April 1849-December 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 24


JWC TO JEAN CARLYLE AITKEN; 1 May 1849; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18490501-JWC-JCA-01; CL 24: 41-44


Tuesday night / 5 Cheyne Row [1? May 1849]

My dear Jane

Many thanks for your kind letter and “dainties”; these I only realized today—the weather having been bad, and my head not good, and no carriage turning up for me till today. I eat a little bit of the cake so soon as I got it home and pronounce it first rate; the marmalade I have not yet broken into. Poor Miss Grierson!1 she is still confined to her room. The Servant who took up my card to her left me and Capt Sterling who drove me there sitting in the lobby, where we were espied after a long time by Mrs Johnstone,2 who passed into the dining room and violently rung a bell there, and sent another servant to ask us in. We found, her a fat goodnatured looking old Lady, inclined to enter into conversation; I enquired about Miss Grierson's illness, and the account she gave was very sad. Her son she said attended her, and feared that altho she was recovering, she would never be “strong enough for business.” “there had been no press of work to cause her illness—it had come on just after winter when there had been little to do”—but they did not hint this to herself, for fear of alarming her. I will call again in a few days and try to see herself and give you more particular accounts of her. Has she any one in Scotland to go to? it is very mornful to have spent so many weary years in learning a business which is now turning out too hard for her.3

For ourselves we are all going on much as usual— Mr C not yet reconciled to his “interior,” nor I to my head, with which indeed I have had several more terrible bouts lately than ever in my life before—which is much to say! John is excessively kind to me on these occasions; has sat on his knees at my bedside for hours together, holding me down, and being sorry for me, which is just all that can be done in the way of alleviation. “On earth, the Living have much to bear”4—the difference is chiefly in the manner of bearing—and my manner of bearing is far from being the best.

They would tell you of the final crash of my Maid Helen5—how on our return from a visit to Capt Sterling, she first would not open the door, and at last did open it, like a stage-Gohst,6 very ill got up; blood spewing from her lips, her face whitened with chalk from the kitchen floor, her dark gown ditto, and wearing a hideous smile of idiotic self-complacency! I thought Mr C was going to kick his foot thro her when she tumbled down at his touch—if she had been his wife he certainly would have killed her on the spot, but his maid-of-all-work he felt could be got rid of without his being hanged for her. The young woman whom Providence sent me “quite promiscuously,” within an hour of this consumation, has hitherto given us the greatest satisfaction. She is far the most loveable servant I ever had—a gentle pretty sweet-looking creature with innocent winning ways, a very fair worker too, clean, orderly, and “up to her business.”7 My only fear about her is that being only four and twenty, and calculated to produce an impression on the other sex, she may weary of single service: unless indeed she can get up a sentiment for the Butcher's man, who is already her devoted admirer: but “he is so desperately ugly”!

Meanwhile I have been busy, off and on, for a great many weeks in pasting a screen, with four leaves, five feet high, all over with prints.8 It will be a charming “work of art” when finished, but of that there is no near prospect. The prints are most of them very small, and it takes so much pondering to find how to scatter them about to the best advantage. What else I have been doing it were hard to tell— I read very little now adays—not that my eyes are failed the least in the world—but that books have ceased to take any hold on me—and for sewing; you know that “being an only child, I never wished to sew”— Still I have some inevitable work in that line, as even if I felt rich enough to have “the family-needlework” done by others, I dont know where to find others to do it for money—without bothering me with their stupidity worse than if I did it myself. But the great business of life for a woman like me, in this place, is an eternal writing of little unavoidable notes— It falls upon me to answer all the invitations, and make lying excuses world without end, so that I sometimes look back with the tear in my eye to the time when we were not celebrated, and were left to provide our own dinners as we could! A French Poet dying of hunger—in a novel—calls “oh Glory give me bread”!9— I would call to Glory often enough; “Give me repose”! only that I know beforehand my sole response from Glory would be; “Don't you wish you may get it?” And now, Dear, the Sun is shining—has actually “taken a notion” of shining for the first time these many days. and I have need to walk. having been shut up lately till I feel quite moulting—and so I must out into space— Love to your Husband and all the rest— It would be very pretty of you to write to me sometimes—for I am always very affectionately yours

Jane W Carlyle