August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


JWC TO AMALIE BÖLTE ; 23 December 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18431223-JWC-AB-01; CL 17: 208-212


23d December / 5 Cheyne Row [1843]

Unmenschliche [inhuman one]!

Are you become so inoculated with the commercial spirit of this England, that you will no longer write to me but on the debtor-and creditor-principle? Am I no longer to have any privileges—moi? no longer to receive two or three or even four letters for one, in consideration of my worries and my indolence? So you at least seem to have resolved!—but thank heaven there are still generous spirits among my correspondents who despise such balancing of accounts! who rain down letters on me “thick as autumnal leaves”1 without asking even whether I read them!— And you think no shame of yourself, cold blooded calculating little German that you are?— Well then, open your Ledger and set down now in black and white— “Mademoiselle Bölte debtor to Mrs Carlyle—in one letter—to be paid immediately—no credit given—”

What are you doing, and thinking, and wishing, and hoping—for in Devonshire I suppose people can still hope—even in December—here the thing is impossible—on the dark dismal fog, which we open our eyes upon every morning, there is written as over the gate of the città dolente [doleful city], alias Hell: “Lasciate ogni speranza voi che' entrate.2 And many things besides speranza [hope] have to be thrown over board as well. To keep one's soul and body together seems to be quite as much as one is up to under the circumstances. I attempt nothing more—as there is nothing which I so much detest as FAILURE where I have willed, so I take precious care never to will anything as to which I have a presentiment of failing— My husband is more imprudent, he goes on still willing to write this Life of Cromwell under the most desperate apprehensions that it will “never come to anything”—and as if people had the use of their faculties in all states of the atmosphere!—and so he does himself a deal of harm and nobody any good. He came into this room the other morning when I was sitting peaceably darning his stockings, and laid a great bundle of papers on my fire, enough to have kindled the chimney if it had not been, providentially, swept quite lately—the kindling of a chimney (as you in your German ignorance may perhaps not be aware) subjecting one here in London to the awful visitation of three fire engines! besides a fine of five pounds! I fancied it the contents of his waste-paper-basket that he was ridding himself of by this summary process—but happening to look up at his face, I saw in its grim concentrated self-complacency the astounding truth, that it was all his labour since he returned from Scotland that had been there sent up the vent, in smoke!— “He had discovered over night” he said “that he must take up the damnable thing on quite a new tact”!3 Oh a very damnable thing indeed! To tell you a secret; I begin to be seriously afraid that his Life of Cromwell is going to have the same strange fate as the child of a certain french—marchioness that I once read of—which never could get itself born, tho' carried about in her for twenty years till she died!—a wit is said to have once asked this poor woman if “Madame was not thinking of swallowing a tutor for her son”?4 So one might ask Carlyle if he is not thinking of swallowing a publisher for his book?—only that he is too miserable poor fellow without the addition of being laughed at In lamenting his slow progress, or rather no-progress; he said to me one day with a naivete altogether touching “Well! they may twaddle as they like about the miseries of a bad conscience: but I should like to know whether Judas Iscariot was more miserable than Thomas Carlyle, who never did anything criminal; so far as he remembers!”5— Ah my dear! this is all very amusing to write about; but to TRANSACT?—god help us well thro' it! and, as the Kilmarnock weaver prayed “give us all a good conceit of ourselves,” 6 for this is what is chiefly wanted here at present! If my husband had half the conceit of himself, which shines so conspicuous in some writers I could name, he would “take it aisy” and regenerate the world with rose-water (twaddle), as they do—instead of ruining his digestive organs in the manufacture of oil of vitriol for that purpose!

Your little friend Miss Swanwick called here the other day looking ineffably sweet! almost too sweet for practical purposes!7“That minds me” (as my Helen says—I received by post a little while since a letter in a handwriting not new to me, but I could not tell in the first minutes whose it was—I read the first words: “Oh those bright sweet eyes!”——— I stopt amazed, “as in presence of the Infinite”! What man had gone out of his wits? In what year of grace was I? what was it at all?—I looked for a signature—there was none! I turned to the beginning again and read a few words more; “there is no escaping their bewitching influence”! “Idiot”! said I “whoever you be”! having now got up a due matronly rage! I read on however— “It is impossible that such eyes should be unaccompanied with a benevolent heart; could you not then intercede with the possessor of them to do me a kindness— The time of young Ladies is in general so uselessly employed that I should think you would really be benefitting—Miss Swanwick (!) in persuading her to———translate for me those French laws on pawnbroking—”!8 Now; the riddle was satisfactorily solved! the “bright sweet eyes” were none of mine but Miss Swanwicks; and the writer of the letter was Robertson who you may remember I told you raved about those same eyes—to a weariness! My virtuous-married-woman-indignant blushes had been entirely thrown away! It was too ridiculous! But could you have conceived of such stupidity—even among Authors—as this of beginning a letter to one woman with an apostrophe to the eyes of another?

My German friend has returned from Germany safe and sound, and brought me thence a highly curious gage d'amour [pledge of love]—which is causing a sort of general panic among my admirers— Old Sterling in particular is furious at it and likens it to the Devil's tail (where he saw the Devils tail whether at the Times newspaper-office or in what other unholy place I did not like to ask) The thing is the most splendid, most fantastical altogether inconceivable—bell-rope! made for me by the hands of Plattnauers Countess-Sister.9 A countless number of little chinese pagodas, of scarlet net-work festooned with white bugles, are threaded on a scarlet rope, ending in a “voluptuous” scarlet tassel, which again splits itself away into six little bugle-tassels! For three days and three nights I was in the dreadfulest perplexity what to do with it! To ring up one's ONE maidservant with such a bell-rope would have been an act of inconsistency all too glaring! besides I should have been always fearing when I pulled it that I should bring a shower of bugles about my ears! So I decided finally to give it a sinecure-place beside the drawingroom-door where there is no bell-wire but only a brassheaded nail to suspend it from— “Dont you admire it there”? I asked my husband after it was hung up. “Oh yes” said he “Certainly!—as a splendid solecism! as one admires a beautiful idiot!

But it strikes me that considering you demerits, my Dear, I am here writing you an absurdly long letter! The fact is, that I have not, I find, got QUITE rid of what somebody described as “that damned thing called the milk of human kindness”—and I bethink me that on Christmas day you will be feeling sad more or less— When one is far from one's own land and own friends; those anniversaries, however they may be cheered for one by present kindness, always bring the past and distant strangely and cruelly near—and make one long as one dares not long every day to [be]—as one has been! A word of encouragement and sympathy from a fellow-sufferer under these anniversary-feelings may be some little comfort to you At all rates it is such comfort as I have to give—and if I had any better you should have it with a blessing— And so this is why I write just today; because I mean that you should read my letter on Christmas———

Give my kindest regards to Mr & Mrs Buller—and a kiss to Theresa,10 who I hope is striding thro' all departments of human knowledge in seven-leagued-boots and carrying all the cardinal virtues along with her!—

I send you a little thing for good luck to your new year. And so I commend you to Providence and your own sound little judgement—which is a very good deputy for Providence on this earth—and remain with sincere good wishes very

kindly yours /

Jane Carlyle