Friday, September 28, 2007

The Carlyle Letters Online

This site contains the searchable text of some 10,000 letters by Jane Welsh Carlyle and her husband Thomas Carlyle, which provide remarkable insight into the values and culture of Nineteenth Century Britain. It is possible to browse the letters by date, by recipient, and by subject as well as searching the complete text using keywords. But don't just plunder the text but read it for the wonderful descriptions and detailed accounts of events, other writers and everyday life:

Here is Thomas Carlyle's description of a meeting with William Godwin:

"He is a bald, bushy-browed, thick, hoary, hale little figure with spectacles: taciturn enough, and speaking when he does speak with a certain epigrammatic spirit; wherein except a little shrewdness there is nothing but the most commonplace character. (I should have added that he wears spectacles, has full grey eyes, a very large blunt characterless nose, and ditto chin.) By degrees I hitched myself near him, and was beginning to open him, and open on him, for he had stared twice at me; when suddenly enough began a speaking of French among the Kennys and Badamsinas (for they are all French-English); and presently Godwin was summoned off to—take a hand at whist! I had already flatly declined. There did the Philosopher sit, and a swarm of noisy children, chattering women, lounging dilettantes round him; and two women literally crashing hoarse thunder out of a piano (for it was louder than an iron-forge), under pretext of its being music by Rossini. I thought of my own piano, and the far different fingering it got; looked sometimes not without sorrow at the long-nosed whist-player; and in the space of an hour (seeing supper about to be laid in another room) took myself away."