August-December 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 15


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 8 December 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18421208-JWC-JW-01; CL 15: 218-221


[8 December 1842]

Dearest Babbie

If I had not heard from you yesterday I think I should have cried! I was never more in need of some cheering in all my life— There was a fog of three days standing to begin with—and only those who have tried it (you I think never did) can conceive the depressing influence of a London fog—then I suppose the confinement (for I have not been out above two or three times within the last four weeks) was beginning to tell upon me— I had seen nobody all the foggy days except Mazzini—more sad than usual “upon my honour”—and leaving me also sadder than he found me— From all these and other causes needless to specify, in addition to an unusual degree of bodily sickness; I really knew not what to do with my life!— So that your letter which relieved me from all consideration about it for a few minutes, and set me as it were into the midst of yours, was a sort of little dram that I absolutely needed— I had another little dram during the night but that was of plain brandy— When C. was going up to his bed about one o'clock I called to him to bring me a little—on the strength of his repeated assurances that brandy taken during the night-season is “the most quietening thing in the whole pharmacopeia”— All day I had been finding it the greatest possible hardship to have to sit upright and keep my eyes open—but I had no sooner lain down in bed to sleep than it became an equal hardship for me to have to shut my eyes, and hinder myself from rushing along (morally speaking) not so much like a railway-passenger as like a railway-boiler on. on to the end of the world— I did not take brandy enough he said (I had half a wine glassful) and therefore it was that the panacea utterly failed—to be sure it had considerable odds against it—for besides my own restlessness it was put on me to “assist” at a ball!—for which however no clothes were needed, so far as myself was concerned, beyond my usual nightshift and nightcap— Mrs Thompson1 was entertaining a party of fifty—who thumped and bumped about like wild, till half after four in the morning—half after five I finally went to sleep and woke in half an hour again— So if this letter be of the sort which the Annandale people call blash [watery], you will understand to make due allowances— For the rest; nothing is more plain than that I should try all lawful means to get myself into a little better bodily health and that if there is so much as the ninth part of a chance that a Doctor could do me any good, I should apply to a Doctor— John is to return in a few days but he has no healing in him—at least for those who do not give him fees— As one of my chinese verses says “Alas that he should abandon what sense he had and place himself in the situation of a wooden puppet”!2 accordingly tho Carlyle tells me he has written to him seriously about this pain in my side which has been plaguing me very much all the last week. I expect nothing more from him than that he will ask me three or four times over; “how long have you had it?” and a similar number of times—“where is it at all?” Better I thought to go at once to Sir James Clark—only he is so apt to order people abroad—“well and tho' he should, said Darwin it does not follow that you should go”—to be sure not! that had never occurred to me—but last night C. told me that he had met Morah3 my own old Doctor and told him to come and investigate me the first time he was in this region—possibly he may come today—

I had a long letter from Geraldine the other night—in which she treats the question of Gambardella as if I had sent him to her on purpose that she should fall in love with him, and either marry him, or make with him what she calls “a modified arrangement”— “If she lived long beside him she could grow to love him very sisterly but not otherwise” “he is too overproof—wants body—is in fact too good and that sort of people she cannot love with passion”— What is all this? who wanted her to love him “with passion”?—not I sure enough— The less passion in the world the more virtue and good digestion!— I would have nobody cultivate passion “for its own reward” for that is even a degree more unsatisfactory than virtues— It is bad enough to love with passion when one cannot help oneself—but to set about it, malice prepense, as a piece of the natural business of life, whenever a man presents himself—and without the slightest inspection of the probabilities of being loved in return—that does seem to me an exuberance of “the social feeling” which ought to be kept down by cold pudding or anything however disagreeable that is found to answer the purpose—all this entre nous [between us]— Geraldine is a fine Spirit in spite of all her vagaries—and she is mighty fond of you now as well as of me. “Jeannie,” she says, “is really a charming creature and has taken root here very nicely”—and “the other sister”4 comes in for a share of her praise—by the way will you tell the other sister to write to me: I want to hear from her own self her impressions of this Feast of pikes5— Except for the continual recurrence of the monosyllable “we” in your letters I am very much left in the dark respecting “the graceful Miss Welsh” as Gambardella called her in his letter to me— Geraldine says of you further (and I doubt not but that was meant for the crowning praise) that “you have got a trick of my countenance, and even some of my attitudes”—now as to “the trick of my countenance keep it and welcome!—for I have always been given to understand that my countenance was “remarkably expressive”—and so I suppose that if you imitate it in its imitable points—not indiscriminatively, like Kate Gilchrist6 turning up the whites of your eyes par example in the monstrous idea that “it looked so pooty!—” there will be no harm done to your own little cherub-face from this remodelling in the likeness of mine—but for my attitudes!—humph!—you had better hold by your own, babbie, at least until a less prejudiced judge than Geraldine has told us that any attitude or attitudes of mine would not mar your natural grace— When I was so young that people could take liberties, that is to say, could speak the truth to me—I was told often enough that I walked “as if I were in tight breeches”— My first dancing Master used to lift me up by the two hands exclaiming in desperate accents “heavy! heavy!” My last dancing master a highly figurative as well as exaggerative sort of a man used to ask me “if I fancied I had Arthur's seat7 on my back”?— Our Miller's wife a prophetic woman in her way, declared “one had but to look at me to see that I was a stickit Callant [failed boy]”—in short never never since I came into this world has it entered into the head of any mortal I believe before Geraldine that “my attitudes” could be worth picking up—but such are the illusions that come of loving “with passion”—

I am so glad about the picture!8—actually I shall have it then in my menagerie!—and yet last night I cried myself sick about that very picture—every thing like happiness is so spoiled for me now—it came into my head—how often she9 had wished to have one—how delighted she would have been with this—what a joyful new year gift it would have been for her—and the thought there is only me to give it to now—only me to rejoice over it, went to my heart like a knife—and I could not help bursting out acrying even with Carlyle sitting there—but when I told him what had been all day in my head he said it was “quite natural” and did not lecture me as he sometimes does which shuts up all my sorrow in my own heart for weeks after—

He works very hard—all the forenoons till three or four oclock—and often in the evenings also—he has got an immense bookcase erected in the upstairs room— Elizabeths Carpenter took the vile old black press at the surprising allowance of 4£ (the original cost was only 4£10) and for three pounds more has made him a really handsome mahogany bookcase cover[in]g10 the whole end of the room— I wish he would order a little sofa for me when he is about it—for I do not see how I am to exist up there thro' the winter if I am always to be upright—however I have spoken twice for it without result, and will not, as Helen's phrase is “so far demean myself” by speaking again— I told you the Lamp was discontinued? Well I washed it with my own hands, which were none the better for the potash—and in washing it had occasion to take it in bits—and could not put it together again—well every day now I am asked when is that lamp to be ready for action—because the candles it seems “smell as bad as the oil” I can readily believe it— You are quite welcome to keep the little smoking Carlyle11 till all have seen it— I must not forget to tell you that there is no cause for a single regret about the potatoes—we boil them now with the skins on and find them all eatable and some of them excellent— I think they need very long and slow boiling— Our man's are prettier to look at but have not such a “genuine, real unadulterated” potatoe-taste— Having more than I saw the prospect of eating I sent one of the Barrels to Elizabeth— She sent back word that she must return it “being amply supplied from the same quarter”— the deuce you are thought I!—but it it turned out she fancied mine a present from Kirkaldy—as they had spoke to her of sending me some—“it had better not be sent back however” said Carlyle “desire her to send it on to Craik poor fellow—who never gets good potatoes”!!—my potatoes—my own uncles potatoes to Craik!!12 I answered not a word but my whole face burned with righteous indignation— I must stop your own

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