October 1845-July 1846

The Collected Letters, Volume 20


JWC TO THOMAS CARLYLE ; 10 October 1845; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18451010-JWC-TC-01; CL 20: 20-24


Friday night [10 October 1845]

I wish Dear you had got the letter which was lying at the point of my pen for you last evening, when Mr Browning came and sent it all to “the Back of Beyond.”1 This evening I am too tired “for anything”—and no shame to me; for I had to choose betwixt a walk of something like eight miles and a cold, and of course like a prudent woman I prefered the evil which I was likely to be soonest rid of— I had streamed off, as soon as the post had brought your letter to a place called Meard Court, off Wardour Street, in quest of one John Jones!2 a humble individual much wanted here at present to finish off those confounded matrasses, the wool of which has been finally got dried, under the anger of Heaven, and will be finally teazed by the time John Jones comes to act upon it; my programme had been to walk all the way there and ride from Coventry Street back—but by the time I got back to Coventry Street the rain had made a mess of it, and my thin boots were soaked quite thro, and I knew that if I sat with wet feet I should infallibly catch a cold—whereas if I continued walking with them I should probably get off with the fatigue—and so I walked resolutely home—only before I could get up stairs I had to transact a sort of little swoon on one of the lobby chairs and drink “a goblet” of—water! I have had both dinner and tea since, but feel still in a very pounded condition, so “you must just excuse us the day” The dinner at the Pepolis “went off with effect.”3 well cooked, well served, and well eaten. it was really a little “work of art” the whole thing—no incongruities, no verfailed4 attempts—never did a new house bring a more marked blessing with it. Elizabeth in her new atmosphere of order and cleanliness looks herself again even Pietro5 has bloomed up into a christian waiter! I do not pretend to get much “good joy” from witnessing “the happiness of others”; but it was really a sort of a pleasure for me to see the light and order which Elizabeth has managed to bring out of the chaos given her to rule, and to hear her innocent genuine thankfulness for her small mercies! Darwin remarked as we drove home that “things seemed to be going on there very nicely indeed!—a little too much disparity in the ages still—but as Pepoli was growing regularly older and Madame younger, even that would come right too at last”! I have made no other visit not even to old Sterling—he came today while I was out—but as he forgets that he has seen me, so soon as I am out of his sight; it did not matter. Last Sunday I walked up to see him and sat with him half an hour, and before I was well home again, I received a visit from him here— “anxious to know how I had been.”

Miss Leslie the Governess whom Mrs Sterling used to be so kind to— daughter of an old military friend of Sterlings own—goes about him a great deal and would have been a very likely person to take the principle charge of him, were there reason or humanity enough among them to make this practicable for a woman earning her bread. But when she wrote to Anthony offering to give up her teaching for this object provided only that he would pay her house rent—the answer was, that “Captain Sterling entirely declined interfering in his Fathers concerns in any manner whatever—” Short and not sweet!—

The only News afloat is the marriage of my old acquaintance Ubiquity-Young.6 He has married actually—at sixty—but not wholly without excuse to his own mind at least— He wrote to Miss Allan7 (Mrs Wedgwood's Aunt) that, “as he was now growing old he had felt very lonely on returning to the Albany at nights, and the Lady he had married was immensely rich”! Another little bit of quite obscure news I heard from Elizabeth. She was in a carriage with her Cousin old Mr Rhoid8 the other day, when he showed her a man walking along, who he said was once the reigning Dandy of London, “he had seen that man following the hounds in silk stockings and pumps and always taking the lead of the whole hunt nevertheless” Elizabeth asked his name— “James Baillie”!— “He has been sadly reduced since then” said Mr Rhoid, “but I am told he is now getting up in the world again by speculating in railway shares!”— Dont you remember my predicting that course of industry for him? What a curious whirligig of a world after all! And people go on expecting to find “the solution” one fancies sometimes that if the Solution be not “immortal smash” it will be “better than we deserve,” “That minds me” (as Helen says) of something Browning told me last night— An old gentlemen of Eighty-four, a Unitarian, had been disputing a whole evening with an old gentleman of ninety-two, a something-else—let us call him a Carlyleist; Of course they could come to no agreement on their respective creeds— “Well” said Eighty-four in conclusion “at least we are both in pursuit of Truth!”— “Pursuit of Truth”! repeated Ninety-two with an intensely Middlebie accent! “By the Lord we would need to have got it by this time!”— Yes indeed! one should try if possible to get it—to “lay salt on its tail” a good way on this side of ninety-two—or if one “cannot get it” to “do without” A shoemaker at Haddington once took to selling ale as well—and had inscribed under his sign of a last “You have sought good ale all day, and found it at the last”! One seeks many things all day which are only to be found at some such questionable “last” as that was!

Here has just been John Mill—but hearing you were not at home he would not come in—“would call again”—

If I promised to spend the whole winter with Lady Harriet”! Bah! When did you know me do anything so green—so pea-green as that? She told me I had promised it formerly; that was all— Oh depend on me for “taking in my ground wisely” in that matter—with a wisdom equal to the solemnity of the occasion! I have already taken in a bit of my ground very wisely, in stipulating that when I did next visit her I should have some little closet “all to myself” to sleep in.

I had a very nice letter from Harriet Martineau the other day but I will not send it to you for either you would not read it, or you would call it— what shall I say—twaddle! if you did read it. But on the whole the great event of my life in these latter times has been the entire and signal failure of my moon-and-star enterprise. And now that there is no longer any splendid surprise to be managed for you—and as I have started on another sheetchen—and as it may amuse your Mother to hear of it; I may as well tell you what all that clipping was about.

You know the Library windows? “Ah! too well”!—you are to know further then, that altho' sympathizing to all lengths in your horror of the “Pandemonium” without; those THICK short blinds hanging like kitchen-dusters over the whole lower halves of the three windows have always inspired me with a certain sadness, and in moments of enthusiasm I had conceived this and the other scheme for combining the Invisible with the Ornamental—Now, when I had these windows all to myself might I not “do what I willed with my own”?— My first idea was to convert all the lower pains into ground-glass—by means of silk-paper and linseed-oil—and that I partly worked out—but as Mr Alcott9 observed “all thought turned into action becomes imperfect.” The ground-glass—“unornamented,” like Mrs Crichton's10 table-beer was going to give the room the look of a prison—or rather of a gin-Palace— So my original design expanded itself into an ideal of cut ground-glass—and “I could think of no figure more appropriate” to cut it in than that of a crescent moon in the middle, and a star in each of the four corners!—the thing was not easy; but by help of Mathematic instruments and patience without limit, I had put in two panes on this principle—when it struck me that the half moon was just big enough for you to see thro', by applying your eye quite close to it—and did I not know that you would instantly discover this Achilles's heel of my work—and instead of minding your work be always trying whether you could see, and in fact seeing too well, the steam of Pandemonium and yellow stockings of the bluecoat boys!11 So I washed off that also and started anew with a wreath of stars in the middle and little stars in the corners— That really looked beautiful—till the sun shone out—and then oh Heavens the brightness darting thro each of these countless stars seemed absolutely to pierce the whole room with little dazzling rays, which could not have failed to put out your eyesight in no time! Again I washed all off; and this time I was almost at the crying— but would not cry till I had made a trial of painted glass; since plainly my cut-glass would never answer— Then came forth Miss Macready's indian Taffeta and great was the clipping out of flowers—next day saw all the lower panes blooming like a flower garden—flowers, like none one had ever seen grow, on a background of snowwhite; it was “most expensive”!—upon my honour!—there remained only “to oil” them—but the results of that extreme unction I had not foreseen— the gum and the oil refused to coalesce—the transparency took effect only in patches—thought turned into action very inperfect indeed!— And now I really did cry—one tear I think out of each eye—but tho I must give up all idea of making these confounded windows into a “work of art”—I have got the better of the old dishclouts— have combined invisibility with something like prettiness at least

ever yours