August 1846-June 1847

The Collected Letters, Volume 21


JWC TO SUSAN STIRLING; 26 September 1846; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18460926-JWC-SS-01; CL 21:59-61.


5 Cheyne Row Chelsea / Saturday [26 September 1846]

My dear Susan

Do you remember saying to me when you were last here; “should you ever have to part with Helen, and be in want of another Scotch servant; tell me, and perhaps I shall be able to help you to one; for there are still good Servants to be got in Dundee.” It is years since you said this, years since we have exchanged words with one another; but I now claim your assistance with as full assurance as if you had offered it yesterday: for I judge of your friendship by my own, and as time and absence have made no change in my feelings towards you, I fancy that neither has any change been made in yours towards me, and that you are still as ready to take some trouble for me as every you were. If likings depended on locality in this world poor mortals would have a sad time of it; seeing how those who like one another are drifted asunder and kept apart—as much, often, as if they were dead for one another—but where a true regard has once existed I cannot believe that any “force of circumstances” ever destroys it. And so, as I have said, I calculate on your being still the same warmhearted friend I ever found you when our stars brought us together— Even tho' we do not write regular letters to state the fact— Alas! of late years my letterwriting propensities have been sorely kept down by the continual consciousness of being grown into a sort of bore. ever ailing—ever depressed in spirits—the consequence I suppose of that sort of nervous ailment— What have I to tell any one that cares for me, which it were any satisfaction to hear?— The only thing I could write to you which were not better unwritten would be just over and over again “my dear Susan—I often think of you—and have the same affection for you that ever I had”—and that I flatter myself you will always take for granted—

But, for the practical business which now puts me on writing to you: you are to know that my poor little Helen has not relapsed into drink again nor otherwise foresaken the paths of virtue—on the contrary she has been growing, like wine, and a few other things, always the better by keeping. So that at no period of our relation could I have felt more regret at losing her. The only consolation is; that she will find her advantage in the change—at least one tries to hope so.— A marriage you think?— No— Something even more unthought of has turned up for the little woman. She is going to be made a sort of a Lady of! at least so the matter presents itself to her lively imagination! A Brother in Dublin has been rising into great prosperity as a manufacturer of coach-fringe: thanks to the imme[n]se1 consumption of that article on the Railways! He is now by his own showing a regular gentleman—so far as money goes!—and has “two hundred girls in his pay.” He looks to me a foolish, flustering sort of incredible creature—but Helen feels no doubt as to the solidity of his basis— Hitherto he has taken no charge of Helen beyond coming to see her for a quarter of an hour when his business called him to London—has never given her a farthing or farthing's worth in his life. But now he is seized with a sudden fit of Brotherly love and offers to take her to be the “mistress of his house.” engaging that should he marry at any time he will “settle a handsome provision on her” Of course such an offer is not to be rejected—and Helen, not without tears at the thought of leaving me, has accepted it without further investigation—and I tho not without private misgivings could do not other than encourage her to accept. So there remains only to get her place supplied better or worse.— One that is so suitable to me I do not expect to find, but I must go about the sorry business as judiciously as possible. I have written to a Lady in Dumfriesshire to enquire after a woman long connected with my family and whom I would like well to have—as she was my Mother's kind nurse in her last illness. But this person has two little Daughters whom she could not bring along with her and will not I fancy be willing to leave. So not to waste time—I write also to you, to ask if you know of any woman at all likely to suit me. You know what would be required of her—to do every thing in a house that two quiet, philosophical people require—she would need to be up to cooking “in its simplest expressions”—to washing—and cleaning rooms—and I should like her not to steal or drink, or fly into rages—what is called “a very good temper” I am not particular about—but explosions hurt my liver which is bad enough at any time— I give Helen twelve pounds a year—tea and all that found her To a person quite up to her work I would give the same— Of course I should pay her expences to London—only stipulating that if she left me within a year whether by her own desire or mine half the expences should be paid off her wages—this not for the sake of the money of course—but as a precaution, so far as it goes, against that love of change which Servants get put into their heads on first coming to London. I should engage her for the usual Scotch term of half a year in the first instance—it would be too far to bring anybody for a month—as the hiring period here is— So now I have stated the exigencies of the case and its practicalities to the best of my recollection and Can you do anything for me? I shall await your answer in full confidence that if you cannot, it will not be for want of good will ever affectionately yours Jane Carlyle2