January-July 1843

The Collected Letters, Volume 16


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 4 April 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430404-JWC-JW-01; CL 16: 108-112


[4 April 1843]

Great news for thee, “insinuating” Babbie! 1—my family has received an addition of four new members! Carlyle made the grave discovery some three weeks ago that the cat—our “he cat” was “all full of kittens”—and accordingly yesterday he—or as we must now I suppose call him—she brought forth—modestly—in the coal-hole four little angels of kittens—black and white—the tender images of their parental2 parent, whom I observed this morning, sauntering with a melancholy, reflective, air thro the back-premises—as if foreboding the untimely end of his innocent offspring!— To be sure they must be drowned in the course of the day; and that is piteous to think of!—

For the rest; your picture is finished—I sat again on Friday3 from ten till two! and he worked at it by himself all the rest of that day! so in point of finishing you may fancy it has had all manner of justice done to it—indeed I think Mrs Millner Gibson looks coarse beside me!4 As for the likeness; you are to know, for your comfort that he has now worked the estasi [ecstasy] pretty well out of it—and it looks simple enough—Carlyle thinks too simple “for anything”! (as you say in Lancashire)— The eyes he says “want expression” the mouth “wants character”—but for one person that finds it less inspired-looking than the original there will be twenty finding it excessively flattered. Gambardella's own criticism on it when finished was, (with a look of ineffable self-complacency) “It looks too young! I must put in some wrinkless!”— The frames are not yet ready—and besides he seems to wish that I should keep it here for a few days that the visitors may see it—a harmless vanity in which it were but fair to indulge him. So be patient—it is not even dry yet—

My last days sitting was enlivened by the most extraordinary of all excitements he has yet found out for himself— I do not speak of the “wittels”5 he produced for me—About a hundredweight of rusks in a great paper-bag—A whole hoop of figs—Guiness's Porter, Scotch Ale— Indian Ale—Cyder and something else with an incomprehensible Italian name!— This gigantic lunch was laughable enough but not to be recorded as in the sphere of the absolutely extraordinary—however that you may have a clear understanding of what I am about to tell you, we must begin further back—!

At my second sitting,6 he was telling me of sundry new household arrangements which he contemplated— He had engaged the two upper rooms in addition to those he had—partly that he might [have]7 a place to show visitors into besides his studio, and partly because the gentleman and his wife who at present occupied them are so—dreadfully ugly that he cannot endure to meet them in the stairs! Then he was going “to have a gu-l all to himself; the lodging-house gu-ls being vile creatures who left finger-marks on every thing”—and this gu-l should wash his brushes, mend his linen, make fancy-dresses for his pictures, according to his own directions, out of “very rich stoffs” which he intended to buy—and most important of all should “have beautiful fo-ms” and sit to him for model whenever he needed one— In fact he had already sent an advertisement for such a person to the Times newspaper!

Poor Mrs Sterling's two hundred and eighty nursery-governesses8 rushed thro my mind—and I thought; God help you! you know not what you are bringing on yourself— But as the thing was done I saw no use in frightening him about the consequences beforehand—they would disclose themselves only too soon— I asked merely how his advertisement was worded—

“Wanted a very genteel girl to do very genteel work— not under fifteen nor exceeding eighteen years of age—wages from twenty to thirty pounds per annum”!!!9 Could there be two ideas as to what sort of functionary this advertisement had in view?— I groaned in spirit for the poor blockhead who, without having the smallest ill meaning (I am very sure) was thus exposing himself to the most atrocious imputations!

I called on Thursday forenoon to ask when I was to be needed again—the door was opened by himself—as mad looking as a march-hare—his eyes were gleaming like live coals—his “hairs” in a state of wildness—his whole figure expressing the most comical excitement blended with perspiring perplexity.

Tho heretofore so respectful of my years; he on this day flung his arm round my person—as if I had been the reed of a drowning man, and almost carried me up stairs! I sat down and asked “Well? what on earth is it?”—but he turned his head to a side as if listening, then darted down stairs again to the door—then back—then down again— and so on for half a dozen times before he could find two spare minutes to tell me his story— At length I got it out of him, but with innumerable parenthesis of opening the street door That morning at eight gu-ls began to troop into the streets from all points of the compass—congregated in groups of threes and fives—till the clock struck nine—and then there was a general rush of fifty to demand admission!— and fresh ones were continuing to pour in, —as I saw— “The people of the house were furious”—no wonder!— “Mr Blore10 had sent him up a most impertinent note”—“neither mistress nor maids would go to the door any more and so he had to open himself”—and then if I could only have seen “the detestable ugliness” of all that had come!—“vile wretches calling themselves eighteen who were thirty, if they were a day”!— To make a long tale short he had from three to four hundred applicants that day and not one of “beautiful forms”—or even passable forms among them!—he had also six and thirty letters from the Country! not containing a single inquiry as to the nature of the “very genteel work”—but all passionately eager to have the place, whatever it was, for some daughter, or sister, or friend!— Does not this give one a horrible glance into life—as it is at present—even worse it seems to me than the boiling of the dead dog!11 that at least involved no immorality!— On the following day which was that of my last sitting, they were still coming—but not in such numbers—and the people of the house having been heaven knows how restored to good humore Mrs Blore was opening the door to them herself—and by his desire showing them all in succession up to the painting room—“that I might just see what ugly wretches they were”!— But Fortune favoured me— for among the twenty who were thus shown up, I found three very pretty—they12 rest certainly were hideous!— One of the three himself even was pleased with—but tho she looked to me as improper as improper could be; she expressed some hesitation about sitting as a model—she would consider it and let him know in a couple of days— the fact was she prefered transacting with him without witnesses, I believe—for she came back the same afternoon and declared herself ready to come— But when he (much to her astonishment doubtless) proposed to see her parents on the subject before coming to a final engagement she answered that they were both ill in bed and could not be spoken with—which he thought “sounded ill for her respectability” and so he would have no more to do with her! The last of the three pretty ones was a very sad spectacle indeed she was a gentle innocent looking girl—not more than sixteen—brought in like a sheep to the slaughter by a wicked-faced devil—as to whose business in life there could not be two opinions— Gambardella hardly looked at the girl—but told the woman in a grave imperative manner that he was already suited—and the pair went off to seek a less scrupulous customer— leaving me very much shocked upon my honour!— I was at his house again yesterday—went with Carlyle to see the picture in its finished state—and stayed awhile behind him, helping the Unfortunate to concoct a new advertisement! more precise, and not so liable to misinterpr[et]ation13 as the first— In addition to the female help he is minded now to have a—tiger! Lady Morgan14 having laughed at him for having the door opened by a maid with a baby in her arms!! It is impossible to make him conduct himself like a reasonable being—and so he must just flounder along like a very unreasonable one— The only comfort is that sort of headlong—unbalanced character has a wonderful knack of lighting always like a cat on its feet——— There I must stop abruptly—Mazzini has been here and as it pours down rain I had best send the letters with him—

You might have written today if you had liked—for your last was short / Your own / Jane Welsh