August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 6 August 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430806-JWC-JW-01; CL 17: 16-20


Sunday forenoon [6 August 1843]

My own Babbie

Have you comprehended me the least in the world? I fear not— I fear that your faith in me, steadfast as it is, must have received a shock more or less, from this prolonged silence. If so; now hear “the solution” and be sorry for having doubted a moment. Babbie I could not write to you while my husband was there, because I could and would and needed to write to thee more confidentially than to him even, and I felt that it were placing you in an embarassing predicament to send you letters which he naturally would wish to see and which you would not feel at liberty to show him—better—easier and more prudent, to write always straight to himself than to be writing as it were for him thro you or else for you to the exclusion of him— Not that I have had any mysteries of iniquity to communicate—but all my bits of household troubles—all my sympathy with you in your troubles, which with two such men1 must have been considerable—all my amusement at their planlessness—their lionizing &c &c— all my apprehensions of having John landed with me—all in short of the intimate little things which it came naturally to say to Babbie and to no person else all that it would have puzzled you to repeat to them—and when I tried to compose a letter to you a letter for the public—Ach Gott I found it not possible—I have got so into the way of splashing off whatever is on my mind when I write to you, without forethought or back thought that I must go on so if at all, to the end of the chapter. Well! now the coast is clear again—and now my Babbie how do you do? For me I have been but indifferently all last week Carlyle would perhaps tell you that I had been to Tunbridge Wells, and that feeling out of sorts next day I took an immense doze of shower bath to enable me to do the Kay Shuttleworths— The step I believe was too energetic—all that cold water drove my cold not away but in—and so I have been in a curious and rather wretched state ever since—

I seriously think of going for three or four days to the Isle of Wight on Tuesday—for the good of my body—and thro' my body of my soul— going actually with Old Sterling The poor old fellow is utterly broken down of late weeks and one may go with him anywhere now, into the deserts of Siberia even without apprehension of being ravished!!2— In fact he ought not to be from home alone—is too feeble to be without some one to take care of him—(varnish!)— Carlyle wrote to me several notices of bathing quarters Formby &c &c—and asked if I would like to come and take up my quarters there after he had paid his visit in Annandale— Remarkable proposition to take up my quarters in the place w[h]ere3 all that I wished to see were no longer to be seen! He did not seem to perceive somehow that your all being at Helensburgh needed to make any difference in my desires after a seabathing place near Liverpool—What on earth were Liverpool to me more than Kamchatka4 under these circumstances, indeed were worse than the most unknown region—for it would be a sort of cruel mockery— He wants I think to bring his mother over there for seabathing— Well—that is all as it should be—she likes seabathing and the distance were convenient for her—but in Gods name What uses were there for me in the business—a pretty lark to have all the botheration of settling my house here and going off twohundred miles to weary—and be fretted from morning till night in a dreary seabathing establis[h]ment5 on the Mersey with Mrs Carlyle— To be sure there would be the Paulets and Geraldine left! But if I am to do with offputs I think I could find still better offputs nearer home

I am out of humour—so I had better speculate no further on this particular question— I had letters from both Mrs Paulet and Geraldine yesterday—full of enchantment over the “Angel visit”—and comprising even John in their questionable hero-worship. “Jeannie looked nice and pretty as she always does”— — Carlyle seems to have been rather charmed with Mrs Paulet and not displeased with Geraldine—indeed with all his hatred of being made a lion of he seems to tolerate those who make him so marvelously well.—

I also have been doing a bit of hero-worship—a thing not much in my line nowadays—I see so much of it that the whole thing has grown to look mawkish and absurd to me—

But my “youthful enthusiasm” as John Sterling calls it—which I had long supposed quite extinct kindled at the advent of— ———Father Mathew! Indeed Babbie I regard that man as the greatest Benefactor of his century and knowing him within reach of me I could not rest till I had told him so in so many words— I said to Robertson when he was here on Friday evening—that I must see and speak to Father Mathew— Well said he you have only to fix your time and I will get an introduction for you and myself from Mrs Hall6— No sooner said than done— I fixed next evening—that is to say last night—when he was to be administering the pledge in the Commercial road7—a place a mile and half beyond the furthest stretch of the Omnibuses—eight or nine miles from Chelsea— Robertson presented himself with the letter at five and we started in the Omnibus and arrived on the scene of action about seven—the most impressive scene I ever witnessed in this world—all the theatrical exhibitions that I ever assisted at melted into one could not have so moved me—there were faces, both of men and of women among those who received the pledge which will haunt me to my death—such concentrated wretchedness struggling a last deadly struggle as it were with the powers of darkness—such hope founded on despair— Oh such things in those faces! pale as paper some of them and covered with cold sweat—it was unspeakable—heartbreaking— —I never—saw before the lot of humanity so fearfully laid bare—nor the mercy of heaven shining so brightly as from the eyes of that good Priest— He was on a scafolding with one or two gentlemen and a number of common-men and policeman—the scafolding was higher than my head and had no visible means of access to it— We handed up our letter to a Policeman who took it to Father Mathew where he was standing alongside of an american capptain8 who was making an address—presently the Father himself came to us—he reached down his hand to me with the look of the best of Fathers—but what more to do?—we could not mount he could not discend— —I saw a piece of rope hanging from the edge of the scafolding like a festoon—remember I was in a moment of wild enthusiasm—I placed a foot on the rope—still holding the Fathers hand—with the other hand seized the edge of the scafolding and swung myself God knows how onto the boards—landing of course in a horizontal position at his feet—he gave a cry—thinking I must fall back—but in a moment I was on my feet safe and erect—I said to Robertson in coming home—“What must the Father have thought of me arriving at him in that way like a rope dancer”—to which he answered roguishly “Oh no, Mrs Carlyle not like a rope dancer—” I dare say I showed my legs dreadfully. He made me sit down in the only chair for a moment and then taking me by the hands as if I had been a little girl he led me to the front of the scafolding to see him administer the pledge—a sight which affected me as I have told you—I was all in tears and could hardly help laying down my head on the good mans shoulder—and taking a good cry there before the whole crowd— —Robertson who had rejoined me—insisted I should come away that I was going to faint—that I knew I should not do—but it did seem more prudent that I should come away—but then followed the grandest piece of folly (if you like to call it so) of all—I thought “I shall never see this truly good man again—let me carry away some remembrance of him and leave him some remembrance of me”— What had I that I could give?—only three rings on not one of which could be parted with—I had no silk handkerchief—what then? I bethought me joyfully of a very beautiful memorandum book which had been given to me by old Sterling and was then in my reticule with some memoranda on it— I hastily and privately rubbed out these with my handkerchief—then I drew the Father aside and said to him hurredly—only half intelligibly I dare say—give me one of your medals—I cannot take your pledge but I want a medal to keep for your sake and do you keep this for me— He looked astonished for a moment as I thrust the memorandum-book into his hand. and then puzzled—for as it happened he had no silver medal and he wished to give me a silver one— —but he observed one attached to a green ribbon round the neck of a Gentleman where he had just placed it—he gently removed it from his neck again, saying let me have this you shall have another in a few minutes and then taking it off the string he laid it in my hand with such a benignant smile—and such a devout blessing— I only wished that he had laid his hand on my brow as on the poor women's— I came away finally, more excited than ever Gambardella himself was when his “hairs” were at the longest!— I could not speak on the way home—I could not sleep when I went to bed—I could not even this morning subside into my “normal state” till I had written Father Mathew a long letter—expressing something of the meaning which I had found it utterly impossible to articulate last night— Now I have told you this long story of myself very ill I am sure—have made it merely absurd— whereas it was something else as well it was a mixture of the absurd and the deeply touchingly earnest

—Juliet Mudie goes off to Manchester tomorrow morning and I have just packed the picture and the frame into her trunk—to the care of Geraldine who will easily get them forwarded to you— I do not think they can possibly take any hurt—wrapped up as they are—

I have had Plattnauers farewell Sunday visit this morning—he goes into country quarters this week9—but intends cutting himself loose and returning here on his own independent footing in six weeks!—tant mieux [so much the better]—

What a quantity of things I still have to tell thee my Babbie—and see already what a letter—again you perceive I have had recourse in case of need to the Butchers book—write to me here—if I am in the Isle of Wight the letter will follow me there—love to the boys and Walter—

Your own cousin and sister and friend10 / [no signature]