Early Letters of Thomas Carlyle

By Charles Eliot Norton; Thomas Carlyle | Go to book overview

APPENDIX
MR. FROUDE'S USE OF THE CORRESPONDENCE OF CARLYLE AND MISS WELSH

THE letters that passed between Carlyle and Miss Welsh from their first acquaintance in 1821 till their marriage in 1826 afford a view of their characters and their relations to each other, different both in particulars and in general effect from that given by Mr. Froude. His narrative is a story "founded on fact," elaborated with the art of a practised romancer, in which assertion and inference, unsupported by evidence or contradictory to it, often take the place of correct statement. Even if the form of truth be preserved, a colour not its own is given to it by the imagination of the writer.

To exhibit completely the extent and quality of the divergence of Mr. Froude's narrative from the truth, the whole story would have to be rewritten, and letters would have to be printed which, in my judgment, are too sacred for publication. But I believe that, consistently with a due regard to the nature of the source from which they are drawn, some illustrations may be given of Mr. Froude's method that will suffice to show the real character of his work, and the amount of trust that is to be reposed in it.

Near the outset of his account of the first acquaintance of Carlyle and Miss Welsh, Mr. Froude tells the story, which will be remembered by all readers of his book, of the relations between Edward Irving and Miss Welsh, of his falling in love with her after his engagement to his future wife, of her reciprocation of his feeling, of her refusal to encourage him because of the bonds by which he was held, and of the conclusion of the affair by his marriage to Miss Martin. It was an affair discreditable to Irving, and for a time it brought much suffering to Miss Welsh. Mr. Froude is aware that the telling of such a private experience requires excuse, and he justifies it

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