October 1845-July 1846

The Collected Letters, Volume 20


JWC TO HELEN WELSH ; 24 April 1846; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18460424-JWC-HW-01; CL 20: 178-181


Friday [24 April 1846]

Dearest Helen

I would have answered your letter in the enthusiasm of the moment if the moment had not been between needed for more practical purposes. There was much to be put straight on my return morally as well as materially, and I had not even my normal amount of force either moral or material to bring to the work: for the excitement of a houseful of the most exciting and excited people during the last ten days had been a prodiguous overbalance to the “pure air” and other advantages of Addiscombe. The more I see of aristocratic life, the more I wonder how people with the same system of nerves as oneself, and with the same human needs, can keep themselves alive in it—and sane! Lady Harriet especially, who is the woman of largest intellect I have ever seen—how she can reconcile herself to a life which is after all a mere dramatic representation, however successful, fills me with astonishment and a certain sorrow. But like the pigs they “are used to it.” and nobody, I fancy knows till he try how difficult it is to tear himself loose from the network of Lilliputan packthreads in which our nobility grow up from their earliest days. a poor woman has enough of serious occupation cut out for her by the nature of things—sometimes more than is good for her—and therein lies her grievance—we in our sphere have also something given us to do—how far it may suit our taste is another question and a secondary one—we see at least how our activity may be turned to account better or worse. but a great Lady—should she take a notion to wrap herself in a blanket and go to sleep like Beauty for a hundred years;1 what would stand still that needs to go forward?—only herself!—and should she take the better notion to put away Great-Lady-things and lead a rational useful life how is she to set about it? how extricate herself from the imposed do-nothingism of her position?— As Lady Harriet herself once said to me “one would have to begin by quarrelling with all one's husbands relations and one's own”—a beginning that one may be excused for finding rather questionable!— No! it is not easy for a Great Lady in these days to be anything but “an ornament to Society in every direction,”2 and that her Ladyship succeeds in being—to perfection! The old illustration of the camel passing thro' the eye of a needle3 still holds good— Let those who are not in the camels shoes, among whom are you and I, be thankful—tho' cooks may sometimes give one a deal of trouble—and holed stockings may accumulate into a small Ben Lomond4 while one is away on a visit—and other the like nuisances render ones carreer of household activity often enough anything but a pleasurable one!— Now, what has tempted me into this moral-essay style, I have not the slightest conception!— when I sat down to write I did not feel at all preachingly-disposed But I am in the habit of letting my pen go its own way, and this is the way it has gone.

The Cromwell-turmoil is again subsiding and the second edition will be out in a few weeks. “Thanks God”! And now I hope we shall really be done with that man! if he had been my Husband's Own Father he could not have gone thro' more hardship for him! We have lived “in the valley of the shadow” of Cromwell now, as of Death, for some three years— But every thing comes to an end if one have patience— What is to come next Heaven knows— We have been enquiring all about for houses in the country— without, it seems to me, much chance or even much intention of a practical result— Sometimes—in desperately bilious days Carlyle speaks of returning to Scotland and living there “in seclusion for his few remaining years”— I do not look for much practical result to that idea either— Still this perpetual talk of moving takes away all ones pleasure (such as it was) in Chelsea— I feel myself no longer in a home but in a tent to be struck any day that the commanding officer is sufficiently bilious. When the warm weather comes and it is coming fast—the present restlessness will mount into a crisis of some sort—a journey somewhere— But as yet I do not see a fortnight before my nose.

The Ferguses are here— I have not seen them yet—most likely shall on Sunday evening and then I will inform Miss Jessie that she may again have an opportunity of “cultivating Jeanie's acquaintance.”5

What is Jeanie about with Andrew Crystal?6— I do not like these dawdling courtships at all—in the Laird of Noloss's7 phraseologhy “they are a great off-put of time.” If people do not know what they would be at in Love they may depend on it what they call love is no authentic love or it would tell them. The most important thing that has happened to me since my return has been the gift of a splendid indian scarf (from Lady Harriet) almost “too splendid for any thing”— But I was greatly pleased with it because of its being the facsimile of one she had got for herself— She rails at sentiment and never puts any into her words but it peeps out often enough in her actions. She would not put an affectionate sentence in her letters for the world but she will put violets—leaves of the flowers one likes—sometimes sends me envelopes by post containing nothing else!! What a contrast I often think betwixt that woman and Geraldine! the opposite poles of woman-nature!

I wish you would go oftener to Seaforth— Mrs Paulet is a real woman full of kindness and a sort of dreamy intellect—whom you would get to like—and she is much disposed to like you. She is full of bashfulness little as she looks it, and does not know how to accommodate herself to young Ladies but such a young lady as you might find it easy enough to accommodate yourself to her. When I hear the talk of the women that come about you in Liverpool I have often thought what a godsend for you a friendship with a woman of Mrs Paulets natural character and speculative turn of mind might be— You would soon find, if you took to studying her, that her disorderly housekeeping and all that first shows itself make a very small fraction of the whole woman— Kisses without number to my uncle

God bless you and all of you

Ever your own

Jane Carlyle