CARLYLE (JANE WELSH) Autograph letter signed, [1852]
Lot 27
CARLYLE (JANE WELSH) Autograph letter signed, [1852]
Sold for £687 (US$ 1,155) inc. premium
Lot Details
Autograph letter signed ("Jane W. Carlyle"), to Edward Sterling, offering him a cat for his new house at Hedley, with the observation that "No household can be regarded as complete without a cat, and a black cat they say brings luck. Now such [a] black cat is here anxiously waiting for you to take him away! He came from Hedley, and to Hedley would like to return; and to end his days where he began them. The fact is if you don't take him, death must be his doom; for a Lady has suddenly presented me with a little white Persian cat with blue eyes, and there is not house room for two cats ... I have already sent so many cats to death, that 'horrible is the idea to me' of having this one's blood on my conscience. Shall I send him in a bag...?'; with autograph envelope (addressed to Sterling at South Place, Knightsbridge), 3 pages, small hole at the centre of first page, mounting stubs, 8vo, 5 Cheyne Row, 'Friday night' (postmarked 12 June 12 1852)


  • 'NO HOUSEHOLD CAN BE REGARDED AS COMPLETE WITHOUT A CAT': a fine and appealing – depending on one's taste in pets – letter by Jane Welsh Carlyle, of whom her modern editors write: 'it is hardly disputed that she is the greatest woman letter writer in English. Her skill often lay in the immediacy of her letters; their appeal lies partly in the story that emerges from her self-dramatization. Short excerpts can barely do them justice. Their effectiveness has nothing to do with elegant prose, to which she could always rise, much to do with her sympathetic imagination, clear head, alertness, and a quick eye and ear for entirely natural expression' (Kenneth Fielding and David Sorensen ODNB). This opinion, as they point out, was shared by her husband Thomas, who described her letters as giving 'such an electric-shower of all-illuminating brilliancy, penetration, wise discernment, just enthusiasm, humour, grace, patience, courage, love – and in fine of spontaneous nobleness of mind and intellect' surpassing 'whatever of best I know to exist in that kind'. Although not particularly rare in themselves and although she has long been admired, her letters rarely occur for sale; only six being recorded as sold at auction since 1977 in ABPC.

    The recipient, Edward (Teddy) Coningham Sterling, was son of the Carlyles' close friend John Sterling, subject of Carlyle's celebrated Life of John Sterling published in 1851. He had recently moved to his uncle's farm, Headley Grove, near Bletchworth in Surrey. The letter is not printed in The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, 27 (for 1852), edited by Ryals, Campbell, Christianson, Fielding, McIntosh and Sorensen (1999); nor on the Duke University Carlyle Letters Online. From a letter written by Thomas to Jane on 27 September that year, it appears that the new white cat did not stay at Cheyne Row for very long.
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