August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 2 October 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18431002-JWC-JW-01; CL 17: 147-150


[2 October 1843]

D'abord [First of all], you are an angelical Babbie; to make me never a reproach for my silence—never a reproach for anything!— I am sufficiently conscious without being told, of the imperfection of my actual manner of being; but I console myself with the reflection that, if not inevitable absolutely, it is at all rates the very natural reaction against the outrageous activity and universal benevolence which I have been carrying on for the last two or three months— My husband has been returned this fortnight back, and since then I have not written to you—have not written to anyone—have not done anything except occasionally mend my stockings and read in the dreamy novels of the Gräfin Hahn Hahn (Countess cock cock! What a name!1 She is a sort of German George Sand without the genius—and en revanche [on the other hand] a good deal more of what we call in Scotland gumtion— A clever woman really—separated from her husband of course—and on the whole very good to read when one is in a state of moral and physical collapse— For the rest nothing can exceed this great City in these weeks, for absence of all earthly objects of interest!— Even Darwin has been gone for a month!—the last to go— But I had the pleasure of meeting him yesterday in Cadogan Place2 having returned the night before. To give you the most striking illustration that occurs to me of the desert-state of things; I saw the other day a little girl of six years old playing her hoop in the centre of Piccadilly!! a cab did come at last and as nearly as possible ran over her—but skipping from under the horse's belly, literally, she recommenced her hoop-playing, with the same assiduity as before

And within doors is not a whit more gay I can assure you than without—Carlyle returned, as usual from his journeyings in quest of health, as bilious and out of sorts as he went away— Blue pill with castor-oil “and the usual trimmings” had to be taken at the very out-set then by the time the distress of that was over it was time to be feeling the intolerable influences of—London!— The house was approved of as much as I had flattered myself it would be—and between ourselves he would have been a monster if he had not exhibited some admiration more or less at my magnificent improvements affected at such small cost—to him— The upstairs room is now a really beautiful little drawingroom with a sofa—easy chair—ottoman—cushions—stools—every conceivable luxury!—all covered—and all the chairs covered also—with a buff and red chintz made by my own hands!!!— Mrs Carlyle's picture is over the mantle-piece—but then yours and my uncles are on the mid-wall with Jean Paul between3—and you cannot think how beautiful you both look on the pretty new paper—

All this and his own bed room new carpeted and smartened up amazingly—to say nothing of the old big press in the china closet transformed by the female genius into a glorious resplendent chinese-cabinet! could not fail to yield him “a certain” satisfaction and obtain me some meed of praise—but— —alas alas—never can one get out of the shadow of that but!—but—after two or three days he began to find that “there was no getting on in that up stairs room for want of the closet or some equivalent to fling ones confusion in—”!!—“best to accumulate no confusion” said I— “Oh there must be a place for keeping all sorts of papers for a year or so, till one has made up ones mind what to burn and what not”! This was a first ground for quarrel with the room—and then—oh then—one day when he had been home about [a] week Miss Lambert took a fit of playing—the first—but that only made it the more intolerable—for he had fallen into a false security thro her prolonged silence—the next day again she played half an hour in the morning which was sufficient to set all his nerves up for the rest of the day—and it was solemnly declared that “no life of Cromwell or any other book could ever be written alongside of that damnable noise”— Then Mr Chancellors cock had awoke him he said at six for two mornings4—(he had not however come down to breakfast till ten) and “that bedroom was uninhabitable”— “Could one get a piece of ground to build some crib of a house upon at the Isle of Whight did I think?”— In fact just all the old eternal story commenced again!— I must fetch back Pierson to consult about the possibility of excluding noise—&c &c in the mean while— Accordingly Pierson was here yesterday—kept in consultation for three hours! the whole result being plenty of possibilities—and a positive order for a pair of window boards to be all stuffed with cotton! to fasten on the back windows or the front (viz in your room) at pleasure— —and as these will prevent the sleeping with windows open—zink pipes are to be introduced thro the walls to let in a sufficiency of fresh air! You are to observe by the way that it is only when the windows are wide open that this distant cock ever makes itself heard and—that the simple expedient which Pierson suggested—of shutting the windows and opening the door would have solved the problem as effectually and much more cheaply than all this apparatus of stuffed shutters and zink pipes! But then if the shutters make even the front room quiet enough for him to sleep in—and the zink pipe brings in air enough for him to breath; the piano-problem is also solved!—for his present-bedroom where alone the piano noise is not clearly audible is to be converted into his study—the partition taken down between the two front rooms—that the two four posted beds may have room to stand up there! until we can get a lease of the house (which is not procurable) and then a silent room—twenty feet long—lighted from above—is to be built on the roof!!!— So here is a quite other prospect than that of quiet order which I was looking forward to for the next twelve months at least! And I assure you it is with a heartrending sigh that I resign myself to the thought of lifting and altering all the carpets again, before they have been well down and having carpenters plasterers and white washers as before—besides the inconvenience of having ones spare room as it were annihiliated—for could you for instance sleep in a doublebedded room with Carlyle? However there may be many plans, before the definitive one gets carried into effect—and anyhow I cannot help it—and at least as Darwin says I “have always the consolation of knowing that he will need some new arrangements in six months or so”!— But indeed Babbie if you saw how pretty the upstairs floor is in its actual state and knew all the toil and scheming I had in bringing it into such order you would not wonder that I am fretted— Your room too with the blue carpet from his bedroom (his had got the drawingroom one) and the position of the bed altered looked so like the Templand bedroom—all the little things in it arranged as they were there—that one could almost deceive oneself into its being the same— —And all this to be overturned— Well Well I cannot help it and what is the use of talking—such woes are but very petty ones after all!—

My darling I wonder how you really are— I get the most thorough conviction from your letters that you are in one of two states—either much better in health than ever you have been since I knew you, or———in the preparatory stage of a severe illness—god grant the former may be the truth—but when I consider how certainly all this newfound activity—all this sensibility to natural objects—in fact all this development of gass in the blood would in my own case be symptomatic of approaching illness I cannot be quite easy about you—

How strange it is for me to fancy you all in Scotland—my uncle in Edin!5—strange and sad— I feel so as if I should be there too—to welcome you—and yet I would not be there for the world— —(I have no faith in Dr Abercrombie6—my Father considered him a sort of quack who got on chiefly by psalm singing and praying with sick old Ladies but he has seen plenty of practice—and every vote about diet is in my uncles case worth going out of the way to get—in fact is I really suppose the only medical prescription that can be impressed on him with any utility—) Give Helen a hearty kiss for me—and tell her that I love her all the same as if I were writing to her every day— I will never never as long as I live forget her kind and considerate management for me under circumstances in which not mere kindness and judgement but a sort of loving inspiration was needed to do all so well as she did it7 god bless her and all of you my Child write to me quickly again your own J C—