August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


JWC TO MARGARET WELSH ; 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440000-JWC-MW-01; CL 17: 229-230


Thursday [early 1844] / 5 Cheyne Row.

MY DEAR MRS. WELSH,—When my husband on returning from Scotland told me the new misfortune which had befallen you,1 my first movement was to write to you immediately; but when I considered what it was that I had to write—merely regrets and condolences—affording no sort of comfort beyond that which I trusted you had already, the assurance namely of my interest in you; I felt that I could write to you better when besides the expression of my sympathy, I might add some suggestion or hope about your future which had any practical help in it.

Mr. Gordon had mentioned some situation which he thought it likely might be procured for you, and in which you might gain, without too much difficulty, a respectable livelihood, so long as the hard necessity of earning your own livelihood was imposed on you (which we trust will not be for long—till John has found his footing in the world).2 I would wait to see what came of this—whether Mr. Gordon could make his suggestion into a distinct proposal—would meanwhile urge him to all zeal on your behalf—and if the result proved favourable there would then be some use in saying: ‘My dear Mrs. Welsh I am horribly grieved for you,’ when I could follow it up with: ‘but here is at least one resource open to you against the present pressure of difficulty.’

Now however comes a letter from Mr. Gordon in which he tells me that he hears from my aunts that ‘in your present state of health you fear to venture on the labours of a school,’ and I hasten to beg that you will tell me yourself how it is with you—whether you be suffering from any positive ailment or only from that general feeling of unwellness which is with most of us the inevitable consequence of anxiety or distress of mind—and whether you have any outlook which you find to be as possible and more promising than this which we thought of for you. Alas alas, for a woman unused from the beginning to work for her subsistence there is no easy work to be found: it may not be always physically hard but physically or morally she is sure to find it hard enough—too hard—in whatever shape it comes to her—look at what seems to be the easiest of all employments—companion to a rich Lady—where all one's material wants are provided for—and no actual labour required— a little observation may soon convince one that even that is no easy work—that the soul is quite sufficiently taxed to overbalance the exemptions of the body— I see women here, who had been born to independence, fulfilling that vocation under one would say the most favourable circumstances, and I declare to heaven that I would rather keep a school—follow any sort of laborious employment in honesty—and call my soul my own, than live the most do-nothing luxurious existence, but with my soul thus put at the disposition of other people— Tell me however what you think—what you purpose—if indeed the stunned condition in which such an unexpected blow must have left you has yet allowed you to mature any passing idea into a purpose. I have much desire to be of use to you—little power—but that little will be exerted to the uttermost, if I once knew in what direction to exert it with any possibility of success. God give you comfort—for you need it, poor soul—your life has been a hard one. You have always however the consolation of knowing that it is not thro' fault of yours that it has been so hard—it is a cruel aggravation of suffering to feel that one has brought it on oneself.

Ever affectionately yours


Give my kind love to my aunts.