady Ashburton arose out of chagrin at what she regarded as her superior cleverness. Highly educated, well read, quick-witted, sharpened by intercourse with her husband, Mrs. Carlyle, until she met Lady Ashburton, had been always able in society to hold her own amongst the men and to be peerless amongst the women. "Dined at Monckton Milnes'," she enters in her journal, "a pleasant party, which means that I myself was appreciated." But at Lady Ashburton's
[Page liii] table she encountered one who was, she felt, more than a match for her, and she was accordingly vexed and envious of the adulation which her rival received. To be overcome in a wit-combat by another woman is a festering wound to a clever woman, to be permanently deposed from the leadership of a coterie is a consuming canker. I do not believe that Lady Ashburton with all her sprightliness and culture was intellectually equal to Mrs. Carlyle, but she had social prestige and confidence, and as hostess she occupied the coign of vantage, and so Mrs. Carlyle came to feel at her visits at the Grange and Addiscombe that she was not the sole centre of attraction that she liked to be. The unjustifiable sense of humiliation thus engendered, at first general, after a time concentrated itself on her husband, and she came to fear that she had dwindled in his estimation, and that he thought more of the aristocratic and richly-gifted dame than he did of his own eclipsed and somewhat faded spouse. She is discovered sighing over a little compliment he had paid her "when there was no Lady A. to take the shine out of me in his eyes." This was jealousy, and, as jealousy is a malignant and metastatic growth, we need not be surprised to find her soon giving way to more unworthy suspicions, and to bitterness and despondency.
But the true key to Mrs. Carlyle's frame of mind at the time of the Ashburton episode is to be found in her state of health. It seems clear that she then passed through a mild, but protracted attack of mental disturbance, which would be technically called on its psychical side climacteric melancholia, and on its physical side neurasthenia.
Mrs. Carlyle was hereditarily disposed to nervous
[Page liv] disease. Her father, an able and vigorous man, died of typhus fever at forty-three years of age. Of his family history, from a medical point of view, we know little, but that there was defective viability in the family we may infer, for although Dr. Welsh had twelve brothers and sisters, most of whom married, there was, at the time of Mrs. Carlyle's death, no heir left living in any branch of the family to inherit Craigenputtock. Her father's death, which happened when she was eighteen years old, cast a long dark shadow on Mrs. Carlyle's life. Her mother died of an apoplectic seizure, and a maternal uncle was paralysed, and it was from her mother's side that she derived her temperament. Mrs. Welsh is said to have been in fifteen different humours in the course of an evening, and was decidedly hot tempered; and such fragments of her letters as have come down to us, display the same fluency and power of racy off-hand description which distinguish the letters of her daughter. Mrs. Carlyle, as she became older, grew more and more into the likeness of her mother, and all her friends remarked this. She boasted of a strain of gipsy blood in her veins, derived from one Baillie who suffered (i.e., was hanged) at Lanark, and she was, according to Forster, "a cross between John Knox and a gipsy"; having in her constitution, therefore, warring and irreconcilable elements, the clash of which was often audible in her bitter-sweet and paradoxical utterances. She was a seventh month child, and entered on her race, therefore, handicapped with that tenuity of fibre which prematurity so often entails, and she was an only child and lacked, therefore, the democratic inculcations which membership of the little commonwealth of the nursery confers. Of
[Page lv] intensely nervous temperament, from her cradle, quick to feel and to react to feeling, she was, although her father was a doctor and a wise one in his generation, brought up under hot-bed conditions, her naturally eager brain being stimulated by praise, by emulation, by scholastic incitements, to put forth precociously its budding powers. She learnt Latin like a boy, and read Virgil at nine years of age; she would sit up half the night over a mathematical problem when a girl of twelve and wrote a tragedy at fourteen. As the inevitable consequence of all this she grew up a highly neurotic woman - the flame of life in her brilliant, but ever-flickering and flaring; and that she was herself able to trace much of her debility in after life to having been educated "not wisely but too well" is clear; for after a bad nervous breakdown she wrote, "Too much of schooling hadst thou, poor Ophelia."
When she was a mere girl, long before she had met Carlyle, she had developed her mordant - one might almost say, having regard to her age and circumstances - morbid wit, for a girl in her teens should not pique herself on her quick perception of analogies between things apparently heterogeneous, or on the use of strong language. A friend said of her at this time that her shrewdness and incisive speech would have made her detestable but for her beauty and charm of manner. When still a girl too her pathological tendencies had begun to show themselves, for there are complaints of sick headaches, and before her marriage these had got a firm hold of her. In the spring of 1826 she writes to Carlyle's mother: "I have been unfitted for working at anything lately but by starts, owing to an almost
[Page lvi] continual severe pain in my head." Throughout her married life these sick headaches continued to recur, often with prostrating severity, generally lasting for three days, sometimes longer. They were brought on by worry or excitement, even by the effort of talking, always by bodily vibration, as by travelling in a railway train, and were sometimes instantly arrested by a strong mental impression, their dependence on nerve-storm being thus evinced. Besides the sick headaches she suffered from many, indeed innumerable, attacks of influenza; Harriet Martineau said she had "eight influenzas annually." And besides the influenza she had frequent catarrhs or colds, as she calls them, which were periodical in character, occurring almost invariably in spring and autumn. The influenzas and the colds in Mrs. Carlyle's case may have been due to micro-organisms or local conditions in the air passages, but these maladies, as we now know, both depend to some extent on a special predisposition in the sufferer, having its root in the nervous system, and both leave their stamp on that system and gradually undermine it. That the nervous system in Mrs. Carlyle was all along unstable and excitable is indicated by her intolerance of noise of all kinds, which was as great as that of her husband, and by her sleeplessness, which was even worse than his. Within a year of her marriage she is writing to her husband from Templand that she was "demolished" by a sleepless night, and from that time the demon insomnia never ceased to haunt her with more or less persistency. In 1848, she wrote, "I sleep three hours a night, and that in small pieces." When with the sleeplessness one of what she called her "patent headaches"
[Page lvii] was combined, she sometimes passed into a state of unconsciousness. In July, 1846, she wrote to her husband, "I lay the greater part of the day in a sort of trance, neither asleep nor awake." For several years before the date which I would fix as that of the climax of her mental trouble she had been occasionally taking henbane or hyoscyamus to allay pain and excitability and pretty frequently morphia to compel sleep, and it is a secondary action of the latter drug to induce unfounded suspicions and even delusions of persecution in those who habitually indulge in it. She was, like her husband, addicted to excessive tea-bibbing, and smoked cigarettes at a time when that practice was less common amongst English ladies than it is to-day. She was in short the very woman in whom the physician would expect a nervous breakdown at a critical epoch of life. The drawback to her writings, it must be allowed, is the sick-room flavour that pervades them and the frequent invocations of castor-oil. They are of scientific interest as presenting an instructive series of studies in neurotics, but they are perhaps a little too bulletinish for the general taste.
As early as 1841, Mrs. Carlyle complains of low spirits, due, as she then correctly surmised, to some sort of nervous ailment, and after that there were from time to time periods of gloom, which, as nervous people are apt to do, she attributed to the pressure of some passing event; but it was not until 1846, when she was forty-five years of age, that her despondency assumed a morbid complexion. Then, however, there enveloped her a cloud of wretchedness, an emanation of her own vapour-breeding brain, which deepened and darkened until 1855, when that
[Page lviii] excruciating 'Journal' was written. It was all but completely dispelled in 1857, leaving behind it, however, impaired bodily health and the seeds of serious evils in the nervous system, which afterwards sprouted and brought renewed depression of a very different nature from that previously experienced.
Mrs. Carlyle's mental malady was emotional throughout, and did not in any appreciable degree involve her intellectual powers. Her letters written during its continuance are, I think, less sprightly and discursive than those written before its invasion; but advancing years might account for that, and at their feeblest they are of more intellectual value than are most other women's letters at their strongest and best. Her marvellous will-power enabled her to a great degree to suppress the outward manifestation of the gnawing mind-cancer within, but not altogether, for some of her friends condoled with her on her haggard and careworn look; the dressmaker remarked how emaciated she had become, and she herself refers more than once to her withered appearance. But what she could conceal when abroad flowed forth freely in the privacy of her own room, and her Journal bears unmistakably the stigmata of mental disorder - not insanity in the crude sense of the word, but a derangement of the feelings, with consequent delusional beliefs, having no rational foundation, and irremovable by demonstrative proof of their untenability, all due to a disease of the brain and nervous system which it is customary to call functional, because of the invisibility of the changes that accompany it and their remediable character. "My constant and pressing anxiety," she wrote, "is to keep out of Bedlam." "That eternal Bath
[Page lix] House!" she exclaims. "I wonder how many thousand miles Mr. C. has walked between there and here, setting up always another milestone and another between him and me." "Alone this evening," she complains, "Lady A. in town again, and Mr. C. of course at Bath House." "Dear, dear!" she goes on, "what a sick day this has been! Oh, my mother, nobody sees what I am suffering now!" "Much movement under the free sky is needful for me to keep my heart from throbbing up into my head and maddening it." "It was with a feeling like the ghost of a dead dog that I rose and dressed and took my coffee." "Weak as water. To-day I walked with effort one little mile, and thought it a great feat." "How I keep on my legs and in my senses with such little snatches of sleep is a wonder to myself." "O me miseram, not one wink of sleep the whole night through." "My heart is very sore to-night, but I have promised not to make this Journal a miserere, and so I will take a dose of morphia and do the impossible to sleep."
In these, and many other passages that might be quoted, the alienist will readily recognise the cerebral neurasthenia, that is so often accompanied by profound dejection and mad fancies. And many collateral proofs of the existence of that condition might be quoted. While borne down by her own sorrows, Mrs. Carlyle developed some of that hunger for the horrible, which is morbid when it appears in a woman on her mental level. She searched the evening papers for thrilling incidents, and noted in her private journal the cases of a workman suffocated in a sewer by the falling in of earth, of a boy who was killed by a great waggon crashing over his head, and, with great minuteness, that of a woman
[Page lx] who threw her three children into the Thames, drowning one of them - from jealousy of a pretty apple woman, as Mrs. Carlyle was fain to believe, although she was judicially found insane. She actually at this time procured photographs of a number of noted murderers and placed them in her album, where they remain to this day. Mrs. Carlyle came herself rightly to understand her own frame of mind at the time of the anguish that burst forth in the Journal. The plaintive and tortured expressions cited were written in 1855 and 1856; but in 1857, she had largely recovered her equanimity and adopted a very different strain. Writing to her husband from Haddington in July that year, she said: "I never saw the country about here look so lovely, but I viewed it all with a calm about as morbid as my excitement was last year." A little later she tells him: "And so I have made up my mind to turn over a new leaf, and no more give words to the impatient or desponding thoughts that rise in my mind about myself. It is not a natural vice of mine, that sort of egotistic babblement, that has been fastened in me by the patience and sympathy shown me in my late long illness." Again: "So long as I had a noisy bedroom or miscooked food, even I had something to attribute my sleeplessness to; now I can only attribute it to my diseased nerves."
Had the symptoms at the time left any doubt as to the real meaning of the terrible despondency from which Mrs. Carlyle suffered, her subsequent history must have removed it. In 1863 she suffered from violent neuralgia which deprived her of the use of her left hand and arm, and two years later the same malady, after internal complications, rendered her right hand and arm powerless, at
[Page lxi] the same time partially paralysing the muscles of the jaw and causing difficulty in speech. Along with the neuralgia, as it was then labelled - the more advanced neuro-pathology of to-day would probably give it another name - phrenalgia, or mind pain returned, very acutely, but this time it did not become delusional, but was connected with her bodily sufferings. So far was there from being any jealousy of her husband at this time, that her affections went forth towards him with bounteous confidence. From St. Leonards, she writes to him, "Oh! my darling, God have pity on us." "Oh, my husband I am suffering torments; each day I suffer more horribly. Oh I would like you beside me! But I wish to live for you if only I could live out of torment." But with all her gushing love for her husband there were strong suicidal promptings. Direct admissions and allusions show this. In September, 1864, she wrote: "After all those nights that I lay meditating on self-destruction as my only escape from insanity." "White lace and red roses," she remarks in another letter, "don't become a woman who has been looking both death and insanity in the face for a year." With her great load of misery there came to her - who shall say whence or how? - a revival of religious sentiment. She who had so long stood at the Centre of Indifference, became profuse in ejaculatory prayer and echoes of the creed of her childhood. "God knows if we shall ever meet again," she wrote to her Aunt Miss Welsh, "and His will be done. I commit you to the Lord's keeping, whether I live or die." "Oh, if God would only lift my trouble from off me," she cried, "so far that I could bear it all in silence and not add to the trouble of others." "God can raise me up, but will He? Oh, I am weary,
[Page lxii] weary." "Nobody can help me! Only God, and can I wonder if God take no heed of me when I have all my life taken no heed of Him?" Mrs. Carlyle died in 1866 from failure of the heart's action caused by the shock of seeing her little dog run over and injured by a carriage in Hyde Park.
Up till the date I have fixed for the incursion of her illness, Mrs. Carlyle's letters to her husband are like those of one still in love's young dream, ardent and playful. "God keep you, my own dear husband, and bring you safe back. The house looks very empty without you, and I feel empty too." "She (your wife) loves you and is ready to do anything on earth that you wish, to fly over the moon if you bade her." And so on until 1844, when we read, "Oh, my darling, I want to give you an emphatic kiss rather than to write. But you are at Chelsea, and I am at Seaforth, so the thing is clearly impossible for the moment. But I must keep it for you till I come, for it is not with words that I can thank you for that kindest of birthday letters and its small enclosure - the little key." And so on indeed, until 1846, when the glimmerings of distrust appear. "Yes," she then writes, "I have kissed the dear little card case (another birthday gift) and now I will lie down awhile and try to sleep. At least to quiet myself I will try to believe, Oh! why cannot I believe once for all? that with all my faults and follies I am still dearer to you than any other earthly creature." But after this the correspondence cools. The letters have no amatory introduction, are subscribed "faithfully yours" or "yours ever," and contain sometimes sharp taunts and querulous reproaches, sometimes acknowledgments of her own infirmity. "God knows," she tells him in 1850,
[Page lxiii] "how gladly I would be sweet-tempered and cheerful-hearted and all that sort of thing for your single sake, if my temper were not soured and my heart saddened beyond my power to amend them." It was not until the lapse of years had brought healing, and convinced her that his strange humours had never arisen from any real indifference towards her that the old tenderness returned: but it is pleasant to know that it did return, for in 1864 we find her beginning her letters with all a girl's effusive fondness: "Oh, my own Darling Husband."
Throughout the whole of Mrs. Carlyle's illness, covering the Ashburton episode, Carlyle's attitude towards his wife was singularly noble. These slighter forms of masked insanity - mental dyspepsias they might be called - such as I maintain Mrs. Carlyle suffered from, are really much more trying to those who have to deal with them than downright madness, and few positions more distressing and difficult can be conceived than that of Carlyle who, while wrestling with a heavy and brawny task and himself harassed by hypochondria, had to bear the incessant pin-pricks, aye! and stiletto plunges too, of an ailing unreasonable and hot-tempered wife, possessed by groundless jealousy. "She had," he had once said, "when she was angry a tongue like a cat's, which would take the skin off at a touch." He must have been nearly flayed alive during her mental derangement. But, whatever he may have had to endure, no harsh word or impatient protest escaped his pen. We have no trustworthy record of his personal intercourse with his wife at this time. Froude asserts that he "mismanaged the affair" and that his irritation broke forth from time to time, but the value to be attached to Froude's observations
[Page lxiv] on the affair may be estimated by putting in juxtaposition his two statements that Carlyle knew, as he undoubtedly did, that his wife's jealousy was "a preposterous creation of a disordered fancy," and that "on a few hearty words, a simple laugh and the nightmare would have vanished." Preposterous creations of disordered fancies are not so easily disposed of. It took long years to rid the wife of her nightmare, and during these years the husband seems to have exercised commendable self-restraint. When it was all over his right-minded wife wrote: "I cannot tell you how gentle and good Mr. Carlyle is." He may have been wrathful and too free of indignant metaphors in speech now and then, but his letters are uniformly gentle and compassionate, full of encouragement and consolation. He knew she was the victim of a "freak of diseased fancy," and told her so, and set himself amidst countless impediments and distractions, undismayed by failure and disappointment, to compose and cheer her. A sweet charity and loving forbearance are indeed characteristic of all his communications to and about his wife, not only at this period, but throughout their whole married life. The portrait he has painted of her is a masterpiece of its kind, abounding in bold and harmonious colour, pre-Raphaelite in the truthfulness of its minute details, and so suffused by reverent devotion that all harsh features are subordinated. No madonna was ever painted with more delicate touch or genuine inspiration. It speaks volumes, I think, for Carlyle's magnanimity that there is not to be ferreted out of his most private lucubrations one word reflecting unfavourably on his wife. From first to last he had nothing but praise and blessing to bestow on her. Choleric and
[Page lxv] arbitrary he may have been in discourse with her, overwhelming objurgations may perhaps have rolled from his tongue, but the moment he took pen in hand he did her more than justice. There is in the world no conjugal correspondence displaying on the man's side half as much affectionate dedication as that of Carlyle and his wife. Unsparing in his self-reproaches for irritability or wilfulness, he was indulgent to her beyond measure, and never set down aught in accusatory condemnation of the trials and vexations she caused him. His gratitude for the protection and help she gave him was unbounded, and during the fifteen years he survived her his main occupation was to arrange the materials for what would have been, had it been erected as he wished and left undefaced, the most impressive and sorrowful cenotaph ever uplifted to mortal woman.
Apart from the Ashburton misunderstanding, which was, as I have endeavoured to show, a mere figment of a perverted imagination, the offspring of an excited brain, Carlyle's critics and Mrs. Carlyle's women friends have still grave fault to find with him. In their view she had a craving for little marks of attention, for caresses and loving words which were denied her by the cold hard man she had married. I do not believe a word of it, and I think those who advance such a theory have strangely misconceived Mrs. Carlyle's character and Scottish customs. She was the last woman to desire or tolerate public exhibitions of uxoriousness or to measure the depth of a husband's love by the froth on the surface, and she was reared in a school in which effusiveness is not approved. The Scotch are a dour race. A mask of gruffness is as characteristic of a Scotchman as is a
[Page lxvi] veneer of politeness of a Frenchman. Scotchmen dissemble their love without actually kicking their relations downstairs, but with lowering looks that a stranger might mistake for an intention to do so. With them the family affections and conjugal fidelity are at the highest. But the temper of the people, saturated with Calvinism, is severe and self-restraining, and they rarely give voice to those terms of endearment which are so constantly pirouetting on Southern lips. The head of a Scottish household is rarely heard addressing his wife as "love," or "dear," or "darling," or "sweetheart"; "Gude wife," he calls her, or "mither," or "Maggie," "Jeannie," or "Elsie," as the case may be. To the children he speaks in kindly diminutives, but to his wife his address might, to the uninitiated, sound somewhat harsh, while her replies might savour of snappishness. And yet are they united in life-lasting, storm-defying love - love too well assured to need proclamation, at least in company, in which, indeed, they have a secret satisfaction in demeaning themselves in a circumspect and distant fashion. A Scotchman would immediately suspect there was something wrong if he saw a husband and wife fondling in public or heard them "Joeing" and "dearieing" each other. Mrs. Carlyle was too sensible a woman and knew her husband's upbringing and severe turn of mind too well to expect or desire of him blandishments or pettings. She must have remembered that his intercourse with his mother for whom, as Froude admits, his love was profound, consisted mainly in sitting with her silently by the fireside and enjoying a tranquillising pipe of tobacco, and curiously enough she has anticipated and disallowed the plea of her apologists that he gave her cause of offence by his negligence in small matters. "In great
[Page lxvii] matters," she wrote of him, "he is always kind and considerate, but now the desire to replace to me the irreplaceable" [her mother who had died recently] "makes him as good in little things as he used to be in great." "I wish he would growl a bit," she once wrote. On another occasion, she speaks of her husband's "little well-timed flatteries," which roused her from inactivity.
But whatever his lip-service, Mrs. Carlyle had overwhelming written testimony of her husband's attachment. "Oh, my love, my dearest, always love me; I am richer with thee than the whole world could make me otherwise." "The Herzen Goody must not fret herself and torment her poor sick head. I will be back to her, not an hour will I lose. Heaven knows the sun shines not on the spot that could be pleasant to me were she not there, so be of comfort, my Jeannie!" "Adieu, dearest, for that is, and if madness prevail not, may for ever be your authentic title." This is the strain that with quaint and beautiful modulations runs through his letters to her for forty years of their wedded life, and with it reverberating in her heart she could scarcely hanker after loud-mouthed endearments or punctilious courtesies. She rejoiced rather in their wit-combats and the banter and bickerings they exchanged in the little drawing-room in Cheyne Row. There the shuttle of persiflage sped merrily to and fro. Dull guests with no sense of humour (and Froude was barren of humour) may have seen animosity in these encounters, but they were tournaments of intellectual fence in which a clever thrust or parry gave equal pleasure to both opponents. Tennyson with his poet's insight discerned better than some others their true relations, for he said as reported
[Page lxviii] in his Biography: "Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle on the whole enjoyed life together, else they would not have chaffed one another so heartily." Browning, too, saw beneath the surface, and while expressing his affectionate reverence for Carlyle never ceased to defend him against the charge of unkindness to his wife. He went too far in describing her as a hard, unlovable woman; but he was right in holding that for any domestic disquietude they experienced she was the more to blame of the two. Mrs. Carlyle, no less than her husband, was "gie ill to deal wi'." The letters written in her girlhood to Eliza Stodart display a somewhat headstrong disposition and biting sarcasm, remarkable in one still in the bright and genial morning of youth, who had suffered no hardships or disappointments, and are couched in language so frank and strong as to make it certain she did not derive from her husband the expletives she used in later life. "Do you know, Mrs. Carlyle," the elder Stirling once said to her, "you would be a vast deal more amiable if you were not so damnably clever." "It must be admitted," says even her champion, Froude, "Mrs. Carlyle knew how to administer a shrewing"; but much of his blundering arose out of his inability to distinguish between her shrewing and croaking and cooing covertly. Preconceived idea again uppermost, he took literally many of her sallies and allusions to her husband, which were purposely Brobdignagian in their dimensions. He failed to realise that hyperbole was her favourite figure. Had he taken her jocose descriptions of her negotiations with her domestic servants as seriously as he does some of her denunciations of her husband, he must have written her down the veriest termagant. Had he listened
[Page lxix] gravely to her anathemas on bugs, he must have regarded her as an Entomological mono-maniac.
Carlyle, when his wife was away from him, wrote to her almost daily; not hurried, excusive scribbles, but voluminous letters in his best style; keeping her acquainted with the current of events without, and of thoughts and feelings within; and this he did in the midst of his most strenuous toil, when his brain must have been fagged, and his wrist cramped with pen-driving. And outside his letters, many glimpses of Carlyle's incessant solicitude about his wife are still recoverable. Up till quite late in life Carlyle was a poor man, often hard pressed to make both ends meet. In 1845, Mrs. Carlyle wrote: "I defy those people to live as we do on thirty shillings a week"; and yet he never failed out of his scanty store to make his wife some little birthday present, some triflng article - an umbrella, cardcase, or locket - trifling, but costly in proportion to his slender means. He never required to be reminded of the day; and, notwithstanding his repugnance to shopping, always went and bought the gift himself. Out of the first money earned by lecturing on German literature, in May, 1837, he handed, immediately on returning to dinner, a sovereign each to his wife and her mother to buy something with as a handsel of the novelty. When she got into arrears in her house accounts, and found her allowance insufficient, she wrote him a long letter on the state of the exchequer, which, had it stood alone, Froude would assuredly have quoted as evidence of her husband's stinginess, and of her timidity in approaching her hard task-master; but happily at the foot of the page, in Carlyle's writing, are these words: "Excellent, my dear
[Page lxx] clever Goody, thriftiest, wittiest, and cleverest of women. I will set thee up again to a certainty, and thy £30 more shall be granted, thy bits of debts paid, and thy will be done." As soon as his income allowed, he pressed her to have a brougham, instead of driving in hired flies; but as she seemed reluctant to take steps to choose one herself, he ultimately stirred in the matter and the brougham was bought - the brougham in which she died, her hands resting in her lap, passing gently into the imperturbable sleep so often longed for in hours of suffering, so little coveted when it came in the supreme moment of triumph. "She had infinite satisfaction in this poor gift; was boundlessly proud of it 'as her husband's testimony to her.'" "The noble little soul.... Oh, when she was taken from me, and I used in my gloomy walks to pass that door where the carriage-maker first brought it out for her approval, the feeling in me was (and at times still is) deeper than tears; and my heart wept tragically loving tears, though my gloomy eyes were dry."
Mrs. Carlyle had boundless respect and love for her husband, but still there was a void in her existence. The childless woman lavished her pent-up affections on many pets, horses, dogs, cats, canaries, hedgehogs, and even a leech; but unsatisfied longing still harassed her, and combining with her keen sagacity made her cynical beyond the common standard of her sex. "An infant crying in the night" at Cheyne Row, would not have been "cheap," might have vexed Carlyle's soul worse than his neighbour's cocks and hens, and would not have been so easily got rid of; but it would in all likelihood, paradoxical though it may sound to say so, have brought peace, hope and contentment to the household.
To allege as Froude does, that Carlyle neglected his wife, is to libel him. He had his work to do, laborious work which he could only carry on in solitude, and so he was compelled to separate himself from her during his working hours, but surely most working men, whether of trades or professions, have to do the same. On the whole he spent much more time with her than the average husband is wont to spend with his wife. He did not dine at his Club on dainty dishes and leave her to fare on cold mutton at home. He had no amusement or pursuits apart from her, except his horse exercise, which was a medical prescription, and he only left her on those visits to the Ashburtons in which it was generally her own fault if she did not participate, or for those visits to his kindred in Scotland, which were at once a duty and a necessity of health. He did his best to provide her with small pleasures and assisted her in her charities. How monstrously he has been misrepresented in these respects I may illustrate by one example. Miss Gully writes: "In his richest days he would never have more than one servant. ... I don't see myself that he had any right to indulge in the luxury of having a witty wife and yet indulge in his idiosyncrasy of only having one cheap servant." Will it be believed that it was by Mrs. Carlyle's express wish that only one servant was kept and that after two had been employed in deference to his earnest representations, she lay awake at night regretting the time when she had only one little maid? Such matters are insignificant enough but they merit notice, because it is such misrepresentations that have been piled up to damage Carlyle's good name.
And yet this man who has been held up to obloquy
[Page lxxii] as a misanthrope, a raging snarling egotist, a miserable dyspeptic, a restless Annandale eccentric, a venomous iconoclast of other men's reputations, a boor and a brute - all these opprobrious epithets have actually been applied to him, and it has been hinted moreover that he was a wife-beater - was full of magnanimity and human kindness. Note his conduct in great affairs. Mill came to announce that crushing catastrophe the burning of the manuscript of the first volume of the 'French Revolution.' He sat for three hours, and when he went the first words that Carlyle spoke were: "Well, Mill, poor fellow, is very miserable. We must try to keep from him how serious the loss is to us." Mark his self-sacrifice. On the death of Mrs. Carlyle's mother he had a strong desire to retain the house and garden at Templand as an autumn retreat for himself, "no prettier place of refuge could be in the world," but Mrs. Carlyle shrank from going there, so he at once abandoned the project, cancelled the lease and sold off everything. Learn his patience and consideration for others. He arrived in Liverpool from Ireland between five and six in the morning and was found an hour later seated on his luggage at the door of Mr. Welsh's house in Maryland Street, placidly smoking a cigar, having resolved not to disturb the household so early. Inwardly digest his practical benignity. Travelling by coach from Liverpool to London with a new servant engaged at Annan - this is the entry in his diary: "Breakfast at Newport Pagnell (I had given Anne the inside seat, night being cold and wet) awkward, hungry Anne, homesick, would hardly eat anything until bidden and directed by me." Mrs. Carlyle scalded her foot, "Five weeks I carried her
[Page lxxiii] upstairs nightly to her bed, ever cheerful and hopeful one." While staying at Scotsbrig in 1843 he devoted a whole day to visiting his wife's old pensioner women at Thornhill. Notwithstanding his stern maxims, he was the softest-hearted of men. Thrifty and frugal in his personal habits, he was a prodigal in his benevolence. Thoughtful for his mother's wants, generous to other members of his family, he was helpful in all cases of genuine suffering that were brought to his notice. Depths of tenderness and refinement lay in this rugged man. Miss Martineau said he was distinguished by his enormous force of sympathy. "No one who knew him," says Masson, "but must have noted how instantaneously he was affected or even agitated by any case of difficulty or distress in which he was consulted, or that was casually brought to his cognizance; and with what restless curiosity and exactitude he would enquire into all the particulars, till he had conceived the case thoroughly and as it were taken the whole pain of it into himself. The practical procedure if it was possible was sure to follow." If he could do a friendly act to any human being he did it, and care and personal exertion if needed were not wanting. Intolerant of sentimentality he was himself a deep well of sentiment undefiled, from which clear and refreshing pailfuls were drawn daily by passing events. It was really dirty surface-water sentiment that stirred his ire, not the pellucid draughts that come from its hidden springs. To the strangers who pestered him with their curiosity, and to the literary aspirants who sought his aid or benediction - and few men have suffered more persecution of this kind than he did - he was as a rule bluntly honest, but substantially kind, and if a rude word did
[Page lxxiv] escape him, it was not long before he made what amends were in his power. Even in extreme old age his testiness was evanescent, and followed by prompt contrition.
"I shall never forget," Mrs. Allingham writes to me, "the alarm I felt the first morning when, by Mary Aitken's kind invitation, I made the drawings of him in 1878. I had settled myself with paper and colours ready on the old sofa in the drawing-room in Cheyne Row. Carlyle came in and eyed me suspiciously (no wonder, he had not been told I was coming). When Mary quietly remarked that I was just going to make a little sketch of him while he sat and read before he went for his drive, he became restive, and said, 'She tried me before, and made me look like a fool.' 'The very reason,' Mary said, 'that she wants to draw you again.' Then he got up and marched to the door, saying, 'I have had enough of sketching.' I longed to fly, but Mary only laughed, and signed to me to be quiet and wait. She brought him to his armchair and settled him there, with his book close in front of the fire; and I with fear and trembling began to sketch him. When he shifted his position I began a new drawing; this for about an hour, when the carriage was announced. Mary had been quite right; as soon as he became interested in his book he forgot all about me, and when the time came to go all his natural kindness of heart and courtesy to a guest were present again, and, finding that I had not finished my drawing, he invited me to come again. It was the same on the subsequent visits - as to his kindness - and he complimented me on the likeness of my drawings. One day Browning called, and they had a brilliant talk about Michelet. Browning curbed his natural energy to
[Page lxxv] listen with great deference to Carlyle till the moment came for him to reply, which he did in his usual vivid manner."
I have dwelt at this length on Carlyle's conjugal relations and on his character as disclosed in private life, because it is in connection with these that popular feeling was stirred up against him, solely owing to Froude's phantasmagoric caricatures, and to the unauthorised and pernicious use he made of the papers entrusted to his sorting and selection. No sooner had Froude spoken than, as Mr. W. S. Lilly has pointed out, "gigmanity" was up in arms, and was speedily joined by the brougham and tandem people. All the interests that Carlyle had offended by his outspoken judgments took vengeance on his memory when he was safe in his grave. There was "an explosion of the doggeries," and an insensate yelping has been kept up ever since. But the attacks on Carlyle have not been confined to his domestic history or personal traits. The work of traduction has been amplified and elaborated, and now there is nothing that he said or did that has not been ridiculed or belittled. I cannot attempt to challenge here or even to enumerate the adverse criticisms that have been passed on Carlyle and his writings; but about one of the last of them I would say a few words. That is to be found in the biography of the late Professor Benjamin Jowett, published in 1897. In a letter written in 1866, Jowett says of Carlyle that he is a man "totally regardless of truth, totally without admiration of any active goodness, a self-contradictory man, who investigates facts with the most extraordinary care in order to prove his own preconceived notions." And in a letter to Lady Abercromby, dated
[Page lxxvi] March, 1881, he remarks that "all London is talking about the 'Reminiscences' with well-deserved reprobation. It contains, however," he goes on, "a true picture of the man himself, with his independence, ruggedness and egotism, and the absolute disregard and indifference about everybody but himself. He was not a philosopher at all to my mind, for I do not think that he ever clearly thought out a subject for himself. His power of expression outran his real intelligence, and constantly determined his opinion; while talking about shams, he was himself the greatest of shams."
Now the witticism attempted at the close of this tirade, that the denouncer of shams was himself at sham, is not original but a variant of the old story of Thackeray, who once when congratulated on his 'Book of Snobs,' replied with an air of confidential confession, "Ah, madam, I could not have written that book had I not been myself a snob." But the witticism, if not original in form, certainly contains a statement that is strikingly original, and even grotesque in its absurdity and inappropriateness; for if there is one fact about Carlyle more certain than another it is this, that he was in deadly earnest. No one can dip into his writings without being convinced of this, and no one who has written about him, save Jowett, has ever accused him of affectation or pretence. Jeffrey's complaint about him was that he was "so dreadfully in earnest." Goethe recognised in him "a new moral force, the extent and effect of which it is impossible to foretell." Sir E. B. Hameley said, "Carlyle is an eminently earnest man, and to his earnestness may be traced at once the worst and the best qualities of his writings." The late Professor
[Page lxxvii] Nicol, a favourite pupil of Jowett, for whose opinion be expressed much respect, said: "Carlyle has no tinge of insincerity; his writings, his conversation, his life are absolutely, dangerously transparent. His utter genuineness was in the long run one of the secrets of his success." "Coming back to the Society of Carlyle," said Lady Ashburton, "after the dons of Oxford is like returning from some conventional world to the human race." Froude, even the traducent and deprecatory Froude, declared that he left the world "having never spoken, never written a sentence which he did not believe with his whole heart, never stained his conscience by a single deliberate act which he could regret to remember." And let Carlyle speak for himself. On finishing the 'French Revolution,' he said to his wife: "I know not whether this book is worth anything, nor what the world will do with it, or undo, or entirely forbear to do (as is likeliest); but this I would tell the world: you have not had for a hundred years a book that came more direct and flamingly sincere from the heart of a man: do with it what you like, you ----." He had the earnestness of Milton and the sensibility of Sterne, and it was from the interactions of these that came both his humour and his irritability.
Jowett offers no evidence in support of his accusation of shammery against Carlyle. The Master of Balliol has spoken, and Carlyle is gated for evermore. He says, indeed, that Carlyle, while exhorting to serious work, would be the first to laugh at any one who tried to embark on it. "If I were engaged," he writes, "in any work more than usually good (which I never shall be), I know that he would be the first person to utter a powerful sneer,
[Page lxxviii] and if I were seeking to know the truth he would ridicule the very notion of an homunculus discovering the truth." But this would not be a sham, but sardonic derision, and the allegation is unwarrantable, for no one reverenced the truth-seeker more than he, who had fought his way from the "Everlasting No," through the "Centre of Indifference" to the "Everlasting Yea." It was not the honest truth-seeker, however humble, but the man who, while feigning to seek truth, had all the time a furtive eye to his own advantage, that earned Carlyle's contempt. He could be unstinted in his appreciation of good work. No doubt he was too prone to ascribe unworthy motives; but that is not characteristic of the sham, whose best weapon is wholesale and servile flattery. No doubt he was occasionally severe and hasty in his strictures on his contemporaries - an unpardonable offence in these mutual-admiration and log-rolling days - but many of his proleptic remarks upon them have been justified by events; and it is rank falsehood to assert that he had never a good word to say of any one. He has spoken with liberal approbation and esteem, without any qualifying jibes, of scores of men, public characters and private friends, of Lockhart, Sterling, Shaftesbury, Monckton Milnes, Landor, Cavaignac, Mitchell, Graham, Redwood, Baring, Erskine, Pusey, Clough, Cockburn, Thirlwall, Forster, Tennyson, Tyndall, Larkin.
Granted, as Jowett suggests, that Carlyle scoffed at some of those who were striving to give effect to his teachings, there was not necessarily any insincerity in that, for one may lay down general principles without committing oneself to approval of every well-meaning essay at their practical application. It is permissible to
[Page lxxix] advocate the building of breakwaters and still to smile at Mrs. Partington's mop. The over emphasis and exaggeration of which Carlyle was unquestionably guilty were, one phrase makes me think, relied on by Jowett as indicating that he was a sham; but this is strangely to misinterpret them, for they were in his case not the trumpetings of the quack, but the wrathful denunciations of a righteous man, who sees wrong prevailing around him, and can be angry and sin not. It was impossible for him to be sluggish, indifferent, or cool. He thought deeply, and felt strongly with compassionate affection, and was by organic necessity imperative and aggressive in urging his conclusions. He had abounding humour, too, and this often led him into exaggeration, and often pulled him up in it. A friend tells us that he has seen him many times check himself in a tumult of indignation with some ludicrous touch of self-irony, wander into some absurd phantasy, and end in a burst of uproarious laughter. Carlyle gave up his best prospects in life for conscience' sake - he chose toil and poverty, he was just and generous to all who had claims on him, he trampled on the idols of the market-place and set up the eternal verities in their place, he never budged an inch to threat or cajolery, or was swayed by self-interest, or fawned on the rich and powerful. No more fervid and sincere man ever breathed the breath of life. And I suspect that those who charge him with lack of earnestness are not in earnest themselves, and cannot understand him.
That Jowett had a grudge against Cairlyle is tolerably clear. He never forgave him the epigrammatic flash, with reference to 'Essays and Reviews,' - "The sentinel who deserts should be shot," and he never lost an
[Page lxxx] opportunity of a thrust at him who had inflicted this sore hurt. Soon after Carlyle's death reference was made in Jowett's presence to Proctor's speculation that it was not impossible that about the year 1897 a comet might strike the sun and raise its temperature just sufficiently to cause the destruction of all animal life on the earth. Upon which Jowett remarked: "How pleased Mr. Carlyle would have been to hear this if he had been alive." Towards the end, perhaps, there was some mitigation of his rancour, for in 1891 he delivered himself of a more favourable opinion of Carlyle, which does not, however, enhance one's estimation of his critical acumen. He had been reading 'Obiter Dicta.' One critic reviewing 'In Memoriam' committed himself to the opinion that it was the work of a widow, written in memory of her late husband, who was a military man. Jowett fell into a similar error with reference to 'Obiter Dicta,' informing Mr. J. A. Symonds that it was written by a lady at Clifton. "It contains," he continues, "an excellent favourable criticism of Carlyle, and many new and well expressed thoughts. I find that my old feeling about Carlyle comes back again, and when a man has written so extremely well you don't care to ask whether he was a good husband or a good friend."
It is not necessary in defending Carlyle to assail Jowett. All must admire the simplicity of his character, his aversion to what was unreal, his power of imagination, his industry, his generous patronage of youthful talent; but at the same time we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that he was intellectually and morally immeasurably inferior to Carlyle and had a lower and narrower range of vision. He was a gentleman, as has been said
[Page lxxxi] who was very much at his ease in Zion. He knew few or no privations, and had the finest educational advantages; while Carlyle had to wrestle with difficulties and encumbrances for a great part of his life, felt the pinch of poverty, and had practically to educate himself. Jowett identified himself with the interests of his college, which became, it was said, an embodiment of selfishness and greed; while Carlyle embraced the universe in the magnificent sweep of his conceptions, and had a passionate sympathy with human helplessness. Jowett entertained the great of the land sumptuously at the Master's Lodge; while Carlyle gave a dish of tea to a few choice spirits in the dingy little drawing-room in Cheyne Row. Jowett's name is known to a few scholars - he can never touch the masses; Carlyle's to multitudes wherever our language is spoken.
Jowett has freely recorded his opinion of Carlyle. Carlyle has, as far as I am aware, said very little about Jowett. He received from him, I know, a copy of his 'Plato,' "five bright-looking volumes," but he only cut a few leaves of it, and the only other reference to Jowett I can discover is in an unpublished letter lately brought to light. Dr. Carlyle, when he was staying at Humbie in August, 1859, had offered him the loan of one of Jowett's books, and his reply was "'Jowett' [i.e. his books] has no charms for me. I saw Jowett twice over, a poor little good-humoured owlet of a body, Oxford Liberal and very conscious of being so; not knowing right hand from left otherwise. Ach Gott!" One can well conceive, with what scathing scorn he would have disposed of Jowett's comfortable philosophy and of his views upon many subjects. Jowett held that civilisation owed more to
[Page lxxxii] Voltaire than to all the Fathers of the Church, that Louis Napoleon was a genius worthy of admiration, that the Commune in Paris included a number of fine fellows, that Governor Eyre ought to have been hanged, that increased facilities should be given for divorce, that when there were various readings of the New Testament, the least orthodox should be preferred, that a gentleman's motto ought to be "regardless of money, except in great things and as a matter of duty," and the tradesmen's "take care of the pence and the pounds will look after themselves."
It is to be borne in mind, too, that Jowett himself, with his "cherubic chirp, commanding forehead, and infantile smile," for thus does an enthusiastic admirer describe him, was not free from suspicions of insincerity. He was often undecided, sitting on the rail, and when preaching sent away his hearer puzzled, not only as to what his opinions were, but as to whether he had any opinions at all. A witty parodist summed up his teaching in the jest which will still bear repetition: "Some men will say that this day is hot, and some, on the other hand, that it is cold; but the truth is it is neither, or rather both, for, like the Church of Laodicea, it is lukewarm." And this is the teacher who said Carlyle was regardless of truth and called him a sham!
Carlyle had an abiding hatred of shams in small matters as well as great. I had an opportunity some time ago of asking the Duke of Rutland whether there was any truth in the story, which has been many times repeated, that in 1851 he (then Lord John Manners), Mr. Disraeli, and other members of the Young England Party, deeply impressed by the 'Latter Day Pamphlets,'
[Page lxxxiii] waited on Carlyle to invite from him some practical hints for legislation, only to be met by vague but tremendous exhortations to get things mended on pain of eternal perdition. "There is no truth in the story," said the Duke. "No doubt we of the Young England Party were all much struck by the 'Latter Day Pamphlets,' but we never supposed that Carlyle was the man to draft a Bill. It was general inspiration, not detailed instructions, that we expected from him. I only met Carlyle once," the Duke added, "and that was in the house of Sir William Stirling Maxwell. Thinking to interest him, I told him that I had just returned from Dumfries, and was sorry to notice that the stones in the Burns' Mausoleum there were crumbling away from exposure to the weather." "Sorry!" exclaimed Carlyle, "I am very glad to hear it. I hope they will go on crumbling till there is not one stone left upon another. To think of it, that a man whose name was Turner, and who called himself Turnerelli, should have been employed to make a monument to the greatest genius that ever lived!"
Jowett's eminence and the deference paid to him by a select group of old pupils and admirers, some of them writers of high attainments, has secured for his depreciation of Carlyle wide currency and some acceptance. But Carlyle has foes fiercer and more implacable then Jowett. Some superior literary persons refer to him with undisguised contempt; and a distinguished member of the fraternity not long ago, utterly denied him any claim to greatness. He was, he declared, a common-place man, who raved portentously with nothing to say, whose scholarship was narrow and inexact, whose history was untrustworthy, whose style was detestable, whose knowledge of French
[Page lxxxiv] and German was very limited, and who twisted and distorted the English language. "We must go back," said the censor, "from the vehemence of Carlyle to the clearness and serenity of the eighteenth century."
Much might be said under each count of this indictment. I quote it merely as a grotesque example of the lengths to which the vilification of Carlyle may go. Fortunately, those holding such extreme views are few in number, and there is reason to believe that the calumniators of Carlyle of all shades are a diminishing body. The slump is over, and a steady appreciation has set in. The late Mr. H. D. Traill, who took a comprehensive and trigonometrical survey of the field of literature wrote in 1897: "Time has been swift of despatch in the case of Thomas Carlyle. Its award has been delivered within fifteen years of Carlyle's death, and it confirms the judgment of his contemporaries as to his literary greatness. The appeal of his posthumous detractors is dismissed with costs." Mr. Augustine Birrell, too, who is alert to read the signs of the times, said in the same year, "Oh, young man, do not be in too great a hurry to leave your Carlyle unread." Naming the greatest historians of the day, Mr. Birrell adds: "But no one of them is fit to hold a candle to Carlyle. ... Excellent Thomas."
"Come back in sleep, for in the life
Where thou art not
We find none like thee. Time and strife
And the world's lot
Move thee no more, but love at least
And reverent heart
May move thee, royal and released
Soul, as thou art."
Mr. Arthur Balfour, while confessing that he is not of
[Page lxxxv] the "straitest sect" of Carlyle's admirers, has declared tbat he was a great genius, and had in him a force and originality which enabled him to speak to two generations of his countrymen with a power and force on some of the deepest and most important subjects which can interest us as no other man has perhaps been able to do.
A Carlyle revival is upon us. The sale of his books is greatly and steadily increasing. Six copyright editions of the whole of his works have been issued and the non-copyright volumes have been published by half of the publishers in London. Of the last edition 20,000 copies were sold in three months, and the bulk of these went to Scotland and the north of England where the population is not the least hard-headed in these islands. The number of pilgrims to his shrine at Ecclefechan, a somewhat inaccessible and otherwise unattractive spot, is growing, and includes travellers from all quarters of the globe, even from China, Brazil and Argentina. Carlyle alone of Scotchmen with Burns and Scott has made conquest of the world. He has captured England and the United States, and sent successful expeditions into most of the countries of Western Europe, while every British Colony pays him tribute. To many of Carlyle's readers in all parts of the world these 'New Letters and Memorials' will be acceptable by removing misconceptions about him and his wife, and affording good proof that they really lived if not an ideal married life, a nearer approach to that than has been believed since Froude besmirched the record of it. And beyond this the Letters have a distinctive relish of their own. "Jane," Mrs. Montague once said to Mrs. Carlyle, "everybody is born with a vocation, and yours is to write little notes."
The Letters in this Collection are practically all new, not one of them having appeared in Froude's 'Letters and Memorials,' and only some half-dozen of them having been printed heretofore. In a few cases, Letters from which Froude had made brief extracts are given in full, and one Letter and two or three short Notes which Froude, without leave asked or given, incorporated in his 'Life of Carlyle,' are reprinted. With these exceptions, the Letters here given have not before been accessible to the public. All of them, except six which have been discovered lately, were included in Carlyle's 'Selection' copied in full under his personal direction and sent, with the originals, to Froude.
As many letters as possible have been printed in full; where omissions have been made they have been invariably marked. These omissions have seemed advisable because Mrs. Carlyle often tells the same items of news in identical words to two correspondents. Passages reflecting unfavourably on persons still living or recently deceased have been omitted or the names withheld. The Notes and Introductions prepared by Carlyle have his initials attached.
The "twenty years after my death," suggested by Carlyle as the time when the 'Letters and Memorials' might be published, have gone by, and there is still some "babbling of memory" about the great man and his wife. No apology is therefore necessary for the publication of this Collection. Justification would indeed be needed for longer withholding it. The perusal of it will, it is to be hoped, lead the open-minded to sum up in the words of Burke: "He is rehabilitated, his honour is restored, all his attainders are purged."
Carlyle was a supremely great and good man - "the greatest of modern literary men," the Scotsman said on his death - and no one has yet appeared to dispute his pre-eminence. He was the most purely Teutonic and grandly Titanic genius that has yet arisen. He was the most powerful of historical painters; authentic in fact, glowing in colour, by aid of the searchlight of a penetrating intellect, and indefatigable industry recovering for us in vivid presentation scenes and events long engulfed in the blackness of night, and clothing the bones of dead heroes with living flesh. He was a potent dramatic poet, full of fire, strength, impetuosity; sentient to all that is beautiful, mysterious, or sublime in the lot and fate of man. He was a clear-eyed critic and a just, who brought wide knowledge and sympathetic interest to the examination of every author or subject he approached. He was a splendid stylist, possessing powers of expression picturesque, eloquent, and captivating, if sometimes fantastic. He was a brilliant conversationalist, and talked as he wrote in a manner of his own; rich in rugged energy, tempered with softness and humour. He was a mighty moralist, scorning cowardice and cant, and insisting on righteousness and truth. He was a prophet, some of whose predictions are even now being fulfilled. He was an inspiring preacher, inculcating reverence and godly fear, and kindling enthusiasm. He was a good man, of simple, frugal, unsullied life, prickly outside, perhaps, but silken at heart like the Scottish thistle. "Excellent, Thomas!"