Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish essayist and historian, lived a long time, from 1795 – 1881. During his lifetime, he was recognised as one of the world’s greatest writers.

Just don’t do these things to the exclusion of your loving family.

On 17 October 1826, Carlyle married his secretary Jane Welsh. Both were opinionated, forthright. The union saw both tenderness and tension. Were they happy? Carlyle’s biographer didn’t think their marriage was consummated. Many stories surrounded Carlyle in life; many more came to light after he died. Some of these stories raised eyebrows, such as novelist Samuel Butler’s opinion that …

“It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs Carlyle marry one another, and so make only two people miserable and not four”.

The story which follows is one of many. How much of it is truth, and how much supposition? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Jane was an intelligent, attractive and somewhat temperamental daughter of a well-to-do doctor. They had their quarrels and misunderstandings but still loved each other dearly. After their marriage, Jane continued to serve as his secretary. But, after several years of marriage, she became ill. Being a hard-working Scot, and absorbed in his writing, Carlyle let Jane continue working for several weeks after her illness developed.She had cancer, and though it was of the slow growing kind, she finally became confined to bed. Although Carlyle loved her dearly, he very seldom found time to stay with her for long. He was too busy with his work.

When Jane died they carried her body to the cemetery for the burial service. The day was a miserable one. It was raining hard and the mud was deep. Following the funeral, Carlyle went back to his home alone. He went up the stairs to Jane’s room and sat in the chair next to her bed. He sat there thinking about how little time he had spent with her and wishing he had done things differently.

Noticing her diary on a table beside the bed, he picked it up and began to read it. Suddenly he was shocked. There, on one page, she had written a single line. “Yesterday he spent an hour with me and it was like heaven; I love him so.” Something dawned on him which he had not noticed before. He had been too busy working to notice how much he meant to her. He thought of all the times he had gone about his work without thinking about her or noticing her. Then Carlyle turned the page in the diary. There he read the words that broke his heart. “I have listened all day to hear his steps in the hall, but now it is late and I guess he won’t come today.”

Carlyle threw the diary down and ran out of the house. Some of his friends found him at the grave, his face buried in the mud. His eyes red from weeping. Tears continued to roll down his cheeks. He kept repeating over and over again, “If only I had known. If only I had known.” But it was too late for Carlyle. Jane was dead.

Historians say Thomas Carlyle lived another 15 years, world-weary, bored with his writing and a partial recluse. After Jane’s death, he did not write seriously again.