POST­CARD FROM LON­DON

mike colman

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - UPFRONT -

Soon af­ter ar­riv­ing in Eng­land we joined the Na­tional Trust, giv­ing us en­try to dozens of his­toric homes around the coun­try. It pro­vides a great in­sight into how people lived hun­dreds of years ago. That is, as long as those people were earls and dukes whose houses look like movie sets. With one no­table ex­cep­tion. Within walk­ing dis­tance of our south-west Lon­don flat, anony­mous among iden­ti­cal four-storey ter­races, is Car­lyle’s House, home to the great Scot­tish philoso­pher and writer Thomas Car­lyle and his wife Jane for al­most half a century in the mid-to-late 1800s.

Haven’t heard of him? Don’t feel bad. Not too many people have these days, but in his prime Car­lyle was one of the world’s big­gest celebri­ties. The door of the un­re­mark­able-look­ing ter­race in Chelsea was once opened to the likes of Charles Dick­ens, Lord Ten­nyson, El­iz­a­beth Bar­rett Brown­ing, Ralph Waldo Emer­son and many oth­ers who sat around Car­lyle like hun­gry chil­dren, feast­ing on his words.

His three-vol­ume his­tory of the French Revo­lu­tion and bi­ogra­phies of Oliver Cromwell, Fred­er­ick the Great and the early kings of Nor­way were big sell­ers in the 1800s but lacked the wiz­ards and vam­pires to gain an au­di­ence to­day. The pop­u­lar­ity of his writ­ten works has faded, but the way in which Car­lyle and his wife lived is frozen in all its fas­ci­nat­ing nor­mal­ity. The ta­ble around which Dick­ens and co sat in awe of the man his wife called His Great­ness, the desk at which Car­lyle wrote, the bed on which their maid slept in the kitchen, Car­lyle’s dress­ing gown and books, por­traits by such artists as Whistler and Tait. A sofa, about which Jane had writ­ten ex­cit­edly af­ter buy­ing it on sale.

In­cred­i­bly, the Car­lyles never owned the home. They rented. In to­day’s Lon­don mar­ket it would fetch about $A6 mil­lion, which should serve as a les­son to all cur­rent celebri­ties. Fame is fleet­ing, but real es­tate lasts for­ever.

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