The Collected Letters, Volume 12


JWC TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE ; 27 October 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18401027-JWC-MAC-01; CL 12: 301-304


[27 October 1840]

Dear Mother

I make no excuse for being so long in complying with your often repeated hint that I should write to you—it is for the like of ‘Tom’ to “take the hint1—but for me, your highly original daughter-in-law, I am far beyond hints, or even direct commands, in the matter of letter-writing— I have now in fact no character to lose and make myself quite comfortable in the reflection that far from feeling any indignant surprise at my silence, my friends will henceforth receive any communication I may vouchsafe them in the course of years as an unexpected favour for which they cannot be too thankful—

What do I do with my time you wonder? with such “a right easy seat of it” one might fancy I should be glad to write a letter now and then just to keep the devil from my elbow— But Alicks Jenny and all of you were never more mistaken than when you imagine a woman needs half a dozen squeeling [sic] children to keep her uneasy—she can manage to keep herself uneasy in a hundred ways without that. For my part I am always as busy as possible—on that side at least I hold out no encouragement to the Devil—and yet, suppose you were to look thro' a microscope—you might be puzzled to discover a trace of what I do—nevertheless depend upon [it—]my doings are not lost—but invisible to human eyes they “sail down the stream of time into the ocean of eternity” and who knows but I may find them after many days.2

At present I have got a rather heavy burden on my shoulders. the guarding of a human being from the perdition of strong liquors. My poor little Helen has been gradually geting more and more into the habit of tippling—until some fortnight ago she rushed down into a fit of the most decided drunkeness that I ever happened to witness— Figure the Head of the Mystic School and a delicate female like myself up till after three in the morning, trying to get the maddened creature to bed, not daring to leave her at large for fear she should set fire to the house or cut her own throat— Finally we got her bolted into the back kitchen in a corner of which she had established herself all coiled up and fuffing [puffing and fuming] like a young tiger about to make a spring—or like the Bride of Lammermuir3 (if you ever read that profane book)—next day she looked black with shame and despair and the day following, overcome by her tears, and promises, and self-upbraidings I forgave her again very much to my own surprise— About half an hour after this forgiveness had been accorded I called to her to make me some batter—it was long of coming—and I rung the bell—no answer. I went down to the kitchen to see the meaning of all this delay—and the meaning was very clear, my penitent was lying on the floor dead drunk—spread out like the three legs of Man4—with a chair upset beside her and in the midst of a perfect chaos of dirty dishes and fragments of broken crockery—the whole scene was a lively epitome of a place that shall be nameless— And this happened at ten in the morning!— All that day she remained lying on the floor insensible—or occasionally sitting up like a little bundle of dirt—executing a sort of whinner— We could not imagine how she came to be so long of sobering—but it turned out she had a whole bottle of whiskey hidden within reach, to which she crawled till it was finished thro'out the day— After this, of course I was determined that she should leave— My friends here set to work with all zeal to find me a servant—and a very promising young woman came to stay with me until a permanent character should turn up— This last scene “transpired” on the Wednesday on the Monday she was to sail for Kirkaldy— All the intervening days—I held out against her pale face, her tears, her despair—but I suffered terribly for I am really much attached to the poor wretch who has no fault under heaven but this one—on the Sunday night I called her up to pay her her wages and to inquire into her future prospects—her future prospects! it was enough to break any body's heart to hear how she talked of them— It was all over for her on this earth, plainly, if I drove her away from me who alone have any influence with her— Beside me she would struggle—away from me she saw no possibility of resisting what she had come to regard as her Fate— You may guess the sequel— I forgave her a third time—and a last time— I could not deny her this one more chance—the creature is so good otherwise— Since then she has abstained from drink, I believe, in every shape—finding abstinence, like old Samuel Johnson, easier than temperance5—but how long she may be strong enough to persevere in this rigid course, in which lies her only hope—God knows. I am not very sanguine—meanwhile I feel as if I had adopted a child— I find it necessary to take such an incessant charge of her—bodily and mentally—and my own body and soul generally keep me in work enough without any such additional responsibility.

Carlyle is reading voraciously great folios preparatory to writing a new book—for the rest he growls away much in the old style—but one gets to feel a certain indifference to his growling—if one did not, it would be the worse for one— I think he committed a great error in sending away his horse—it distinctly did him good—and would have done him much more good if he could have “damned the expence”— Even in an economical point of view he would have gained more in the long run by increased ability to work than he spent in making himself healthier—but a willful man will have his way— My kind love to Isabella—and all of them—I hope she is stronger now—it was all she seemed to want to be a first rate wife— I never forget her kindness to me last year—tho I do not write to her any more than to others

affectionately yours /

Jane W Carlyle

[TC's Notes]

Autumn 1841 (? [)]

Impossible to date with accuracy; the poor Incidt I recollect right well in all its details, but not the point of time. ‘Helen’ Mitchell, from Kirkcaldy (originally from Edinr), must have come hither abt the end of 1837; she staid with us (thanks to the boundless skill and patience of her mistress) abt 11 years; and was, in a sense, the only Servant we ever got to belong to us, and be one of our household, in this place. She had been in Rotterdam before; and found Cheyne Walk to “resemble the Bompies6 there (whh it does). Arrived here, by cab, in a wet blustery night, whh I remember; seemed to have cared no more abt the roar and tumult of huge London all the way from St Catharine Docks hither, than a clucking hen wd have done, sitting safe in its handbasket, & looking unconcerned to right and left. A very curious little being; mixture of shrewdness, accurate observancy, flashes of an insight almost genial, with utter simplicity and even folly; a singular humble loyalty and genuine attacht to her mistress never failed in poor Helen as the chief redeeming virtues. Endless was her Mistress's amust (among other feelings) with the talk and ways of this poor Helen; whh, as reported to me, in their native dialect and manner, with that perfect skill, sportfulness, and loving grace of imitatn, were to me also among the most amusing things I ever heard. E.g. her criticism of Ar Helps's Book (for Helen was a great reader, when she cd snatch a bit of time); Criticism on Miss Martineau's (highly didactic) maid of all work,7—& “a rail insipend trick in Darwun to tell Miss Martno!” & &c. Poor Helen, well does she deserve this bit of record from me. Her end was sad, and like a thing of fate; as perhaps will be noticed farther on.8

This Letter I vaguely incline to date abt autumn 1841, tho' sure evidence quite wanting.

‘Chelsea, (late Autumn) 1840’ Certnly the date of this Lr? Almost, or altogr (see Notebook too)

[“Chelsea, Octr (27, 1840”]9 / that is after much searchg, the real date