August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 12 November 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18431112-JWC-JW-01; CL 17: 171-175


Sunday [12 November 1843]

Oh my own Babbie! An hours talk with you were “welcome as flowers in May”1—or what were a more delicious novelty surely—tho' no one says it—as flowers in December!— Why the devil then do I not not write more diligently if I feel such need of talking—to write is to speak after a sort—Ay—but “with the reciprocity all on one side” and that makes such an irksome difference!—and another difference is that one cannot in writing eke out ones words with tones of the voice—looks—gestures—an occasional groan—an occasional kiss! and speech reduced to bare words is so inadequate for certain “beings”—like me!— Besides talking comes natural to every woman—writing is an acquirement—and between the exercise of ones natural and one's acquired faculties there is no comparison in point of ease! And oh if you know what a grand object one's ease becomes for one; when there is absolutely no ease to be had for love or money. It may be an egoistical exaggeration but I cannot help thinking that I have been of late months one of the most worried of modern wives. I do not mean the most ill-used by men or things—thank Heaven no!— I have always the “consolation” which “No 3”2 found so efficacious under the the death of her lover, that “she knew several women who had been still more afflicted by Providence than herself!” —but I say the most worried—the most teased with petty annoyances—not one of which singly would seem worth the consideration of the philosophic mind, but such an accumulation of them, like the packthreads of the Lilliputians3 induces “a certain” desperation! Nor do I foresee when the worry will get itself fairly ended—any more than when the Life of Cromwell will get itself—fairly begun! All that has been done—and that is not little—has not yet cleared away the material impediments to writing. The little study at the top of the house with its wee curiosity of a grate—with the writing table transferred to it—with a cast of Oliver Cromwell's face—taken after death—fixed up on the wall—is admitted to be “warm—light—and as silent as the heart of man can desire,” but “it is an abominable confined hole of a place”—“one cannot have one's books about one there—one spends half one's time in running between it and the Library”—and then “the paper is a perfect solecism! it would need to be new papered in some reasonable way before one could feel it anything but the last refuge of a poor reduced beggar!!” “Well then let it be new papered!” “Oh no—that will have to lie over till YOU can get it done when I am away somewhere”— In fact the cruelty of having no place in which a man can write is the burden of his morning and evening song—and the nice Library is only an eternal source of lamentation— “Such a large comfortable room rendered perfectly uninhabitable by an accursed pianoforte”!—and so we move up and down thro the house—trying ourselves there and then trying it here—and no where can any adjustment be affected—a sort of domestic, wandering Jew he is become!— A gleam of hope has arisen for us since last night that it may finally be rendered possible for him to fix himself in the Library— The piano—to say the truth has been nothing like so deadly as it was in the beginning— Ever since the protest was sent in, the Misses Lambert have testified a certain respect for our feelings, TRYING—with more or less success—to abstain from playing till two o'clock—which was the compromise he proposed to make with them— But they seem tempted as often as they pass the seductive “instrument” to tinkle out of it a few “town-notes wild”4 or run over a scale or two, just as if in saying to themselves “le bon tempts viendra [the good time will come]”!— If he had the confidence which results to most of us from repeated experience—he would rely on it by this time that their passion would lead them into no further excesses, and could hardly feel disturbed by such transient aberrations— But he has an inveterate tendency that poor man always to hope the worst—and so if “the accursed thing” sounds at all, he expects that it will go on sounding for hours, and when it terminates, he expects that it will presently recommence—thus it is fear of the piano more than the piano that drives him into the “beggars refuge” up stairs. During a week however—they have scarcely except on Wednesday (lesson day) committed any nuisance before the appointed hour—not I believe that they have been more self-sacrificing than usual, but that they have been making more morning visits— However it might be; a bright thought struck Carlyle that he would take this plausible moment for sending Miss Lambert a copy of his last book with a pretty letter of thanks for the attention she was showing to his wishes and of eloquent entreaty that she would go on with the same observance of the two oclock system during his present labours. To be such a single hearted man, he can word such things with a delicacy, an insinuating poetry of expression sure to reach the heart of a plump young damsel like Miss Lambert!—and so the same evening brought a note from her as ecstatic as his own—promising implicit observance—I will enclose it here that you may see the foundation of the hope of a settlement which I said had dawned on our minds since last night— The “love to Mrs Carlyle” indicates a young lady still in the first enthusiasm of her faith in human nature!5 She has spoken with Mrs Carlyle just twice on this planet—one day the two sisters found me in a shoe shop, rushed up to me, as if minded to embrace me decidedly—but it went no further than a shaking of hands—owing to my backwardness who in the darkness of the shop and the dazzle produced by their painted velvet scarfs—could not at first tell the least in the world whom it was I was transacting even the lesser ceremony of shaking hands with—“It was such a long time” they said “since they had been dying to speak to me!— Would I call for them?—they should be so delighted”!— I promised any thing to get my boots fitted on in peace—but when it came to performance as Homer says “terrible was the thought to me”!6— Determined to carry their point however about a week after finding I did not call on them they “took the Initiative” and called on me—fine healthy chatty girls!— I left a card for them one day in passing—having seen them go out a little while before—this is all the passages of friendship that have taken place betwixt us—a sturdy groundwork for love! However I will accept their love and even do the impossible to reciprocate it if they will only be quiet in the mornings— Considering the clatter I make about my troubles it is odd—is it not?—that I should not be more liberal of thanksgiving when any of them is removed. I have reflected several times with wonder at my own forgetfulness that I had always in writing to you forgotten to say a word to you of the blessed deliverance from John. He established himself in a Lodging near Gambardella's on the morning of the day when Carlyle was to return from Scotland— Plainly Carlyle and he had been getting on very badly together at Scotsbrig, and he made it a point of honour to be in a place of his own when they should meet again—for he never seemed to think of any change till Carlyle had fixed his day—me he seemed to consider as there entirely for his convenience so long as he pleased—which I was glad of on the whole—for ill as I liked to have him I should have liked worse had he taken such a grand step during my incumbencey. As it was, Carlyle saw in his sudden removal a “natural shame of facing him again on that absurd principle after all his magnanimous assertions on being able to manage his own life without help or advice from any one”—and was moreover heartly glad to find the coast clear—for he did not know any more than I had done how another spell of him in his actual distracted state was to have been endured— He comes here very seldom—and never stays long—flaffs [flaps] about in the old fashion among indifferent people—seems to me a very absurd figure in Gods working world—but so long as he keeps his absurdity so well out of our road we have no business to interfere with him— If he does not choose to practice his profession or do any but study his own bachelor comforts and eat the dinners which Carlyle declines—for that seems to be the principle on which he is invited out—“since we cannot get Carlyle we may always have his brother,” one may regret that a man of some talent—and certainly without any vice should so waste himself—but he is not a child that he should be lectured for it—so enough of him—

I had a nice letter from Maggie the other day for which I was duly thankful— Pray do write to me oftener when you are at home again— This winter is going to be for me what I predicted the last would be and was not a time of dreadful tribulation with that book— Already he is beginning to get up and smoke during the nights and his irritability and unsettledness in that state of nerves is something that cannot be figured but by those who have witnessed it However I hope I am more seasone[d]7 now than I was during the writing of the French Revolution—thank God, tho we have now our November fogs and the air is intensely cold I keep free of coughs hitherto and can come down to breakfast at any hour—neither have I any pain in my side—but well? Ach gott—that were too much to ask!—bad nights and a continual malaise thro the day keep my spirits in a state of depression which the less that I say or think about the better—

Coming in one day from a laborious duty-walk I found “the two Ladies from Liverpool waiting”—and there they were Mrs and Miss Sketchly sitting on the sofa expecting me;8 just as they were in February gone a year!— I felt all the while as in a bad dream—could hardly speak to them— I fear they must have thought me very cold— —I remember nothing that they said except a great deal on Mrs S's part about injections administered to her daughter— Pen had some sort of green thing on her which added to the dreary fantasmagorical character of our interview— I was glad when they were gone that I might take a good cry and try to put them out of my head—

Poor Mazzini is still in a sad case every way—these disturbances in Italy have been keeping him in a continual fever—he cannot sleep—his hand is always burning—and his cheek has never healed yet! A dismal fact giving rise to the most dismal apprehensions— John told me two months ago in his most indifferent tone that it would probably turn into a fistula or even a cancer if he did not take care—and you know what sort of “care” Mazzini takes of any thing physical— I have at last got him promise to show it to Liston if his Dr Toynbee does not give him some specific deliverance about it this week.9

—Darwin is as usual— Plattnauer still in Germany secretly— Oh I have plenty more to say—but there is enough for one time— Bless you my good Babbie— Ever your affectionate / J C

love and a kiss to Helen