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Carlyle, John Aitken (DNB00)


CARLYLE, JOHN AITKEN, M.D. (1801–1879), younger brother of Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) [q. v.], was born at Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire, on 7 July 1801. 'A logic chopper from the cradle' is one of the descriptions given of him by his elder brother, whom at an early age he succeeded as a teacher at the Annan academy. Thomas Carlyle, when tutor to the Bullers, devoted a portion of his salary to enable John Carlyle to study medicine at the university of Edinburgh, where he took his degree of M.D. in or about 1825. Two years later the same brother sent him to complete his medical education in Germany, and maintained him for several years in London, where he tried to obtain practice as a physician. Failing in this he attempted literature, and contributed a little to 'Fraser's Magazine' and other periodicals. He helped his brother in translating Legendre's Geometry. In 1831, on the recommendation of his brother's helpful friend, Francis Jeffrey, he was appointed travelling physician to the Countess of Clare, with a salary of three hundred guineas a year and his expenses. In the following year he remitted money to his mother, and paid off his debt to his brother. Occasionally visiting England and Scotland, he spent some seven years in Italy with Lady Clare, in the intervals of his attendance practising for some time on his own account as a physician in Rome, where, during an outbreak of cholera, he gave his medical services gratuitously among the poor. Returning to England in 1837, he became in 1838 travelling physician to the Duke of Buccleuch, with whom he revisited the continent. By 1843 he had resigned this position, and, possessed of a moderate competency, abandoned almost entirely the practice of his profession, declining an invitation from Lady Holland, given at the suggestion of Lord Jeffrey, to become her physician in attendance. He lived for several years in lodgings near the Chelsea residence of his brigadier, to whom, medically and otherwise, he made himself very useful The first instalment of what he intended to be an English prose translation of the whole of Dante's great poem appeared in 1849 as 'Dante's Divine Comedy, the Inferno, with the text of the original collated from the best editions, and explanatory notes,' a volume which, under whatever aspect it is viewed, leaves little to be desired. The preface contains on estimate of Dante as a man and a poet, in which the influence of Thomas Carlyle is very conspicuous. After the preface come two appendices, useful contributions to the critical bibliography of the 'Divea Commedia,' and its commentators. A second edition, revised, appeared in 1867, with a prefatory notice, in which Mr. Carlyle spoke of issuing two volumes more, containing translations of the 'Purgatoria' and the 'Paradiso.' But the hope was not fulfilled, though he had execution considerable portion of the task. A third edition of the 'Inferno,' a reprint of the second edition, was issued in 1882.

In 1862 Dr. Carlyle married a rich widow with several children, and she died in 1854. After her death he resided for several years in Edinburgh, ultimately settling in Dumfrieshire. He devoted much of his time in later years to the study of the Icelandic language and literature. On the death of his sister-in-law, Mrs. Thomas Carlyle, he offered to take up his abode with his bereaved brother. The offer was declined. Complaints of his brother John's 'careless helter-skelter ways' occur not infrequently in Carlyle's annotations to the letters of his wife, while he hears testimony in them to Dr. Carlyle's 'good, affections to, manly character and fine talents,' and his many letters to him, published by Mr. Froude, are uniformly affectionate in tone. By his friends, Dr. Carlyle was regarded as a man of amiable and tranquil disposition, as well as of ability and accomplishment.

In 1861 Dr. Carlyle edited his friend Dr. Irving's posthumous 'History of Scottish Poetry,' adding a little fresh matter to the and notes, and appending a brief glossary of Scotch words occurring in the volume. In 1878 he made over to the acting committee of the Association for the Better Endowment of the University of Edinburgh 1,600l., to found two medical bursaries of not less than 25l. each, now worth 32l. each, known by the founder's name, and tenable for one year.

Thomas Carlyle speaks of John in his will as having 'no need of money or help,' but left him a life-interest in the lease of the house at Chelsea, with his books and the fragments of his history of James I, He made him, too, his chief executor, and asked him to superintend the execution of the instruction in his will, saying, in respect to them, 'I wish him to be regarded as my second self, my surviving self. Dr. Carlyle did not, however, survive his brother. He died at Dumfries, 15 Dec. 1879.

[Carlyle's Reminiscences (1881); Froude's Thomas Carlyle, a History of the First Forty Years of his Life (1882}; Froude's Thomas Carlyle's History of his Life in London (1384); Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle (1883); The Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson (1883); Thomas Carlyle's Printed Will (1880); Edinburgh University Calendar for 1879-80; Early Letters of Carlyle, by C. E. Norton (1886).]

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