James Paterson was a Scottish landscape and portrait painter associated with The Glasgow Boys movement of artists, best known for his landscape paintings of Dumfriesshire. Paterson stayed at Craigenputtock in 1882 and the following is his account and sketches of his stay:
Fifty years have come and gone since this lonely moorland farmhouse was tenanted by Thomas Carlyle and his newly wedded wife, Jane Welsh.
Very little changed is anything outward; quiet Craigenputtock was then, quiet it is still. You hear the wind moaning among the trees, the leaves falling to the ground, a distant murmur of water, the bleat of some sheep on the uplands. There are the sounds by night and by day; all else is silent. In how many places, dear to recollection, has time with its changes wrought sad havoc! Here it is not so. We can wonder through the quiet fields and adjacent moor; the garden still yields its scanty stock of fruit and vegetables as of old; we may sit in the quondam drawing room, look into the once snug study, and even invade the sanctuary of the kitchen, memorable as the scene of Mrs Carlyle's culinary triumphs. A spirit seems ever to hang upon one's steps, a presence more real than the actual occupants. It is easy to imagine the then hale Carlyle, waling solitary out there on the darkest nights, wrestling with his soul for and answer to the questionings within him regarding the problems of life, while from the open window issues the sound of music; his wife is playing Scottish airs on the piano. These walls listened to the talk of the brilliant Jeffrey; here, two the young Emerson first met his lifelong friend, whom he over tarried not many days. Here Sartor Resartus was written, and the essays on Burns, on Scot, and others. It seems and intrusion a stranger being here, even now, uninvited. Very simply were the "curious impertinent" once baffled, but now the door stands open, and, though few indeed venture near, a visitor's book lies on the lobby table, where those who make a pilgrimage to the spot can register their names. Is it not in some sense sad the Craigenputtock was willed away to Edinburgh University? Without doubt a most deserving object; but would not the trustees have been equally satisfied, indeed more so, with an income of similar value in Consols? And we should have a representative of its former inmates still there in place of aliens. It was, however, done doubtless with no lack of thought.
Let us now look to Carlyle's own impressions of Craigenputtock, how he looked forward to his eight-year's stay there, and how after all that rendered it dear had vanished, he turned to its memories in his old age with fond recollection. We make the following extracts, which speak for themselves, form the recently published life by Froude – “Craigenputtock, June 10th 1828. – We have arrived at Craigenputtock and found much done, but still much to do… Had we come hither out of whim one might have sickened and grown melancholy over such an outlook; but we came only in search of food and raiment, and will not start at straws. Away then with Unmuth und Verdruss! Man is born to trouble and toile as the sparks fly upwards… Of the Craig o' Putta I cannot yet rightly speak till we have seen what adjustment matters will assume. Hither to, to say truth, all prospers as well as we could have hoped. The house stands heightened and white with roughcast, a light hewn porch in front, and cans on the chimney heads; and within it all seems firm and sound. During summer, as we calculate, it will dry and the smoke, we have reason to believe, is now pretty well subdued, so that on this side some satisfaction is to looked for.”
Two months later Carlyle again writes to his brother –
“Here is a drawing room with Goethe's picture in it, and a piano, and the finest papering on the walls; and I write even now behind it, in my own little library, out of which truly I can see nothing but a barn roof, tree tops, and empty hay carts, and under it perhaps a stagnant midden, cock with hens, over fed or else dazed with wet and starvation; but within which I may see a clear fire of peats and Sanquhar coals, with my desk and books, and every accoutrement I need in fairest order. Shame befall me if I ought to complain, accept it be of my own stupidity and pusillanimity.”
In all this Carlyle seemed to be struggling to look with a brave face on what was actually a temporary banishment from all the amenities of life, and his impatience now and again gets the better of him, breaking out into such expressions as "this devil's den," Craigenputtock. Poor Mrs Carlyle's comment upon this period, in a letter written long afterwards, is laconic in its simplicity, and yet significant of her dreary life here. I had gone with my husband to live in a little estate of peat bog." Indeed, her it suited much less than it did him. Unaccustomed to humble household duties, cut off from all society in which she had shone and which she heartily enjoyed, for soul companion the preoccupied and moody, if loving, Carlyle, her lot was not one to be envied. But she had entered upon her married life in spite of the advice, and even the reproaches of her friends, and with a firm resolution to hope and wait for better days; and never while here seldom indeed at any time, did she allow a word of complaint to fall from her lips. Nothing can adequately palliate the cruel thoughtlessness of Carlyle in taking a gently nurtured woman to rough it in this wild place. At no time very considerate of the feelings of others, it might have been expected that now, within six months of his marriage he would have hesitated before taking this rash step. But it must be remembered that his experience of womankind from his infancy had been unusually limited, confined indeed almost exclusively to his mother and sisters, for whom he had the greatest regard. And when we think what are the ordinary and natural duties of a small farmer's wife and family, we are the less surprised at his failing to realize the difference in Mrs Carlyle's position and upbringing. From his point of view, Craigenputtock seemed the only available course open to them. With his convictions on the sanctity of work and in their actual worldly circumstances, the move appeared absolutely necessary.
And now turning to Carlyle's reminiscences, in what light does his residence appear there after that period of his life, with its joys and sorrows, was long left behind?
“We were not unhappy and Craigneputtock; perhaps those were our happiest days. Useful continued labor, essentially successful, that makes even the moor green. I found I could do fully twice as much work in a given time there as with my best efforts was possible in London, such the interruptions.”
There is something pathetic in these few words, "Oh memory, when all things fade we fly to thee, our very sorrows time endeareth.”
Let us look for a little somewhat more closely at this now celebrated place. Craigenputtock meaning the wooded hill of the puttock, a kind of hawk, is a small estate on the borders of Dumfriesshire and Galloway, some 1,800 acres in extent, mostly moorland and lying seven hundred feet above sea level. Its precise situation is on the valley, running from the parish of Dunscore in Glencairn to the river Urr – flowing from the adjacent loch of the same name. It forms the boundary line of the two counties. Fully seventeen miles form Dumfries, the nearest railway station (save Auldgirth, which may be somewhat less), it will be seen to be sufficiently inaccessible. The nearest village, Corsock, is between three and four miles away. The house itself is not beautiful, not even what may be called picturesque. Where it stands nevertheless, it looks far from amiss, and seems not out of keeping with its barren surroundings. Still guarded by fine old trees and flanked by the orange and purple moors and Galloway hills, there is about it a quiet dignity which does not jar with its associations.
There appears no indication of the age of the present mansion, but form the style of its architecture, if an absolutely square building may be said to have any, it can no claims to antiquity, and probably dates from the beginning of this century. The windows were certainly fashioned since the abolition of the tax on window glass. The front of the house, facing the north, commands no view whatever, and looks into a grassy bank, rising immediately towards a now spare plantation. To the back, where there might have been preserved a wide panorama of moorland and hills, all outlook is forbidden by the farm buildings, girdled again by trees. Indeed, so surrounded is the house, and so sheltered in its little hollow, that no sign of a habitation is visible from any distance, save from the moor above, where one may indeed see the roof and a window or more. On entering we find ourselves in a somewhat spacious lobby, hardly deserving the name of hall. To the right is the former drawing room, and entering from it is the old study, a very tiny room which looks in the yard. On the left of the lobby is an apartment used by the Carlyles as the dining room and behind it is a bedroom. The kitchen, a large cheerful place, now the pleasantest room in the house, is built out at the back, as seen in the illustration. Ascending a narrow stone stair from the hall, we find ourselves on a small landing, whence four doors open into four several bedrooms, which complete the modest accommodation of Craigenputtock.
All prospect being denied us from the house itself, let us ascend Castrammon Hill, which rises in a gentle slope form the garden wall. A very easy climb of a quarter of an hour brings us to the summit, which may be a thousand feet above sea level, here, indeed, one has wide horizons. Looking towards the setting sun we see almost at our feet the still waters of Loch Urr, and beyond, range upon range of hills leading to the distant Glenkens. To the right, a neighboring shoulder hinders our view but again turning we have a range of country which extends over moorland, river, and plain, away down into Wordsworth's country. We can see where Ecclefechan must lie, whence the staid, serious boy started on his life's voyage. Main hill and Scotsbrigs are not far away, where the successive chapters of his history were unfolded. Again raising our eyes, beyond these filmy Cumberland hills, in a quiet street of quiet Chelsea we see in our "mind's eye" the scene of his later and last days, on the edge of that "Fog Babylon" he so railed against, and where the old Censor breathed his last – laying down his weary life, which to him had been one long struggle and tardy triumph; dying, to be brought home again, almost, within the shadow of the hill we are standing on, and laid by the dust of his father and mother in the quiet churchyard of Ecclefechan.
— James Paterson, 1882