The importance of Carlyle is probably better put in this quote from George Eliot than by me (she was a writer, so should have a better turn of phrase than me...):
"It is an idle question to ask whether his books will be read a century hence. If they are all burnt on his funeral pyre it would only be like cutting down an oak after it's acorns have sewn a forest." I'm not about to trace his influences through modern thought, I'm too lazy for that - and if you're interested, we have this thing called 'the Internet' these days. I'd also point out all his writings are out of copyright so freely available from Project Gutenberg. I've installed a wodge of them on my Kindle, but haven't got round to reading them yet - although I did read his first major work on the French Revolution many years ago. It was pretty good as I recall (the book; the revolution had mixed results, but of course it's still too soon to say ;-)
It's another no photo policy environment, although (and I apologise to the very helpful guides who I mentioned this blog to) I did snap a few shots. I just couldn't help myself.
The opening description of it being a small house in unfashionable Chelsea is perhaps a little misleading now it's 2011 and not 1840. Back then, Chelsea was half farmland, and was a very uncool place to live - the wealthy were in Mayfair, Belgravia and so on. A more accurate description of the house would now be 'a large house in uber-fashionable Chelsea', worth perhaps £12 million. How times change. If only I'd thought to buy it back in 1840...
|Small and unfashionable|
There are many items on display - books, manuscripts, personal items, and many quotations on Carlyle, who was a very famous man in his day.
Queen Victoria had this to say:
"A strange looking eccentric old Scotchman, who holds forth in a drawling melancholy voice upon the utter degradation of everything." That's what I want to be when I grow up too...actually, apart from the drawling, that pretty much describes me perfectly.
|Presumably a child's bath?|
"Tom Carlyle lives in perfect dignity in a little house in Chelsea with a snuffy Scotch maid to open the door and the best company in England ringing at it." And that's the interesting point - society, the well to-do and the great men and women of the time were all willing to trek out from the centre to what was basically the farming village of Chelsea, just to hang out with Carlyle. I think that's why the National Trust maintains the house and his memory today - he played a major, albeit mainly forgotten, role in shaping modern Britain. Less directly than others, but major nonetheless.
"I would go further to see Tom Carlyle than any man alive". I'm not sure if Dickens is referring to himself travelling further than anyone else, or being willing to go further to see Carlyle instead of anyone else - although it doesn't really matter, he was clearly a fan.
|Cast of Carlyle's Hands. I don't know why|
And one last quote from Carlyle himself, which adds to his decision to live in Chelsea (above it's cheapness), on his view North East across to London itself, "...and by night the the gleam of the Great Babylon affronting the peaceful skies." Well put.
Aside from the obvious Carlyle links, this is an excellently preserved house across four floors- dark and a little sombre, but that was pretty much the default for houses until, well, Habitat and Ikea came along I suppose.
And I simply don't understand Jane Carlyle's severe, plastered to the head haircut, which she sports in all images of her in the house. I know Victorians had some interesting ideas on what looked good, but this is quite extraordinary in it's harshness. I thought I had a picture but I don't, but here is a detail from a painting
|Maybe I'm over-reacting - it's not so bad|
Cost: £5.10. But free to Art Fund members, and presumably National Trust members (it's a Trust property.)
Food and Drink: None, there would be no space for it. The King's Road is very close.
Toilets: I didn't see any.
Travel: It's here. Just off the King's Road, and a stone's throw from the Thames. I got the bus down and back.
Only open March to October so plan accordingly. It would probably help to read some Carlyle first, even if it's just the (good) Wikipedia page.