August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 5 March 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440305-JWC-JW-01; CL 17: 294-298


[ca. 5 March 1844]

Dearest Babbie

The little ottomans (stools” is quite too mean a word for them) arrived a few hours after your letter and—curiously enough—were unpacked by—Walter!1 while his, “what shall I say”?, wife, was taking off her boots in my room. Such beautiful little ottomans human eyes never rested on! I am glad to know who did which—when I am to be sitting on Babbie and when on The Morning Star2—but it is, impossible to give a preference to one over the other—both having reached the highest perfectionability point! To find myself the possessor of such decorative pieces is quite a new sort of feeling for me,—all my hitherto furnishings having stopt short within the sphere of the purely utilitarian—when I look on these realized ideals of female taste inspired by affection. I fancy myself “one and somewhat,” and that nobody can any longer deny that we too have a drawingroom as well as other christian people— A great many thanks and kisses to each of you—and you may both assure yourselves that worsted-work was never in this world better bestowed than just on me who had none of it—and who, judging by myself, am apt to rate peoples attachment by the number of their stiches. Certainly nothing but the most intense, selfsacrificing passion could have carried me thro one such stool! For the tea it was a great idea! worthy of the Conceiver3— One would say he had guessed in the spirit of divination the enormous run that had been on my tea-caddy all the last week! And wished to inspire me with a due trust in Providence. I shall not fail to report the result when I have tried it—we pay at Chelsea 5/6 per pound—in Pall Mall I can get it as good for 5/– but it is not I think safe in London to venture lower than that—

And so I have seen Mrs W. Macgregor—that I have with a vengeance! and my impression of her? Oh mon Dieu! my impression of her is one of immense unmitigated Aversion! Every body here is ready to scream at the very idea of her. They called last Tuesday or Wednesday—I forget which—and found me gone to Elizabeths whither they wandered in quest of me—but missed the road. I asked Helen what sort of looking woman she was?— “A most uncommon ordinar woman indeed—nothing the least insinuating4 in her face that I could see! she may be intelligent—may be!—for that I can't say—but she looks so displeased—just rale gloomy and disconsolate!—” An odd description of a Bride—but I am not in the way of attaching much importance to Helens descriptions What chiefly interested me was the thought of what I should do with them— Ask them to dinner of course— As John Sterling says “when you want to be civil to anybody nature prompts you to ask them to dinner”— Easy to say—but in the present afflicted state of this house hold—a dinner even dans sa plus simple expression [in its simplest form] is the fearfulest of bores— I have not strength or fortitude enough to take even the slight handful of it which I am in the way of taking— Helen left all to herself goes to nonsense and Carlyle, “gloomy and disconsolate” as he is at present for ever and ever, looks like a chained tiger, when doomed to sit stuck up with company especially when it is my company not of his own asking—and there I sit in momentary expectation of Helen coming to a dead stand, and of Carlyle brandishing the carving knife and ordering his guests to “vanish in God or the Devil's name least a worse—thing befal them”! In virtue of being like the Pigs “used to it”5 I preserve an outward calm thro' these scenes of trial which might lead people to fancy me either the most obtuse or most philosophical woman that ever sat at the head of a table—no matter which, so long as my pretended impassivity has much the same effect as Caleb Balderstons6 impudence— viz that of making people doubt the evidence of their senses—and keeping them from rushing wildly into the street to dine on a passing muffin or on nothing at all, rather than under the singular conditions that attend the dinners of a Man of Genius—when the Devil has taken him and his under his own particular patronage.

At all risks however the New-marrieds must be invited—and this conclusion was hastened rather than otherwise by a note from Walter, which came a few hours after his call, inviting us to dine with them—preposterous! that would have been still worse, if it had not been impossible— So I asked them for one of three days and they accepted for Saturday— I called in Sterlings carriage but missed them again, so left the note which I had provided myself with in case of such contingency— To provided them with some entertainment such as lay within my peculiar sphere I asked a Lioness to come in the evening the last new Lioness—a rare creature indeed— The Miss Rigby who wrote Letters from the Ba[l]tic7 &c, and who is now setting fire to the Thames as a Quarterly Reviewer— Besides being a Woman of Genius she is a worlds wonder for personal attractions—six feet high! but so beautifully proportioned that you could not wish her a cubit less—with the most magnificent St[at]uesque8 head—the expression of a Corrine,9 and the gracefulest manners— When I told Carlyle that I had done this thing he was like to go out of his senses— “What could Miss Rigby make of the Macgregors or they of her”?—“he had never seen me guilty of such a piece of pure distraction, many as were the distracted things I had done in the way of bring[ing]10 incompatible people together”!— There was no end to his desparations—for Miss Rigby appeared to have taken an immense place in his (Carlyles) imagination— It was done however—“with the best intentions always unfortunate”! And so now “I must ask any body every body to dilute the horrible combination”— So I asked just everybody I saw and the produce was John Carlyle at dinner—Old Sterling, and Arthur Helps and his Wife in the evening besides the awful Miss Rigby— You may figure what sort of anxious affair it was for me—and I was never thankfuler than when the door closed on the last of them and I could reflect that after all there were no lives lost—

The Macs came at four—to dine at five—if they had been ten minutes later they must have arrived drenched to the skin for they had got into a wrong Omnibus (!) and had to walk from Sloan Square—and it came such a torrent of rain just after, that Carlyle had to come home in a cab The first look of the Bride did not shock me much— I was prepared for something unprepossessing and she looked rather better than I had expected—but when she had laid off her things, and sat down on a chair as if she were nailed to it—with her lean little figure without so much as a handkerchief to break its angularity—and when she spoke—in that acrid brusque tone of hers—my dislike grew every moment stronger till I was absolutely afraid of looking Walter in the face I was so sure that he must read there “merciful heaven how could you sell yourself for that woman's thousands”?— It is impossible Walter can love that woman— —“amiable”? she is not amiable—she is a limited, splenetic dirty little thing—“an ignoble rat-trap” an “insufferable little wild cat.” as Carlyle among many other eloquent denunciations said of her. Carlyle has never ceased since lamenting over “poor Macgregor's fate”—Walter himself was not so agreable as he used to be here—he was too noisy—too excited— Very affectionate poor fellow—and trying to look content with her—but if he were really happy just now he would not take such pains to persuade people of it—

As the Devil would have it Miss Rigby sat alongside of Mrs Macgregor on the same sofa and if I had taken pains how to contrive a mortification for Walter I could not I am sure have fallen upon a greater than showing him the two women in such near contrast— And then Mrs Arthur Helps is like Titania Queen of the fairies!11 as lovely in her diminitive proportions as Miss Rigby is beautiful in her Gigantic ones! But when a man marries such a woman as that he must have abjured forever his faculty of drawing comparisons. Or have privately predetermined to take a mistress!— Now Do not think I am attaching absurd importance to looks— I care less for beauty so called than most people—indeed I am certain that the women most truly and passionately loved are very rarely if ever regular beauties—but it is the expression of a mean meagre soul that is stamped on Mrs Macgregors face and manners and whole bearing which I cannot abide. And I am the more vexed at Walter having chosen such a wife because I am persuaded he was at a turning point in his own inward life—and that this new influence which he has subjected himself to will prevent all the good aspirations that lay in him from ever working themselves into a practical shape— Henceforth he is doomed to ambitious mediocrity—the pitiablest state in nature— I ought to say however that John Carlyle thinks “Walter has got a pretty little woman for a wife”—!!

And now my dear I have written myself into such a passion on a subject which I have really after all no special concern with—that I must leave the better things I had to say till another opportunity—

I saw Mrs Fraser on Saturday forenoon—she was out of bed on a sofa—but still very feeble and dreadfully excited— She had heard that her husband was ill—had also been dilirious for some days after the trial—and absolutely you would have said that she was dying to go to him and comfort him! She loves the man passionately—there is not a doubt of it—after all the woe he has brought her!! And in this moral slavery lies the fearfulest prospect for her. It would make anybody weep to hear how she defends him—finds out excuses for him—always ending with “Oh poor William!— God pity him! Where can he wander?” They are selling prints of him about the Streets under the name of the handsome Husband.

Again thanks and kisses to the morning Star and your sweet self and love to them all. And do not think me ill natured on your new kinswoman—you will find when she returns that the aversion is quite mutual or I am greatly mistaken

Your own /

Jane Carlyle