August 1846-June 1847

The Collected Letters, Volume 21


JWC TO MARY RUSSELL; 29 December 1846; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18461229-JWC-MR-01; CL 21:125-127.


[29 December 1846]

Dearest Mrs Russell

I am recovering out of one of my serious colds just in time to write you my new-years good wishes— Nothing could be more inconvenient than my falling ill the very week after my poor little Helen went away— She understood so well how to do with her master when I was not there, and kept my mind so easy about material things that an illness in her time was of comparitively little moment. But with her departure every thing went to sixes and sevens; the new maid whom an old servant in Edinr had selected for me proved to have been selected more on account of her pretentions to “free grace” than of any “works” she was capable of—in fact my Aunt Ann it turned out had had a hand in her education— If I had only known that sooner; she should never have sailed to London at my expence!— But I relied on the practical understanding which old Betty used to manifest before she became an enthusiast for the free church—and made myself sure of being able to do better or worse with any servant of her recommending Alas—the girl had come out of a family where eight servants were kept—fancied it would be nice to get to London where she had “seven cousins” and was willing to undertake anything till she got there—and then she satisfied herself within the first twelve hours that it was “too lonely” to be a single servant—that all-work “spoiled her hands,” and having with all her “free grace” no more sense of duty than a cat, she threw up her engagement for six months at the end of six days!—and declared that if she were not allowed to depart (to the Cousins) she “would take fits” as she had “once done before in a place that did not suit her and lie in bed for a year!!!”— I being already laid in bed thro the fatigue and unusual exposure to cold which I had had in trying to set her a-going, the chance of her taking to bed was not to be risked so Carlyle bade her go then in the Devils name, rather glad to be rid of such a “lump of selfish, dishonest fatuity” on any terms— She “could not” repay her expenses so she walked off with her two guineas—as happy as a pig—on a Sunday morning (!) leaving me very ill in bed my Cousin Helen here on a visit and no servant in the house! So much for the whim of bring[ing]1 a servant from Scotland! A Lady in the neighbourhood who was meaning to discharge her cook at any rate—on account of her constant rows with the other servants goodnaturedly dispatched her to us at a moments warning and this woman an old half-dead grumbling soul, but a degree better than nothing, has been acting as a provisional Help; till I should get well enough to look out for a permanent and more effective one— Three weeks confinement to bed and the quantities of tartar emetic and opium2 given me to stop the inflamation on my chest have left me as weak as water—and little able to fall energetically to the rehabilitation of my house which is fallen into such a state of disgusting chaos as you can figure. My poor cousin has done her best to keep things right but she has no genius for housekeeping “under difficulties”—and it has aggravated rather than comforted our sad plight to see her playing Cinderella with almost no useful result. And then I had brought her for a month to show her London and give her a little pleasure—and to think that my bedroom and kitchen should have been her appointed sphere! Now I have engaged a girl whose face and history so far as I know it promise well— She is to come the last day in the year and I am brutally sending my Cousin home the same day that I may have a fair chance at settling the newcomer into her place myself—full time; for Carlyle has been giving signs of having reached the limits of his human patience—and if he do not soon have a pair of shoes cleaned for him and his Library swept he also will “take fits.” Oh how I wish that Margaret3 had come to me!— All this would have been spared us, even my illness, for I was quite well of cold when that horrid free-church-woman arrived—and might have continued so with proper care of myself. I wonder if Margaret would have taken the place if I had given out all the heavy clothes to wash— I cannot fancy our work hard for Helen who did it all, washing included, for eleven years was far from healthy—in fact asthmatical. I have one blessing here however in the way of service which I ought to be thankful for—our post-man's wife who has baked the best possible bread for us a long time, and who living at hand is always going and coming since I have been in a puddle to help me in the quietest nicest way—

But it is not good for me to be writing such a long letter—for I am still confined to two rooms with order to “keep myself perfectly quiet”—more easily said than done!— Will you take the old trouble for me—in transmitting my newyears remembrance to Margaret an Mary—and the others you know of—the small sum you advanced for me in July was given to my cousin Helen who said she punctually sent an order for it—I hope it came all right.

I send you a pair of card-racks from the Falls of Niagara—more curious than beautiful—but you will give them a place in your drawing room anyhow for the sake of one who will ever think of you with affectionate gratitude— My kind regards to your Husband and Father

Ever your affectionate

Jane Carlyle