August-December 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 15


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 6 November 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18421106-JWC-JW-01; CL 15: 165-170


Sunday [6 November 1842]

Now stop! Have you eaten your breakfast?—if not; eat it—the letter will not cool by keeping—the tea and toast will!

Beloved Babbie

Take yesterday as a sample of my whole week, and then wonder, if you can, that I was so many days without writing to you!

I rose at half after seven; early enough in all conscience for a November morning! It was rough weather both without and within—one of those mornings in which “the Devil” is requested to “fly away” with things, and does at all events fly away with one's whole comfort! The breakfast over; I sat down in my dressing-gown to repair my only wearing gown—three days before I had put one new wrist-band to it, and now it was full time to finish with the other— As I cannot work in the Miss-Tanner-fashion it was eleven before I had got myself dressed— Then arrived by appointment the Housekeeper for Mr Reginald Buller, on her way from Glasgow to Troston, to receive my instructions as to the remaining fraction of her journey and to be told by me I knew not what—for the last day I saw Mrs Buller she “did not know the least in the world” what she was saying— One of those days with her in which when she asks for a comb she means her shoes— The woman satisfied me entirely, a large, effectual Maternal looking woman, whom I should have chosen out of a thousand to put poor dear Regy into the hands of— After half an hours speech with her, I sent her off to the Golden cross1 to secure her place for Monday—and sat down to inform Reginald she was under way—and would need to be picked up with her boxes at Bury—that done; the housekeeper concern at least would be finished off, and then I would write to my Babbie in peace— But in the midst of my writing enter Helen with a letter post marked Ixworth— Here you must stop and read the said letter which I will enclose.2— Well!—was not there a pretty mess?—what on earth to do? let the poor woman go on and plump into the thick of this cabal or try to stop her till it had settled itself— I absolutely thumped my brow in despair—at last I decided in letting Destiny take its course—but you may fancy how many more pages it required to make all the reasons plain to the capacity of a Regy: besides soothing his agitated mind— And then an equally long letter had to be improvised to Regy's Mother—and that again enclosed in a few lines to Mr Strachey—Mrs Buller's new address having escaped my memory—sixteen pages of close writing went among them—and I am sure there was not one superfluous line!

All this scribbling, brought me to the post hour and a dinner of stewed beef—and an hour on the sofa afterwards was hardly enough to compose my distracted “brains” (as Rio says)— After tea I sat down with the gathered up wreck of my faculties to mend the last of the shirts—when tap tap—another note from Mrs Jameson (about the five pounds) the contents of which required to be immediately communicated to Pepoli3—that done, again I turned to the shirt—feeling even sewing a blessedness after so much writing—but again the knocker with loud single stroke shook me to the center of my poor being—and Helen brought me a note to which an answer was to be returned by the Bearer— I tore it up with a quite piteous “Oh merciful Heaven” and found it a hurried request from Miss Macready that I would send Madame Fochetti's address—or if I did not know it send the Bearer to where it could be had as “William”4 very particularly wished to have it that evening—some fix at the Theatre most likely—in which William had kindly bethought him of my protegè—a note to be written to Mazzini—and another to Miss M. in case of Mazzinis being from home—and Helen to be sent off with the man to show him his way—being a servant of the Theatre (“quite a stranger in this part of the country”)

I could hardly help saying to myself when I went to bed after all this “if ever I undertake anything for the good of any human being again”!

—Today (Sunday!) Carlyle is sitting to Gambardella!— In passing to Mrs Sterlings one day I seduced him into G's room to see Harriet and Mrs Millner Gibson5—with both which pictures he was ENTHUSIASTICALLY pleased and readily yielded to—nay almost anticipated Gambardellas request for another two hours to make the picture for America6 a little uglier and more cross looking— I do not understand how G. should be at a loss for ONE sovereign— Sitters seem to be pouring in upon him and paying him large prices—young Laing is done as cleverly as the Father7— I declined going because it bores me to see C. sit—and also because I half expected Plato, who came, at eleven, in a cab—poor Fellow!—he looked sadly wearied—and out of humour with the world—one of the fatalest symptoms of which was the accusations he made of me for being “so calm—to look at me and read my letters one would say that I had never a cross moment—a very enviable state of indifference, which he admired but was sorry he could not imimitate”!8 Before the church dismissed a rap came to the door whereupon he said with some emotion—“there is some one coming, now I have seen you, and must bid you fare well”—and so saying he took my hand and kissed it rather impressively—kissing ones hand is so much selon les regles [according to custom] in foreign leavetakings, that I thought nothing of it at the moment, but considering afterwards, how remarkably reserved this particular foreigner has always shown himself in practical things (recollect for instance the washing of his hands!) it struck me all of a heap that he had taken leave of me for good and all—that he is meaning to quit his Ailsburys9 in Paris and return to England no more if he can help it. several words he let fall were in accordance with such a hypothesis— If so—I shall be sorry— “This minds me” (as Helen says) of something Helen said the other day—speaking of you she remarked that “certainly you were most insinuating! and if Mr Plattnauer (!!!) or any nice mannerly gentleman like that wanted a real, good, most virtuous wife, and a pretty cretur, he might think himself blessed to get you”—decidedly so he might! — But to return; the someone who came in was Mr Lucas,10 as dreadfully happy as usual, and he has worn me out with laughing at I know not what—


Oh Babbie such a day of human speech— I was interrupted by William Cunningham who sat two hours and a half!—sat out Craik, Weir11 and Darley!— Now consider that party and fancy me, with my uncertain voice, in the midst of it!— Darley who cannot speak—Craik who cannot be spoken to, and Weir who is as deaf as a post! But the three incompatabilities went before I was tempted to take my dagger to them and left me to resume an ethical discussion with William Cunningham. The motives of human action—the aims of ditto the nature and qualities of ditto—finding there was going to be no end to it I told him at last, that the action which was always stopping at every step, to ask from whence it came, and whither it was going, and what was its merit or demerit appeared to me in danger of getting into “a regular fix” at all events or becoming inordinately self-conceited—and that I could sooner forgive a man who did wrong unconsciously than one who lived in a continual pretension to do right—

But all this while I have not thanked you for your dear long letter— “Ah”! your little imagination moved me almost to tears—and I could have stretched out my arms and caught the visionary Babbie and “kissed” her not once or twice but twenty times over— I kiss nobody at present—I do not know how I may look to Plattnauer but I certainly feel “cross”—and excessively.

I was twice to Knightsbridge during the last week—Mrs Sterling is really ill—is threatened the Dr says with disease of the heart—and I must go to her often so long as I keep on foot—not because her husband asks it of me with ever ready tears but in gratitude for all the kind nursing she bestowed on myself when she was less wearisome than now— It is to be said however—and that is really the most serious looking symptom I see about her that her disposition is strangely softened and improved from what it was in summer—the continual fret about everything and nothing has quite subsided— She has become affectionate, and studious about other peoples comfort as of old, and seems to cling to me as of old to cheer her solitude— I am glad that it is thus—for I should have felt myself bound to be good to her in whatever frame of mind— And the continuance of the mood she had got into in summer would have made all kindness from me of no avail to her, and very up-hill work to myself— But it is a pity she is so far off in this cold weather—

The basket Harriet spoke of is come, and I wish that I could send you a sight of it—for I am sure that you would like—at all events that Mary12 would like to immitate it— It is almost the same shape and size as yours only with a handle—a paste-board frame worked all over basketwise with straw-coloured braid and lined with quilted green satin—at a distance it looks like any other white basket but near at hand it is very beautiful—. Another present I have received last week of a much less satisfactory nature—one of the nice little tame Foxes has copied for me the sketch of my Husband carried away in triumph from Lawrences by John Sterling—the intention was beautiful but the performance—never never was anything so hideous in shape of a likeness! I not only would not hang it up on any wall for the world but wish very much that “the devil would fly away with it” out of the house— It is carefully secured under glass too! Poor little well meaning but mistaken Quakeress; and of course I had to write her a letter of thanks!13 You may conceive the difficulty!

Carlyle is going on much as usual—Helen ditto—the cat only seems better than usual—its spirits are almost too much for me!— Helen says “it is the strangest cat, it is just dottedly fond of her, really adores her, to say the truth, and yet it will not suffer her to touch it.” In what manner it had expressed its adoration, I could not discover— Mercy I had as near as possible forgotten—the potatoes—I can say now quite decidedly No do not send any—the mans are so much improved that it were ingratitude both towards him and Providence to seek further— C.'s hair is creeping slowly over the tops of his ears but that is all the way it has got— Meanwhile the cotton is still used for one ear—in which however it never stays long, but is generally to be seen (not without astonishment by the uninitiated) sticking, a small white pellet, at the end of some stray hair—for all the world like a snowberry! The French-Man did not give the fifteen pounds for the watches—would give no money—only hopes of money—which were not available for paying a bill—and then, as I had always foretold, he got fourteen pounds to pay in addition, at the very same moment for that thriftless Scipioni Pestrucci14—of course there was nothing for it but the old resource—borrowing on exorbitant interest from the moneylenders!— He said to me with a bitter smile— “I am fortunate you see!— I have always credit.” Surely he has been so imposed on by one and another of them of late that he will become a little wiser—

Now if I have left what I am about to tell you to the very end, it is not by any means that I reckon it the least event of the week— I had a letter the other day from Cavaignac and he will come before the winter end, if all go right— With all men “appearances are deceitful,” sometimes—but with Cavaignac they are almost invariably so!—and having found this on long knowledge of him, I never now judge him by appearances; accordingly his silence all these months, which in any other so related to me, I should have accounted ungracious not to say unfeeling—in him I accepted merely as one of his eccentricities from which no sure indication was to be discovered of his actual feelings towards me which ought not therefore to be allowed to influence my feelings towards him. And this time as always he has justified my great faith. After alluding quite slightly to vexations he has had and illness he has had he says with that manly frankness which so delights me in him—“n'avoir pas senti un besoin de vous ecrire un mot de sympathie et d'amicale consolation qui l'importât sur tout ce qui me tenait—c'etait à ne pas se reconnaitre soi-meme15—so long as the soi-meme continues friend to me I am mighty indifferent about the rest— Oh Babbie dear! I do think that the men in constituting themselves our judges are very unjust to us! One thing for example how often one hears them say! That women value the small change of friendship quite above the solid gold—or to speak in plain English, that we prefer those who “set in chairs” for us and pay us all sorts of small attentions, to those who, in neglecting them, have nevertheless our interests really at heart! Silly women do so, and do many other silly things— And I should like to know, is the conduct of silly men always perfect?— But a woman of sense—I judge by myself—(!)—can dispense with the “small change” without a sigh, when she knows that a true affection is felt for her—only where she has no ground to believe in such an affection, is she pocket for the small change with “a certain” thankfulness; is not that her goodness rather than her folly?—

Monday Morning

You received my last letter a day later than you ought to have done— Carlyle took it with two others of mine to the post office—put in some letters of his own out of a separate pocket and brought back my three an hour and half after post time— “It was no fault of his” however!—“he had no recollection of ever having charged himself with them”—

One thing more before I conclude—I am shocked to find that you sit up so late! I had hoped that in returning to your family you would have proved a little leaven of righteousness in that matter, that might by and by “leaven the whole lump”—instead of which I hear of you keeping up your sister till three in the morning, and writing “two hours after I have been in bed”— —

I return Walters image16—which is indeed a rare work of art! The man who did it must have genius—at all events virtue—as according to Carlyle all genuine humour has its foundation in virtue—nay is virtue's self— Love to them all—

Your affectionate