August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 28 December 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18431228-JWC-JW-01; CL 17: 218-222


Thursday [28 December 1843]

A thousand thanks my darling for your long good Christmas-letter and also for the prospective footstools. Anything like a worthy answer you have small chance of getting from me to day or any day this week; I have just had to swallow a bumper of my Uncle's Madeira—(which is capital drink!) to nerve me for writing at all! A huge boxful of dead animals from the Welshman1 arriving late on Saturday night together with the visions of Scrooge2—had so worked on Carlyles nervous organization that he has been seized with a perfect convulsion of hospitality, and has actually insisted on improvising two dinner parties with only a day between— Now the improvisation of dinner parties is all very well for the parties who have to eat them, simply, but for those who have to organize them and help to cook them c'est autre chose ma chere [that's another thing, my dear]! I do not remember that I have ever sustained a moment of greater embarrassment in life than yesterday when Helen suggested to me that “I had better stuff the Turkey—as she had forgotten all about it”! I had never known “about it”! but as I make it a rule never to exhibit ignorance on any subject “Devant les domestiques [before the servants]” for fear of losing their respect—I proceeded to stuff the Turkey with the same air of calm self dependance with which I told her some time ago, when she applied to me, the whole history of the Scotch-free-church dissentions—which up to this hour I have never been able to take in! “Fortune favours the brave”3the stuffing proved pleasanter to the taste than any stuffing I ever remember to have eaten—perhaps it was made with quite new ingredients!—I do not know!—yesterday I had hare-soup—the Turkey— Stewed mutton—a bread pudding and mince-pies—with Mrs Allan Cunningham Miss Cunningham and Major Burns (son of the Poet) to eat thereof4— On Monday hare soup—roasted-welch—mutton stewed beef ditto pudding ditto pies—with Robertson, and John Carlyle, and the disappointment of Darwin—and all that day, to add to my difficulties, I had a headach—so bad that I should have been in bed if I had not had to stay up to help Helen—whose faculties get rusted by disuse— On Tuesday evening I was engaged to assist at Nina Macready's birthday party—but felt so little up to gaities on the Monday that I had resolved to send an apology as usual When voila [behold]—on the morning of the appointed day arrives a note from Mrs Macready imploring me almost with tears in its eyes not to disappoint her and her “poor little daughter” by sending an apology!—that a well aired BED was prepared for me &c &c—this forestalling of my cruel purpose was successful—I felt that I must go for once—so after spending the day in writing—not to you—but to people who, not having the reason you have to believe in my love, needed more than you to have a visible sign from me—I dressed myself and sat down to await the fly—“My dear says Carlyle “I think I never saw you look more bilious your face is green and your eyes all blood-shot”! fine comfort when one was about to make—public appearance! “the first time this season”— In fact I was very ill—had been off my sleep for a week and felt as if this night must almost finish me— But little does one know in this world what will finish them or what will set them up again. I question if a long course of mercury would have acted so beneficially on my liver as this party which I had gone to with a sacred shudder! But then it was the very most agreeable party that ever I was at in London—everybody there seemed animated with one purpose to make up to Mrs Macready and her children for absence of “the tragic actor” and so amiable a purpose produced the most joyous results— Dickens and Forster above all exerted themselves till the perspiration was pouring down and they seemed drunk with their efforts! Only think of that excellent Dickens playing the conjuror for one whole hour—the best conjuror I ever saw—(and I have paid money to see several)—and Forster acting as his servant!— This part of the entertainment concluded with a plum pudding made out of raw flour raw eggs—all the raw usual ingredients—boiled in a gentleman's hat—and tumbled out reeking—all in one minute before the eyes of the astonished children, and astonished grown people! that trick—and his other of changing ladies pocket handkerchiefs into comfits —and a box full of bran into a box full of —a live-guinea-pig! would enable him to make a handsome subsistence let the book-seller trade go as it please!5 Then the dancing—old Major Burns with his one eye—old Jerdan of the Literary Gazette, (escaped out of the Rules of the Queen's Bench for the great occasion!)6 the gigantic Thackeray &c &c all capering like Mænades!! Dickens did all but go down on his knees to make me—waltz with him!— But I thought I did my part well enough in talking the maddest nonsense with him, Forster Thackeray and Maclise7—without attempting the Impossible—however after supper when we were all madder than ever with the pulling of crackers, the drinking of champaign, and the making of speeches, a universal country dance was proposed—and Forster seizing me round the waist, whirled me into the thick of it—and MADE me dance!! like a person in the tread mill who must move forward or be crushed to death! Once I cried out “oh for the love of Heaven let me go! you are going to dash my brains out against the folding doors”! to which he answered—(you can fancy the tone)—“your brains! who cares about their brains here? let them go!” In fact the thing was rising into something not unlike the rape of the Sabines!8 (Mrs Reid was happily gone some time9) when somebody looked her watch and exclaimed “twelve o'clock”! Whereupon we all rushed to the cloak-room—and there and in the lobby and up to the last moment the mirth raged on— Dickens took home Thacke[ra]y10 and Forster with him and his wife “to finish the night THERE! and a royal night they would have of it I fancy!—ending perhaps with a visit to the watch house.11 After all—the pleasantest company, as Burns thought, are the blackguards!12—that is; those who have just a sufficient dash of blackguardism in them to make them snap their fingers at ceremony and “all that sort of thing.” I question if there was as much witty speech uttered, in all the aristocratic, convent[i]on[a]l drawingrooms th[r]o13 out London that night as among us little knot of blackguardist literary people who felt ourselves above all rules, and independent of the universe! Well and the result?— Why the result my dear was, that I went to bed on my return and—slept like a top!!!! Plainly proving that excitement is my rest!14 To be sure my head ached a little next morning but the coffee cleared it—and I went about the dinner for Mrs Cunningham without much physical inconvenience.

See what a letter I have written!—and such writing!— —but I must stop now for the post hour is at hand.— I wrote to Mrs Russel before writing to you and have had two Callers—God be thanked Mazzini is doing better—I have hope now that “the thing” may be completely cured. Thank Maggie with a fond embrace for her nice long letter which it was a pleasure to read as it bore no traces of violent impatience to be done—not a word of allusion to the bonnet! The box came—on Sunday night—all safe but for one pot of red currant jelly which alas was spilt at the bottom and “could not be gathered”—it was fortunately the smallest—and there was plenty left to sweeten me “for May days”!— —The figs are excellent and at the rate I am eating them will not be long for this world.

Pity me, I sent a valuable engraving which had been given me by John on one of his returns from Italy to Harriet Martineau who is very fond of engravings and it arived all creased beyond remedy and cut with the string!15 —Your own / J C