- The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyleed. by Ian Campbell, Aileen Christianson, David Sorensen
Volume 43 of The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlylebrings together 179 letters the two wrote between October 1865 and June 1866, 114 of which are Carlyle’s and 65 Jane’s. This collection, comprehensively annotated and indexed, is particularly significant since the seven months in question draw to a close the epistolary relationship Thomas Carlyle and Jane Welsh began in 1821 and sustained over 39 years of marriage, until Jane’s sudden death on 21 April 1865. In this respect, the publication of volume 43 represents a particular milestone in their collective correspondence, whose expected completion remains a distant goal, the whole generously available to all – much to the envy of Dickens scholars – through The Carlyle Online Letters Project, a digital archive maintained by Duke University.
Perhaps the most poignant example of the epistolary exchanges between Thomas and Jane, traced, as the Introduction notes, “through all the preceding  volumes,” and illustrated in 28 letters in the volume under review, is Jane’s to her husband, dated Saturday, 21 April 1865. “Dearest,” it begins:
– it seems just a “consuming of Time” to write today, when you are coming the day after tomorrow. But – “if there were nothing else in it” – ( yourphrase) such a piece of liberality, as letting one have letters on Sunday if called for, should be honoured, at least by availing oneself of it! All longstories however may be postponed till next week.(211–12)
Posted to Carlyle in Dumfries and due to arrive within 24 hours, the letter conveyed a promise Jane never kept. After composing it early in the morning of the 21, stshe lunched with the Forsters and guests, and then set off back to Chelsea in her brougham via Hyde Park, never to reach 5 Cheyne Walk alive. En route, she jumped out of the carriage to retrieve her dog, injured by a passing vehicle, and continued on until the family coachman, concerned by her silence, stopped the coach, only to find, on the conformation of a passerby hailed to assist, that Jane was dead. Three years later, after completing his self-imposed task of collecting and editing Jane’s letters for publication, Carlyle wrote about that letter: “The last words her hand ever wrote. Why should I tear my heart by reading them so often? They reached me at Dumfries, Sunday April 22, fifteen hours after the fatal telegram had come” informing him of Jane’s death (cited xviii). [End Page 179]
Carlyle’s pain is not hard to understand. Not only did re-readings remind him of “long stories” never told, the “short” ones touched on recall to life the presence of a vibrant and loving woman, recounting events in the immediate past and planning for those ahead. Lady Lothian “was here yesterday twice; called at four when I hadn’t returned, and called again at five;” “e leven” coming tomorrow and “only tencups of company-china” in which to serve tea to a cross-section of visitors drawn from London’s social and intellectual elite. The latest literary intelligence then follows – about Edward Chapman, the senior partner of the publishing company, “furious” at the way John Camden Hotten had “got the start of him” by snapping up all available copies Carlyle’s Address as Lord Rector of Edinburgh University on 2 April (the reason for his continued absence from home), before Jane concludes by recounting how she had seen a portrait of Frederick the Great in “an old furniture shop-window” in Richmond. Spotting it, she descended from her carriage and bargained with the “broker” in order to secure it for Carlyle at a reduced price. “I will go back for it if you like, and find a place for it on my wall,” she concluded (212–13).
With a postmortem ruled out by the...