The Collected Letters, Volume 12


JWC TO JOHN STERLING ; 5 October 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18401005-JWC-JOST-01; CL 12: 274-276


[5 October 1840]

Mr. Phosphorus! 1

I cannot help thinking that you are raising here a tempest in a teapot, which I, by principle, as well as temperament “a lover of quiet things,”2 must pronounce to be a rather superfluous labour. Suppose now that, before exploding this shower of crackers on my devoted head, you had taken a moment's breath to enquire into the merits of the case, who knows but you might have saved your crackers for some future emergency, and I might have saved my head? My head, however, is fortunately a tolerably hard one, and, armed with the helmet of Innocence, as at present, it can defy such fire-showers to do it any deadly hurt. For my own sake as you have already done your worst, it is hardly worth while to vindicate myself; but for the sake of the species, it may be as well perhaps to make you aware, that the present contre-temps has been produced, rather by an unlucky conjunction of your stars, than by individual female indiscretion.

One day that I dined at Knightsbridge some fortnight back, your Father said to me “Where is Cavaignac?” “In Leeds,” I answered. “What is he doing there?” says he. “What is your business?” says I. Presently thereupon, he told me you had written a poem “On what subject?” I very naturally enquired: “I do not choose to tell you, says he, with a tone of retaliation. “Perhaps you do not know,” says I. “I do know” says he, “but I am not at liberty to mention it.” There you have scene first. Scene the second occurred on the day your Letter3 came to us. It was on the table when your Father and Mother came to call. There seemed less imprudence in saying my husband had received a letter from you that day, than in making a mystery of so simple a fact. “Does he tell you about his Poem? said your Mother. “Yes.” “Has he told you the subject?” says she again.4 “Yes; but that we were not to speak of it.” Now I refer it from Mr John Sterling in a passion, to Mr John Sterling in his sober reason,5 what else could I, or ought I to have sai[d] supposing, as I had every reason to do, that your Mother was in the secret? Your Father had known it for a fortnight, and if it were conceivable that he should have kept it from her so long; was it conceivable that you should have placed more confidence in your Father's discretions, than in your Mother's, your Father being precisely the indiscreetest human being that ever was born! I saw in an instant that something had gone wrong. Your Mother looked exceedingly vexed,—and said: “He has not chosen that I should know; but pray don't tell me.” Then, of course, I wished that I had had the forethought to hide the corpus delicti, or that I had braved the odium of observing impenetrable silence about it; but “a word spoken, eight horses cannot hold it back.” And so I tried to laugh her out of her annoyance the best I could. Apparently, I have not succeeded since letters have been written to Clifton, on the subject, and from Clifton.

What a much ado about nothing,—for me, who can scarce give myself the trouble to do a little about something.

God bless you, and give you a little more deliberateness.

Truly yours, /

Jane Carlyle