January-July 1843

The Collected Letters, Volume 16


JWC TO HELEN WELSH ; 4 February 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430204-JWC-HW-01; CL 16: 45-47


[ca. 4 February 1843]

Dearest Helen

One hears much fine talk in this hypocritical age about seeking and even finding [one]'s own happiness in “the happiness [of] others”—but I frankly confess to you, that I, as one solitary individual,1 have never been able to confound the two things, even in imagination, so as not to be capable of clearly distinguishing the difference and if every body would endeavour [as] I do, to speak without cant I believe there would be a pretty general admission on the part of sinful humanity, that to eat a comfortable beaf steak when one is hungry yields a satisfaction of a much more positive character than seeing ones neighbour eat it!— for the fact is; happiness is but a low thing, and there is a confusion of ideas in running after it on stilts! When Sir Philip Sidney took the water from his own parched lips to give it to the dying soldier,2 I could take my bible-oath that it was not happiness he felt—and that he would never have done that much admired action; if his only compensation had been the pleasure resulting to him from seeing the dying soldier drink the water—he did it because he could not help himself—because the sense of duty—of self-denial—was stronger in him at the moment than low, human appetite—because the soul in him said do it not because Utilitarian Philosophy suggested that he would find his advantage in doing it—nor because socinian dilettanteism required of him a beautiful action!3— Well! but if these moral reflections are not a preamble to something more relevant; I find such a commencement of a letter— “what shall I say—strange—upon my honour”!4— Do you so? my sweet little Cousin—be thankful then! we live in a world of commonplace—a strange letter—a strange cousin, so far from being taken sharply to task, should be accepted graciously as a sort of refreshing novelty.

But if I cannot show you that my moral reflections lead to something. I can show you that something lead to them. I had been looking over the last budget of autographs that I had got together for you— Such distinguished names! To be sure, I said to myself, these will make her fortune—ni[ce] autographs. And then I felt a certain self-complacency—a certain presentiment of your satisfaction in seeing your collection swelling into something really worthwhile—and having the pen in my hand to write to you, I was on the point of putting on the paper some such fadaise [nonsense] as this.

“It was a capital thought in me dearest Helen, the making of this collection for you— My own pleasure in sending you the autographs being greater I am sure than any you can feel in receiving them” But the sentence having reached a full stop—in my head—my better judgement said—Bah! Beware of the socinian jargon MA CHERE [my dear] there is always “a do at the bottom of it”!5—and so my pen dashed off, of itself, as it were, into a reactionary tirade against “the wellfare-of-others”-principle—

I have been long plaguing Carlyle to give me for you one of the letters of Varnhagen von Ense—for besides being the autograph of a distinguished Author and Diplomatist and husband of Rahel6—you will find it curious for its perfect beauty— I never saw such writing—and in whatever haste in sickness or in health it is always the same— C was very grumpy about parting with one of his letters—but having taken a great deal of trouble for him the other day in seeking out some notes he wanted from his trunk of old papers—he presented me with this one as a reward— and also I suppose as an encouragemen to future exertions of like utility. Besides Varnhagen von Ense you have here—Goethe—Sir Walter Scott—Rogers—Sir R Peel—a whole note from H Martineau (before our friendship) Charles Buller—Count D'Orsay— Milman—A very characteristic note from Mazzini—Lord Stanley—Mrs Austin—Lockhart—Thackey (alias Titmarch) Allan Cunningham7

Tell Jeanie that when I informed Mazzini yesterday that Geraldine was to be here on Monday—he first stared—then said “well! after then I come for ten minutes only”! and then looking into the fire gave a long clear whistle!— Jeanie can figure the sort of mood in which alone Mazzini would dream of whistling!

But alas I must go and clean the Lamp! a much less agreeable occupation than writing to you my Dear— But such consequences of the fall of Adam will always exist— Nothing will Go on any time without human labour

Ever your affectionate

Cousin J. Carlyle