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To most persons, Tennyson was a remote and romantic figure. His

homes in the Isle of Wight and at Aldworth had a dignified

seclusion about them which was very appropriate to so great a

poet, and invested him with a certain awe through which the

multitude rarely penetrated. As a matter of fact, however, he was

an excellent companion, a ready talker, and gifted with so much

wit that it is a pity that more of his sayings
ave not been

preserved to us.

One of the best known is that which was drawn from him after he

and a number of friends had been spending an hour in company with

Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle. The two Carlyles were unfortunately at their

worst, and gave a superb specimen of domestic "nagging." Each

caught up whatever the other said, and either turned it into

ridicule, or tried to make the author of it an object of contempt.

This was, of course, exceedingly uncomfortable for such strangers

as were present, and it certainly gave no pleasure to their

friends. On leaving the house, some one said to Tennyson:

"Isn't it a pity that such a couple ever married?"

"No, no," said Tennyson, with a sort of smile under his rough

beard. "It's much better that two people should be made unhappy

than four."

The world has pretty nearly come around to the verdict of the poet

laureate. It is not probable that Thomas Carlyle would have made

any woman happy as his wife, or that Jane Baillie Welsh would have

made any man happy as her husband.

This sort of speculation would never have occurred had not Mr.

Froude, in the early eighties, given his story about the Carlyles

to the world. Carlyle went to his grave, an old man, highly

honored, and with no trail of gossip behind him. His wife had died

some sixteen years before, leaving a brilliant memory. The books

of Mr. Froude seemed for a moment to have desecrated the grave,

and to have shed a sudden and sinister light upon those who could

not make the least defense for themselves.

For a moment, Carlyle seemed to have been a monster of harshness,

cruelty, and almost brutish feeling. On the other side, his wife

took on the color of an evil-speaking, evil-thinking shrew, who

tormented the life of her husband, and allowed herself to be

possessed by some demon of unrest and discontent, such as few

women of her station are ever known to suffer from.

Nor was it merely that the two were apparently ill-mated and

unhappy with each other. There were hints and innuendos which

looked toward some hidden cause for this unhappiness, and which

aroused the curiosity of every one. That they might be clearer,

Froude afterward wrote a book, bringing out more plainly--indeed,

too plainly--his explanation of the Carlyle family skeleton. A

multitude of documents then came from every quarter, and from

almost every one who had known either of the Carlyles. Perhaps the

result to-day has been more injurious to Froude than to the two


Many persons unjustly speak of Froude as having violated the

confidence of his friends in publishing the letters of Mr. and

Mrs. Carlyle. They take no heed of the fact that in doing this he

was obeying Carlyle's express wishes, left behind in writing, and

often urged on Froude while Carlyle was still alive. Whether or

not Froude ought to have accepted such a trust, one may perhaps

hesitate to decide. That he did so is probably because he felt

that if he refused, Carlyle might commit the same duty to another,

who would discharge it with less delicacy and less discretion.

As it is, the blame, if it rests upon any one, should rest upon

Carlyle. He collected the letters. He wrote the lines which burn

and scorch with self-reproach. It is he who pressed upon the

reluctant Froude the duty of printing and publishing a series of

documents which, for the most part, should never have been

published at all, and which have done equal harm to Carlyle, to

his wife, and to Froude himself.

Now that everything has been written that is likely to be written

by those claiming to possess personal knowledge of the subject,

let us take up the volumes, and likewise the scattered fragments,

and seek to penetrate the mystery of the most ill-assorted couple

known to modern literature.

It is not necessary to bring to light, and in regular order, the

external history of Thomas Carlyle, or of Jane Baillie Welsh, who

married him. There is an extraordinary amount of rather fanciful

gossip about this marriage, and about the three persons who had to

do with it.

Take first the principal figure, Thomas Carlyle. His life until

that time had been a good deal more than the life of an ordinary

country-man. Many persons represent him as a peasant; but he was

descended from the ancient lords of a Scottish manor. There was

something in his eye, and in the dominance of his nature, that

made his lordly nature felt. Mr. Froude notes that Carlyle's hand

was very small and unusually well shaped. Nor had his earliest

appearance as a young man been commonplace, in spite of the fact

that his parents were illiterate, so that his mother learned to

read only after her sons had gone away to Edinburgh, in order that

she might be able to enjoy their letters.

At that time in Scotland, as in Puritan New England, in each

family the son who had the most notable "pairts" was sent to the

university that he might become a clergyman. If there were a

second son, he became an advocate or a doctor of medicine, while

the sons of less distinction seldom went beyond the parish school,

but settled down as farmers, horse-dealers, or whatever might

happen to come their way.

In the case of Thomas Carlyle, nature marked him out for something

brilliant, whatever that might be. His quick sensibility, the way

in which he acquired every sort of learning, his command of logic,

and, withal, his swift, unerring gift of language, made it certain

from the very first that he must be sent to the university as soon

as he had finished school, and could afford to go.

At Edinburgh, where he matriculated in his fourteenth year, he

astonished every one by the enormous extent of his reading, and by

the firm hold he kept upon it. One hesitates to credit these so-

called reminiscences which tell how he absorbed mountains of Greek

and immense quantities of political economy and history and

sociology and various forms of metaphysics, as every Scotsman is

bound to do. That he read all night is a common story told of many

a Scottish lad at college. We may believe, however, that Carlyle

studied and read as most of his fellow students did, but far

beyond them, in extent.

When he had completed about half of his divinity course, he

assured himself that he was not intended for the life of a

clergyman. One who reads his mocking sayings, or what seemed to be

a clever string of jeers directed against religion, might well

think that Carlyle was throughout his life an atheist, or an

agnostic. He confessed to Irving that he did not believe in the

Christian religion, and it was vain to hope that he ever would so


Moreover, Carlyle had done something which was unusual at that

time. He had taught in several local schools; but presently he

came back to Edinburgh and openly made literature his profession.

It was a daring thing to do; but Carlyle had unbounded confidence

in himself--the confidence of a giant, striding forth into a

forest, certain that he can make his way by sheer strength through

the tangled meshes and the knotty branches that he knows will meet

him and try to beat him back. Furthermore, he knew how to live on

very little; he was unmarried; and he felt a certain ardor which

beseemed his age and gifts.

Through the kindness of friends, he received some commissions to

write in various books of reference; and in 1824, when he was

twenty-nine years of age, he published a translation of Legendre's

Geometry. In the same year he published, in the London Magazine,

his Life of Schiller, and also his translation of Goethe's Wilhelm

Meister. This successful attack upon the London periodicals and

reviews led to a certain complication with the other two

characters in this story. It takes us to Jane Welsh, and also to

Edward Irving.

Irving was three years older than Carlyle. The two men were

friends, and both of them had been teaching in country schools,

where both of them had come to know Miss Welsh. Irving's seniority

gave him a certain prestige with the younger men, and naturally

with Miss Welsh. He had won honors at the university, and now, as

assistant to the famous Dr. Chalmers, he carried his silk robes in

the jaunty fashion of one who has just ceased to be an

undergraduate. While studying, he met Miss Welsh at Haddington,

and there became her private instructor.

This girl was regarded in her native town as something of a

personage. To read what has been written of her, one might suppose

that she was almost a miracle of birth and breeding, and of

intellect as well. As a matter of fact, in the little town of

Haddington she was simply prima inter pares. Her father was the

local doctor, and while she had a comfortable home, and doubtless

a chaise at her disposal, she was very far from the "opulence"

which Carlyle, looking up at her from his lowlier surroundings,

was accustomed to ascribe to her. She was, no doubt, a very clever

girl; and, judging from the portraits taken of her at about this

time, she was an exceedingly pretty one, with beautiful eyes and

an abundance of dark glossy hair.

Even then, however, Miss Welsh had traits which might have made it

certain that she would be much more agreeable as a friend than as

a wife. She had become an intellectuelle quite prematurely--at an

age, in fact, when she might better have been thinking of other

things than the inwardness of her soul, or the folly of religious


Even as a young girl, she was beset by a desire to criticize and

to ridicule almost everything and every one that she encountered.

It was only when she met with something that she could not

understand, or some one who could do what she could not, that she

became comparatively humble. Unconsciously, her chief ambition was

to be herself distinguished, and to marry some one who could be

more distinguished still.

When she first met Edward Irving, she looked up to him as her

superior in many ways. He was a striking figure in her small

world. He was known in Edinburgh as likely to be a man of mark;

and, of course, he had had a careful training in many subjects of

which she, as yet, knew very little. Therefore, insensibly, she

fell into a sort of admiration for Irving--an admiration which

might have been transmuted into love. Irving, on his side, was

taken by the young girl's beauty, her vivacity, and the keenness

of her intellect. That he did not at once become her suitor is

probably due to the fact that he had already engaged himself to a

Miss Martin, of whom not much is known.

It was about this time, however, that Carlyle became acquainted

with Miss Welsh. His abundant knowledge, his original and striking

manner of commenting on it, his almost gigantic intellectual

power, came to her as a revelation. Her studies with Irving were

now interwoven with her admiration for Carlyle.

Since Irving was a clergyman, and Miss Welsh had not the slightest

belief in any form of theology, there was comparatively little

that they had in common. On the other hand, when she saw the

profundities of Carlyle, she at once half feared, and was half

fascinated. Let her speak to him on any subject, and he would at

once thunder forth some striking truth, or it might be some

puzzling paradox; but what he said could never fail to interest

her and to make her think. He had, too, an infinite sense of

humor, often whimsical and shot through with sarcasm.

It is no wonder that Miss Welsh was more and more infatuated with

the nature of Carlyle. If it was her conscious wish to marry a man

whom she could reverence as a master, where should she find him--

in Irving or in Carlyle?

Irving was a dreamer, a man who, she came to see, was thoroughly

one-sided, and whose interests lay in a different sphere from

hers. Carlyle, on the other hand, had already reached out beyond

the little Scottish capital, and had made his mark in the great

world of London, where men like De Quincey and Jeffrey thought it

worth their while to run a tilt with him. Then, too, there was the

fascination of his talk, in which Jane Welsh found a perpetual

source of interest:

The English have never had an artist, except in poetry; no

musician; no painter. Purcell and Hogarth are not exceptions, or

only such as confirm the rule.

Is the true Scotchman the peasant and yeoman--chiefly the former?

Every living man is a visible mystery; he walks between two

eternities and two infinitudes. Were we not blind as molea we

should value our humanity at infinity, and our rank, influence and

so forth--the trappings of our humanity--at nothing. Say I am a

man, and you say all. Whether king or tinker is a mere appendix.

Understanding is to reason as the talent of a beaver--which can

build houses, and uses its tail for a trowel--to the genius of a

prophet and poet. Reason is all but extinct in this age; it can

never be altogether extinguished.

The devil has his elect.

Is anything more wonderful than another, if you consider it

maturely? I have seen no men rise from the dead; I have seen some

thousands rise from nothing. I have not force to fly into the sun,

but I have force to lift my hand, which is equally strange.

Is not every thought properly an inspiration? Or how is one thing

more inspired than another?

Examine by logic the import of thy life, and of all lives. What is

it? A making of meal into manure, and of manure into meal. To the

cui bono there is no answer from logic.

In many ways Jane Welsh found the difference of range between

Carlyle and Irving. At one time, she asked Irving about some

German works, and he was obliged to send her to Carlyle to solve

her difficulties. Carlyle knew German almost as well as if he had

been born in Dresden; and the full and almost overflowing way in

which he answered her gave her another impression of his potency.

Thus she weighed the two men who might become her lovers, and

little by little she came to think of Irving as partly shallow and

partly narrow-minded, while Carlyle loomed up more of a giant than


It is not probable that she was a woman who could love profoundly.

She thought too much about herself. She was too critical. She had

too intense an ambition for "showing off." I can imagine that in

the end she made her choice quite coolly. She was flattered by

Carlyle's strong preference for her. She was perhaps repelled by

Irving's engagement to another woman; yet at the time few persons

thought that she had chosen well.

Irving had now gone to London, and had become the pastor of the

Caledonian chapel in Hatton Garden. Within a year, by the

extraordinary power of his eloquence, which, was in a style

peculiar to himself, he had transformed an obscure little chapel

into one which was crowded by the rich and fashionable. His

congregation built for him a handsome edifice on Regent Square,

and he became the leader of a new cult, which looked to a second

personal advent of Christ. He cared nothing for the charges of

heresy which were brought against him; and when he was deposed his

congregation followed him, and developed a new Christian order,

known as Irvingism.

Jane Welsh, in her musings, might rightfully have compared the two

men and the future which each could give her. Did she marry

Irving, she was certain of a life of ease in London, and an

association with men and women of fashion and celebrity, among

whom she could show herself to be the gifted woman that she was.

Did she marry Carlyle, she must go with him to a desolate, wind-

beaten cottage, far away from any of the things she cared for,

working almost as a housemaid, having no company save that of her

husband, who was already a dyspeptic, and who was wont to speak of

feeling as if a rat were tearing out his stomach.

Who would have said that in going with Carlyle she had made the

better choice? Any one would have said it who knew the three--

Irving, Carlyle, and Jane Welsh.

She had the penetration to be certain that whatever Irving might

possess at present, it would be nothing in comparison to what

Carlyle would have in the coming future. She understood the

limitations of Irving, but to her keen mind the genius of Carlyle

was unlimited; and she foresaw that, after he had toiled and

striven, he would come into his great reward, which she would

share. Irving might be the leader of a petty sect, but Carlyle

would be a man whose name must become known throughout the world.

And so, in 1826, she had made her choice, and had become the bride

of the rough-spoken, domineering Scotsman who had to face the

world with nothing but his creative brain and his stubborn

independence. She had put aside all immediate thought of London

and its lures; she was going to cast in her lot with Carlyle's,

largely as a matter of calculation, and believing that she had

made the better choice.

She was twenty-six and Carlyle was thirty-two when, after a brief

residence in Edinburgh, they went down to Craigenputtock. Froude

has described this place as the dreariest spot in the British


The nearest cottage is more than a mile from it; the elevation,

seven hundred feet above the sea, stunts the trees and limits the

garden produce; the house is gaunt and hungry-looking. It stands,

with the scanty fields attached, as an island in a sea of morass.

The landscape is unredeemed by grace or grandeur--mere undulating

hills of grass and heather, with peat bogs in the hollows between


Froude's grim description has been questioned by some; yet the

actual pictures that have been drawn of the place in later years

make it look bare, desolate, and uninviting. Mrs. Carlyle, who

owned it as an inheritance from her father, saw the place for the

first time in March, 1828. She settled there in May; but May, in

the Scottish hills, is almost as repellent as winter. She herself

shrank from the adventure which she had proposed. It was her

husband's notion, and her own, that they should live there in

practical solitude. He was to think and write, and make for

himself a beginning of real fame; while she was to hover over him

and watch his minor comforts.

It seemed to many of their friends that the project was quixotic

to a degree. Mrs. Carlyle delicate health, her weak chest, and the

beginning of a nervous disorder, made them think that she was

unfit to dwell in so wild and bleak a solitude. They felt, too,

that Carlyle was too much absorbed with his own thought to be

trusted with the charge of a high-spirited woman.

However, the decision had been made, and the newly married couple

went to Craigenputtock, with wagons that carried their household

goods and those of Carlyle's brother, Alexander, who lived in a

cottage near by. These were the two redeeming features of their

lonely home--the presence of Alexander Carlyle, and the fact that,

although they had no servants in the ordinary sense, there were

several farmhands and a dairy-maid.

Before long there came a period of trouble, which is easily

explained by what has been already said. Carlyle, thinking and

writing some of the most beautiful things that he ever thought or

wrote, could not make allowance for his wife's high spirit and

physical weakness. She, on her side--nervous, fitful, and hard to

please--thought herself a slave, the servant of a harsh and brutal

master. She screamed at him when her nerves were too unstrung; and

then, with a natural reaction, she called herself "a devil who

could never be good enough for him." But most of her letters were

harsh and filled with bitterness, and, no doubt, his conduct to

her was at times no better than her own.

But it was at Craigenputtock that he really did lay fast and firm

the road to fame. His wife's sharp tongue, and the gnawings of his

own dyspepsia, were lived down with true Scottish grimness. It was

here that he wrote some of his most penetrating and sympathetic

essays, which were published by the leading reviews of England and

Scotland. Here, too, he began to teach his countrymen the value of

German literature.

The most remarkable of his productions was that strange work

entitled Sartor Resartus (1834), an extraordinary mixture of the

sublime and the grotesque. The book quivers and shakes with tragic

pathos, with inward agonies, with solemn aspirations, and with

riotous humor.

In 1834, after six years at Craigenputtock, the Carlyles moved to

London, and took up their home in Cheyne Row, Chelsea, a far from

fashionable retreat, but one in which the comforts of life could

be more readily secured. It was there that Thomas Carlyle wrote

what must seem to us the most vivid of all his books, the History

of the French Revolution. For this he had read and thought for

many years; parts of it he had written in essays, and parts of it

he had jotted down in journals. But now it came forth, as some one

has said, "a truth clad in hell-fire," swirling amid clouds and

flames and mist, a most wonderful picture of the accumulated

social and political falsehoods which preceded the revolution, and

which were swept away by a nemesis that was the righteous judgment

of God.

Carlyle never wrote so great a book as this. He had reached his

middle style, having passed the clarity of his early writings, and

not having yet reached the thunderous, strange-mouthed German

expletives which marred his later work. In the French Revolution

he bursts forth, here and there, into furious Gallic oaths and

Gargantuan epithets; yet this apocalypse of France seems more true

than his hero-worshiping of old Frederick of Prussia, or even of

English Cromwell.

All these days Thomas Carlyle lived a life which was partly one of

seclusion and partly one of pleasure. At all times he and his

dark-haired wife had their own sets, and mingled with their own

friends. Jane had no means of discovering just whether she would

have been happier with Irving; for Irving died while she was still

digging potatoes and complaining of her lot at Craigenputtock.

However this may be, the Carlyles, man and wife, lived an

existence that was full of unhappiness and rancor. Jane Carlyle

became an invalid, and sought to allay her nervous sufferings with

strong tea and tobacco and morphin. When a nervous woman takes to

morphin, it almost always means that she becomes intensely

jealous; and so it was with Jane Carlyle.

A shivering, palpitating, fiercely loyal bit of humanity, she took

it into her head that her husband was infatuated with Lady

Ashburton, or that Lady Ashburton was infatuated with him. She

took to spying on them, and at times, when her nerves were all a

jangle, she would lie back in her armchair and yell with paroxysms

of anger. On the other hand, Carlyle, eager to enjoy the world,

sought relief from his household cares, and sometimes stole away

after a fashion that was hardly guileless. He would leave false

addresses at his house, and would dine at other places than he had


In 1866 Jane Carlyle suddenly died; and somehow, then, the

conscience of Thomas Carlyle became convinced that he had wronged

the woman whom he had really loved. His last fifteen years were

spent in wretchedness and despair. He felt that he had committed

the unpardonable sin. He recalled with anguish every moment of

their early life at Craigenputtock--how she had toiled for him,

and waited upon him, and made herself a slave; and how, later, she

had given herself up entirely to him, while he had thoughtlessly

received the sacrifice, and trampled on it as on a bed of flowers.

Of course, in all this he was intensely morbid, and the diary

which he wrote was no more sane and wholesome than the screamings

with which his wife had horrified her friends. But when he had

grown to be a very old man, he came to feel that this was all a

sort of penance, and that the selfishness of his past must be

expiated in the future. Therefore, he gave his diary to his

friend, the historian, Froude, and urged him to publish the

letters and memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle. Mr. Froude, with an

eye to the reading world, readily did so, furnishing them with

abundant footnotes, which made Carlyle appear to the world as

more or less of a monster.

First, there was set forth the almost continual unhappiness of the

pair. In the second place, by hint, by innuendo, and sometimes by

explicit statement, there were given reasons to show why Carlyle

made his wife unhappy. Of course, his gnawing dyspepsia, which she

strove with all her might to drive away, was one of the first and

greatest causes. But again another cause of discontent was stated

in the implication that Carlyle, in his bursts of temper, actually

abused his wife. In one passage there is a hint that certain blue

marks upon her arm were bruises, the result of blows.

Most remarkable of all these accusations is that which has to do

with the relations of Carlyle and Lady Ashburton. There is no

doubt that Jane Carlyle disliked this brilliant woman, and came to

have dark suspicions concerning her. At first, it was only a sort

of social jealousy. Lady Ashburton was quite as clever a talker as

Mrs. Carlyle, and she had a prestige which brought her more


Then, by degrees, as Jane Carlyle's mind began to wane, she

transferred her jealousy to her husband himself. She hated to be

out-shone, and now, in some misguided fashion, it came into her

head that Carlyle had surrendered to Lady Ashburton his own

attention to his wife, and had fallen in love with her brilliant


On one occasion, she declared that Lady Ashburton had thrown

herself at Carlyle's feet, but that Carlyle had acted like a man

of honor, while Lord Ashburton, knowing all the facts, had passed

them over, and had retained his friendship with Carlyle.

Now, when Froude came to write My Relations with Carlyle, there

were those who were very eager to furnish him with every sort of

gossip. The greatest source of scandal upon which he drew was a

woman named Geraldine Jewsbury, a curious neurotic creature, who

had seen much of the late Mrs. Carlyle, but who had an almost

morbid love of offensive tattle. Froude describes himself as a

witness for six years, at Cheyne Row, "of the enactment of a

tragedy as stern and real as the story of Oedipus." According to

his own account:

I stood by, consenting to the slow martyrdom of a woman whom I

have described as bright and sparkling and tender, and I uttered

no word of remonstrance. I saw her involved in a perpetual

blizzard, and did nothing to shelter her.

But it is not upon his own observations that Froude relies for his

most sinister evidence against his friend. To him comes Miss

Jewsbury with a lengthy tale to tell. It is well to know what Mrs.

Carlyle thought of this lady. She wrote:

It is her besetting sin, and her trade of novelist has aggravated

it--the desire of feeling and producing violent emotions. ...

Geraldine has one besetting weakness; she is never happy unless

she has a grande passion on hand.

There were strange manifestations on the part of Miss Jewsbury

toward Mrs. Carlyle. At one time, when Mrs. Carlyle had shown some

preference for another woman, it led to a wild outburst of what

Miss Jewsbury herself called "tiger jealousy." There are many

other instances of violent emotions in her letters to Mrs.

Carlyle. They are often highly charged and erotic. It is unusual

for a woman of thirty-two to write to a woman friend, who is

forty-three years of age, in these words, which Miss Jewsbury used

in writing to Mrs. Carlyle:

You are never out of my thoughts one hour together. I think of you

much more than if you were my lover. I cannot express my feelings,

even to you--vague, undefined yearnings to be yours in some way.

Mrs. Carlyle was accustomed, in private, to speak of Miss Jewsbury

as "Miss Gooseberry," while Carlyle himself said that she was

simply "a flimsy tatter of a creature." But it is on the testimony

of this one woman, who was so morbid and excitable, that the most

serious accusations against Carlyle rest. She knew that Froude was

writing a volume about Mrs. Carlyle, and she rushed to him, eager

to furnish any narratives, however strange, improbable, or

salacious they might be.

Thus she is the sponsor of the Ashburton story, in which there is

nothing whatsoever. Some of the letters which Lady Ashburton wrote

Carlyle have been destroyed, but not before her husband had

perused them. Another set of letters had never been read by Lord

Ashburton at all, and they are still preserved--friendly,

harmless, usual letters. Lord Ashburton always invited Carlyle to

his house, and there is no reason to think that the Scottish

philosopher wronged him.

There is much more to be said about the charge that Mrs. Carlyle

suffered from personal abuse; yet when we examine the facts, the

evidence resolves itself into practically nothing. That, in his

self-absorption, he allowed her to Sending Completed Page, Please

Wait ... overflowed toward a man who must have been a manly,

loving lover. She calls him by the name by which he called her--a

homely Scottish name.


You said you would weary, and I do hope in my heart you are

wearying. It will be so sweet to make it all up to you in kisses

when I return. You will take me and hear all my bits of

experiences, and your heart will beat when you find how I have

longed to return to you. Darling, dearest, loveliest, the Lord

bless you! I think of you every hour, every moment. I love you and

admire you, like--like anything. Oh, if I was there, I could put

my arms so close about your neck, and hush you into the softest

sleep you have had since I went away. Good night. Dream of me. I


It seems most fitting to remember Thomas Carlyle as a man of

strength, of honor, and of intellect; and his wife as one who was

sorely tried, but who came out of her suffering into the arms of

death, purified and calm and worthy to be remembered by her

husband's side.