January-July 1843

The Collected Letters, Volume 16


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 2 February 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430202-JWC-JW-01; CL 16: 41-45


Thursday evening [2 February 1843]


Do you know, between ourselves, I am not at all sure that I have not got a little of—the spirit of prophecy! and why not? My Great Great Ancestor John Welsh the Covenanter had the gift of prophecy beyond all doubt—he displayed it on many remarkable occasions—once; I remember he foretold to a certain City in France which had used him scurvily that the Plague would devour it in a few days—as it actually did1— Now why not fancy a little of a turn for prophecy to be still in the blood as well as a tendency to consumption &c &c?— Even Carlyle tells me sometimes that I have “the intelligence of Schuping sing” (you remember that Chinese young Lady?)—“who resembled a disembodied spirit” in the accuracy of her insight;2 being able to tell always what her enemies were plotting on the other side of stone walls— The occasion on which my spirit of prophecy—or Shuping-sing-intelligence—call it what you like—has just evinced itself, relates to you and your dose of physic—both Tuesday and Wednesday when I returned disappointed from the letter box I said to myself—there is something strange in this—if it be not that she has worn herself out in Manchester, and has had to take physic since her return!— When today I came to the physic in your letter I felt a sort of fear—of myself— really shuddered at the superhuman in me! Along with your letter today came one from Geraldine which I allowed to repose on the mantlepiece till I had read yours all thro, and behold when I opened it; the first words were that she would be here on Monday! good heavens and this Thursday I feel as if I should have little enough time to get up the steam—I do not mean the house-steam for that you know will not be put out of its natural course but may own internal steam— Carlyle now says “My dear I wish that girl may not fatigue you dreadfully?—” ! “it is needless to be getting up such apprehensions, after the matter has reached its actual stage— “Oh I hope not says I Jeannie like the judicious little soul she always is, has told her that it will be best she should let me alone, and not fuss me when I am ailing”— He reflected a moment and then asked—“would it not be better if I wrote to her myself and impressed the same thing on her before she arrived at all—”? Poor Geraldine! I declined this considerate offer—for really I thought if he should write to that same effect, she might be driven to carry the letting-alone system to an extreme—and I should be as much worried with her unnatural stillness as with her natural superabundance of emotion. Indeed I am so prepared for the worst that I do not think she will drive me out of my composure. At all events it is very absurd to ask her to come and then to take fright at the thought of it—the beautiful confidence of sixteen with [which]3 she is rushing to my arms on the first word—deserves a kinder return—

Now Babbie never pique yourself any more on the crimping of that collar—I grant you it was a devoted proof of affection but I flatter myself I have done as much, and more, for you in the copying of my whole correspondence with Robertson for your delectation!— I who have an absolute horror of copying—especially my own letters!—there it is nevertheless! manuscript enough to curl your hair with for a month—besides the “intellectual feast” it will be to you!—a feast, by the way, not unlike that which was once set before me at a fine country-town-evening-party where I happened to find myself in appetite (I was young then, and not above feeling hungry at times) well supper came in due course, and each person received—a wineglass heaped with white froth (of milk) with a teaspoonful of redcurrant jelly at the bottom! devil a thing else!

I can sympathize with you in your Manchester—“miseries of human life”— Oh yes. I know the irritation of feeling oneself entirely superseded in the heart and life of an old companion by a little troublesome monkey of a child. I remember my first visit to Agnes Vetch after she became a haus-frau [house wife]4—my friend par excellence—as I considered her—before I knew what the word friend meant—for ones first friendships are apt to be as great spooneyisms as one's first Loves! That does not however hinder one from thinking them life-and-death matters at the time, and so I had my heart quite crushed within me by being made to feel at every turn, that the vilest squall of her little slobbery red-coloured child was more precious music to her ears than the most eloquent language of my long-tried affection—but I learned, as you will do—just to take back my friendship from those who knew not the worth of it and to bestow it on such as did—“That minds me5 as Helen says—I am going to be found in a child!—without personal inconvenience however and—without possibility of detriment to my other affections—I am requested to be God mother to the new Macready! Jane Welsh Macready!!6—what a strange combination— Tristram Shandy's Father might shake his head portentously over the poor infant that is to be launched in the world with such a name!7

You have asked more than once about Darwin and Craik and never been answered— Darwin is better—not yet well—he has only been once here these last three weeks—a bad account of him—but I have been oftener than once to him— As for Craik your tender sympathies need not trouble your sleep on his account— A man must be sorry more or less for the death of his own child—but Craik is as uninteresting in sorrow as out of it— He has been here several times and except that he has on black clothes, and minces his words a little more affectedly than usual I can trace no difference in him8— If you look narrowly at his countenance indeed—you find on it always a smile which seems to challenge your warmest admiration and gets your heartiest disgust—a smile which says as plainly as words—“look with what manly cheerfulness and sublime resignation I bear my trial—look and take example by me!” Bah!—Cavaignac stamping on the floor, and repeating his awful “ce n'est pas just—Mon dieu [it is not fair—my God]! was not a perfect sufferer But was one that I could sympathize with better than with this “diffusion-of-useful-RESIGNATION”—Mr Craik!9

Thackery is returned from Paris he was here with Fitzgerald the other evening10—I was upstairs when they came in—and on coming into the room went to Thackery first, to shake hands in enthusiasm—as one does after a journey to Paris—but I gave a loud scream on finding a small cold, hard, hand—as of a dead fairy—laid in mine—it was your hand which he had fastened at the end of his sleeve! I declared the joke to be a heartless one—which seemed to vex him greatly—he repeated a dozen times during the evening that he wished he had not done it!

Fitzgerald had lost a good deal of his hig[h] colour11 and was very good and, rational. I get to like him— Garnier also was here last week12saner than I ever saw him in my life—he asked many questions about you and about the German— By the way my dear you will never do any thing effectual in german or in things in general until you muster courage and determination enough to lock yourself up— in a cupboard—if so be that you cannot be allowed a room, all to yourself— I see for ever before my eyes—in Mazzini—how little—all the talents and good intentions in the world can avail—so long as one submits to be eaten up as it were, by little things—one, two, twenty of them could not tell on ones general results—but let them become infinite—of daily recurrence and like the packthreads of the Lilliputians they make a mesh that the strong man cannot tear himself loose from— Poor Mazzini! I declare I could weep over him sometimes—there in his enchanted Tancioni-Castle13 holding no free communication with the world he lives in—just as you figured him in your dream!—and then I get angry—and scold—but it is of no use—he is born to make a Martyr of himself, and the great not having accepted his sacrifice he offers himself, bound hand and foot, to the little—which always accepts!— Love and kisses to them all—I am out of humour with Spiridione14 entirely— Your own / J Carlyle