Thomas Carlyle: If I had only known

A few years ago, I heard Chuck Swindoll tell a story about Thomas Carlyle who was a Scottish writer back in the 1800s. He was so busy with life that he missed out spending time with his wife during her latter years while she was dying.

I found the account here. Just in case that web page goes away some day, I’ve copied it below.

Thomas Carlyle lived from 1795 until 1881. He was a Scot essayist and historian. During his lifetime he became one of the world’s greatest writers. But he was a human and humans make mistakes.

On October 17, 1826, Carlyle married his secretary Jane Welsh. She 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, Jane became ill. Being a hard worker, Carlyle became so absorbed in his writings that he let Jane continue working for several weeks after she became ill. She had cancer, and though it was one of the slow growing kind, she finally became confined to her bed. Although Carlyle loved her dearly, he very seldom found time to stay with her long. He was busy with his work.

When Jane died they carried her to the cemetery for the service. The day was a miserable day. It was raining hard and the mud was deep. Following the funeral Carlyle went back to his home. He was taking it pretty hard. He went up the stairs to Jane’s room and sat down in the chair next to her bed. He sat there thinking about how little time he had spent with her and wishing so much he had a chance to do it differently. Noticing her diary on a table beside the bed, he picked it up and began to read it. Suddenly he seemed shocked. He saw it. 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 that he had not noticed before. He had been too busy to notice that he meant so much to her. He thought of all the times he had gone about his work without thinking about and noticing her. Then Carlyle turned the page in the diary. There he noticed she had written some 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 read a little more in the book. Then he threw it down and ran out of the house. Some of his friends found him at the grave, his face buried in the mud. His eyes were red from weeping. Tears continued to roll down his cheeks. He kept repeating over and over again, “If I had only known, if I had only known.” But it was too late for Carlyle. She was dead.

After Jane’s death, Carlyle made little attempt to write again. The historians say he lived another 15 years, “weary, bored and a partial recluse.” I share the story with in the hope that you will not make the same mistake. While our loved ones must have the money we make to live, it is the love we have that they really want. Give it now before it is too late.
Author Unknown