April-December 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 18


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 1 August 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440801-JWC-JW-01; CL 18: 161-164


[1 August 1844]

Dearest Babbie

What a horrid story! That poor girl has not been out of my head half an hour together since I read your letter; I see her always as she looked at the door that morning when I was coming away—so quiet and welldoing! the only figure in your establishment that promised to be a comfort to you. And to think that such a terrible calamity was even then suspended over her,—has already fallen on her poor little head!1 People do get over the heaviest afflictions even complications of misery like this— God knows how; but they do it—the power of suffering seems to approach nearer to the Infinite than any other power that human beings have—and this is just all the consolation one has in thinking about her. Had such a Tragedy been acted for the first time—one would be certain a priori than2 any daughter of ordinary sensibility must break her heart under it—or lose her wits—but one has seen instances enough to the contrary— Be sure to tell me particularly the result of the Coroners inquest—and all that you know of the business. above all what effect it is likely to have on Margaret. I hope she will come back to you as soon as possible. occupation and kindness together will be the best medecines for her—

I wish you had succeeded in realizing a Cook with two legs. “A bad leg” having once established itself is apt to be used in all cases of emergency for purposes of terror— As David Roughhead at Haddington3 used to snatch up his wooden leg and flourish it over the head of his wife whenever she crossed his captious humour! But one must yield to Destiny in this as in other cases— Helen tells me there are excellent servants procurable about Kirkaldy4— Suppose you were to employ Walter to seek you out a “Speciment”!

There were several things in your last letter that pleased me much—1st The practical move towards supplying the place of my magic wand with which I proposed to touch the walls of your house and make it expand itself till there should be space in it for the development of individual character!—to say nothing of all the material advantages— If I were you I would concentrate all the powers and seductions I was mistress of, on that object! until the glimmer of hope you have should have “brightened more and more unto the perfect day”5—of a roomy—well aired house! I am perfectly convinced that immense physical as well as moral improvement would result to you all from such a change—and that you would never grudge having made it the object of the most painstaking systematic pursuit—or even persecution

The sorting of your drawers was another fact that I could perfectly sympathize with— How many programmes of moral and intellectual improvement have commenced for myself with the sorting of my drawers and—ended there?— Not that I mean to dishearten you and insinuate that your programme will end there—out of the seven attempts which the spider made to fasten its web to the wall the seventh prevailed6—and should a human being be less persevering and successful than a spider? God forbid! Try above all things to get your throat cured & to keep your blood circulating—make yourself walk—walking may be as heroic as fighting under certain conditions and is not to be neglected as a performance not worth the self sacrifice it costs.— Whatever one does for a moral end and against ones natural ease is virtue—if there be any virtue—and if you cannot keep your mind well while your body is sick—(and who can?) and if excercise be requisite for your bodily health, it is virtue to walk and if you look at it under that point of view you will set about it in quite a different spirit— But enough of preaching— Heaven knows I am not in such an exalted way myself just now, that I should feel myself entitled to preach— To make the day and the way meet is as much as I am up to— A series of blue pills however is slowly getting the better of this bilious fit and in the meanwhile like Cavaignac I “await”— I cannot flatter myself that it was the ICE which has worked me all this woe— Maggie is in a state of primeval prejudice if she takes ice to be unwholesome—for me it is eminently the reverse—as repeated experimen[t]s7 have ascertained—ice or no ice I have been in a most dejected state all these days and have been holding on like grim death by the safety-rope of method—amidst the general shipwreck of my powers of body and mind—doing certain small things—such as one can still do—with a certain regularity and a certain determination of purpose is I always find the best resource in these conditions— If one attempt any thing great—or exerts oneself only by fits and starts—nothing comes of it but failure and deeper discouragement. Of a heap of letters that had accum[ul]ated 8 on my conscience I have been making it a law for myself to write just one each day—and each day I have hemmed two towels!! and each day read two articles in Jeffrey's miscellanies9— This is very humble work certainly but with so much headach and sickness it is a fair conquest from the Inane.

Yesterday I eat the wing of a chicken—and received the congratulations of the house thereupon— On the strength of this I am writing longer than usual today

Carlyle is to dine with Lady Harriet again to day—and this time poor Mazzini must go— I begin to have a real admiration for that woman—her fascination of Carlyle proves her to be the most masterly coquette of Modern Times!— A hundred kisses to my Uncle— I shall never get that paying for my seat out of my head—there was something so very unclish—so fatherly almost, in the way it was done— — My kindest love to Helen and the children— Candour obliges me to say that the sandwiches she made up for me were the very daintiest morsels of human victual I ever eat in my life— I suppose it must have been their goodness that has disgusted me with everything I have tried to eat since—

By the way I will enclose you my Helen's bill of small expences— for the sake of the new arithmetical system therein illustrated

And so god keep you my Babbie

Ever your / affectionate