Thomas Carlyle To Margaret Carlyle; 6 July 1848Chelsea, 7 [i.e. 6] july, 1848 —
My dear Mother,
It seems to me again too long since I have written to you; but the fault has not altogether been mine: besides, the only way to mend it is to write now, before any one get in to interrupt me; which accordingly I do, the first work of the day. . . .
Doubtless you have been reading of these awful explosions in Paris, which interest everybody, and are indeed an alarming symptom of the misery of this poor time. To us the most interesting feature of all is this General Cavaignac who has had the command in that terrible business. He is the younger brother of the Cavaignac we loved much and were very intimate with here, while he lived: we often heard of him as a just and valiant and everyway excellent man, whom his brother much loved; and indeed I believe him to be really such; — which kind of character was certainly never more wanted than in the place he is now in!1 Perhaps no man in all the world could have had so cruel a duty laid upon him, as that of cannonading and suppressing these wretched people, who we may say his Father and Brother and all his kindred had devoted themselves to stirring up:2 but he saw it to be a duty, and he has bravely done it. I suppose he will get himself killed in the business, one day; and indeed he appears privately to look for nothing else. His poor old Mother still lives; has now no child but him; — has a strange history indeed to look back upon, from the days of Robespierre all the way!3 — It is very curious to me to think how the chiefs of these people, as Armand Marrast, Clement Thomas (late commander of the National Guards),4 used to sit and smoke a pipe with me in this quiet nook some years ago. And now Louis-Philippe is out, and they are in, — not forever either! "The wheel of Fortune," as old Aunt Babby's5 dream said, "the wheel of Fortune, one spake up and the other spake down!" —
Emerson has been lecturing at a considerable rate here; meeting with moderately fair encouragement from a certain class. We had to attend him, — not a very severe duty either, for there is really something of excellent in him tho' he is a little "moon shiny": — however the thing is now over; and he is fast getting ready to go home to America again; sails from Liverpool, in fact, tomorrow (or rather saturday, for this is but thursday!) week.6 A voyage of ten or twelve days, if happy, will land him at his own house-door, after a long and interesting absence; — and as for us, the likelihood is, we shall never see him again at all. His present visit has not done much for me, nor could I in any way, do much for him: but he has and keeps up from old a very friendly feeling for me, and the very separations that lie between us add themselves to this probably final parting to make it sad and affectionate! How much is every one of us left alone in this world; nothing above him but the eternal skies, no help or counsel for him except in Heaven only!
Emerson has asked me to make a little journey with him to see a strange old Antiquity, old almost as the Hills, which bears the name Stonehenge, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, about 100 miles Southwest of this. It is some 4 hours by railway; the ground, for the greater part, already known to me (for it is partly the road to Alverstoke, thro' Hampshire). I have consented to go; and so off we move tomorrow forenoon. A friend lives in the way,7 who will lodge us one night as we return, or two if we like, — perhaps over the Sabbath till Monday: On Monday evening, Emerson sets off towards the North, and we do not see him again. — Today, as you may fancy, I am making my bits of preparations and arrangements; I have various places to go to; so shall be busy all day, — and indeed ought already to be getting under way! — Jack talked to Emerson of going with us; but I know not whether he will stand good; — probably not: I must consult him before night come.
On the whole, dear Mother, I must be off. You shall hear from me again, a word about the journey, so soon as we return. Tell Jamie I do not forget that I owe him a Letter: I will pay it by and by.— From Jean at Dumfries, I hear nothing this good while; but suppose she is busy nursing, poor thing. My affectionate blessings to one and all.— Get ready for Moffat, then, and off!
Adieu dear good Mother.
Ever your affectionate
Footnotes by the editor of the Carlyle letters:
1. The constituent assembly, elected in April and meeting for the first time, 5 May, had reorganized the govt., giving power to an executive commission that appointed to ministries men from the provisional govt., but excluded the socialists, whose attempted attack on the assembly, 15 May, had failed. The national workshops, set up to deal with unemployment, had been overwhelmed by more than 115,000 unemployed workers. Attempts to cut down the size of the workshops by the assembly led to a serious revolt by workers, socialists, and revolutionaries, 22–26 June, with savage street fighting. Many were killed, deported, or imprisoned. Responsible for the suppression as minister of war, Gen. Louis Eugène Cavaignac (1802–57; see 9:91) then became pres. of the council, responsible to the assembly, with a moderate republican ministry. He was to be overwhelmingly defeated in the presidential elections in Dec. by Louis Napoleon. He was the brother of the Carlyles' dear friend E. L. Godefroy Cavaignac.
2. His father, Jean Baptiste Cavaignac (1762–1829; see 9:8), a member of the revolutionary national convention, had voted for the death of Louis XVI; his brother had been imprisoned during the early part of Louis Philippe's regime and escaped to exile, 1835. Gen. Cavaignac remained a committed republican to his death.
3. Julie Cavaignac, b. Corancez (1780–1849; see 9:8).
4. Clément Thomas (1809–71), republican politician; escaped imprisonment and went into exile, 1835–37; commander-in-chief of the national guard in Paris, May–June, when replaced during the uprising; exiled again, 1851; executed by national guardsmen, 1871.
6. Emerson sailed from Liverpool, 15 July, and landed in Boston, 27 July.
7. Arthur Helps lived at Vernon Hill, Bishop's Waltham, Hants, 11½ mi. SE of Winchester.
awful explosions in Paris: Carlyle refers to the June Days Uprising; see note 1 above.
that terrible business: On June 21 the National Assembly began to scale back expensive economic benefits that had been granted poor Parisians. Faced by armed resistance to this action, the Assembly called on the army to restore order. Over the next few days the army overwhelmed Parisian rebels ensconced in blockaded city streets. The victorious "Party of Order" in the Assembly then appointed general and statesman Louis Eugène Cavaignac to the head of the French state. Later, on the 10th of December, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was elected president of the French Republic. (Source: wikipedia.)
"moon shiny": OED
moonshiny — 3. Of the nature of moonshine; fanciful, unreal, insubstantial. Cf. MOONSHINE n. 2a.
1833 Pearl & Lit. Gaz. 23 Nov. 65/1, I threw aside the poem and the ode, and resolved to write some love ditty or moonshiny stuff — any body can write that. 1857 H. MELVILLE Confidence-man xli. 312 And moon~shiny as it in theory may be, yet a very practical philosophy. 1880 Sat. Rev. No. 1291. 122 There is a good deal of moon~shiny sentiment in it, especially in the conversation of the lovers. 1892 ‘M. TWAIN’ Amer. Claimant 36 The same old scheming, generous, goodhearted, moonshiny, hopeful, no-account failure he always was. 1990 Amer. Lit. 62 208 This complaint culminates a lifetime of deprecating descriptions of the frail, moonshiny, imaginary territory of his fictions.
Main source: Thomas Carlyle; the Collected Letters, Volume 23, edited by Ian M. Campbell et al (Duke University Press , 2009)