Jane Welsh Carlyle

Dates: 
Born 14 July 1801, died 22 April 1866

Jane Welsh Carlyle was the daughter of Grace Welsh, and Dr John Welsh, and was known during her life in the private roles of witty story teller and letter writer and as the wife of Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881), the Scottish essayist and historian. Two thousand of her letters survive, plus some short prose pieces, an anecdotal notebook and her Journal (1855–6).

Educated at local Haddington schools and privately tutored, she learnt Latin and briefly attended Miss Hall’s school, Leith Walk, Edinburgh. Thomas Carlyle courted her by letter and they married on 17 October 1826. The Carlyles lived at Comely Bank, Edinburgh, then Craigenputtoch, Nithsdale, and finally 5 Cheyne Row, London, from 1834. There, Jane Carlyle ran the household and held court to those who came to admire her husband. In February 1856, she was one of the signatories of the petition for a married women’s property act, a rare public act on her part.

Jane Carlyle’s sudden death led to Thomas collecting all her surviving letters and preparing them for publication after his own death. Her choice was to write privately, and her reputation rests firmly and justifiably on the skill and power of the life-writing that survives.

Sources
The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women
Based on an entry by Aileen Christianson