August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 12 September 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430912-JWC-JW-01; CL 17: 132-135


[ca. 12 September 1843]

My Babbie!

“You ARE good,” to make apologies to me all the same when I am your debtor as your creditor; it is well-judged moreover, for the which makes in fact no difference in the impatience with which I look for letters from you and my disappointment when they do not come— I do not know how it is; but I have somehow of late cut the cables of all my customary habitudes and got far out at sea—drifting before the wind of circumstance in a rather helpless manner—not that I am become lazy or indifferent—I was never more full of energy and emotion “since I kennt [knew] the worl” (as they say in Annandale), but a Destiny seems to have taken possession of me body and soul—and orders me this way and that, and thro' my head and hands perform its will, without giving me the smallest voice in any matter. To look at me in action, you would say that my whole heart and life was in it—and so it is; but then there is a something dominating my heart and life—some mysterious power which mocks my own volition and fore-thought.— The results are good so far—useful—contributory to “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”1— Never says Bishop Terrot have I seen any one so improved in amiability as you are!—why you seem to aim at superseeding Providence on the face of the earth”! Letters come to me commencing with “ange tulélaire [guardian angel]” and such like recognitions of my practical helpfulness—and then my zeal and superhuman success in the rehabilitation of my house makes me pass for the model of wives—and all the while Babbie—between ourselves hang me if I have the slightest natural bias either to the career of benevolence or of notableness!— Neither do I wish to act either of these róles. I tell you they are PUT UPON me by some superior power and I go thro with them like a person in the magnetic state doing the bidding of his Magnetiser—with a vague, internal, spell-bound protest which goes for nothing—

But I should like much better to talk to you of all this than to write about it— The only direction in which I seem to have got myself put out lately—in any thing like a voluntary, spontaneous way has been, in revolting every day and hour of the last week against the infliction of John!— Of course I do not mean that I openly quarrel with him—in Carlyle's absence that would be a sad impropriety—but I concentrate all my forces into a position of grim impassivity, which any power of teazing and boring except his own would echouer [be wrecked] against— There is something so irritating at the very outset in having a man fix himself down in your house—palpably for its sake not yours—so that his material wants be all supplied—it is no matter by whom—nay one would say that he considered the act of administering to his wants like Virtue its own reward!—for he will sit morning after morning munching away at his breakfast and gazing into vacancy without once addressing me as if I were the Chinese figure that one sees in some of the tea-shop windows!— “The Devil fly away with him” for having come to hand before my husband returned—I should have been glad to have had my new house hanselled by him—rather than this other who makes confusion wherever he be—and I should have liked after so long an absence to have been a day or two with himself in peace and reason—but John's peculiar talent as I have long known is to be “toujours hors de propos [always ill-timed]” so there is no help for it— In his attempt at being civil even—“few and far between” this hors de propos-ness discloses itself Just one such attempt has he made since his return— On Thursday last I was feeling particularly knocked up—and just on Thursday and on no other day he would have me to go out somewhere with him. “I lived too quietly” he said—“I should go out more, and see things”—it would be good for me to go that evening to the Surrey zoological gardens”— I refused at first on the score of being too weak—but as he continued to press me I yielded at last merely to show a disposition to receive anything so unwonted as a courtesy from him! He told me the place was “close by Vauxhall” to which we were to go in the steamboat—it was at least two miles beyond Vauxhall—when I was breaking down however providence sent a stray cab to my aid— —The gardens we finally reached and there I “saw things” with a vengeance! You may fancy how he would lead one this way and that, backwards and forwards, to this and the other beast and bird—and tell one its name and properties over and over and over again—in an hour I was half dead with it and declared that if he did not let me sit down on a seat that presented itself I should certainly faint—“Much better come this way—there was something well worth seeing farther on—one might find a better seat than that”—so I dragged after him till we came in view of the grand wonder of these gardens “The Indian City of Elora2 all done into pasteboard, as large as life, and shone on by the real moon!— “And it was nothing now” he told me in comparison with what it would be by and by—and he handed me a bill by which it appeared that at half after eight oclock (observe it was then only half after five) the Indian City of Elora would be “all lighted up with fire”—there would be fire in the caves in the palaces—“Jet d'eaus of FIRE” (as the bill had it) from the Lake,” fire-dragons—“a sacrifice to the Spirit of Fire”—“Brilliant Apotheosis of the Fire-God”— &c &c—so much fire that my poor head took fire at the bare thought of it!—and when in addition I found it was to be waited for three hours; a sacred horror crept over my heart and I felt for the moment that my whole happiness here and hereafter depended on my getting away from that place without an instants delay!— John protested, argued against “the stupidity of going back without having seen what I had come for”— God is my witness that I knew no more what I had “come for” than the Babe unborn!—away I came anyhow, and mercifully was just in time for the last Steamboat—he had no scheme for getting me home the seven miles, had we stayed!—there was no cab-stand no Omnibuses—and for this tremendous adventure he had chosen just a day when I was pale as a ghost and to the outward eye even more than usually suffering. Of course I had to go to bed quite ill—having realized a cruel headach—and while I was taking off my clothes he knocked at my door and proposed that I should “come upstairs and look thro' his telescope at the four moons of Jupiter!! A chance when I should see them to such advantage again?”— “Oh” I thought “if you were in one of them!—or quartered into the four!— How much more insupportable is that inveterate egotism which has absolutely lost all of other peoples feelings, than a good downright, spirited vice!

If Helenborough were not in Scotland I should long so much to fly away to you all! Your letter gives one such a feeling of a place all sunshiny and hearts all sunshiny— Next year—if we live to see it I have a scheme for a grande reunion at the Isle of Wight.— I even looked after a house for my Uncle there!— I believe the place would be charming under ordinary circumstances—and so accessible!

Carlyle is to be home on Friday I expect— He has been to Haddington (!) and Kirkaldy and is now off to Thomas Erskine at Dundee!— It was very strange for me getting a letter from him dated Haddington— He went there for the sake of a battlefield of Oliver Cromwells at Dunbar— Whither he walked—(eleven miles and back again) spending two nights with the Donaldsons at Sunny Bank— He was at Thornhill too by my desire—much against his own feelings— He saw old Mary and Margaret and the Russels— —He has seen all that remains for me in Scotland—two graves. —I do not know what good it does me that he should have been there—at Crawford and at Haddington—but I am pleased to have as it were sent a message to them since I want force to go myself— Oh Babbie I am horribly sad always at the bottom of my heart—my external life is all smoothed over again, and flows on noiselessly enough—but underneath!— Happily the world troubles itself little what we have deep down—and the thing to be chiefly guarded against in suffering is plaguing ones fellow creatures with ones individual griefs—

Carlyle rode over to Walter's and found not only Walter but his Landlady gone3—he brought down Mr Fergus's pony and peeled one of its knees and bruised his own ancles and wrists in the business!

The other Walter is a puzzle to me4—for my life I cannot make out whether he cares a farthing for that intended of his or no.

How very glad I am to hear such good accounts of my Uncle—a dozen kisses to him—and love to all the rest—I do not forget that I owe Helen a letter—

bless you my child ever

Your affectionate

Jane Carlyle