August 1846-June 1847

The Collected Letters, Volume 21


JWC TO MARGARET WELSH; 22 January 1847; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18470122-JWC-MW-01; CL 21:143-145.


Bay House, Hants 22nd January (1847).

MY DEAR MRS. WELSH,—Your letter found me just recovering from a long and serious illness, and projecting a visit into Hampshire, not without considerable apprehension of being laid up anew in my friend's house, a risk which nothing but the certainty that I could never get stronger by staying shut up in London gave me courage to front.— It is bad enough to be ill at home and a plague to ones own people—but I never yet found a friends house so constituted that however one might like to live in it well; one could think of taking to bed in it without a shudder. But the journey did me no harm—tho' eighty miles it was accomplished in two hours!! and what with a coat made of Scotch-blankets died black and a respirator and a pan of hot water at my feet no cold got near me—and ever since I arrived I have been getting better—resuming my old habits of sleeping and eating which I had almost wholly discontinued. The house I am living in is within a stonecast of the sea right opposite to Osborne in the Isle of Wight—and indeed one feels in it much as tho one were living on some magnificent Cleopatra's barge—there are so many windows in it looking out on the sea and mirrors reflecting the prospect from these windows, so that wherever one turns there is always sea sea. In summer it must be charming—but in this weather I could do with less display of cold water. For the rest one has all in the shape of accommodation that money and taste can do for one—to read here of the starving Irish or starving anything is like a fairy tale—and what is not common in a great House we have for the moment perfect quiet, the gentlemen who are usually here being all off to the Parliament—and nobody left but Lady Harriet herself who likes quietness as well as we do—when she can get it which is seldom enough.— We shall probably stay till the end of February and then return to Chelsea.

I had a great domestic calamity some two months ago which was indeed the immediate occasion of my illness—a maid who had been with me eleven years and took entire charge of my house and self was invited to Dublin by a prosperous brother to keep house for him— He is making very rich as a manufacturer of coach-fringe and had suddenly bethought him of having this sister to be his servant—I fancy—not his ‘Mistress’ as she flattered herself. And it was too much to expect that her human nature could resist such tempting offer. So off she went not without tears to leave me—and I entered into possession of a young woman selected for me in Edinr by our old Haddington Betty.1 Betty has taken into the Free Church and I fear has lost her once excellent judgment in it for the creature she sent me turned out to have nothing earthly but ‘free grace’ plenty of that— but no ‘works’ nor disposition to acquire any. She informed me to my horror that she had been partly educated at religious meetings held by my Aunt Anne!2 Had I known that at first she should never have sailed to London at my expense. In trying to get her to do her work—and doing it for her when she could not or would not; I caught the dreadful cold which confined me nearly a month to bed and from which I am only now emerging— Just a fortnight after her arrival—whilst I was lying at death's door—a doctor seeing me every day—she sent me word by my cousin3 one night that if I did not let her go away she ‘would take fits—and keep her bed for a year as she had done once before in a place she did not like’!! One in bed was enough at a time and so next morning a Sunday morning (Oh my Aunt Anne!) she went her ways dressed out like a street walker—in the finest spirits—leaving me as I have said in bed—no servant in the house—a visitor who had to turn herself into a servant—and so full was she of free grace that it never once seemed to cross her mind that there was no reason in justice that I should have paid two guineas—to afford her an opportunity of paying a visit to some cousins she had in London!— Defend me from servants educated by religious Ladies they are all alike— I have now got a little English woman who promises to do well enough—and whom I think none the worse of that she cleans her grate and washes her dishes on Sunday all the same as on other days of the week!

I hope your Edinr scheme will turn out well4—indeed there is little fear but it will as you always seem to take in your ground wisely and circumspectly—

Oh dear me! I often think of you when I see people pretending to superior minds ruining their outlooks by the extravagance of their exactions from Destiny and keeping themselves in a ferment all their lives that which profiteth not— The longer I live the more deeply do I feel convinced that money beyond what gives the bare necessaries of life does good to no one and to many great harm— I suppose there is not a servant in this house who has not every day more luxuries of all kinds than you or I ever had or dreamt of having in our own houses—and see what they make of it! greedy, selfish, stupid! looked upon as necessary evils—looking upon their employers as their natural enemies—a Scotch Byrewoman5 with forty shillings a year who had a respect for her mistress and a love for her beasts was better off than these.— At this moment I know one Lady and two gentlemen who are made utterly wretched by the simple fact of having more money than they know what to do with, indeed two of the three have gone mad and the third always looks to me as tho he would commit suicide some day. He was an active and esteemed officer, gay and busy when he became promoted to four thousand a year—left the army and found himself without occupation, and with power to gratify all his whims— Now he makes one's blood cold to look at him!6— Do not be so long of writing to me again. —I am always so glad to hear of your welfare.

Ever affectionately yours


I have not heard a word of John Welsh since he wrote to me on his return from London to Edin.7